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Ragitsu

[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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