Last week I posted about running a grown-up RPG session that included some kids, and the insights I gained from that experience (insights that didn’t always mesh with the conventional wisdom about kids’ games). In the three days between that game session and writing the post, I had a second interesting kids-and-RPGs experience: I played in a session of Numenera run by my 11-year-old daughter.
Liv played her first tabletop RPG at the age of seven. (We have a photo of her rolling a die in a Cthulhu game when she wasn’t more than five months old, but I don’t think that really counts.) She’s familiar with the structure of the activity and has observed plenty of GMing action, so she was not a neophyte to the whole thing. She didn’t do the most awesome job in the world, frankly: She wasn’t great with the pacing, she didn’t circulate the spotlight particularly well, and she didn’t have a good sense for setting task difficulties. She brought the adventure to a conclusion in a way that wasn’t super satisfying, but I think that was in response to the players going off the rails a bit. (Which in turn was probably due to her inexperience at keeping us on the rails, which in turn was probably related to preparation, which I’ll get to in a sec.) In short, it wasn’t the greatest RPG experience I’d ever had.
But: Her errors weren’t out of line with what I’d expect from any first-time GM–the result of inexperience, rather than any inability to handle the fundamentals of GMing. Here are some of the things she got right:
- She pictured the encounters in her head and then communicated them consistently and well to the players.
- She gave her NPCs motivations and used them to derive reasonable and consistent actions.
- She used the rules appropriately.
- But she also relied on her own judgement when that was a more appropriate course of action. (In particular, there was one item in the text that was very ambiguous; she made a wise decision to simply pick a course of action and run with it rather than let it bog the game down at a key point.)
- She remained in control of the session–she did a good job staying in charge.
If I had to single out one place where she really fell short (sorta), it was preparation. I don’t think Liv really “got” the idea that RPGs require a fair bit of prep. In the leadup to this, she expressed the desire to GM several times, and each time I outlined what she needed to do to make it happen. And each time she simply didn’t do it. We solved this problem by using an adventure out of the forthcoming Weird Discoveries–a book of adventures specifically designed to require virtually no prep. Even then, although she read the material in advance, I’m not sure she fully parsed how the whole thing was likely to play out. And that accounts, I think, for the less-than-completely-awesome adventure conclusion.
Following my experience running a game for kids I was really paying attention not just to the game itself, but to the experience of playing with a child GM. What did I learn? Surprisingly, not a whole lot. It frankly wasn’t a radically different an experience from playing with an adult newbie GM. I guess that’s something, so I’ll lead off my bullet points by saying that again.
- It frankly wasn’t a radically different an experience from playing with an adult newbie GM. The same pitfalls apply.
- While Liv was great at taking the reins in hand with a group that included her parents (a force that moderated the children in the group, while not challenging her GM’s role), I wonder what it would be like in a group of kids her age. How does an 11-year-old respond to the inevitable challenges to her authority that will come from other kids?
- And then there’s the prep issue. How well can kids adapt to the need to come to the table ready to provide three or four hours worth of content? That takes a lot of dedication.
I suspect she’s taken the prep lesson to heart–it will be interesting to see what her second GMing experience is like. And I think that if she were to sit down with a group of kids, I might recruit a ringer–perhaps take her brother aside and quietly give him the job of moderating any uprisings from the other players.
The bottom line is this: We’ll definitely do it again! It’ll be interesting to see how her GMing style evolves as one of her players. And I know she has some friends her age who would be interested in playing, so I’ll encourage her to try an all-kids game. We’ll see how it goes!