by Meredith Flory
When I first met my husband and learned that one of his hobbies was tabletop role playing games, I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. I think I mustered a, “like Dungeons and Dragons?” but I had no idea of what game play looked like or the diverse array of settings, systems, and styles available for this hobby. These games, known as RPGS, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity as aspects of geek culture become more mainstream and continue to welcome an increasingly diverse fanbase that includes more women and the children and grandchildren of early players.
While over the years I’ve learned more about his hobby, and he’s occasionally asked for my advice as a writer when developing stories and settings, it’s only been recently that I began to think about the positive aspects of RPGs for helping children develop creativity, writing techniques, and problem solving skills, while simultaneously providing quality time for families that can incorporate favorite superheroes or stories, but keep everyone blessedly off their screens. It turns out that I’m not the only one that has begun to see these applications, and some game developers have started to create sets of rules and settings that are more family friendly.
Sometime last year my daughter wandered into a gameplay session her Dad was holding with friends and began to ask a lot of questions. He quickly found a toddler sized dice set for our kids and began to brainstorm ways to introduce our children to his favorite hobby, which can be a challenge as many RPGs have complicated rule systems and scary or otherwise inappropriate pieces of storytelling.
Martin Lloyd, a parent himself, is the creator of Amazing Tales, a gaming system specifically for parents playing with their children. Simple, with easy instructions and suggested settings contained in one book, I spoke with Lloyd about the positives of role playing with your children, and ventured into new territory as a game master when my family worked through Amazing Tales on a recent vacation.
Games in general can be a great way for children and parents to spend time together, but unlike traditional board games that become repetitive after a while, and rely more on pure luck, RPGs are more open-ended. Lloyd shared that he realized this difference while developing the game and playing with his children, and that Amazing Tales is “a work-out for the parents’ mind as well as the kids’” providing “a fulfilling activity for parent and child…your kids are going to amaze you with the stuff you’ll make up together.
During an RPG, a game master creates a story or scenario that the players work their way through with characters they’ve created beforehand. Amazing Tales provides artwork, ideas, and descriptions for four possible settings, The Deep Dark Forest, Magical Kingdoms Long Ago, The Pirate Seas, and Adventures in the Stars. The information is often in question or list form, spurring parents to ask the right questions as their family decides on a type of story. Character creation is explained in much the same way, with a “story sheet” that relies on spaces for the child’s artwork or notes to decide on their characters description, powers, and skills. The set-up works well for both parents that have never played an RPG, gently guiding them through the steps, while also being engaging enough for parents that are skilled players to skim through tips to help bring gameplay to their child’s level. My children developed “ninja cats” as influenced by our pets and their favorite ninja cartoons. When I ran them through a game, I relied more on the books tips and information, using the Adventures in the Stars setting, while my husband was able to feel comfortable using the tips for gameplay, but being much more inventive with his story as a seasoned gamemaster.
As a former English teacher, I see a lot of potential for tabletop RPGs to improve writing and reading skills, in addition to the emotional benefits of quality time spent together in cooperative problem-solving. As an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy literature, Lloyd has found the same benefits and incorporated those learning qualities into the game. He explains that his children “knew that Daddy had all these special dice, and big books full of cool pictures, and they wanted something like that for themselves.” He now sees them “losing themselves in books the same way I did and bringing things they read into our games.” We both agreed that playing can help children process aspects of storytelling like plot structure, character development, and story pacing, and Lloyd has heard from teachers who have used the game in some way in the classroom. He states, “you get a great feedback loop between kids wanting to make up the kinds of stories they read, and then read the kinds of stories they’ve made up.”
For parents looking for ways to share their science fiction and fantasy hobbies with their children, Amazing Tales can be a great way to bring your hobby to your families’ level and spend time with, rather than away from them. For parents that are currently skeptical or know little about tabletop RPGs, the basic rules here fit on one page, and are simple enough for you and your child to understand them together – in fact, we had a much easier time incorporating our younger child into this gameplay than board games, so it’s perfect for families with children at different ages, and gameplay can vary in length and complexity. I particularly appreciated the ways the tips in the book help you guide your children with decision making, while allowing their own agency, such as using the skills your children have decided their character has to make suggestions. Our older child had selected “being a leader” in addition to two ninja fighting skills for her character, so we would ask if she wanted to use her leadership skills to convince a bad guy or group to do something, rather than going straight to a fight. Lloyd worked through four years of research and development, and the Facebook group and Youtube videos show more information and gameplay. Amazing Tales is available for purchase on DrivethruRPG.com as both a hardcover book and PDF format and would be an excellent purchase for any family for the holidays as a way to spend cold winter evenings together.
This article appears in the November 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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