Tabletop Gaming with Kids

Amazing Tales Game Book
Amazing Tales game system, by Martin Lloyd

Family Game Time

One of the nerdier hobbies my wife and I share is tabletop gaming. We played our first game together early in our marriage with other young married couples. The next campaign, we took turns passing a baby back and forth. With each added child, it became more and more challenging to coordinate schedules, kid interruptions, and find understanding players. 

But tabletop gaming is still something we feel is important recreation in our family. It brings opportunities to imagine and create adventure, even while living a less-adventurous adult life. And I’m not alone in seeing the value of escapism and team-building of this role-playing games – their popularity has risen sharply in recent years, making them much more mainstream than they were in my own childhood. 

Dungeons and Dragons (our current campaign is in 5th Edition, for any curious fellow-nerds) is excellent for us grown up gamers craving some complication and strong structure, but is pretty far out of reach for kid players.

By the same token, the un-structured pretend play of kids with its open-ended storytelling tends to bore the adults. Somehow when I end up playing pirates (or knights and dragons, or superheroes, or ninjas) with my kids, it always seems to develop into me halfheartedly trailing along behind them through the house, my eyepatch or knight helmet or superhero mask flipped up so that I can scroll aimlessly on my phone while they carry on the story without me: “And then pretend I hit the dragon, and then pretend the dragon died, and then pretend I went on my horse, and then pretend I rode all the way to the ocean, and then pretend I fought a sea monster, and then pretend the sea monster died, and then pretend I got on a pirate ship, and then pretend I was a Knight Pirate, and then pretend……

While my brain quickly loses interest in “and then pretend” adventures, I still wanted to explore imagined worlds with my kids. The opportunity to be creators instead of consumers, to create a world in our minds and explore it instead of letting a book or a screen feed us a story, was something I looked forward to sharing with them….someday. 

Which is why we were so excited to discover Amazing Tales, a tabletop role playing game system geared towards kids. You can pick up a copy here. We aren’t affiliated with them, just really big fans. 

Simple System, Limitless Adventure

Here’s how the game works. 

You as the game master talk with the players, the kids or any one else that wants to play, about what kind of adventure they want to play. Then you help them make their characters- which can be pretty much anything, from a fairy to a space alien. They name them and spend some time drawing what they look like, and then they get to choose four different things their characters are good at. Then you help them choose to assign a dice, from a four sided dice all the way up to a twelve sided dice, to each ability.

An example character from a recent game:

Nina the Unikitty with Wings
Nina the Unikitty with Wings. No, I don’t know where the wings are.

Name: Nina the Unikitty with Wings

Abilities:
Biting / Scratching: d8
Doing Magic: d12
Cuddling: d6
Flying: d10

Once you have the characters set up, you tell them the starting scenario, like they are lost in a fairy forest and need to take a book to the library, and ask them what they want to do. When they get to a challenge, you ask them how they want to solve the problem using one of their abilities. So, say they found a Big Troll on the forest path, how can they get past it? Nina the Unitkitty with Wings could try Biting it, and roll a d8. Or she could try casting a spell on it, and roll a d12. (Knowing the actual player of Nina, I think she would actually try Cuddling the troll, and roll a d6 instead.)

Then you see how well they rolled, and you make up what happened and the story continues.

The game is simple enough to play, almost any age can join in. I’d say as soon as they’re old enough to know that the colorful dice may look like candy, but aren’t actually candy, they’re good to go. Our youngest is not yet good to go. Our gaming sessions these days seem to be about 70% playing, 25% guarding our dice piles as cautiously as a dragon guards their hoard of jewels from a warlock, and 5% fishing those jewels out of this baby warlock’s cheeks. 

D&D Dice for Tabletop Gaming with Kids
A typical set of tabletop gaming dice, with various numbers of sides, from a D4 (4 sided) to a D20 (20 sided). Don’t they look delicious?

Through Amazing Tales our whole family has been able to go on many adventures right in our dining room. The book offers great frameworks and jumping off points for many different scenarios, but also establishes rules for creating the adventure yourself, which is what our family usually chooses to do. We’ve adventured in enchanted fairy forests, a sultan’s palace with an evil genie, and even to outer space on a rocket. A favorite was a Haloweeny game my spooky-inclined wife spearheaded, in which we played as a group of Trick-or-Treaters who needed to escape a haunted house, but had also been turned into the creatures they dressed up as for Halloween. 

The only limits to your adventures are your own imagination! And if you hit a wall there, ask your kids where they want to go on their next journey. They’re a wealth of great ideas. 

Wyoming Bones the Tabletop Adventure

Our most recent Amazing Tale has taken us into the world of Wyoming Bones, a favorite place for our family to explore. I thought I was smartly creating a way to do some world-building, generate some new story ideas for book #6, and spend time with my family. Brilliant. 

To circumvent the initial challenge of all the kids wanting to play as a main character from the book (I’ll give you three guesses which one), I created a scenario where Wyoming, Leila, and Blurble had disappeared, and it was up to our new adventurers to find them. With them each needing to create a new, original character, my plan was in place to avoid any tears over who would play as who. 

Many tears later, they each had created not-quite original green slime characters. With some work I did manage to convince them not to just give them the names of Blurble or Blurble 2. By far my favorite is the character my older son is playing: 

Bloopoming Bloop the slime
Bloopoming Bloop the Slime Adventurer

Meet Bloopoming Bloop, a little green slime with a dashing fedora hat and a penchant for adventure and puzzle solving. Fully original? Perhaps not. Fully adorable? 100% 

The value of tabletop gaming in our family as an activity we can share in is hard to measure. Team building, problem solving, imagined worlds, and most importantly, fun, all come together to bring us  together. 

What are some of the activities you do as a family to find adventure? Tell me about it in the comments!

Elden Walseck

I am the author the Wyoming Bones series of adventure and treasure hunting books set in Minecraft for middle grade readers.

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