Suffer Unto Me the Little Children
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.
A problem common among RPGs is the way they treat (or more correctly, fail to treat) the subject of children. Certainly, a hardy band of adventurers exploring some new world may not have much cause to interact with children, but visitors to most settled worlds will probably find the little people in abundance. Apart from adding to the ambiance of the setting, children can serve several useful roles for the referee.
It can be argued that a key element of role-playing, as contrasted with simulation gaming, is the chance for the PCs to interact with their environment on a social level as well as a physical level. A key outcome of that interaction is character development, in the sense of filling out the concept, motivations, and personality of the character, rather than in the sense of increasing stats and skills. Interaction with ‘incidental’ non-players, including children or pets, is quite reasonably part of that development. That’s not to say that children can’t have a direct impact on the action; that will be discussed later.
There are several ways in which younger NPCs can influence a PC’s development. Perhaps a child attaches themselves to a PC for some reason. Does the PC try to find out why? Does the PC begin to develop a sense of responsibility for the child, possibly taking their needs and welfare into consideration when deciding on possible courses of action? An older child may offer the PC the chance to become a mentor, providing guidance and serving as a role model for a younger person. How does that change the PC’s behavior? For more mature PC groups, how does the PC handle the situation when someone on the verge of adulthood, and thinking they’re ready for an adult relationship, becomes infatuated with the PC?
Children can also serve the referee as plot devices. Players who opt not to interfere in a situation arising out of an adult’s choices, thinking the NPC knew what they were getting into, may feel differently about the same situation if the ‘victim’ is a child. A young child’s curiosity or a teen’s rebelliousness may lead them into trouble that a supposedly rational adult would avoid. This could require the PC’s intervention, especially if you have spent time developing a relationship between the PC and younger NPC. A self-anointed spokesperson for their chosen idol may loudly proclaims to any and all, “John ain’t afraid o’ someone like you!” A child or teen may be victimized to get at the parents, and during the rescue (contracted for by those parents), the minor becomes attached to a PC—and/or vice-versa. Lastly, if a fight is proving too easy for the PCs, how does the young sidekick running into the middle of it in pursuit of their wayward pet alter the combat equation?
Children can also serve as a warning device. If the PCs are being taken in by a smooth-talking opponent, what happens when the young child who has not yet learned to distrust their instincts or guard their words blurts out, “I don’t like that man!”? Alternatively, will a child’s overt liking or disliking someone throw the PCs off-track?
If you’ve read this far, you presumably are interested in incorporating children into your campaign—but what are they like in terms of game mechanics? The following table provides the ‘numbers.’ Several principles guide the development of this table. Most PCs and NPC are generated by rolling 2D6 for their characteristics. This yields an average result of 7 by the time a character reaches adulthood. By late adolescence this is true for str, end, and int. Dex takes a little longer to reach full coordination, and edu doesn’t reach average adult level until graduation from secondary school. (Admittedly, this is based on the Western European/North American contemporary situation.) If a child survives their first few years, they aren’t as likely to fatally succumb to disease, thus end rises quickly. In the same manner, they develop a basic understanding of the world and how to interpret it early on so int rises quickly as well. As to soc, teens don’t carry quite the same weight as adults, with younger children having even less social clout. Therefore, a minor’s soc is either one (B in the table) or two (A in the table) points lower than their parents, at least until they have established their own identity as adults.
An infant is relatively weak and helpless, thus children start out with low characteristic values. As the child ages, automatically increase their characteristics by the increments on the table. It is possible to vary these values by a point or two; bear in mind that a two-point variance at the lower levels reflects a much greater difference than the same variance later in life.
Children start to develop (Traveller) skills around age six. The number in the table reflects how many skills an average character will acquire, and coincides with the background skill numbers for regular adult character generation. In keeping with that approach, these skills should be taken from the World Trade Code and Background Education tables in the Traveller Core Rules.
Editor’s Note: A second version of the table has been included here for calculating a child’s development for any final stat values. To use this table, multiply the final (adult) stat value by the number for the stat on the same line as the desired age, rounding fractional results up. The assumptions, similar to the author’s stated assumptions for the first table, are as follows:
One-third of the child’s physical development (str, dex, end) will occur between birth and age six. This is a time when the child is growing and learning rapidly, and becoming physically autonomous. Half of int will also be developed in this period.
Half of the child’s physical development will take place between ages 12 and 18, when puberty begins and the child matures into an adult. The ability to learn is still high, but tends to slow down, so only one-third of int will be developed in this period.
Edu will develop at a steady rate through this period. This would be more an artifact of the formal education systems in use than any inherent limitations, so feel free to vary it.
|Minor Character Characteristics and Skills, Average Char, Ages 1-17|
|Minor Character Characteristics and Skills, Proportional, Ages 1-17|