Teach Your Kids (and Monsters) to Game!

I’ve been a tabletop gamer since I was 10, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when my own kids hit that age I started playing RPGs with them.

Over the years we’ve played a lot of games, and it’s always been fascinating for me as dad and as game publisher to see how the kids take to them.

The first was a Star Wars RPG using the “Star ORE” variant that I wrote based on Wild Talents. I ran that for my son Jon (then 10), my friend Bryan and his son Matthew (also 10). The boys took to it right away and we branched out into other games. At that age the kids found WOTC’s D20 Star Wars RPG and Dungeon & Dragons Third Edition too heavy with math and bookkeeping for their tastes, but they loved Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition (I toned down the Chaos horrors a little) and a brief jaunt into AD&D 1st Edition.

Soon I brought my two younger kids, Becca and Connor, into the action. When they were hooked on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies we played a swashbuckling action game set in the fictional Golden Age of Piracy.

Monsters and Other Childish Things

The hardback edition.

But the game that my kids have most loved and most requested has been Monsters and Other Childish Things.

That’s been nicely gratifying, since I encouraged Benjamin Baugh to write it and then I published it.

If the kids hadn’t taken to it, I wouldn’t have worried. The game is about children, but it wasn’t written for children. But kids have a grand time playing it. In fact, a friend of my wife used Monsters and Other Childish Things as a teaching tool for her fifth-grade classes for three years. Her students loved it.

My daughter Becca, then 11, made up a monster named Mr. Cuddles for a story that she wrote and drew to go into the Monsters and Other Childish Things core rulebook — the endpapers are from scans of her pages. Mr. Cuddles is a cute little spider monkey who turns crazy and violent when mistreated or annoyed. The story is a diary of the little girl who has Mr. Cuddles as a best friend and protector.

That’s Monsters and Other Childish Things. It’s about kids who have powerful, dangerous monsters as buddies and guardians, and the need to face the consequences of using that kind of power.

Monsters was built for adult gamers, not kids. It’s not particularly complex, but its concepts work best with kids when taught by a grown-up who’s processed the way the game works. Then again, that’s not a great hurdle. That schoolteacher had never played a tabletop RPG in her life when she fell in love with the idea behind Monsters and started playing it with her students. With her guidance the kids didn’t have any trouble building in-game kids and monsters.

And they had a blast.

The paperback edition.

On a deep level, Monsters and Other Childish Things is about the process of growing up and coming to terms with all the ways kids must learn to control themselves and look out for the people who are looking out for them. But on the level where the game gets played, the action and humor is too fast and frenetic to notice the subtext. Players (whether adult or child) thrill to the freedom of playing alter egos whose monsters can wreak all kinds of mischief even while the rules encourage them to rein in the mischief to protect their all-important Relationships.

Kids intuitively grasp that essential tension, and they love to test and break it in the safety of a game with friends or loved ones around a table.

Of course, that can make it a different experience than gaming with adult friends. As the parent, you sometimes have to guide the kids to keep them focused and to make sure they’re being good sports. That’ll be the case with any game, at the table or away from it.

If you have kids who are old enough to play RPGs, try Monsters and Other Childish Things with them. And please come back to this page and tell us how it went.

If it turns out that playing kids with monsters isn’t their bag, that’s OK. Try another game with them. Over at DriveThruRPG they have a host of good candidates.

The important thing is not the specific game, but taking advantage of the opportunities and challenges of face-to-face gaming with kids whose imaginations are constantly on fire and who are still learning the rules to life itself. Whether it’s with our game or another, that can be huge fun and tremendously rewarding.

Here’s a link to “The Cheat Sheet,” an Actual Play journal I wrote based on one of my kids’ Monsters games, featuring Mr. Cuddles himself.

You can get Monsters and Other Childish Things in three formats: