Sep 08

Junior RPGs & Social Engineering


As a Geek Dad, one of my goals is to raise my young sons as gamers. RPGs helped me through school by expanding my vocabulary, encouraging me to read, as a vehicle for maths and an environment for socialising. Gaming has given me a life-long hobby and many friends. I want the boys to enjoy the same benefits, just as much as I want to bond with them over this shared experience.


Yet, I can see even more potential in RPGs. One tool of parenthood is to model the behaviours you want the children to learn. If I want the boys to read, then it helps if they see me reading. I believe RPGs offer a similar system of modelling desirable behaviours. This idea was first presented to me in Heroes of the Falling Star.




Heroes of the Falling Star

I received a BETA copy of Heroes of the Falling Star (HoFS) from its designer Jay Steven Anyong a couple of years ago. The pdf describes the game as follows:


Heroes of the Falling Star is an introductory roleplaying game of magic and adventure in the land of Jianghu, a setting inspired by Wuxia films and literature. Players take on the role of Heroes bestowed with magical items by The Lady of Love and Mercy to help those in need.


I used HoFS to run a few sessions for the boys. This was their first experience of roleplaying, or the talking game as we described it. I think we all struggled with the setting, but there are many great ideas in this game.



Desirable Traits

In a manner similar to Pendragon, HoFS includes five core traits displayed by the young Heroes in the game. These traits are:

  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Loyalty
  • Respect


The mechanics in HoFS are simple, as suits an RPG aimed at children. Players roll 1d6 and add a small modifier from the trait appropriate to the action being taken.



Rewarding Virtue

The beauty of the system in HoFS lies in how it encourages the young Heroes to display these virtuous traits. There is a simple mechanical benefit for showing courage, honesty, kindness, loyalty and respect. Players naturally want to “win” the game, and thus the Heroes display the nominated traits in order to gain the mechanical bonuses to their rolls.


As a parent, I want my sons to embody these traits. By playing HoFS, the boys are encouraged to model these behaviours by the Heroes they are playing. Given the strong emotional link between a Player and their Hero, the modelling behaviours encouraged in an RPG are likely to have a strong impact on the Player. When the game actions work, there is an immediate reward for the Player for displaying the chosen trait. It is almost as though the boys are modelling these behaviours for themselves, which ought to have a powerful effect.



Model the Right Behaviours

When I moved the boys over to Basic Dungeons and Dragons, I noticed a flaw in the technique of using RPGs as social engineering. The core activities in D&D are to kill monsters and take their stuff. Murder and robbery are definitely not the behaviours I want the boys to learn. Violence should not be their default response to a situation, yet this is how so many D&D Heroes react.


Thankfully, there are options for a Geek Dad to mitigate these potentially dangerous lessons from D&D. First and foremost, the game should reward creative solutions from the Players, not just the violent ones. Thus, it should always be possible to negotiate with the villains, or outright intimidate them if all else fails. Wit and brains must be rewarded equally well under the rules as brawn. Indeed, more experience points should be awarded for a clever, non-violent solution to a problem. This will strongly incentivize the Players towards this style of play.


Another option is to play up the metaphorical nature of the opposition. The monsters the Heroes fight are representations of undesirable traits. Make them pantomime villains, monstrous creatures to be destroyed for the greater good. There is nothing wrong with children learning that much of life is a struggle, and they need to fight for what they believe. The trick is to show how this fight is more reliant upon courage and determination, rather than an automatic violent response to any setback. This is a delicate balance to strike, and each parent GM will know where it lies best for their children.




As a Geek Dad, I want the boys to share my hobby with me. I also want the hobby to help them be the best they can be. This entails learning the right moral framework, and here is a way RPGs can reinforce a particular set of personality traits. My style of gaming also needs to change to best accommodate the behaviours I seek.


Building upon the mechanics in HoFS, it is a simple matter to create a minor set of mechanics to add to your favourite RPG. Next week I present one way to add social engineering to your game. In the meantime, how do you encourage your Players to act morally? Is this just manipulating the Players? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.



Happy Gaming



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