RPGs with Kids: session report

Dungeon World with kids

Summary

One of the best role-playing game experiences that I’ve ever had. These kids were some of the most imaginative and clever players that I’ve met in all of my 15 years of Game Mastering. The surprises never ended: I’ve not had so much fun GMing in a long time!

Started off with World-Building

We began with some collaborative world building. Each player took a turn creating something around the village and drew it on the map:

  • An abandoned village to the northeast, ravaged by attacks from elves and orcs, as well as being harassed by giant rolling boulders
  • Beyond a wall of deadly thorns is an enchanted forest to the northeast, filled with magical beasts and fairies. Also a magical lake that heals all wounds and diseases.
  • In the far norther eastern corner of the map: a huge lake riddled with shoreline caves. The waters are cursed and lethal to all good folk.
  • To the east is a large Russian settlement. Notable features include a famous scarfed hero who is brave enough to traverse a dark portal to an evil shadowy place.
  • To the southeast is a ruined orc camp. It contains a magical but unreliable portal that allows travelling to different times and places. There are dark rumours that orcs are returning to this settlement.
  • To the southwest is a half-abandoned settlement. This is the birthplace of Gilbert (Keara’s PC). The village borders an evil, black forest full of shadow magic. The people are of German heritage.
  • To the northwest is vibrant and content Japanese settlement. They are renown for their mastery of martial arts and peaceful nature.

Character creation

Both drew powers from their unlikely origins and troubled families. We ended up with:

  • Gilbert, the Fighter, who wielded a short sword of great worth which glows when undead foes are near. He places great value in his brother, who is also a very capable warrior. The two are normally inseparable, and Gilbert ventures forth on his own only at the prophetic behest of the village elders.
  • Clarke, the Cleric of Cthulhu, who demands bloody conquest. He’s a shapeshifter who alternates between three forms: a skeleton, a mummy and a hugely mawed swamp monster.
Cthulhu, Clarke's patron deity
Cthulhu, Clarke’s patron deity

Then I asked them which location was the most immediate threat to their village. One player had to choose the location, the other got to explain why and how. The ruined orc village was chosen and the reason was that the orcs were planning to return and prepare for an invasion.

Their first quest

In order to prove themselves, the village elders sent them to investigate the strange lights emanating from a ruined fort in the north east. Huge arcane energies were swirling above the clouds, hinting at a massive sorcerous ritual going on. If there is, they were expected to stop it.

While approaching, they bickered about how each was the true chosen one. Suddenly, a spear wielding orc charged at them from the entrance. They both lunched at it simultaneously, but the enemy  spear’s reach endangered them first. Gilbert protected Clarke from a devastating stab, which allowed the latter to perform a devastating bite attack at the orc’s throat.

The evil ruins...
The evil ruins…

Cthulhu, Clarke’s deity, was pleased with the wanton bloodshed.

After entering the ruin, the soon-to-be heroes parted ways: one took the left passage and the other the right one.

Clarke saw a shimmering shield on the floor of an otherwise empty armoury. He wasn’t sure about that setup, so he asked his deity for guidance. Cthulhu, pleased from his servant’s brutal execution of the spear-orc, warned the cleric that the shield was a trap! Clarke backed up and rushed to find his comrade.

Meanwhile, Gilbert investigated a shadowy corner full of debris and old furs. In the heap were four giant rats. He drew his sword and tried to swipe at them but they leaped at him and formed a circle, closing in with menacing red eyes. Gilbert arrived just in time to devour one rat. One of the others squeaked in raged “you killed my boyfriend!”, and lunged at the cleric. This reduced Clarke’s foes by half. He disembowelled one, causing the other to squeak: “screw this, I’m going home!”, and flee.

They found a golden necklace in the giant rat nest and Clarke claimed it. It’s totally magical, but I haven’t told them this yet.

Next they split up again, deciding to cover more ground more quickly. Not usually the best of ideas, and I cautioned them of this. They sort of agreed, but they role-played their characters arguing about it and deciding, nonetheless, to split up anyway.

Gilbert heard some whispering from up ahead in a shadowy room. He decided to bark out a challenge to these unseen foes. They stopped talking, indicating that they heard the hero. That’s when the first round of arrows were shot at him. Thankfully he dodged out of the way, but instead of taking cover, decided to charge at them head on.

Goblins! With bows!
Goblins! With bows!

The goblins (they were goblins) fired again and this time Gilbert was struck twice, causing a decent amount of damage. I explained to the player that the arrows hurt real bad. Her next choice of action was priceless and stunning for a first-timer. When I asked her what she would do next, she said that she’d play dead. I honestly can’t remember any of my players using that tactic  in over 15 years of gaming. I was truly stunned!

Meanwhile, Clarke wandered along and also heard goblin-ish chattering up ahead. He once again sought counsel from his deity. Cthulhu was still impressed by the cleric’s tenacious combat lust, and so he still gave him advice: “cling to the shadows: surprise your enemies, get the drop on them!”. Clarke did just that and his stealth roll was basically a critical success. So he approached the goblins via a brilliant trajectory around rubble and broken walls (seriously, he traced a path on the terrain map like a pro) to behind the goblins who sat huddling around a campfire. They never knew what hit them; Clarke ripped one apart and chased the other down into the next room.

There was pretend-dead Gilbert and his two goblin archers. Once they saw Clarke, their attention was drawn away from their supposed prey, giving him the chance to kill them swiftly from behind. Again, the team working together effectively, inadvertently or not.

Next a huge Ogre appeared and they found a skeletal warlock casting the very spell that they were sent to interfere with. What happened next was pure brilliance: Clarke, the shape-changing undead monster pointed at the evil looking warlock and shouted “that’s my father!”. Holy crap yes! What a twist! Suddenly the party was conflicted. There was drama and tension. I couldn’t have made this up: these players were doing the creative work here!

The Ogre battle!
The Ogre battle!

So in the meantime they focused their attention on the ogre, who was super dangerous. Combat was fierce and terrifying: they had many tough choices to make and they chose, what I felt, to be the most interesting ones. And they saved each other more than once. It was an epic fight.

Finally came time to face the warlock and end his spell. Both characters charged, but once Clarke recognized both his father’s hat and staff, he was conflicted. In another sudden twist, the cleric turned against his comrade! A frantic chase scene ensued around the ruin. It was awesome and intense.

Clarke's father: the evil, possessed Warlock!
Clarke’s father: the evil, possessed Warlock!

Out of desperation, Gilbert tried to reason with his former ally. While his reassuring words could have melted the heart of an Ice Sorceress, Clarke just couldn’t turn against his father. So the Fighter charged at the warlock at full speed, with Gilbert right behind him. A race to the final boss, in a way.

Just when all seemed lost, Gilbert saw a vision of all the kind villagers who’d die if the warlock’s spell completed. In a brave change of heart, the cleric decided to destroy his father. His warrior companion took the chance to throw his enchanted blade at their enemy, destroying him in a burst of arcane flames. Clark was wounded, his face scarred and now permanently covered in purple flames (like Ghostrider!).

The heroes were victorious! Everyone cheered: it was a hell of a good game!

Conclusion

I heartily recommend that any Game Masters out there try a few games with kids. It’s so refreshing and fun. Granted, we used a light-weight and flexible game like Dungeon World, but if one is open about crazy stuff, you could use any system, really.