I'm a tutor working with a 4th-grader on reading. He reads at a 1st- or 2nd-grade level. He loves video games like Grand Theft Auto.

I need a game that a young boy can read on his own and learn to play. I'll help him, but only after he reads it and gives a good-faith effort to come to our session having an idea what to do.

I play Whitewolf and some GURPS, but looking at those rulebooks, they're pretty densely written and have too many big words. I think this kid is smart enough to handle them, but not as his first foray into RPGs, and they appear so daunting I don't want to turn him off to gaming completely.

He plays violent video games, so I'm not concerned about the violence in the rule books.

Any ideas? I've looked through other beginning gamer questions, and I've found nothing about the reading level of the instructions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Answers without discussion of personal experience with the game and why it solve this problem will be deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 4 '14 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ See my meta question meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/3257/… \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jan 5 '14 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Per Back It Up!, if you don't know of "a young boy reading on his own and learning to play," please refrain from answering. A thousand RPGs "might be" good for this. Answer with ones proven to be. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 5 '14 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've reopened the question, but anything that does not give personal expertise with both the system and the learning outcomes discussed in the question will be deleted without notice. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 6 '14 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ This Tool will measure reading scores for the RPG of your choice. While automated measures are iffy, it's a start. This paper suggests that there is low correlation between F-K and second graders, but still points to some correlation. As such, while I won't delete answers if they score above a 4 on the grade level measure, note that the literature suggests that multisyllable words are difficult for challenged readers. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 6 '14 at 0:22

Use something aimed at kids

In 2010, WotC releases Monster Slayers. It's an adventure containing simplified rules (based on D&D 4e) and a great start into the topic, especially (but not only) for kids. With pictures and cut-outs, it makes for a interesting, easy read.

Use the free quick start rules

Many games offer free quick start rules (D&D 4e, Gurps Lite). Those are much shorter than the normal rules, and written in an simple, inviting way, abstracting over many of the more complex rules.

Use stuff he knows already

I would not only concentrate on something easy to read, but on stuff he likes already. If he played any game set in the forgotten realms, use an FR book. If he played dragon age, use its pen and paper version. If he likes comics, use DC adventures...and so on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mala, can you discuss how your younger brother used the books to learn the rules? Addressing learning outcomes is a key element of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 6 '14 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, Monster Slayers, of all the things recommended so far, does score the lowest gunning fog (8, equivalent to readers digest), and an estimated grade level of 6. Considering the reading guide I linked to in the question comments, while the subordinate clauses may cause some trouble, I think it'll be good and educational trouble. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 6 '14 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ please amplify that in your answer, Mala, or delete. This is a very specific question, and it's not one that's a simple "designed for kids" \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 8 '14 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ For a reference on Monster Slayers, Tim Brannan at The Other Side blog has a well-written review coming from three different angles: a parent, a curriculum specialist, and a D&D player. \$\endgroup\$ – Ellesedil Jan 8 '14 at 14:04

I'd recommend RPGKids without hesitation. I've played it several times with a 3 and 4 year old (the 3 year old is mine), because they both kept asking for more of it after we first tried it. It is aimed at children in the 4-7 year old range to play with their families or older siblings.

The rules are written for the parents of these children, but aren't particularly dense and could likely be read by a child at a 1st or 2nd grade level with assistance. The whole ruleset takes up 9 pages, with additional pages spent on a character sheet, character tiles, a grid, and a sample adventure. It is available for $2.99, and there is a pack with additional adventures for a bit more if you find that the format works for his practice.

Edit - To save Brian Ballsun-Stanton some effort, the base pfd (including sample adventure) has a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 4.1.


Try Risus. It's setting-generic, so you can play whatever game you want, it's free, it's short (8 pages including additional rules), and there's a sixty-odd page extension called the Risus Companion if you like it and want to get your student to read more.

Characters consist of a description and a series of cliches, each with a variable number of dice, that describe them and their abilities - a wonderful way to get someone to expand their vocabulary! Writing up a page-long backstory for a character also gives an extra cliche dice to play with, as extra encouragement for working with words.

I've successfully played this with a group containing a nine-year-old boy, and there were no problems. He was able to read and understand the English rules fairly easily, and then play from there, although I had to repeat some parts he'd forgotten later on.


You are out of luck

There are no RPGs that are appropriate for a 6-7 year old (1-2 grade level). You will need to find another way of moving their learning forward till they get to a much more advanced reading grade level. My A-grades sixth grader is just starting to get some basic RPGs I've gotten for her (Doctor Who, Heroine, 4e/PF Basic Boxes). At that age our gaming was basically "playing dice" (d6, roll highest) and she made up arbitrary stats herself. Rather than force a pre-written ruleset, perhaps write something yourself or let them write something (heck, write their own based on GTA...).

I always wished they made Dora/MLP type RPGs suitable for younger kids, but WotC considers that an "April Fool's joke" not something to actually do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I know of two existing MLP games (Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome, based on Unknown Armies; and My Little Pony: Roleplaying is Magic). Unfortunately, I doubt comprehension of either would be doable at a 1st-grade reading level. UP requires reading some of the UA rules, and RiM has a fairly complex magic system. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Jan 6 '14 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. While the OP's goal is certainly to have the kid read through as much of the rules/content on his own as he can, the OP specifically says the kid needs to make a good faith effort and will help him out. Based on some research, some stripped-down systems should be at least close enough to try out. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But trying them and finding out if they'll work out or not is better than saying, "sorry bub, there's nothing for you to use." \$\endgroup\$ – Ellesedil Jan 8 '14 at 14:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe that's true for a 6-7 year old, but the questioner said in a comment posted on another answer that this kid is 10 years old. \$\endgroup\$ – Metalcoder Feb 27 '14 at 1:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ What have you actually tried, and failed? These experiences might be useful to the questioner. \$\endgroup\$ – Metalcoder Feb 27 '14 at 1:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ And he says "reads at a 1-2 grade level." You can certainly play a guided game with kids at this level, but "read on his own and learn to play," the answer is no and all the other answers are mixes of wishful thinking and suggestions for games appropriate for reading levels 5+ grades higher. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Feb 27 '14 at 3:32

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