Alright, so I ran a ultra-light version of Pathfinder last night for my kids, and they fell in love with it. Looking over my notes I've been digesting the events and contemplating what all worked in hopes it'll help me with all the games to come. Other parents out there may have already participated in similar activities with their kids or be considering it, so I thought I'd post my thoughts. Either way it might help me gather feedback or perhaps even ease the workload of others. Which is always a noble endeavor amongst us DM's, right?
First off, let's just start with the most obvious edict of all; Keep It Simple. A child's attention span as well as their ability to juggle complex concept can vary so wildly between kids that I found it best to forgo a lot of elements of the game. Basically I boiled it down the core essential parts needed for the simplest format I could. Namely, I stuck to simple combat mechanics like armor class, hit points, attack modifier and damage. In this regard we didn't factor in alot of details like range, movement, vision or even critical hits. Upon each child's turn I merely allowed to choose if they wanted to attack and if so how. They could run up and attack the monsters, shoot at them, etc. And don't even bother with initiative. Base your turn sequence on age, let the youngest go first and then go up from there. This way the younger kids will get the thrill of going first and the oldest(most likely you/monsters) will get to go last giving your young heroes the chance to be, well, heroic.
Which leads me to my second issue; Remember this is an introduction, and these are just kids. As I already mentioned we didn't get into alot of traditional aspects of the game. But this was just for the kids to try out and see if they would even like it. With that in mind I generated the characters for them, they were as generic as I could be and as boiled down as you can get. What is simpler than a brutish fighter with a greatsword or a nimble ranger complete with bow and short sword? The fighter allowed my son the ability to dive right into combat and feel like a heroic champion. In contrast the ranger gave my daughter the ability to choose weather or not she wanted to blast out arrows or go toe to toe.
Now this approach also disregarded alot of things some may question; like class features, skills and yes even feats. I didn't feel like the kids needed to worry with anything of the like, at least not yet anyway. The fighter didn't have any special feats to draw on and we never even got into the ranger tracking or favored enemies. All they had to focus on was thinking about the character they were playing and some basic combat. They got the excitement of rolling the dice and waiting to see the result. It really helped things move quickly and keep their attention. In truth by the end of the adventure I had to wonder if it hadn't worked too well.
The third issue to consider is one you may not even think of; Consider Your Audience. Sure, you probably do just that in any other game but you have to be doubly careful with kids. If your selecting monsters for the adventure, keep in mind their scare factor and how you may describe them. Will they spook the kids? If so, you might want to rethink the choice. For example; undead and the like might not be the best choice unless the kids are a little older. Also, when you go to describe them make sure you use details they can grasp. Use things like explaining them as angry, or mean so they can easily respond/interpret. On the same note carefully choose your motivation. If the players are kids it is best to give them something they can identify with. Some easy options for any kid are the most obvious: saving or helping the grown ups, especially if they aren't able to is always a good one. Children love to, in my opinion, show that they can do something others can't. It lets them feel good about themselves and establishes some means of identity from other. And if they can save/aid an adult it reinforces that sense of self worth. They depend on us for so much, it is a major thrill when they can feel like we are having to depend on them.
My last real issue is a simple but important one: Guide Them, But Don't Forget To Let Them Guide You.
What I mean by this is, as you play don't hesitate to guide kids as they play. Start off by offering them options like if they want to fight the monsters or run. Give them little cues like reminding them how the monsters ran into that cave, and they still have the medicine your after. The trick, though, is in letting them guide you. Watch them for cues if your description is upsetting them or if they're simply not enjoying things. If they are handling things well and you think they can then by all means feel free to introduce some of the other game elements. This could be as simple as providing them a couple skills or a feat or two. However if you were to decide to incorporate a more complex class like a cleric or wizard I'd recommend keeping them as simple and straight-forward too. Namely let the cleric heal other characters a couple times a day, or a wizard with just a couple of spells at their disposal. You shouldn't even try to bring anything like spell failure or spell preparation into the game for awhile either way. Like I said, let them guide you on how much they can handle and you just help them as they discover how much that is.
I'm fairly sure that if you do that, then everyone will have fun.
Oh, and lest I forget - That is the primary goal here, right? Don't force them to play, and likewise don't feel like you have to run games for your kids just because you enjoy playing yourself. But if they do want to, I'll share with you my most successful strategy: look at everything through their eyes. If you think it'd be funny to them then by all means describe the kobold attacking them when he misses as sticking his 'pointy stick' into the dirt and gesture as if your him and it's stuck.(Grunts and animal sounds can help too). I know we enjoyed it, I only hope if you decide to try it you all will too.