Don't Roll a 1, Kids

Recently the afterschool roleplaying class I teach for kids 8-12 at a public elementary school in NYC has switched over to using the Adventurer Conqueror King System; next semester it's officially reflected in the title of the class.  Previously we had used mish-moshes of the D&D rules of one edition or another. The class grew out of a D&D birthday party I donated to the school's PTA fund-raising auction. The boy whose family won was part of a group of sixth-graders who knew how to play 4E (or thought they did), so we started out with a greatly simplified set of 4E house rules. However, things like daily and encounter powers make the assumption that multiple encounters will happen in a session, which is rarely true for our 80 minute classes. Advancement has been another persistent problem. Kids want to become more powerful, and we just don't see enough play time to make that happen with the usual XP systems. And new kids enter the class every semester; it makes sense to start them off with easier-to-learn first level characters, but the returning kids bitterly resent having to stop playing their uber-characters and go back to being chumps.

 

The impetus to start using ACKS - apart from its being a great game that I'd like to see more people playing - was the support for making characters at different stages of play.

The appendix on making advanced characters lets us have parties of Adventurers for the new kids to get their introduction to roleplaying. Meanwhile, experienced kids can pursue epic adventure as Conquerors or Kings and have some advancement within those stages without having to earn all the XP necessary to get there in the first place.

 

Not surprisingly, this semester's kids immediately wanted to roll up Kings. We see this in convention games too: when players control characters at each stage, they gravitate to the highest-level ones. What I didn't expect is that while adults want to go off and pursue the kinds of end-game adventures few campaigns reach, the kids are entirely devoted to sitting around and spending the 815,000 gp that a King starts with. I've seen them pass up any number of adventure hooks while they draw up the floor plans for their castle or buy a menagerie worth of hawks, mules, and elephants. Apparently super awesome let's pretend time is enhanced, rather than restricted, by having a handout of prices - this and spell lists are the only rules documents I've ever seen the kids get interested in -and although questions like "How much does it cost to make a back yard for my castle?" weren't ones we envisioned when writing ACKS, it proves to be pretty easy to extrapolate from the likely wages for a staff of gardeners.

 

If the concreteness of price lists is inspiring for kids, randomness is even more so. This week my group spent all session having their King-level mages encant staffs using the rules for magic item creation. The cool thing here is that all the time spent working out the costs and risks - do you invest an extra 10,000 gp worth of crushed diamonds into the staff in order to succeed on a spell research throw of 6+ instead of 7+ - builds up anticipation for that one single roll to a degree the kids find nearly unbearable. When they succeed, the cheers disturb the class next door. When one boy failed three times in a row, burning through 525,000 gp and six years of his character's life to no result, I had an opportunity for a teaching moment that went beyond arithmetic and probability to address the ideas of fairness and how what made a character special isn't their power level so much as how vividly they came to life in the minds of the players around the table - not to mention the kids who come over from other tables to witness the roll everyone is so keyed up about!

 

When this mage first casts summon djinni using the staff he'll someday manage to enchant, we'll all give that moment  much more attention because of all the travails that went into it. Kids at this school are under a lot of pressure to succeed, and gifted enough that they often expect to do so on the first try. I'm glad that ACKS gave us a chance to see that sometimes the best things in life come from rolling a string of natural 1s and not giving up.

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