There are games out there that make playing a child a fundamental part of the game. Off the top of my head, I can think of Monsters and Other Childish Things as well as Little Fears, GRIMM, and WoD: Innocents. There are two things all of these games have in common; Firstly, the PCs will be children, secondly, horror forms a major part of the role playing experience.
WoD: Innocents takes place in a game world that’s all about horror anyway. It can be dressed up as existential angst – or ultra-violence – depending on the group’s proclivities, but under it all, the games of WoD are horror games. The other three though are self contained, it’s only because of the desire of their creators that they’re scary games. From this, we seem to be able to draw one simple conclusion: it’s scary being a child.
I get that, I really do. I’m not saying that scary things don’t happen to us grown ups, just that we have better mental filters set in place so we can go about our day without screaming at the top of our lungs at regular intervals. We know that there’s nothing under the bed that’s going to drag us down should we need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. There’s nothing in the wardrobe, and that thing that looks like a person, is just a dressing gown hung on the door, a trick of the light, or our own brain seeing human shapes everywhere. True, we occasionally allow ourselves to be scared by such things on sleepless nights when real world anxiety gets the better of us, but we quickly chide ourselves for acting like a child. As a child, you’re more open to the excitement and strangeness of the world; fairy stories could still be true, and they can also be down right terrifying.
Role playing a child then, gives us a great chance to rediscover the terror of the unknown, and all the possibilities that come with that. Don’t let that fear drag you down though. Yes, the world is a huge and unknown place, full of dark corners, haunted houses and that old lady next door who is totally a witch, but you’re a kid, and as such almost indestructible. In your hands, any stick you find on the ground is a mighty weapon indeed. Your friends are the most stalwart of companions, making sure that any old house, be it home to ghosts or giant spiders, will not get explored by one child alone. And should the worst happen, they can always run and get a grown up, the most surefire way to banish any number of things that go bump in the night.
I’ve spent the last couple of posts talking about horror themes on this blog, and I’d like this to be a slight shift away, because although games designed to have childhood PCs tend to be focused on horror, there are plenty of ways to add young characters to any game, and some good reasons to do so too. Some games give you this option in the edges/hindrances section of character creation. As an example, you have a lower maximum to your stats, but get more build points to buy cool edges and skills. This is all well and good, but can end up with the character being labelled as ‘that annoying kid‘ in a group made up mainly of adult PCs. Think back to the Temple of Doom if you want some confirmation on that one…
That same kid, you know the one, was in another film where he was a legend! If you haven’t seen The Goonies, go watch it now. Seriously, this blog will still be here in 90 minutes…
Now, how much cooler is he in a movie that’s all about a bunch of kids going off and doing rad things (yes, I used the word ‘rad’; when talking about an eighties movie, it’s practically encouraged)? All we need to do is apply this to a role playing game. Instead of going in with an idea already formed about how dangerous an adventure is going to be, and thinking about the best way to load an adventuring pack to keep encumbrance down yet carry as much potentially useful items as possible, just call your mates, grab your school bag, and pedal down to the creak on your one speed bike.
You don’t know what to expect, but it’s going to be exciting!
It even makes sense to play kids when looking at certain mechanics in games, namely the experience/advancement rules. Does it make much sense that a grown man suddenly knows about explosives, or how to fight with a greatsword? Not so much; kids tend to pick things up quickly though, and are more much more likely to give something a try and hope for the best. Their bodies are also still growing, so becoming noticeably bigger and stronger over a few months won’t seem as big a deal as it would for an adult.
On a final point, there is something to be said for allowing the child to grow up. Sure, set the game during your characters’ adolescence, but don’t keep them forever young. Think about how much time you might spend writing a background; how much more fun would it be to actually play it, to see how the choices you make affect the person the character will become. I’ve done this myself in a Cyberpunk 2020 game, and still look back on it as being some of the most enjoyable role playing I’ve done in almost twenty years.
So, yes, the world can be scary for children, but it can also be thrilling and full of wonder. And with your best friends there, it probably won’t be that scary after all…