I’ve worked with Amanda Valentine on multiple projects before (including Marvel Heroic Roleplaying), where she served as a lead editor, helping to make the books as best they could be on every level.
Amanda has a lot of experience working at every level of game design across multiple game lines, and so I was very happy to see her on-board the new Little Wizards RPG as a developer, a new kid-focused RPG originally designed in French by award-winning game designer Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Hanabi).
The new English edition of Little Wizards is just recently released, and will have a Gen Con premiere this week. We sent Amanda a few questions about the game, and about gaming with kids.
Critical Hits: How did Little Wizards come about?
Amanda Valentine: Little Wizards is based on Contes Ensorcelés by Antoine Bauza, originally published in French as two separate volumes by Le Septième Cercle. Crafty Games asked me to edit the translation of the first volume. I thought the rules felt incomplete, so they got me the translation of the second volume. I combined the two books, rearranged the chapters, added and tweaked some rules, and so on. After many changes and lots of back and forth with Patrick Kapera and Alex Flagg of Crafty Games, as well as input from my family, it became the game it is now.
How is Little Wizards designed so as to appeal to kids specifically? Would it appeal to adults too?
The setting is fun and familiar enough that I think most kids will immediately start coming up with ideas for adventures they want to play out with the game. The simple mechanics are easy to master, so kids can get right to telling amazing stories about their adventures together. It encourages cooperation by rewarding teamwork. Also, each Wizard has a familiar—a loyal animal companion. Your familiar is played by the player to your right while you play the familiar of the player on your left, so everyone is working together to develop the adventure.
This game is very much an introduction to roleplaying. It may be fun for an adult who wants a simple game that isn’t about hitting stuff—in fact, Little Wizards has no hit points. Overall, though, I think most adults will enjoy it primarily as a way to help young kids start gaming.
How does the game account for the unbridled imagination of kids playing it? How does it fuel it and/or funnel it?
In Little Wizards you get to play a character with magical ability. There are some guidelines as to the specific types of magic—potions, divination, shapeshifting, conjuring, and general spellcasting—but overall it’s up to the kids’ imaginations what exactly the magic looks like and how it works. It’s a game that requires and encourages creative thinking and imagination to solve the problems your Wizards face.
There’s a lot of advice for encouraging kids to think of answers that might not be the obvious ones. Even if you could move that branch the normal way, why not use spellcasting to magic it out of the way? There’s also a lot of advice about reining things in without squashing creativity. The most important thing is that everyone around the table is having a good time.
Let’s say you’re an adult wanting to play with your kids, but don’t have a lot of experience running games. How much support does it have for you?
I was really excited when I realized that this book could serve as a primer for running games with kids—something even experienced GMs can use if they’re used to running games for adults. My first experience with GMing was playtesting Little Wizards with my kids. It was pretty nerve-wracking! But the three adventures in the book, if you play them in order, help you develop the necessary skills as you go.
The first adventure is straightforward with lots of stuff spelled out and explained for the GM. The second leaves the GM to fill in some of the transitions between scenes and encourages the GM to follow the players a little more. The third and final adventure in the book could go a lot of different ways, depending on what the players decide to do. It’s a series of scenes that could be run in any order—it’s all up to the players, and the GM responds to that while moving the story toward its conclusion.
There’s a lot of advice throughout the book based on the things I learned while GMing for the first time. One of the main things is a section on dealing with failure so that it moves the game along in interesting ways—that was one of the hardest things for me to do on the fly! So now there’s a list of different ways you might handle a failed roll that will keep things moving and not frustrate young players.
Does Little Wizards involve any kind of world-building for the kids, or is the setting pretty set?
Some aspects of Coinworld are set—it’s a planet shaped like a coin, for instance. Each side has five archipelagos and each of those has its own personality. There’s enough detail to give you a feel for what Coinworld is like, but there’s still a lot of room to develop the world in whatever way you want to, and that’s explicitly encouraged. We tried to make sure that many different kinds of stories would be available, depending on which archipelago your Wizards are adventuring on. The Steppes and Shivers archipelagos have a bit more detail included because they’re the settings of the second and third adventures, but there’s still a lot of room to play.
As someone with your own geeklings, what would you recommend as the benefits of RPGs for kids?
Almost anything you do with your kids is beneficial, and playing RPGs is a great cooperative activity. It’s also an ideal way to teach social skills like being aware of other people and being responsible for making sure everyone is having fun without sacrificing your own fun—I think that’s an exceptionally important skill for kids to learn. RPGs can trigger the imagination in ways that many other things don’t, partially because of how the imaginative play is fed and formed by the imaginations of others around the table.
Playing RPGs is a fun activity to do as a family—it gives you shared worlds and experiences to talk about, have jokes about, and to use when talking about important issues. A game like Little Wizards encourages kids to take charge of parts of the story, and ideally they will want to run the game once they’ve played it a few times—both my kids have plans for running the game for younger cousins and for writing their own adventures for the setting.
Plus, if we want the hobby to continue, we need new players!
Little Wizards is available for order now from Crafty Games, and will be available for purchase in print at Gen Con.