I’ve seen a meme or two going around about how nerd or geek (just attempted to look up on the Web the difference between these two terms and decided I didn’t have the energy to explore it very far) dads have children so they can buy them the toys and experiences that they really want for themselves. I’m not buying a whole lot for my latest young child, but I’ll admit that I’m planning on gaming with him. As I think about this, I recognize the disparity between the usually violent nature of our average rpgs and my hope that my son grows up virtuous, moral and nonviolent. Okay, let’s admit it: all children emulate their parents, and therefore most of them, if they become gamers, will explore all kinds of perspectives and play styles by the time they hit middle school. I think this is natural and healthy, particularly if they are gaming (as I once did) with their friends and peers. But for my son’s very first foray into gaming, I’ve decided on some “family friendly” house rules. In forming these, I certainly have consulted John Cocking and Peter S. Williams’s excellent Beyond the Wall, a game I would love to play and modify if I simply didn’t better know Swords & Wizardry and my existing house rules already.
Core Modifications to Swords & Wizardry Complete for Coming-of-Age RPG
- Attribute Rolls. Since kids want to play heroes, I might as well let them roll 4d6 (drop lowest d6 value) and arrange as desired. If explanations of the Attributes at the youngest age promise to be tedious, perhaps just make up Attribute values based on how the child envisions her character (make her be less than average in at least one quality). It should go without saying that all characters most likely will be pre-teens.
- Class. The character can be any Class but Assassin.
- HP. Characters get their full potential HP value at Level 1.
- Alignment. Beyond the Wall interprets Chaos as a character trait or a point-of-view, but I’m more comfortable equating it with Evil and requiring all PCs except for Druids to be Lawful. Neutrality in the context of Druids will mean affinity with the animal and natural world and not as a description of a self-seeking nature or selfishness.
- Equipment. Characters will start with whatever is natural to their Classes as well as any other specific items understood or agreed on before play.
- Level Advancement. Characters will reach Levels based on play sessions, 2 after two sessions, 3 after three sessions, 4 after four sessions, and so on. I believe this is the Swords & Wizardry Light advancement.
- People Are People. Every “monster” should have clear, understandable goals, desires and motivations. Few people will be “evil” for no reason. Even goblin minions of a Dark Lord should be worthy of empathy and redemption. The experience I hope for this game to emulate should be more in line with The Hobbit, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Miyazaki’s films. If during play the PCs knock out a Monster or NPC, that creature then has become their responsibility.
- Corruption. To the end that People are People, if players decide to make what commonly are perceived as “easy” choices by doing bad or questionable things (such as killing or stealing), they gain Corruption points. Of course, the Referee should make it stridently clear that a certain player character is about to gain a Corruption point if he continues in an intended action. Corruption points cannot be removed except for in highly unusual and extreme circumstances. Once a character gains as many Corruption points as his Wisdom value, that character becomes the property of the Referee, perhaps to continue on in the game as an antagonistic NPC. This, in effect, is the only way that a PC can “die” in game.
- Simplicity. I have been thinking about ways I can simplify the game even more, perhaps along the lines of Swords & Wizardry Light, and particularly with an eye at the magic systems, but nothing really good is coming to mind. Perhaps the Quick Start character templates of SWL or the Playbooks in Beyond the Wall is all I need do when the opportunity comes.