I recently ran a short halloween rpg game for my son and his friend (both 8). Coming up with a story designed to appeal to children wasn’t difficult… but I wasn’t sure what rules to use. Anything too complicated and they’d quickly lose interest. But, I needed some rules that could handle some basic roleplaying elements beyond combat. I settled for the simplest rules I had to hand, that both children would be able to quickly grasp (ok – my son could handle more complicated rules – but his friend had never played anything like that before) – the Heroquest rules.
That covered combat and magic rules suitable for children – but what about the other roleplaying elements? Well – it was incredibly easy to adapt the heroquest dice to every other challenge or task the group faced.
If you are unfamiliar with heroquest dice, they are basically the same as dice used in the skirmish game SAGA. Still not helping? Ok, they are regular 6-sided dice, but instead of numbers, they have symbols. Three sides have a white skull, two sides a white shield and one side a black shield (which looks like a bunny when viewed upside down). So basically you have 3 possible outcomes when rolling one die – a white skull (probability 3/6 or 1/2), a white shield (2/6 or 1/3) or a black shield (1/6). You can add a huge amount of variation by combining dice. Rolling two dice and having to get two black shields is hard at 1/36 whereas getting two white skulls is much easier at 1/4. If you decide that you only need one skull to complete a task, then on two dice you have a 3/4 chance of rolling at least one skull. Basically, by changing the number of dice rolled and what symbols have to appear you have a vast and flexible range of difficulties or likelihoods at your disposal.
I basically managed to achieve all the rolls of varying difficulty/likelihood faced by the young adventurers using only these dice.
A locked cupboard (containing magical weapons and armour for our otherwise woefully under-equipped heroes) could be picked by the thief upon rolling two skulls on three dice (which should be a 4/8 or 1/2 chance – i.e. 50-50 – if my maths hasn’t abandoned me…).
In the library level of the tower, the heroes found the library assistant boy hiding in another cupboard – he let them have a scroll with a new spell for the wizard , control undead, the mechanics of which revolved around rolling three dice – each skull allows you to take control of a zombie or skeleton.
These very simple mechanics could be expanded nicely by allowing more than 2 or 3 dice to be rolled for a spell, with a black shield making the spell fail for example. You could require a black shield to be rolled in conjunction with a skull or skulls for a more difficult spell.
Of course – you don’t need to use the Heroquest rules or the Heroquest dice if you want to use such simple dice. You could use your own home-made (blank dice with symbols drawn on them in permanent marker?) or any other commercial dice available (many different dice of this kind available for SAGA for example) and develop your own rules. I think I may go down this route with my young heroes… slowly drift away from the Heroquest rules and see what adventures await!