Lately I’ve been watching a lot of 80s teen comedies. Revenge of the Nerds, Real Genius, Summer School and of course the greats by John Hughes – Weird Science, the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (to name just a few of my personal favourites). While watching these again recently, I started thinking about how the formula for a teen comedy could be used to create an interesting D&D campaign. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have kids in their mid to late teens get into all kinds of fun and frivolity when they are left unsupervised.
In the world of D&D most adventures begin their career in their late teens or early twenties. Other fantasy races are older, but their social, physical and mental maturity is roughly in the same place as a human reaching the age of majority. But what if we looked at heroes who were even younger? A bit less refined and a lot more naive. Level 1 adventurers already look at the world through rose-coloured glasses, but if they were a few years younger how much more would this outlook change?
By playing kids (and by kids I’m thinking mid teens) the PCs are old enough to know better, have some educational background or street smarts, and be physically ready to handle D&D style combat. Playing character any younger potentially adds all kinds of complications. I can hear some of you already saying that the kids in Harry Potter were only 11 in the first book, but I remind you that they were confined to Hogwarts school and had some heavy hitting Wizards nearby should things go really wrong.
If you decide to run a D&D campaign where the PCs are kids, where do you begin? First off is character creation. In previous editions of D&D there were rules for adjusting abilities based on age. In 4e they’ve done away with this. And in my opinion this is the right way to handle it. If the PCs decide that they want to play kids, let them just use the normal rule. Leave it up to the role-playing to define how and why they have a really high Strength or an exceptional Charisma. When they reach level 4 and get to bump two abilities, this can easily be explained as part of the maturing process.
The next part of character creation that should be addressed is equipment. Again, my recommendation is to leave the mechanics unchanged. Let the PCs have fun with the role-playing. “Although I use a great sword, it’s clearly too big for me. But when I use it my moves are so unpredictable that my opponents are unable to anticipate my attacks and I actually connect more often than you’d think.”
Once the characters have been created it’s time to work on the back-story. Why are these characters taking on this adventure, especially if they’re too young to be faced with this responsibility? This is where I look to those comedies again. In almost every movie the real fun begins when the kids are left unsupervised and get into trouble. Perhaps they weren’t intentionally left unsupervised, maybe escaping an authority figure is the first adventure?
If you’re a DM who wants a more goal-focused adventure you can always fall back on an equally popular motive – rescuing a loved one. An older sibling or a parent is missing and the PCs set out to find the lost family member despite the jeers and laughter of society. This scenario works, but it’s a bit boring and tired.
Although the movies that inspired this brainstorm were comedies, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a D&D campaign revolving around teen PCs need be hilarious. It could be a perilous adventure where the PCs quickly realize their in way over their head. In a dangerous world where dragons exist, the less experience you posses the more danger you’re likely to get into. However, I see much more opportunity to have fun with teen character as a comedy.
If the group as a whole agrees to undertake this kind of game then the DM should allow a certain amount of fortunate coincidence. It’s up to everyone to let the role-playing guide the style of the game. If the players are willing to have fun with it then keep it light hearted.
Would you consider playing a really young teenage character? Have you ever played one before? Have you ever played in an entire party of kids? What do you think the most significant difference is between playing an adolescent vs. playing an adult? Are their too many drawbacks to playing a youngster making it a bad idea?