Child Development: The “Litest” RPG

A road to gaming

As part of my nefarious secret plot to induct my kids into the joy of nerdy gaming, I’ve been introducing The Kid to various activities in that vein for a while now. This actually began when he was still 2, with two board games:

  • Max is about a trio of small animals making their escape from a cat. We’ve gotten a decent amount of enjoyment out of this one over the years, but the rules are a bit finicky and the dice – blank white cubes that you have to stick colored stickers onto – took damage almost immediately. It seems they cut some costs in the materials department.


  • First Orchard is a dead-simple game about trying to save the fruit in an orchard from a crow. Strategy is minimal, so this may be a bit less engaging for adults, but Haba are clearly masters when it comes to physical presentation: solid construction and bright colors make this a viscerally-engaging game that will stand up to quite a lot of the sort of abuse small children often inflict on the world around them. Highly recommended.


But even many households where D&D and the like are shunned will still indulge in board games, especially for children. The same can be said for what came next: mazes. As a gamer I keep a supply of grid paper, and last spring and summer I spent several weeks drawing mazes for him to solve; he tended to draw a line exploring every possible route before asking for another.

I also added storytelling to The Kid’s bedtime routine. He likes stories about robots, dinosaurs, and the adventures of チーズ婆さん (Chiizu baasan), “Grandmother Cheese.” It was easy – natural, in fact – to turn this into group storytelling by asking him to provide details: what the adventurer’s favorite food was; which way the robots turned in their search for the missing humans; what animal brought Grandmother Cheese the ingredient she needed.

And finally, now that he’s five-almost-six, I’ve added dice and The Kid is engaging in most people would recognize as RPG play. The “system” we use is an ultralite of my own invention, although for those familiar with various systems its DNA should be clear enough. The rules are as follows:

Ultralite Dice-Assisted Roleplaying

First, you make a character. Give your imaginary avatar a name, a mission, and any other characteristics you want, and then fill out their Mechanically Meaningful Stats:

  • Quirk – a fundamental personal trait that stands out, such as “strong,” “fast,” “smart,” etc.
  • Skill – something they’re especially good at, such as “map-making” or “running away.”
  • Tool – a special piece of equipment, such as an animal tranquilizer.

Proceed with the normal RPG conversation of play, with the Narrator describing a situation, the player(s) describing how their character(s) act, the Narrator describing the new situation that results, and so on. When a moment of dramatic uncertainty arises, you can resolve it by rolling between one and four ordinary six-sided dice –

  • Always roll at least one die, just for trying to do a thing.
  • For each Mechanically Meaningful Stat the character can bring to bear, add another die.

– and then looking at the result –

  • A 1 or 2 is a failure; things probably get worse in some way.
  • A 3 or 4 is a qualified success; the character achieves what they want, but there’s a cost, problem, or complication.
  • A 5 is an ordinary success; the character achieves what they want.
  • A 6 is an extraordinary success; the character achieves more or better than what they’d originally aimed for.

And that’s all there is to it! The whole game, both rules and character sheet, fit on a single index card with room left over for notes.

Even better, UDAR (a name that I literally just came up with while writing this post) was a hit! The Kid has gone on multiple expeditions to search for dinosaurs, gotten into a couple of memorable scrapes, and even done what comes naturally to many roleplaying gamers: he volunteered to take a turn as Narrator… and added some house rules of his own invention. I’m super proud, but the story will have to wait until a later post.

6sided dice 

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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