Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My review of Yuletide Journey for Hero Kids and free stuff for you

A couple of days ago Connor, Mommy, and I played the Hero Kids adventure, "Yuletide Journey". Overall, it went well, although there were a couple of bumps along the way. One big omission was in the NPC Elven characters.  There is an encounter where the Heroes compete against three Elven "Fledglings": an archer with a bow, a fighter with a sword, and a Magic user with a large spellbook.  The group are quickly joined by a child Elf of unspecified abilities and equipement. However, the adventure only includes a card and standee for an Elven Arher with a bow and an Elven Druid with a Staff.

Now technically none of the encounters actually needed full stats or standees for the three Elven competitors, but this is a game for young children - EVERY scene is an opportunity to place and play with miniatures on the table, needed or not! :-)  Luckily, I had previously purchased all the Hero Kids expansions, and had an Elven character with two wooden swords. Another Human Hero Kid stood in place of the unspecified child Elf.  It worked, but wasn't ideal - ESPECIALLY later in the adventure when the Elven child tags along and the party gets attacked by wolves.  The lack of any stats for this NPC were handwaved by simply using the stand-in Hero's stats for the combat encounter, but ideally I wouldn't need to compensate for an unfortunate defeciency.

On the plus side, the encounters with Odin and Sleipnir were highly engaging and greatly enjoyed by both mother and child, with no one under the age of 40 noticing the lack of stats or standees for either of them.  Eh, what are you gonna do?  Kids aren't consistent!  While, there is room for improvement in this adventure, I would still recommend it as a fun holiday-themed adventure.  If you're running it though, give it a full read through and be prepared to wing it and fill in the blanks occasionally.

My next adventure will actually by a non-Hero Kids one for a different, kid-friendly roleplaying game.  Full disclosure: the author graciously comped me a copy, although I didn't promise a biased review either.  I am looking forward to it, as the theme of the game is different and I'm curious to how Connor reacts to a different set of rules.  I'll post a play report once we've run through it.

Free non-combat equipment cards.
One thing I have been thinking about in Hero Kids is equipment. I've bought the official Equipment Cards expansion and the third party Armory 1 from Aegis Studios both sets of equipment are really good and add a lot to the game.  I've used them several times as extra rewards in the published adventures I've run, as well as in a couple of ad-hoc adventures I've made up.  I have a bunch of ideas on the the distinctions between Items, Equipment, and Inventory items (note the lower case "item"), but I'm saving those ideas for a future post where I'll also talk about a way of making use of those bags of gold some Heroes carry around.  In the meantime, I've made some equipment cards a Hero Kid can use outside of combat.  Download them for free here: Non-Combat Equipment Cards. Hopefully, inventive GMs will be able to use them to come up with encounters where they can assist with various Ability Tests.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Skills in Hero Kids, part 2

In part one of this two-part posting on my alternate Primary and Speciality Skill System for the Hero Kids™ RPG, I introduced the concept of the Primary Skill and the Speciality Skills which are grouped within each Primary Skill. Please read part one for the full explanation of both types, but to recap, having a Primary Skill adds an extra D6 to your Ability Test, while having a Speciality Skill within a Primary reduces the difficulty of the Ability Test by one - in addition to the extra D6 granted by the parent Primary Skill.

Let’s continue now with some further details on this system, how it combines with the Hero Attributes, a detailed listing of the skills themselves, rules for adding to and improving a Hero’s skills, and some guidelines for converting existing Hero Kids™ material to utilize this alternate skill system.

Pairing Attributes and Skills

Skills can be used with any of the three Attributes, providing the usage is appropriate. Pairing a Skill with Strength signifies a forceful use of the skill, pairing it with Dexterity implies a more precise use of the skill, while pairing it with Intelligence indicates a thoughtful or studied use of the skill.

For example, a Strength (Climbing) Ability Test may represent exerting yourself to climb a physically demanding surface, while a Dexterity (Climbing) Ability Test may refer to a technically challenging climb requiring a lot of agility, and an Intelligence (Climbing) Ability Test may be confirming your ability to recognise the best method or equipment to use in performing a climb so as to avoid a particular hazard.

Expanded Skills List

This is the “expanded” listing, not the “comprehensive” or “complete” skill list. It should be edited and reworked to suit your personal tastes. Want a “Jumping” Speciality Skill within Athletics? Feel Herbalism should be a Primary Skill separate from Medicine? Want to add “Healing” as a Speciality of Medicine? Want to remove the “Barter” Speciality? Need a “Programming” Speciality of Technology? Want to add the Primary Skill “Courage”? Any of these and more are valid for YOUR game. This is my proposed starting point. Adjust to taste, and please share the results with me.

Athletics: (Primary) This is for anyone who excels at movement focused physical actions. Speciality Skills: Acrobatics, Climbing, Running, Swimming, Throwing.
  • Acrobatics: (Speciality) This covers gymnastic actions such as tumbling, jumping flipping, hanging upside down, tightrope walking, etc.
  • Climbing: (Speciality) This is used when climbing a tree, cliff, wall, or rope.
  • Running: (Speciality) The art of moving your legs as fast as you can.
  • Swimming: (Speciality) Moving gracefully and quickly in water without drowning.
  • Throwing: (Speciality) This covers throwing (and catching) an object accurately at an intended target.
Currency: (Primary) Appreciation of and experience with the handling and value of money and trade. Speciality Skills: Bartering, Bribery, Trading.
  • Bartering: (Speciality) When to trade goods and how to turn a profit doing it.
  • Bribery: (Speciality) When it’s safe or appropriate to pay off someone and how to recognise WHO to pay and how much to pay.
  • Trading: (Speciality) How to recognise what goods will sell best in one place or to one customer, and which goods are best to buy for resell elsewhere, where best to sell gained goods, and how to turn a profit in all of this.
Gunnery: (Primary) Skill in the use of heavy weapons such as spaceship weapons, tanks, castle artillery, siege weapons, etc. where the weapon’s use emphasises accurate operation of the device rather than the precise body mechanics of a sling or a bow. Speciality Skills: none at present.

Knowledge: (Primary) This represents being learned about things of the world around them. Speciality Skills: Animals, History, Lore, Magic, Nature.
  • Animals: (Speciality) Knowing details about the animals of the world. Their lifecycles, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • History: (Speciality) The scholarly study of past events based on archival recordings.
  • Lore: (Speciality) The accumulation of socially shared knowledge.
  • Magic: (Speciality) The study of magic; its history, practitioners, and capabilities. This does NOT confer any ability to perform magic, this comes from having dice in one’s Magic Die Pool and having magical Attacks, Actions, and Abilities.
  • Nature: (Speciality) Knowing details of life and the ecosystems of the world, how all plants and animals contribute to the functioning of the world. Recognising specific plants and animals, and their abilities and uses.
Mechanic: (Primary) Being skilled at working with your hands and using tools to perform specialized tasks. Speciality Skills: Build, Repair, Traps.
  • Build: (Speciality) This skill focuses on creating a new object, sometimes from blueprints and custom parts, sometimes cobbled together from random materials on hand.
  • Repair: (Speciality) You have training and practice in restoring proper form and function to things which have been broken or simply cease to function.
  • Traps: (Speciality) You know all the dirty tricks used to ensnare, imprison, entomb, mangle, or otherwise impede people who are going where they’re not wanted. Making, finding, and disabling all manner of traps is your speciality.
Medicine: (Primary) You’ve learned about the illnesses and injuries one can suffer, and have become skilled in treating them as best you can. This covers everything from first aid, to surgery, to prescribing medicinal substances, to making your own cures, to even using magical restoratives such as potions. This skill does NOT confer the ability to cast healing magics, or to craft magical potions. Speciality Skills: Herbalism, Potions.
  • Herbalism: (Speciality) This covers an in depth ability in identifying and gathering medicinal plants, where they can be found, the crafting of herbal remedies with specific effects, and when to apply which remedy.
  • Potions: (Speciality) You can recognise different types of magical and non-magical potions, ascertain their effects, and determine when or if to use a given potion.
Negotiation: (Primary) You know what to say, how to say it, and who to say it to so as to get what you want, or to reach an agreeable solution for all involved in a dispute. Sometimes a Hero will use this skill for virtuous purposes, sometimes for nefarious ones. Speciality Skills: Bluff, Intimidation.
  • Bluff: (Speciality) This is the art of convincing someone to go along with what you are saying or doing as though it is valid, when it may not necessarily be so.
  • Intimidation: (Speciality) This is the art of imposing your will upon someone else to do or agree with what you want.
Perception: (Primary) Did you notice that? If the answer is usually yes, then you have the Perception skill. It represents one’s ability and training in picking up on the details that others often overlook. Speciality Skills: Search, Tracking, Navigation.
  •  Search: (Speciality) If it can be found, then you’re the one to look for it.
  • Tracking: (Speciality) Everything that moves leaves a trail, and you can find and follow it.
  • Navigation: (Speciality) Knowing how to determine where you are, and how to get to a specific other location is the foundation of this Speciality. Whether used by woodsmen, sailors, or ship captains, the methods of “reading” and plotting a course through one’s chosen terrain are much the same.

Pilot: (Primary) This is everything pertaining to controlling methods of getting from place to place via some form of conveyance more involved than your own feet. Speciality Skills: Driving, Riding, and Sailing.
  • Driving: (Speciality) This focuses on vehicles such as horse carts, automobiles, and other surface vehicles where one must manually steer.
  • Riding: (Speciality) This is applied towards any creature one guides to have them carry you elsewhere, whether the creature be a horse, dolphin, dinosaur, or dragon.
  • Sailing: (Speciality) This covers all the specialized skills relating to controlling a sailed watercraft.
Stealth: (Primary) This is the art of sneaking around, concealing oneself, and otherwise using such things as your surroundings, your attire, and other methods to evade detection of yourself or an object. Speciality Skills: Disguise, Hiding, Traps.
  • Disguise: (Speciality) This is the ability to make one thing look like another. For example, making yourself look older, or making a trap look like an ordinary section of the floor.
  • Hiding: (Speciality) This skill focuses on making something or someone go unnoticed. Effectively using the shadows, or knowing just how to best hide behind a group of trees comes under this.
  • Traps: (Speciality) You know all the dirty tricks used to ensnare, imprison, entomb, mangle, or otherwise impede people who are going where they’re not wanted. Making, finding, and disabling all manner of traps is your speciality.

Technology: (Primary) The word “technology” usually connotates such things as computers, rayguns, robots, and spaceships. However, the workings of a crossbow, drawbridge, trebuchet, or a pressure-plate triggered pit trap equally involve the development and application of technological skill. This skill grant familiarity and skill in identifying and using the technology of your time, whether it be satellites or water wheels. Speciality Skills: Hacking, Traps.
  • Hacking: (Speciality) Everything that has a function has a method to its function, every method has rules and you know how to circumvent them to gain unauthorized access. This covers everything from lock picking, to breaking into computer systems, to circumventing security systems, to accessing functions in machinery or electronics beyond their intended or normal usage.
  • Traps: (Speciality) You know all the dirty tricks used to ensnare, imprison, entomb, mangle, or otherwise impede people who are going where they’re not wanted. Making, finding, and disabling all manner of traps is your speciality.

Skill Advancement

The easiest way to add new Primary and Speciality Skills is to simply award Skill Points to each Hero when the players successfully completes an adventure. How many Skill Points to award is a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t recommend more than 1 or 2 per adventure.

If you’d prefer linking the number of Skill Points to an external source, you could award 1 Skill Point for Easy or Moderate adventures, and 2 Skill Points for Hard adventures. Another way would be to award a Skill Point for every 5 or 6 encounters, this will result in Heroes sometimes not getting a new Skill Point at the end of an adventure, and other times getting one part way through an adventure. Plus, you will need to track your number of encounters leading up to the next Skill Point. These are all minor concerns, but you need to have your preferred method settled upon before introducing this system to your own little Heroes.

Once they have some Skill Points, they can redeem them for new Primary Skills at a cost of two Skill Points, and new Speciality Skills for one Skill Point. Also, I wouldn’t allow the gaining of new skills in the middle of an adventure. Heroes need the time in between adventuring to learn new things, attend their training, and practice new skills. Of course, your players will grumble the first time they are told they can only gain new skills after the adventure is done, but if you’re consistent from the beginning, they’ll just accept it as the “new normal”.

Hero Translation Guide

Great! We have all these shiny new skills, now how to represent them on our existing and future Heroes. Also, what are the new starting skills for all the canon Heroes? Have no fear, here are the conversions for the Heroes included in the core rules:
  • Male Warrior: The Perception Primary Skill and Tracking Speciality Skill.
  • Female Warrior: The Negotiation Primary Skill and Intimidation Speciality Skill.
  • Female Hunter: The Knowledge Primary Skill and Lore Speciality Skill.
  • Male Hunter: The Perception Primary Skill and Tracking Speciality Skill.
  • Male “fire” Warlock: The Knowledge Primary Skill and Magic Speciality Skill.
  • Female “water” Warlock: The Knowledge Primary Skill and Magic Speciality Skill.
  • Male “Hammer” Brute: The Negotiation Primary Skill and Intimidation Speciality Skill.
  • Male Rogue: The Stealth Primary Skill and Hiding Speciality Skill.
  • Female Healer: The Medicine Primary Skill and Herbalism Speciality.
  • Male “Kitchen” Knight: The Negotiation Primary Skill and Intimidation Speciality Skill

The additional Heroes featured in the Expansion series can easily be translated using the same guideline of granting them one Primary Skill and one Speciality Skill. There is one Hero from the Fantasy Expansion, Hero Cards III I will include here, the Dwarven Knight (he has “Hammer Strike” as his Melee Attack) as he has no actual skill listed, just two healing potions, some money, and the Darkvision ability. I recommend giving him the either the Perception Primary Skill and the Search Speciality Skill, or the Currency Primary Skill and the Trading Speciality Skill.

Adding This System To The Game Table

A Hero with the Hero Card Extension.

To show these new skills on your Hero Card, you could just write them on the back of the card, although you then may need to keep flipping your Hero Card to make sure you don't forget what skills your Hero does or doesn't have. Alternately, you can download and print the one-page Hero Card Extension I’ve made and attach the Hero Card to the top of the sheet. This gives you a convenient place to write down both their new Skills and any new Inventory they acquire from their adventures. If you're strict about the use of inventory cards, then you can simply use the Inventory section as a place to put them instead.


Whew! This system became much larger than I expected it to be when I started my previous post. My original intent was just an expanded list of skills to add to a Hero Card, but the more I wrote the more it all fleshed out in my head. Now it is a full blown system of advanced skills. I probably won’t be introducing this to my son's game until he’s a couple of years older, but I’d love to hear what other people think of it.

For ease of reference, I’ve compiled parts one and two into a pdf, formatted to be printed and used with the Hero Kids™ RPG. You can get it here: Primary & Speciality Hero Kids Skill System. If you try this out let me know what you think.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Skills in Hero Kids, part 1

The other day my four year old son Connor and I were preparing for a Hero Kids™ adventure and I asked him to pick out the Kids who would be going on the latest adventure. It’s just he and I playing, so I tell him to pick three Kids from the stack I have. This involves him in the set up, and gives me a few moments to sort out the maps and gather the needed monsters for the adventure.

Don't forget the Healer!
Connor went through them all and was talking to himself as he selected each, espousing the comparative merits (as he saw them) of one Hero over another, at one point I was rather amused when he declared, “...and we need Sally the Healer. You have to have a Healer in case a monster attacks because she can use her magic to heal you.” Apparently, the gamer trope of always including a Cleric in your party is quickly learned, even at an early age!

Speaking of learning things, Hero Kids™ has a pretty fast and loose skills system.  It works, but it’s not an exact system. Even the game’s designer, Justin Halliday often inserts new skills in the Ability Tests of his adventures. Sadly, there is no official method for a Hero to acquire new skills.

Now, for the occasional one-off game, this isn’t really an issue. If an Dexterity (Traps) Ability Test is called for, the absence of of a Traps Skill isn’t really THAT big of a deal - for your average 4-6 year old you can simply hand-wave it and move on. However, if you have a gamer who is a bit older or more experienced, they may start asking what Skill relates to Traps, or to Swimming, Climbing, Acrobatics, Riding, etc. Perhaps they are using the same Hero repeatedly and want to learn a new skill not covered by the default handful or the single starting Skill each Hero has. Thankfully, the skills system is easily expanded to include any new skills that come up, and can even be further expanded to permit long-term advancement in a variety of ways.

Recently, I went through the adventures from both the fantasy and the Space Expansion published as of Dec 2015, gathered all the skills mentioned by name from every Ability Test, and added a couple of my own as inspiration struck. Out of the almost 40 different skills I found (plus the handful I added), only 19 are mentioned in the rules, with many of them grouped under a single icon -  the “book” icon serving as the indicator of the skills Knowledge, History, and Lore, the “mask” covering both Disguise and Sneaking, etc.

Also, there are several skills I found which are overly similar for the intended low complexity level of this game: Herbalism & Herbs, Stealth & Sneaking, Speaking & Talking, Driving & Piloting, and so on. There is a definite opportunity to expand on skills. I propose the following replacement Skill system:

Alternate Primary & Speciality Skills System

Heroes have two kinds of Skills to draw from to perform various tasks during the roleplaying adventure, Primary and Speciality Skills.

A Primary Skill covers a broad range of actions and add one extra die to Ability Tests involving that skill. Thus, if performing a Dexterity (Stealth) Ability Text, a Hero would roll their Dexterity die pool, plus one die for the Ability Test, and one die for the relevent Primary Skill.

A Speciality Skill covers a more specific focus of actions relating to the associated Primary Skill, and reduce the difficulty of a test by one. Thus, a Hero performing a Dexterity (Stealth/Traps) Ability Test at difficulty 6 would roll their Dexterity die pool, adding 1D6 for the Ability Test, one die for the Primary Skill, with a reduced difficulty of 5 from havng the Traps Speciality Skill.

To use the example above, each Skill Listing would look like this:

Stealth: (Primary) This is the art of sneaking around, concealing oneself, and otherwise using such things as your surroundings, your attire, and other methods to evade detection of yourself or an object. Speciality Skills: Disguise, Hiding, Traps.
    Disguise: (Speciality) This is the ability to make one thing look like another. For example, making yourself look older, or making a trap look like an ordinary section of the floor.
    Hiding: (Speciality) This skill focuses on making something or someone go unnoticed. Effectively using the shadows, or knowing just how to best hide behind a group of trees comes under this.
    Traps: (Speciality) You know all the dirty tricks used to ensnare, imprison, entomb, mangle, or otherwise impede people who are going where they’re not wanted. Making, finding, and disabling all manner of traps is your speciality.

Technically, one can still perform the tasks of Disguise, Hiding, and working with Traps without the Stealth Specialities, but they wouldn't gain the difficulty reduction. I went with assigning a difficulty reduction to Speciality Skill instead of an additional dice as I didn't want to have too many sources of dice pool increases, plus this method should work out to be a lesser bonus than a full extra D6.

I'll follow up in my next post with a full treatment of this alternate skill system, complete with all skills, rules for assigning them to a Hero, and a means of skill-oriented character advancement. This post is rather long enough right now, and I just want to get the idea out there first. Let me know what you think so far, and soon I'll post part two.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Hero Kids™ - My New Favourite Simple Game

I’ve played tabletop roleplaying games for almost 25 years and the more I explore this hobby, the more ways I find to enjoy it.  My wife is also a gamer and enjoys tabletop roleplaying too.  This has allowed us to share a very rewarding hobby instead of it being something which separates us, or causes resentment and arguments.  I know not all gamers (male or female) are so lucky.

Four years ago, we were also very fortunate to have our first child.  We had been trying for almost 10 years and had given up when we were surprised with a son.  Having grown up in our gaming household, he is quite accustomed to seeing our friends come over to play board games, card games, or tabletop roleplaying games.  At age four, he now wants to play a “miniatures game” with Mom and Dad.  Unfortunately for him, he’s not mature enough to understand the rules of most of our games.  Thus began my search for a kid-friendly tabletop RPG.

I found several, but many of them assumed a lower age limit of 8 to 12 years old.  I could have simply played with no rules, but he wanted a character sheet, a miniature, and use dice to fight monsters - just like Mommy and Daddy.  So, I needed to use SOMETHING he could understand.  I was about to make my own simple system which I felt in my gut was going to be a big exercise in reinventing the wheel when I found the Hero Kids™ RPG by Justin Halliday of Hero Forge Games. (  It was just what I was looking for.

A Hero Kids rpg game in progress.
Hero Kids RPG, for your youngest gamers!

First off, it is designed for kids aged four to ten, which suited my situation to a tee.  Secondly, it is fun to play, both for him and I.  Thirdly, there is a decent amount of material available.  Play aides, game expansions, and adventures.  Characters have four attributes, each of which use a pool of D6s to rate them.  Action resolution is measured by comparing the highest number rolled to task difficulties of 4 to 6.  The more dice you have, the more likely you are to have a successful die roll.  Combat is a simple opposed roll of the attacker’s attack roll versus the defender’s armor die roll.  This makes for a simple, low math approach to dice resolution that is entirely appropriate to the youngest players while still allowing variety for the older ones.

Characters also have a number of health boxes, each successful attack removes one box of health - reach zero Health and you are knocked out. Each character also has three special abilities they can perform either in or outside of combat, and a handful of skills and equipment.  Characters aren’t intended to advance under the core rules, however long term character advancement isn’t the focus or intent of this game, simply having an adventure is the purpose.  By the time your child is ready for system supported character advancement, they are likely also ready for a more complex system anyway.  Is it a perfect game?  No, of course not - no such thing can exist.  But Hero Kids™ is very close to the perfect young child’s tabletop roleplaying game.  Even if you find there is some aspect of the game which is missing for you, it is a very easy game to house rule or expand upon.

As a parent and an experienced gamer introducing a young child to RPGs, I do caution you before you add anything to THEIR game.  Seriously evaluate if what you’re adding to the game is for your kids benefit or yourself.  It’s easy to keep adding to the system until it becomes as full and versatile as an adult’s rpg, at which point it is no longer playable by your child…  If they are having fun and all their needs are being met, then the game is fine.  This doesn’t mean nothing could ever be added to Hero Kids™, in fact over the next few posts I will be showing some of my ideas and additions.  Just be sure it is something they will appreciate the inclusion of.