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[DM's perspective] Let's talk about child Player Characters


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Long story short: a player in my latest campaign (high Medieval-themed fantasy) would like to play a pre-teen mage focused around direct-damage spells. In all the time I've ran tabletop games, I have never had anyone request to play a character who has yet to reach adulthood. Some might think that, with the staggering amount of unorthodox dramatis personae out there in the wider gaming community, reaching a decision on so mundane a concept would be trivial. Some might think that; I thought that. After all, I enjoy fiction where the protagonist - or at least one of the protagonists - is an unusually talented/skilled youth that either shakes up the establishment or takes up the task of preserving a way of life.

 

The problem lies in how I am caught between what could be an engaging experience and the potential logical pitfalls that could morph the situation into absurdity should they fail to be adequately mitigated. Assuming the child has parents...why are they all accompanying the other PCs on an adventure fraught with life-threatening risk? If the child has parents (or, at least guardians, if they are adopted) who will remain in the starting town, why are they allowing their offspring to leave without them on the same adventure? Does the player expect the other Player Characters to raise their character by proxy?

 

High intelligence is nice (there won't be learning handicaps to address and the character has something to bring to the table compared to the less intellectual heroes), but the adolescent will have many things to learn through the simple act of living life. Parents can be problematic if their presence persists; I don't feel like DMPCing more than is necessary. It will be made clear to the player that quite a few NPCs are going to (at least initially) give the budding wizard a hard time, either due to a lack of respect or an excessive amount of concern. My hand is hovering over the "Hand Wave" button and ready to press it at moment's notice so I can broach this topic with the other players. Before I reach a decision, I need some input from fellow experienced tabletop gamers.

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This sounds to me like a conversation that should involve your group, not some random strangers on the internet. 

 

Tell them you are [enthusiastic/ambivalent/hesitant/concerned/whatever] about the idea but before moving forward to [saying no/saying yes] you want to have a dialog about [the questions and concerns you have, such as the ones you raised in your post] so you can be sure everyone's on the same page and onboard with the idea. 

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I agree with Gnome BODY; make sure the group is okay with the idea. Also make sure the other players don't are fair to the one playing the under-aged adventurer. I've known a few players who would try to get away with  bossing the child character around and otherwise picking on the player. Hopefully your players aren't that sort.

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Sorry--

 

going just a bit further:

 

At it's heart, it's just a game, and he is just a character in a story.

 

Unless you plan to run a session in which the party barters and bargains for permission to take the child away from his parents / family /  village, it's a non-problem.  If the player has no specific reasons in mind as to why he is traveling with the party, postulate that reasons exist, and that really should be enough.

 

Or go through some of those stories you enjoy and make one or twelve of those reasons work.  He's a runaway?  The party rescued him from abuse?  They freed him from slavery on a previous encounter and are hoping to one day return him home?  Parents said "well, _we_ can't teach him magic, and these guys are pretty well-armed, so sure; why not?"  And on and on and on.......

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I don't find we see the parents of very many of these child characters (or a whole lot of adult characters) in fiction.  Why should we see them in the game?  There seem to be a lot of orphans in fantasy fiction.

 

Luke Skywalker was a bit older, but a somewhat younger Luke would not seem to have needed a permission slip from home to take a field trip to the Death Star.

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This is actually something I've considered doing before, but more like an entire party of teenagers setting out on their own, etc. etc. The things that held me back are similar to what you're concerns are. I'll offer a few of the ideas I had to maybe help you out. Take 'em or leave 'em as you wish!

  • The Medieval world had a robust apprenticing system in trades and whatnot. Parents gave up their children willingly in order to learn a trade and become productive adults (squire, apprentice for a trade, shopkeeper's assistant/trainee, etc.) Keep in mind that adulthood began at a much younger age, so it's not so strange for a teenager to be out on his own.
  • In fantasy, this may amount to a child who shows promise being sent to apprentice with a wizard. If you have another wizard in your party, perhaps he'd like to take on the mentoring role. So the parents have sent the child off willingly to learn.
  • If there's no mentor, maybe they've sent the child with the party with the promise to make sure he gets to [name of school redacted to protect the innocent] in order to learn properly.
  • Maybe the parents are too poor to support the child and have to send him off with someone else who can afford to care for the child while also training the child.
  • Maybe the child is a runaway who managed to glom onto the party, and now they can't get rid of him.

 

Most importantly, it's going to require you to sit down at Session 0 with your players and see who and how all these things will interact. Things to consider and discuss with your players:

  • The child should have Complications galore built into the character: distinctive feature (young person, easily identified and hard to conceal), reduced Characteristics based on one of the templates offered, a tendency to throw tantrums or act irrationally because of youth, defies authority, is always trying to "prove himself" to the adults, and the list goes on. Complications are where you can try to encourage some of the character's role playing.
  • Spells will most likely have limited power that can grow rapidly over time. Perhaps your player will have limited versions of spells that can improve with use. Most likely the spells will also have a reduced activation roll, or have side effects, that can eventually be bought off with XP as he grows.  Maybe the youngster will gain XP at a faster rate than the other players for a while as he learns and grows more dramatically than the adults. "Hey, I didn't know I could make a fire spell explode like that! Cool!" and then add a new spell to his list.
  • The other players should most definitely step up and take Complications to account for a youth in their party. Maybe not all of them, but someone should take on the role of the mentor or protector, perhaps another player actually hates kids and take a Complication to pick on him that comes up every once in a while, and so on. The more you can get the characters to overlap with their Complications, the more likely the role playing will be reinforced in the group. So much good material can come from this!

So much good material can come from this. As you suggest, Ragitsu, have a conversation and let the group decide how these parts will interact. The more you can get the characters to overlap with their Complications, the less you'll have to "hand wave" the problems away, and the more you can hopefully encourage some good role playing material.

 

I was once in a one-shot at a convention, and one of the characters was a teenage girl super. The player who took her played that to the hilt! She was on her phone all the time, and was so ironic all the time, and started half her comments with "OMG . . ." and stuff like that. The role playing was amazing, and was only barely built into the character as a suggestion. If you can get your group to buy into the concept, it could be a ton of fun!

 

Hope this helps.

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45 minutes ago, Brian Stanfield said:

This is actually something I've considered doing before, but more like an entire party of teenagers setting out on their own, etc. etc. The things that held me back are similar to what you're concerns are. I'll offer a few of the ideas I had to maybe help you out. Take 'em or leave 'em as you wish!

  • The Medieval world had a robust apprenticing system in trades and whatnot. Parents gave up their children willingly in order to learn a trade and become productive adults (squire, apprentice for a trade, shopkeeper's assistant/trainee, etc.) Keep in mind that adulthood began at a much younger age, so it's not so strange for a teenager to be out on his own.
  • In fantasy, this may amount to a child who shows promise being sent to apprentice with a wizard. If you have another wizard in your party, perhaps he'd like to take on the mentoring role. So the parents have sent the child off willingly to learn.
  • If there's no mentor, maybe they've sent the child with the party with the promise to make sure he gets to [name of school redacted to protect the innocent] in order to learn properly.
  • Maybe the parents are too poor to support the child and have to send him off with someone else who can afford to care for the child while also training the child.
  • Maybe the child is a runaway who managed to glom onto the party, and now they can't get rid of him.

 

Most importantly, it's going to require you to sit down at Session 0 with your players and see who and how all these things will interact. Things to consider and discuss with your players:

  • The child should have Complications galore built into the character: distinctive feature (young person, easily identified and hard to conceal), reduced Characteristics based on one of the templates offered, a tendency to throw tantrums or act irrationally because of youth, defies authority, is always trying to "prove himself" to the adults, and the list goes on. Complications are where you can try to encourage some of the character's role playing.
  • Spells will most likely have limited power that can grow rapidly over time. Perhaps your player will have limited versions of spells that can improve with use. Most likely the spells will also have a reduced activation roll, or have side effects, that can eventually be bought off with XP as he grows.  Maybe the youngster will gain XP at a faster rate than the other players for a while as he learns and grows more dramatically than the adults. "Hey, I didn't know I could make a fire spell explode like that! Cool!" and then add a new spell to his list.
  • The other players should most definitely step up and take Complications to account for a youth in their party. Maybe not all of them, but someone should take on the role of the mentor or protector, perhaps another player actually hates kids and take a Complication to pick on him that comes up every once in a while, and so on. The more you can get the characters to overlap with their Complications, the more likely the role playing will be reinforced in the group. So much good material can come from this!

So much good material can come from this. As you suggest, Ragitsu, have a conversation and let the group decide how these parts will interact. The more you can get the characters to overlap with their Complications, the less you'll have to "hand wave" the problems away, and the more you can hopefully encourage some good role playing material.

 

I was once in a one-shot at a convention, and one of the characters was a teenage girl super. The player who took her played that to the hilt! She was on her phone all the time, and was so ironic all the time, and started half her comments with "OMG . . ." and stuff like that. The role playing was amazing, and was only barely built into the character as a suggestion. If you can get your group to buy into the concept, it could be a ton of fun!

 

Hope this helps.

 

What he said.

 

It's a pretty common trope for a fantasy character to run away to find an older sibling/cousin/older friend who became an adventurer. Perhaps one of the other PC's would be willing to intertwine their backstory to accommodate this and take on the mentor role.

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For a little while, about 15 years ago, I ran a campaign for my kids, wife, and her sister, HERO system, kind of a Saturday morning anthropomorphic animals, with martial arts, and low-power subtle magic powers.  The characters weren't quite pre-teens, but due to my kids' ages it played that way.  The cover story was that all four started in a local school/dojo in a small town, and were sent collectively to a larger and more advanced monastery in the Big City a few days away.

 

I made this work for a while, because the concept of pre-adult characters was inherent to the player group and was built into the atmosphere of the campaign from the beginning.  That included a mood that was basically light (none of my usual incalculably dark undertones that occasionally show throw where the paint has rubbed off), and essentially nothing like grit.  I don't think I could have retrofit those characters (about age 12 as I thought of them) into any of my standard campaigns, though.

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  • 2 months later...

Well it really depends on how horrible your world is, specifically how horrible for unfortunate children.  I mean if the adventurers left them at an orphanage would it be a clean, disciplined but not abusive educational establishment?  Or would it be like Little Orphan Annie?  Or the orphanage out of Tanya The Evil (she killed a fellow orphan to stop him stealing her food).  If all the alternatives for where to leave the child suck then adventuring isn't that bad.  You learn a trade, are less maybe less likely to be killed than some places, definitely don't get sex trafficked and could end up with money enough to buy a farm/small business.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Why does the character need to have his parents involved?  Unless the character took a complication to represent his parents he does not need any.  He could easily be an orphan or otherwise separated from his parents.  A lot of fantasy stories have similar characters.  You are also project modern social constraints on a different time period.  There was a book that I read about King Arthur that stated most warriors started training by age 7, and began fighting when they were 14 and dies by the time they were 20.  

 

Have the player build the character and see what he comes up with.  If there is anything you think is going to be a problem discuss it with him and works it out between you.  

 

I have actually played a couple of characters that were kids.  The youngest was in a Champions game and was a mutant that so even at 12 was stronger than a normal man.  He was also a genius and was able to hide the fact he was so young.  
 

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Whenever I have a player that wants to run a PC that could be problematic for me as GM, I will usually tell them that they are welcome to do so provided that the character background fits in with the campaign I am running.  For instance, I had a player that wanted to run a character with huge bat-wings in a world where winged people didn't exist as such.  I said that that was fine provided they could explain why this particular character had wings and that the character has some reasonable way conceal the wings so that the heroes could walk into town without drawing the attention of everyone there.  I would do the same with your child PC.  If you don't want to deal with the parents, make the player come up with the backstory so that you don't need to include them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My daughter is playing a pre-teen female character set in the My Hero Academia universe.

 

The PC's are evil and are attacking the hero world. My daughter's character is psychotic and a killer. In her backstory, it is strongly implied that she killed her own parents.

 

I don't know if the campaign will ever go there but I encouraged my daughter to have the character's psychotic break coming from having accidentally killed her parents as her quirk first emerged. That would work with the lethal nature of her powers and help explain why she shifts back and forth so easily between innocent child and casual killer.

====

 

In Medieval settings, people tended to grow up quickly. Kids were married or at least having to take on adult responsibilities by the time they were 13-14 years old. I'd worry a lot less about young characters living in that era than in the modern world. The other characters (not necessarily the players) would likely expect the kid to either keep up and pull his own weight or get killed or quit. At least unless the kid was really exceptional and worth protecting for years until he became and adult by the standards of the era. And that might well be the case if magic is rare in your world.

 

If the kid's parents were poor, they'd likely be thrilled to have him apprenticed to a band of adventurers, just as they'd be thrilled to have him apprenticed to a blacksmith. It's one less mouth to feed for them and good training so the kid can make a living for himself in the future. If they're lucky, the kid might even make enough money to take care of his parents if they grow old or infirm.

 

If the kid isn't the oldest boy in a family of nobility, they'd likely be happy to have him apprenticed to adventurers as well. Otherwise, the family would be expected to buy him armor and a horse at some point so he could go out on his own to do much the same adventuring and soldiering.

 

If the family are guildsmen of some sort, they'd probably the kid rather work in the family business or be apprenticed to another guild rather than be an adventurer. But there wouldn't be much of a way for them to stop him if he really wants to run away and join a heavily-armed band of adventurers.

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  • 5 weeks later...
On 4/12/2020 at 4:33 AM, Duke Bushido said:

Man, did I grow up different from you folks.....    :rofl:  

 

I used to be something of a "free range kid" myself, but I didn't exactly trek across states or nations with backpackers that fought off thugs, wild dogs and hypothermia while occasionally stopping to hunt for treasure.

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I agree with the previous posters, it sounds like it will be exactly as simple, or complicated, as the player/character wants to make it.

 

It is a lot like having a player that wants to play "The Loner", you know the rugged individualist that doesn't get along with anyone or work well with groups.

The player has to come up with reasons why this person is going to be a member of the group and not constantly running off on their own and arguing with the rest of the team over every decision that is made.

 

The player just needs to come up with a character that has, as the crime stories used to say, motive and opportunity.

Why do they want to be an adventurer?

Why would their relatives/guardians/etc. allow it?

 

Also, as with the loner, why would the other characters put up with him?

Does he provide useful skills and abilities?

Is he not too big a pain in the rear?

 

If the player want to use this as an excuse to play a character that is an attention-seeking insufferable brat, then it will be a problem.

It they just want to explore something a little different in roleplay, then no problem.

 

One slant that could work, if one of the other players agrees, would be having the young adult be an orphan who believes he is, or claims to be, the son of one of the player characters.

This could go in all kinds of interesting directions:

1) He could truly believe that the character is his father, and based on the other character's wealth, power, or social standing want to:

a) improve his situation by attaching himself to this character

b) seek revenge on this character for 'abandoning' his mother

c) take the character's wealth, position, etc because he feels the character 'abandoned' him 

d) have a sincere desire to be with his father and get to know him and prove himself to him

 

2) He could be a dangerous fraud who wants to get close to the character for some sinister reason, even though he knows that he is not related to the player character

 

3) He could believe himself to be a fraud, but actually BE related to the player character

 

4) He could be claiming to be related to one of the player characters, but actually know himself to BE related to another player character, but unwilling or embarrassed to let them know.

He could want to observe, get to know, sneak up on, etc. the character he is related to, and be using his fabricated relationship as a way to join the group.

 

Just throwing some stuff out there,

 

KA. 

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