Monday, November 8, 2010

Savage Worlds Lite for Kids
Recently I began searching for a RPG for my seven year old. He's a highly imaginative young man and I hope I to turn my love of RPGs into something enjoyed by the entire family. Wiggy, from Triple Ace Games, recently posted he ran a cut down version of Tales of the Fabulous Four at a local school that went well.

He used a simplified version of Savage Worlds. After some thought I realized Savage Worlds is the perfect candidate for a Kids RPG. It's already Fast, Furious, and Fun so, with a little modification, it should fill the bill nicely.

This article contains my thoughts on what works best for a kid's RPG along with suggestions from other Pinnacle Forums members. The suggestions here require knowledge of the Savage Worlds rules set but the free Test Drive rules should be sufficient to get you started. You can also read why I adopted Savage Worlds as my rule system of choice in Sweet Spots for the Time-Crunched Gamer: Savage Worlds.

The Setting

Get the children excited about the game. Pick a genre they know from favorite movies, books, or stories. As with any RPG, the setting is half the fun. You and the and the children will create a story together.

If you normally run a tight gaming ship, gaming with kids may be something to avoid. Their imaginations run wild and cooperative play is important. You role is to help them write the story of the characters in their imagination world.

Remember, this isn't your game. It's theirs. If you can't deal with that concept, stop reading now and find a blog about the next cool monster you can throw at your usual gaming group. For those that are ready to play in a world where purple dragons ride bikes to school, proceed.

Character Creation

The following paragraphs discuss character creation. My advice is to create pre-generated characters for the game. Still, if your kids are so inclined, you can lead them through the character creation process. What follows are some suggestions for successful kid-influenced characters.

Character creation is the most time consuming portion of getting games started. To let the kids create their own hero, quiz them as to the type of character they'd like to play. Once they understand the rules a bit better, they can modify the character through the normal advancement rules. Keep this process as simple as possible.

Describe how Savage Worlds traits represent the heroes in the game world. You can use the table below to describe what each trait means.

Trait Good Score Bad Score
Agility Quick Clumsy
Smarts Brainiac Clueless
Spirit Braveheart Coward
Strength Musclebound Weakling
Vigor Tough Wimpy

For younger kids, you might want to reduce the number of traits to three, combining Spirit with Smarts and Strength with Vigor with three points to increase these traits rather than the usual five.

Trait Good Score Bad Score
Hands Quick Clumsy
Mind Smart/Brave Clueless/Coward
Body Tough/Strong Weakling

Describe the skills to the players letting them pick and chose which ones are most important to them. Ask them to pick a few at which they excel, a few at which they're pretty good, and a few they can do with a little difficulty. The GM shoulders most of the burden of helping them allocate the 15 skill points.

You can limit the skill list to something like: Fighting, Shooting, Guts (Bravery), Healing, Notice, Persuasion, Repair, Stealth, Taunt, and Tracking if you think it will help. Reduce the number of skill points available in character creation accordingly.  For younger players you might drop the skills completely or keep only an important few.

Another method to character creation involves templates. The templates represent a middle ground between pre-generated characters and full blown character creation. Basically you're turning Savage Worlds into a class based system but it will speed up the process greatly. Use the templates to limit the number of options open the the children. Then you can ask questions based on the templates and make suggestions to the kids about which might work best for them.

Your best option for the first game, however, is pre-generated player characters. The kids pick which one they want based on the answers to the trait questions questions above. There is always the option to create a character of their own once they learn the game.

In all cases ignore the edges and hindrances during character creation. At your option you can introduce them later when they ask for their character to be special in some way or another.

Game Mechanics

For adults, bennies and exploding dice provide the most excitement so keep those rules in place. The initiative system in Savage Worlds is innately cool. The use of cards is heighten by the use of novelty cards representing the genre you GM.

Combat maneuvers are important but don't over-burden the kids with too many. Just have them describe what they are going to do and let them do it. Try not to say no but let them know the roll penalty for multi-actions and task difficulty. Restrict combat maneuvers to aim (+2 shooting if with an extra round spent aiming), cover, defend (+2 to parry if you don't do anything else), Tricks (to encourage role play), and Wild attack (+2 fighting and damage with a -2 to parry).

Extras should fall down on the first Shaken result. You can reinstated the normal Shaken extra behavior for extra-tough opponents that don't rate being a wild card. This simplifies the mechanic for the young players and maker your accounting job easier as well.

Size is relative. If you are playing a fairy tale game, your standard size will be that of faeries and brownies. If you're playing a mega-monster smash up then Godzilla would be the reference size. If your brownie fights a cat he might get a +2 due to the cat's larger size. Against a large dog he would probably get a +4. Mega-monsters would get a -2 (at least) to attack anything the puny humans threw at it.

Use the chase rules for anything vehicle related. Although this doesn't simulate the video games the kids are used to, the FFF method of combat resolution should be enjoyable. It also limits the number of rules they'll need to learn in order to play the game. Since kids do wild things, this works great when you have some players on foot while the others are tearing about on horseback or on a motorcycle.

Unless you're running a high fantasy game, I would recommend using the Super Powers for special abilities. I would actually advise avoiding powers altogether but if you must you must.

You have several options for play balance when a character can use a power: deduct from the number of skill points available, remove a die from their attributes, give the non-powered players the equivalent of an Advance, or find a major hindrance to balance the power. In our fairy tale example you might give the power of flight if it comes with a -1 toughness. Likewise for a fast character (pace 8 run d10). If your brownie doesn't have powers but is stout give them an additional Vigor die to make up for a lack of flight. Keep the game balanced with limited choices whenever possible.

Now for a new rule: let the players spend bennies to modify the story or get a gift clue. If the evil troll has the the players trapped in in its underground burrow, allow the player to spend a bennie to have a mole friend stumble into the burrow. In another example, the kids are stuck and not sure how to proceed. One spends a bennie and the GM gives them a clue as to the next step they should take to continue the adventure. In my opinion this is an important modification to give the kids a little more control over the game than normal.

Advice for Gaming with Kids

Use bennies to encourage cooperation and good deeds among the youth. Be a little more giving of bennies when a character comes to the aid of another of comes up with a good idea, or solves a puzzle. Use bennies to encourage good citizenship whenever you can.

For younger kids, rename a few of the terms to something they'll understand. Wounds become Hurts or Booboos, Fatigues become Tireds or Worn Outs, Incapacitated becomes Knocked Down, and Shaken becomes Knocked Silly.

Make it tactile. The bennies should be something physical, not something you track on a piece of paper. Glass beads work well as do little fake gems. For adults I use candy that they eat but this might be counter productive with kids.

You'll want to use similar markers for Wounds, Fatigue, and Shaken. The players shouldn't erase and mark much on their character sheets. One suggestion from Thunderforge on the forums was to use poker chips for everything. Use White for bennies, Red for Wounds, Green for Shaken, and Blue for Fatigue. Another from SavageGamerGirl involved using band-aids for wounds (boo boos).

You might consider the Savage Worlds Action Deck for initiative cards. They are over-sized with lots of great images. The combination of cards and poker chips help the older kids imagine they're playing a grownup game. For younger kids you should consider using cards from another game they enjoy like Uno without face cards. Any of the special cards can be Jokers or used as special action cards.

Miniatures help with visualization but younger players can easily damage your prized minis. You dads and moms know this is an occupational hazard. There are other options if you don't want a seven year old banging your $30 Dragon into a wizard you hand painted and have had in your collection for 25 years. Lego characters make for great miniatures for younger kids and are available in a wide variety of genres. You should also investigate the Lego games like Minotaurus or Pirate Code. These include figures and a game board that should serve well as a battle mat. Use what they know and what you have on hand for the game. This will ease young gamers into the RPG world.

The younger gamers might also enjoy seeing some of their old games put to a new use. Check out any of the old classics like Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. It wouldn't be hard to see that as a dungeon crawl or overland adventure complete with traps sending you back a few corridors. Mousetrap would be another such game. And lets not forget something akin to Wizard's Chess out of Harry Potter where the pieces march out and do battle one at a time.


If you're like me, you love to share your hobbies with your children. Hopefully these rules make it easy to involve your kids in an imaginative world of you and your children's creation. Help you kids level up to a new type of gaming. Maybe you can get the spouse to join in.

Please provide feedback so I update this article with what works and what doesn't. You can provide comments here or on the Pinnacle forums.


  1. It's a bit late now because you've already found that Savage Worlds works for you, which is cool. I might have otherwise suggested Risus as a possibility. Characters are created from descriptions, allowing the kids to think up the craziest creations they can think of and then just attribute dice to them. That's pretty much it and might make a very, very rules light way-in for very young kids.

  2. I'm a Risus fan as well and have developed a few characters for it

    I decided to use Savage Worlds to see if it would work. I like the Risus idea as well, however.