Running Games for Kids

So, a conversation came up on the Cypher Unlimited Discord server that I’m a big part of as a moderator.  The subject was running games for children. I tried to give the guy some helpful advice and I hope it was helpful. Then I realized, other people might be able to use some of this advice, and it’s not like I don’t have a ton of experience running games for kids. So, I’m going to break it down for you based on what I know from personal experience.  Please note that children, like all other humans, are unique, and some of them need more focus and attention than others.

First, let’s go with the younger kids.  At this point, we’re talking about age 5 to 10 range. They’re cute, they’re adorable, and let’s be honest, most of them don’t really care about the game itself.  They just want to be with their parentals and maybe play with the shiny math rocks. So I’d keep the game simple, fun and easy. No Thank You Evil! is a good game from the Cypher System for this age group to a little older, but there are others like Hero Kids (by Hero Forge Games). There may be more out there, but I haven’t done much with any of these personally and could not give solid advice here other than to say that I am familiar with the quality of Monte Cook Games’ stuff and have the No Thank You Evil! base set. They put together good, functional games as a whole, so I would anticipate that this would not be particularly difficult to pick up and run.

The big rule for the kids this age is: Keep it moving.  Don’t espouse a lot of description, they’ll get bored really quickly. Instead, focus on things they can do, encourage them to explore, ask them to describe, double down on the fantastically silly, and roll those shiny math rocks. Let them chatter away at each other.  At this age you’re not really running a game but more like herding cats.

Now, let’s say, like the person on Cypher Unlimited, that you have a group of teenagers, but a single young one. You’re not sure if they’re going to keep up, and you don’t want them bored because teenagers are at a different level of gaming. In this case, make them the DM assistant if they don’t want to fully play. Let them come in and play an animal, NPC or creature that either helps, or harms the Players. I had an eight year old in my game who really loved to play, but only if she got to play a fairy. She would run around the table and then I’d give her an NPC to run. She’d roll her dice, and she was involved. That’s what is important here: Letting them be involved without trying to force them into a specific thing.

For young teenagers, in the age range of 11 to 15, they’re in the “We don’t want to play with younger kids” stage, but at the same time aren’t quite at the argumentative stage. For a lot of the teenagers I’ve played with, they want things to be more like video games. Exciting, daring, dangerous… but death is not an option. For this I’d recommend something from the Superhero genre.  You can take and use the Cypher System for this (particularly with the upcoming supplement Claim the Sky from the Heroes of the Cypher System Kickstarter), but there are others out there as well like Mutants and Masterminds (by Green Ronin Publishing).

For older teenagers, in the age range of 16 to 19, in a lot of cases they’re not much different than the younger ones, but for one fact: Most of the time they’re really noticing sex.  They want to ‘get drunk’ and ‘get laid’. (I highly recommend all of the ‘get laid’ being a simple ‘fade to black’). For the most part any game will do based on your group’s preferred flavor. If they’re more ‘dark and grim’ then go for something like Gods of the Fall (a Cypher System setting) or Blades in the Dark (a Powered by the Apocalypse game from Evil Hat Productions – link is to our review which has links to the game itself). If they want something a little lighter and superpowered, once more, break out superheroes as recommended above. If they want something that’s more like Star Wars, I’d suggest Scum and Villainy (a Forged in the Dark game produced by Evil Hat Productions – which we will be reviewing soon) or the actual Star Wars game (by Fantasy Flight Games). You can use Hope’s Horizon (the game Josh and I are developing) but outside of the Starter Kit, it’s still in production.

Now, sometimes in the later years they’ll start gravitating to their own friends and their own games. Do not despair, because while they’re doing that, they’re exploring other things they might like. Or they’re exploring things that they’re not comfortable doing with their parents or ‘old’ people. All you can do is continue to be there for them and eventually, they will hopefully come back around wanting to play with you because you were the one who gave them the memories of playing with them that got them started.  I hope this helps all you parents and grandparents who are gamers  Happy gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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2 thoughts on “Running Games for Kids

  1. I started DMing in 2017 and my elementary school aged kids were my first players. I’ve DMed for a pair of teenagers as well for the last year, including multiple birthday part one shots for their friends. I think you’re spot on with this advice! One thing in particular though, like adults, not all kids are in a category unto themselves! There are broad similarities of course, but I appreciate you specifying in the beginning “Please note that children, like all other humans, are unique, and some of them need more focus and attention than others.”


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