[Princess World] Designing a game with kids in mind, that isn't childish

Hey TDers! I’m currently in the middle of the Princess World Kickstarter and I thought I’d talk a bit about my design process; in particular, designing a game for kids!

As anyone who’s talked with me about PW knows, the initial concept was pitched to me by my, at the time 3.5 year old, daughter. I wanted to make a game that would be welcoming to her, but also be something that young, new gamers could get into. So I did what I always try to do when starting a new project: if it’s possible, talk with the people that the game will be about or that it’s being made for.

I was able to get together with multiple groups of kids (which is the term they preferred to be referred to as) of ages 8-13 and I talked with them about role-playing games, what they thought about them and what they wanted from them. Some already had experiences with rpgs and some were completely new to the hobby, so there was a wide variety of opinions. I also reviewed a bunch of other “made for kids” games and what I found is that what those games presented didn’t always match up with what the kids had been saying they wanted.

What I found when looking at “made for kids” games was that there was often an underlying common denominator: in these games you played kids! Or kid-equivalents for whatever the genre was; that you might have some powers or abilities or other neat stuff, but you were still low on authority or agency, that the option to make wrong or bad choices was already removed from the list, and that the adult running the game was in charge and whose lead you should follow. While the kids I talked to thought those games were fun at some level, particularly if the adult running them was fun, it wasn’t what they really wanted to play.

What they wanted to play were, and I quote, “Characters who look cool and can do cool things.”

I really dug into that. What it came down to, is that these younger players wanted to play characters with power, agency, authority, and freedom, particularly in the imaginative and experiment-ready space of role-playing games. They wanted to ability to make “bad choices” in the relatively safe space of imaginative play, to “see what could happen”. They wanted the choices and decisions they made for their character to matter and that the results would have strong effects on the game world they were playing in. They also wanted to have the opportunity to be the “game master”, with the power and authority that often comes with that position.

So, those are the notes I’m trying to hit with Princess World; the characters are competent, expected to take action, to be responsible for doing important things, and also have cool abilities; so far, the younger players seem to be enjoying that position.

More to come about my goals for designing for kid GMs later!

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This sounds super cool. I love seeing the process behind what you’ve made. I have tried some systems with my 8 year old, but it can be hard to get her to understand the adult systems and the kid systems are boring both for her and me.

Looking forward to seeing what you bring us with Princess World