Dungeon Maze Treasure Hunt
Well, 2020 is nearly finished and it's been a doozy of a year, I think we can all agree. It hasn't actually been terribly bad for my family (knock on wood), just very busy. Working remotely with a kid home from daycare has meant much less time for writing and lots more time spent watching family movies and drinking. >.<
In search of new entertainment, I recently introduced my four-year-old daughter to Dungeons & Dragons (kinda). Readers might recall that I actually started playing a simplified version of the Mouse Guard RPG with my kid when she was just two and a half. She still likes playing it with me sometimes (I should write another episode of Mousling Guard, come to think of it), but she doesn't want to play very often. And even when she does, it just turns into a LARP every single time, lol. A short attention span plus a love for roleplaying with dolls does not work well for rules crunchy systems, no matter how much you dumb it down.
What I've learned, in my experience, is that young kids tend to prefer a much more chaotic creation process than we GMs might be used to when running storytelling games. Rules often fly out the window, and story logic tends to go the same way as well. It's almost impossible to keep the story progressing step by step without the kid trying to jump all over the place or introduce tons of crazy magical items. I used to try and fight this tendency, but then I realized that isn't really necessary — you just need a different technique.
So, I whipped up a little game I like to call "Dungeon Maze Treasure Hunt". The rules are simple and it plays fluidly no matter how overly creative or hyperactive the kid, resulting in a short adventure story that flows logically every time you play, even continuing between multiple sessions. I play DMTH with my own kid, but I imagine it'd play fine in a classroom, with larger groups, etc., too.
Dungeon Maze Treasure Hunt: The Game
All you need to play Dungeon Maze Treasure Hunt is at least one kid, a GM, and a D&D module or five. The small, single-adventure booklets with lots of big printed maps work best, and dungeon adventures are more ideal than overland modules. The GM doesn't need to read the module beforehand. No rule books are necessary, nor do you need a character sheet. Dice are optional, as are a paper and pencil to jot down notes between game sessions, but I've found I don't actually need any supplies other than the adventure module.
(... If you've never played D&D and have no idea what a module is [you can still read my blog, but you'll likely feel lost most of the time, lol], just search for D&D modules on google or something. They're pretty self explanatory once you see one.)
1. Setting the scene
There is no character creation — the kid just plays themself. The default goal of each session is to retrieve lots of treasure from the dungeon. To this aim, let the kid choose five items to take into the dungeon to help on their treasure hunt. Encourage them to choose actual items or toys they have at hand, so they have physical props to engage with. They'll probably go overboard describing all sorts of fantastic magical effects they or their items are capable of, especially once they've played two or three times and get the hang of things. This is completely allowed! Don't worry, no amount of power-gaming is gonna break this game — let your kids be munchkins!
When they're ready to start, describe the dungeon's entrance. If there is some sort of challenge barring entrance to the dungeon, explain it and skip ahead to step four before moving on. If no challenge, go to step two.
To move around the dungeon, don't bother with progressing room by room, door by door. Just have your kid trace through the dungeon with their fingertip, like a maze. Start at the entrance, and allow your kid to go anywhere they want in the dungeon, stopping in any room they want to search for treasure in. Doors (secret or ordinary) do not block passage when moving around the maze. Teach them what stairs look like on the map, so they can move between levels too! The entire map is open to them, with two caveats: 1. They have to follow the maze; no going through walls! 2. When they stop on a room, they have to read the number code for the room out loud — cuz we might as well make it educational too, right?
3. Room Descriptions
Since you're using a printed module, it's easy to cross-check the room number with the printed description. You'll probably want to paraphrase what's in the room rather than reading each room description verbatim though. Because, for one, your kid probably won't understand or even care about the majority of stuff written in standard D&D modules. Secondly, you'll likely want to tone down many of the descriptions significantly to remove scary bits, adult references, etc., depending on the module you're playing with. If there are monsters, describe them in a funny way, make traps sound exciting rather than deadly, and so on. Keep it simple (but don't make it stupid).
If there's a conflict of any kind — monster, trap or other — the kid has to deal with the conflict before they can access the room's treasure. Describe the conflict as if it's just about to kick off and ask the kid what they want to do about it. Encourage them to describe how they do it, and which of their items are used, if any.
If they attempt any sort of direct action to resolve the conflict (attack the monster, jump away from the trap, etc.), play a round of rock, paper, scissors with them. On a tie, have a rematch. If the kid wins, they win the entire conflict! Monsters are chased away, traps are avoided. If they fail, they must change their strategy to get what they want. Usually this means using a different tool to achieve their intended goal. Allow them to keep coming back to the conflict for another round of rock, paper, scissors so long as they describe their action in a new way each time. The only rule is that they can't just keep trying with the same tool in the same way over and over again until they win. (ie., "I hit it with my sword" is only allowed once per combat.) If they keep losing and they have run out of ideas for how to tackle the problem, they'll have to accept defeat and run away this time. The kid never dies.
Special - Social Conflicts and Big Ideas
The R-P-S resolution mechanic is only required for single physical actions. If the kid starts roleplaying with the monster, roll with it! This is where the story starts to take off and get interesting. You'll know when a resolution mechanic becomes necessary. The same goes for when the kid suddenly hatches a big elaborate plan to circumvent the challenge. Don't stop this awesome train of thought — let it roll out toward its final conclusion and THEN use the resolution mechanic at the very end (if it makes sense to do so). The goal here is to reward awesome roleplaying to build a strong future gamer, so don't worry about simulationism.
Once the conflict (if any) is overcome, the kid can search for treasure. This might require another match of R-P-S if the treasure is hidden, but usually you can just give it to them. Again, paraphrase, and round off to nice, easy to understand allotments of rewards. I tend to keep all money in gold pieces, rounded off to the nearest hundred. Magic items can be described simply, and the kid immediately knows what their new magic items do. My daughter is fond of using her magic wand to duplicate her magical treasure "a hundred times!" This is fine. It's all good.
6. Going Home
After every room or two, ask the kid, "OK, you've got a lot of treasure. Do you want to keep looking for more treasure, or do you want to go home now?" If they choose to go home, Poof! The kid retraces all their footsteps back to the dungeon entrance (without hindrance) and the game ends.
Having the ability to go home and end the game whenever she wants is a very important part of the game for my four-year-old daughter. It puts her in control of her roleplaying experience, which makes her feel safe and ensures she only has fun playing this game — the moment it starts getting boring, the game just ends. Remember, the goal here is to teach her how to enjoy games like this so I can play real D&D with her when she gets older. And Dungeon Maze Treasure Hunt does just that!
That's all there is to it. The game is actually quite fun to GM too. It's always a toss-up whether they'll stumble upon the big treasure caches or the boss fights, etc. Keeps everyone guessing!
What do you think? If you give these homebrew rules a shot, let me know how it plays for you! I'm always happy to hear some feedback. Hit me up in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter. (I've ditched MeWe since they put up their paywall.)
Until next time (which won't be a long wait like the last 12-month lull, I promise), happy gaming!