What's it like to role play with kids and teens? Which RPGs work well and which ones don't? We see it in this report of nine months of sessions, with elementary school girls and middle school girls.

With my association (Gondolin APS) we participated in some projects that they made to us role-playing with children and teenagers.
In this article I bring my experiences about it. Since you often get asked what role-playing with kids and toddlers is like, I share these experiences in the hope that they will be useful to someone.
First of all, we will see on what occasions the role was played with children and teenagers: at school or after school, with elementary or middle school players, where and in what context it was played. Secondly, we will see which RPGs we used for these activities, which performed best and which ones didn't quite convince us. Finally, we will see some of my impressions of what role playing with children and teens is like, in terms of bleed, rule acquisition and so on.

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Role playing with children and teenagers: the Kids & Legends middle school table
Role playing with children and teenagers: the table of Kids & Legends of averages

On what occasions did we role-play with children and teenagers?

My association has already had experience in making children play, although not in role-playing games, but in board games. We have been doing this in the libraries of Bologna since 2019, pandemic permitting. But in 2021 we also started to let children and middle school children try role play. This was done in three different contexts.

Role play in elementary school, age range 8-9

From December 2021 to March 2022, we carried out a series of role-play workshops at various primary schools in Bologna. More precisely, the activity took place in the Navile district and in collaboration with Ludovarth APS.
In these workshops we played in three different schools, with four third and fourth grades, and for each class we had three two-hour meetings. Have you ever role-playing at eight in the morning? Well, for me it was the first time: traumatic.
We played inside the classrooms, creating tables for 6-4 children plus a master / facilitator. Imagine 15-20 children throwing dice, chatting, moving chairs, desks and satchels.
From a training point of view it was certainly the most tiring experience but it was also very satisfying.

Obviously the volume of appointments for this project required a lot of manpower. In addition to the talented and willing partners of Gondolin, they also lent us masters The Guild of the Cassero and the Ludovarth association. Something like eight different masters took turns: there were those who were competent with role-playing games, those with children, those with both things and those novice with both. In this case, we have brought a plethora of different games; further down I will also write to you how they performed.

Role play in the library, 11-13 years old

The second project is Savena Futura, funded by the Savena district of Bologna. For this project we have carried out board game and role-playing activities at the Natalia Ginzburg Library. The Library has not only hosted the activity in its own spaces, but has also been in charge of managing attendance and registrations.
On the role play front, we involved a group of middle school girls / boys, so give it to them To 11 13 years. We had two rounds of sessions, and then two different game campaigns.

The first ran from September to December 2021, in two-hour weekly afternoon slots. It started with two users and then ended up with a stable group of four girls / i, which was facilitated by the Seeker G. The Seeker G made them play Kids & Legends, which he had taken on Kickstarter in anticipation of projects like this one.
At the end of the campaign it was decided by mutual agreement to continue the meetings and therefore to carry out a second campaign. Since the beginning of spring 2022, I have taken over the group (now increased to six girls (s)), teaching them to Dungeons & Dragons (Fifth Edition).
In this group they were all roleplaying starters, except for one girl he had played D&D Second Edition with parents.

Role play at home, 11-12 years old

Finally, the third project is that of The Seed of Solidarity, funded by the Ministry of the Interior. For this project, we have carried out some role play sessions at the Bologna office of theYoung Diabetics Association (AGD).
For this project we have carried out five sessions at the AGD headquarters. In our hopes more people should have attended, but we managed to get at least one table of D&D 5e with six boys / girls, mastered by me.
Also in this case I had kids among the 11 and 12 years, with a couple who had already tried playing D&D. One of them also had parents who played roles. They liked the activity so much that I was asked to continue it, and it has become a weekly appointment that continues to this day.

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Role-playing with kids and teens: The Fantasy Pug Quest table in elementary school
The Fantasy Pug Quest table in elementary school

What RPGs did we bring?

We brought a series of titles made especially for role-playing to kids and teens. In addition, when we ran out of games, even games that we thought, due to their design and themes, were suitable for the purpose.

Role-playing games designed for children and teenagers

Among the games made on purpose it is a must to talk about Kids & Legends: Seeker G made him play to both junior high school and junior high school children. Her simplicity of rules and the fantastic imagery she brings were compelling elements, but what made the best impression is the modality "Isekai" in the initial adventure, which allows kids to create a paper version of themselves that will end up in the fantasy world.

The initial part of the adventure is structured as a tutorial, and allows children to create their own character by anchoring it to the perception room they have of themselves, but giving free rein to the imagination when they have to then make the passage "beyond the mirror".
A good thing about Kids & Legends was also allowing a team play dynamic, satisfying for the players and effective. Eliminating the final monster through a combo of attacks ("first we freeze it, then we make it explode with sound waves") designed by the elementary school children has always guaranteed the final ovation of the table.

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La history and played varied between the long campaign with middle school boys and girls, and the short three-session campaigns with elementary school children. With the junior high school kids, Seeker G followed the game's intended adventure. With the elementary school children, she instead used only the initial part at CERN, to then improvise a small original mini-adventure that could adapt to the tightest timelines.

Another game that performed very well was Fantastories. Published by Dreamlord Press, Fantastories is a very light and simple game, designed especially for children to play.
A partner of ours took him to almost all elementary school classes with excellent results. Children can create their own character by giving free rein to the imagination, but the solving of the tasks is anchored to the dice in a playful and understandable way.

Role-playing games not designed for kids and teens, but we used them anyway

Two other games that performed well, although not specifically designed for the target, were two other Dreamlord products: On Mighty Thews e Never Tell Me The Odds. All of these games were brought to elementary school.

On Mighty Thews is a style game sword & sorcery with a light regulation, which invests a lot in character creation through traits that then also influence worldbuilding. Again, the combination of simple but daring system and freedom to create the character was a winning combination.

Never Tell Me The Odds it took some adaptation to be PG-13 (eliminating references to drugs and sex workers), but it was a good choice. The random generation of the characters was fun, and it is concise enough for the child to add what they need with their imagination. The coin toss (especially if you've taken some big dime from Amazon) offers the right thrill, while being immediate. In addition, over time it was also possible to understand the mechanics of playing and betting traits, which added a level of greater depth.

One game I mistakenly expected more from was Four Against Darkness, published by MS Edizioni. I know well it was meant to be a dungeon crawling solo, but I played it in multiplayer in Rolo in 2019 and also with some middle school kids in 2019. So, I brought it back to elementary school, expecting it to perform well.
Instead, unfortunately for the 8-9 range, the procedural process of creating the dungeon is too slow and breaks the immersion too much.

The board games that we have adapted to role-playing games

It's not exactly an RPG, but it served the purpose very well To Adventure!. This party-game / role-playing protogame by Clementoni has functional and evocative materials, simple but fun mechanics and is learned in an instant. For the less experienced of our operators it was a godsend.
One flaw: in one of the pre-made adventures I found a representation of Native Americans a little backward e cringe, even by the standards of the licorice island they lived in.

Seeker G also brought Fantasy Pug Quest by Tin Hat Games, which he spoke very highly of. While simplifying the mechanics slightly, this card game lent itself well. Nice materials and functional regulation. In addition, it also supported more players than expected well.

Dungeons & Dragons 5e: does it work with boys?

Lastly, I will talk for a moment about Dungeons & Dragons 5e, which I took with the two groups of middle school girls. I expected it to work: on the other hand I started with 3.0 that I was, yes and no, two years older than these guys, but I didn't expect it to work so well!
Maybe at that age you learn quickly, but by the second session the basics of the game were all learned (dice roll, DC, advantages and disadvantages); for the third and fourth sessions they also familiarized themselves with the character's abilities and it goes that it is a marvel. 

I was also particularly fortunate that in both groups there are boys and girls who know what fantasy is, or have had some previous gaming experience.
However, it helps a lot to have gods too additional materials: miniatures, maps made with inkarnate, tokens to manage inspiration points and spell slots. The decks of cards with the spells of the various classes were fundamental: they helped these young adventurers a lot in juggling the many spells that they can prepare every day. It is a purchase that everyone has benefited from.

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Role-playing with children and teenagers: the Kids & Legends table in elementary school
Role playing with children and teenagers: the table of Kids & Legends in elementary school

What is it like to role-play with children and teenagers

What I will say now is by no means universal, but it is, like everything in this article, referring to the direct experience I had.

Experience with middle school girls and boys: combos, plans and bleed

The boys and girls of the middle school were / and a great satisfaction. They still have the ability to be amazed and excited for things that we long-time players are now used to seeing. In addition, they also begin to develop a sense for the most "gamistic" aspect of the game, starting to find satisfaction in creating effective combos and solutions.
They love to do Piani, even weirdos, and there is a certain bleed in for what happens to the character. Unfortunately, but perhaps that is also a limit given by my way of mastering, the conversational part of the game still does not emerge spontaneously.
However the rewards are great and in two things they are even better than adult role players: they are less on the phone and raise their hand before speaking. I hope they don't lose these two habits.

Experience with elementary school girls and boys: imagination, stimuli and entropy

For elementary school children, the slogan "imagination in power" could be an understatement.
In a system without too many constraining elements and with masters who know ride the ideas proposed by the various children (and luckily the masters who participated in the project were very well versed in this) you can get some remarkable scenes. However, I did not use the verb ride randomly (as I do with most verbs). In fact, it's okay to take note of the ideas and imaginative ideas that boys and girls have, but these energies go directed towards a story with a minimum of meaning.
Furthermore, not all children are volcanoes of ideas. Therefore, you must always have the pulse of the table at hand and know if necessary find the stimulus for those children who may be more shy, or who find it hard to express themselves.

If from the point of view of attention, concentration and entropy it can be challenging to manage a table of children / s, from the point of view narrative it's easy. In fact, even the simplest storylines can be a complete novelty for them, and repetition is not anathema as it is for more refined-tasted adults. So, from that point of view, the commitment is less and the return is maximum.

The mode murder-hobo always around the corner

One thing I did not expect, but which should be put at the center of the pedagogical debate for the next fifteen years is the fact that even the little ones, if left with the ability to do so, could descend fairly quickly into the murder-hobo. Always provide them (if you want) with alternatives to violent conflict resolution, otherwise murder could end up being their preferred resolution tool.
Memorable was like the pucciosissime eight-year-old girls with the sweatshirt of Frozen have tried, in their first session a Kids & Legends ad murder the poor secretary of CERN with a stapler and a pencil.

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The table of All'Avventura in elementary school
The table of All'Avventura in elementary school

A final reflection on role playing with children and teenagers

Who has benefited the most from these RPG sessions?
Teachers and teachers? Satisfied with letting children try something new, a game mode that allowed them to combine symbolic play (the "let's do who I am") with elements of the board game.
Parents? Those I have heard are delighted to have found an inexpensive, healthy, socializing and doable pastime for children even on rainy days.
The library? He appreciates that his own spaces can be used and lived for activities other than the reading room. It is a way to keep up with the times and transform, with this and other actions, the Library from a center that offers a specific service, to a central place for the neighborhood community.

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Boys and girls, and boys and girls? Well, their emotions are obvious. They worry when they think that something bad is going to happen to their character, they are amazed when they see strange creatures and they gasp when they overcome difficulties by taking a big risk. Each session is an emotional rollercoaster and I know they keep talking about the adventures they have experienced over the next few days. Like when a parent addressed me with a “So, are you going to finally kill this dragon? They have been talking about it for two weeks! ”.

But probably the one who benefited the most is me.
I can't speak for the other masters who took part in the project. But, as far as I'm concerned, no matter how tiring it can be to manage a table with four or five kicking kids, the satisfaction is always enormous. Their emotional feedback is overwhelming, their reactions genuine and their fun intense. At the end of each session I leave motivated and satisfied, convinced that I have given people some good moments of play, and convinced that I have received as many.

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