Hero Kids by Justin Halliday

After a decade of seeming indifference to my role-playing hobby, my eldest child suddenly asked me one day if we could play “Magick And Monsters.” This was probably prompted by his recent re-read of Book Two of the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series, Rodrick Rules. Plus he’s been watching me game master one of my Dungeons & Dragons groups’ sessions via Discord lately — I recently volunteered to give our main GM a break by taking over the reins of a Waterdeep-based campaign that was paused on a cliffhanger after our other GM moved back to Atlanta — and I do my best to keep a lively table.

Ofc, I was very excited to start my kid on a lifelong love of RP. Trouble is, just from looking at available character sheets, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that D&D might be a little too advanced for him as a ten year-old (and perish the thought of introing all that to my seven year-old twins!) So I took a weekend to research alternatives, looking for the closest match to the character sheets he was most drawn to, as well as the little item cards he was drawing while we were discussing what we’d like to see in a game.

And lo and behold, there was Hero Kids, a dead ringer for the simplified concepts Jms was eager to use in a tabletop RPG. After shopping around, I went ahead and got the entire Fantasy bundle at a steep discount, because this mom is quite frankly too tired to come up with her own campaign adventures. I emailed Jms a copy of the core book, and we went over the rules and pre-made heroes. Jms very much wanted to be a Hunter, and since I wanted him to have a full-size character sheet that didn’t also murder my printer toner, I resized the corresponding hero card from the printer-friendly pdf and printed that out for him. Joseph wanted to be a Storm-mage, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, my semi-feral youngest picked Wolfchild for his character (which I subsequently called Wildchild throughout the first adventure, because I definitely read way too many Image comics in the 90s.)

We sat down for our first adventure, Basement O’ Rats, and I handed out six-sided dice while setting the scene. I’d printed out the five map pages beforehand but referenced the box text and villain stats on my phone as we played. Theo dropped out fairly early, so we turned his Wolfchild into a helpful NPC who assisted Jms in much the same ways he might in real life, with violence and sneakiness. Joseph lasted as long as the first combat, when he suddenly started crying — as he isn’t very verbal yet, I’m still not sure whether he was sad or mad or just frustrated — so Jms and I told him it was okay, he could have his Storm-mage run back upstairs to finish dinner with their parents instead of continuing the adventure with his brothers. We definitely kept the Storm-mage on hand as another NPC for when things got hairy for Jms tho. Jms and I explored every room, and I had him roll for his character and allied NPCs while I rolled for their adversaries, making sure, as I always do when GMing, that I kept things suspenseful without actually killing (or KO’ing, in this system) my player(s).

And Jms had a lot of fun, so much so that he wants my D&D group to come play Hero Kids over Zoom with him! While that probably won’t happen, I have promised to run more adventures for him soon, just as Susan did for Greg in the DoaWK series. And while I don’t push the mead off the table while at the tavern in-game like Susan does, I did fudge and say that the barrels in the tavern’s basement were filled with root beer, which definitely tickled my kids.

A lot of the success of playing this game with my kid(s) lies in how simple the mechanics are, which allows us to keep the momentum of story and combat going without lengthy pauses to look up rules. While HK is ostensibly for 4 to 10 year-olds, I think it serves as a great intro for any kid new to role-playing. Jms will probably want something a little more complicated once he gets into his teens, but I wouldn’t consider the 10 year-old age recommendation a hard ceiling at all. It’s also mercifully easy to GM, tho I imagine the learning curve might be a little steeper for people unfamiliar with role-playing, or who’ve never been the GM before.

The illustrations by Eric Quigley are also really terrific, and Joseph probably had as much fun coloring his character sheet as he did playing (or more, considering he didn’t cry over coloring.) I liked that the bundle gave me printer-friendly versions, as well as tips on using candies to represent hit squares. I actually just used candies to represent mobs, with unique dice to represent my kids as they dungeon crawled. While I might have simply drawn out the maps if I had battle grid mats (I know, I’m a very low-budget GM,) I figured it was okay to print and save these in a folder as they’re nicely to-scale.

Tl;dr if you’re looking to introduce fantasy ttrpgs a la Dungeons & Dragons to young kids, Hero Kids is a great way to do it!

Hero Kids was published October 29 2012 by Hero Forge Games and is available as a pdf and print-on-demand at DriveThruRPG.com.

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