RPGs for Kids #1: Hero Kids
In which I discuss Hero Kids, an RPG for kids
The first kids’ RPG I purchased to run for my kids was Justin Halliday’s Hero Kids. Ironically, for someone who isn’t all that keen on dungeon crawls, this is very much structured around dungeon crawl style encounters. As such, the game revolves around moving your paper miniature across a map and fighting monsters until you reach the end of the encounter. Several encounters linked together, make an adventure.
There’s little-to-no real character creation. You pick up a pre-made character sheet, give your character a name, and you’re good to go. You only have four stats (not including health), though you often only use two of them. You typically have one way in which you attack (Melee, Range or Magic) and you have a Defence trait. Add some special abilities, some inventory items that usually add to a roll, and you have your character!
Hero Kids is really quick to jump into. No explaining how to create characters, no agonising over choices. Pick a character that you like, and give them a name. That’s pretty much it! In this, it reminds me a little of the playbooks in D. Vincent Baker’ser’s Apocalypse World.
This is really great for new or young players to just get straight into it. The game has a kind of gateway feel, a little akin to a board game, or a video game.
Not only kids played it. Several adults reported using the simplified system for their own games, or as introductory sessions for newcomers. As such, these seem to have prompted Justin Halliday to design the Forge Engine for grown-ups. Justin Halliday put Hero Kids on an open license, which means anyone can design stuff for it, complete with its own DriveThruRPG Creator’s Guild.
This is fun and simple to play, making for a perfect introduction game. I found that its reliance on maps forms the game’s limits. For a lot of gamers out there, maps might not be so unusual. I, however, seldom bother with maps in my games. It’s not something I really got into doing. At most, I sometimes whacked some dice on the table in front of me and positioned them to help the players get a sense of a complicated scene. As I learned to better describe action scenes, I found myself less reliant on even that.
Typically, a Hero Kids game moves at a nice pace and generally favours the kids. Once in a while dice will be dice and things have the risk of going horribly wrong. How you deal with this depends on the kind of gamer and the kind of kid you have. Personally, I dislike arbitrarily incapacitating or killing off a player character. I prefer those moments to be meaningful. In one encounter, my wife and I repeatedly exchanged worried glances after terrible rolls nearly spelt doom for my daughter’s character. Of course, if you have kids enter the game with that possibility on the table, treating it more like a video or board game where you might need to repeat levels until you “defeat” it, this may never be an issue for you.
However, while I still like to roll out Hero Kids, there’s certainly a lot more preparation involved than I’m used to. The downside of having a game using physical components is you need the physical components. Rather than just sitting down with character sheets and jumping in, I need to print out maps, print out miniatures for the encounters and then cut everything out, glue the standees to work, etc. While this can be a lot of fun – and for many gamers, this is just part of the prep – I sometimes find myself reaching for quicker games to jump into.
I would still recommend Hero Kids, however, as a fantastic starter game – also great for parents not used to running games as there is no requirement to overthink how to run a scene, just play it like a board game.