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D&D Burgoo: The 100-year-old elf (Don’t forget the kiddies!)

Posted By Troy E. Taylor On June 2, 2008 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice,Specific RPGs | 10 Comments

It’s inevitable. DM long enough, and kids will crop up in your adventure. They’ll either need to be rescued from a trap or a villain, one decides to tag along for protection or curiosity, or like Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Boys, you’ll come to rely upon a gang of them to run errands and gather information.

So it’s a good idea to have some standard children rolled up. Not many, just a few that can be plugged in as needed.

Stats for children, of course, are problematic. Children are (generally speaking) more fragile than adults. And in D&D terms, if a first-level wizard clocks in at a frail 1d4 hit points, what’s the average school age kid going to be by comparison?

Here are some quick pointers for rolling up kids.

Starting ability scores

Roll 3d6, arrange as desired. This pulls the numbers out of the heroic class range.

Apply racial adjustments

Keep in mind the 100-year-old elf, who is still an adolescent in elfen society. That’s a long time to deal with acne and angst.

Turn the Aging Effects Chart around

Adjust the starting abilities, by treating Adolescents as Middle Age (–1 to Str, Con, and Int; +1 to Dex, Wis and Cha); Preteens as Old (–2/+2 adjustments); and Children as Venerable (–3/+3 adjustments). I’ve moved Int to the penalty category, though, because kids aren’t “smarter” as toddlers than they are as preteens. They may learn things at a faster rate, but high Int scores will make for a maddening skills selection process. Dex, Wis and Cha are OK to get boosts. The boosts on Reflex and Will saves reflects the assumption that kids are just plain lucky at times, and they’re certainly nimble-fingered and cuter at a young age.

Adjust size categories

Adolescents can remain at the same size as adults, but make Preteens and Children one size category smaller. So human preteens and children would be treated as Small, while halfing and gnome children would be treated as Tiny.

Pick an NPC class

The apprentice-level class adjustments is a good way to emulate classes for Adolescents. But NPC classes work best, I think. Warriors serve for kids in street gangs, Experts work for any child being trained in a craft, trade or profession, Aristocrat fits those whose parents are rich or a part of the nobility and Adepts for dabblers in magic or church acolytes. For the youngest children, Commoner is just fine. As for hit points, strange as it may seem, it might be OK if a child has more hit points than the average wizard (who should have spent more time running and playing with the other kids, anyway).

Select skills and feats

For simplicity’s sake, avoid cross-class skills and use the saving throw buff feats, such as Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will and Great Fortitude, or Skill Focus. But don’t overlook a feat that makes sense, say a warrior-in-training who picks up Weapon Focus or Point Blank Shot.

Have you used children in your D&D games successfully? If so, I’d love to hear how you handled it, especially if your approach is different, and more importantly, if it’s simpler. Because dealing with the 100-year-old elf is difficult enough without worrying about who they are dating and what their stats are.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.




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10 Comments To "D&D Burgoo: The 100-year-old elf (Don’t forget the kiddies!)"

#1 Comment By Hella Tellah On June 2, 2008 @ 7:49 am

As far as I’m concerned, children are non-combatants, so they don’t need fancy stat blocks. The same goes for any NPC that isn’t involved directly in an adventure, actually, but it goes doubly so for children–I just don’t see a fight with kids, even as allies, as particularly in keeping with the tone I like to set in D&D.

When they need stats, though, they get their stats the same way any NPC does in my game: the handy-dandy sheet of pre-generated stats. I’ve got blocks of NPCs of each class of 1st, 3rd, and 5th level, and I just grab one that’s appropriate. They all have Skill Focus (X), defensive feats like Great Fortitude and Dodge, and basic, universally useful skills like Sense Motive, Spot and Listen. I always leave one skill unmarked and free-floating; that’s the (X) in Skill Focus (X), and it’s whatever skill check they happen to be making for the PCs. They’re statted up as humans, and I don’t really bother to change the stat blocks based on race or age. I think I’ve given one a +4 to hide once because he was a gnome, but that’s as far as it’s gone.

Between that and my tables of common names by location, I’ve never needed to do anything else for normal, everyday people.

#2 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On June 2, 2008 @ 8:58 am

In Savage Worlds, take the Major Hindrance: Young.

Reduced stats, reduced skills, increased luck (because kids are the luckiest critters in any book or movie). Done.

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On June 2, 2008 @ 9:41 am

Special feats for kiddie-aged characters. Hmmmmmm.

#4 Comment By robosnake On June 3, 2008 @ 4:01 am

Honestly, the only way I could handle this in a way I thought was reasonable, in 3E at least, was to say that any ‘adult’ person was about 3rd level. That way, children were 1st level and adolescents were 2nd level. This worked really well in homebrew/custom settings, and I was able to adapt a few others. I also took the idea you mentioned of changing the size category for youngsters – no way a 10-year-old should be treated as the same as a six-foot adult.

Of course, I also did this because I just felt that the first couple of levels sucked – especially for casters (I used the rule that Cantrips/Orisons were unlimited per day to help mitigate this a bit). You sort of endured them to get closer to the ‘sweet spot’ in the 5-10 range. I liked starting a game at 3rd – its just a lot more interesting for everyone involved I think.

Hella’s idea is also good – just don’t stat them up. If a kid is threatened by an adult, that’s bad news. It isn’t like the kid is going to win, so some heroic types will have to step in and do something… :)

#5 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On June 3, 2008 @ 7:54 am

I’m curious … there seems to be the sentiment that kids should be non-combatants in almost all situations.

While I would agree with that statement wholeheartedly for the real world, certainly we have a little more leeway in the gaming worlds we as GMs run.

Does this sentiment extend to having kids as allies in battles, at least in a Short Round/Goonies/Narnia sort of way? Wouldn’t you need stats in those situations? Or is the fact that using kids in such situations is just as distasteful?

#6 Comment By Swordgleam On June 4, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

Troy: In the examples you mention, kids are the main characters. If the PCs were all kids, then I’d stat them out more or less like normal PCs. But if the PCs weren’t kids, why would kids be in the middle of a fight? I think it’s less a distasteful thing than a realism thing. If a kid is in combat for some reason, they probably aren’t going to last more than one round.

I can see using a 12-year-old street rat as an informant, but that sort of thing wouldn’t require a full stat block. Maybe some games have a setting or tone where kids would be interacting with the PCs in a way that would require stats. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head.

#7 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On June 5, 2008 @ 6:55 am

Swordgleam. Actually, I’m thinking of kids as DM-controlled NPCs in such situations. Two specific examples from published game product I’ve run across recently:
In “Crown of the Kobold King,” by Nicolas Logue, kidnapped children are being rescued by the PCs from an underground kobold lair and have an opportunity to aid their rescuers.
In “Edge of Anarchy,” also by Nicolas Logue, child laborers (who incidentally, also need to be liberated), are intimidated by the boss villain into fighting the PCs.

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#9 Comment By Swordgleam On June 5, 2008 @ 11:36 am

Troy: Those sound interesting. In the first situation, I’d probably just have the kids have a few skills – most parties I know would try to keep the kids out of combat.

Now that I think about it, I think you were half-right with the distaste thing, and I was half-right with the realism thing. It’s realistic that good-aligned heroes would have a distaste for children in combat. So the party probably isn’t going to let any underage allies help them in brawls.

As for kids as enemy NPCs, I’d say the same thing applies. If I were a player and I confronted that challenge, I’d assume it was supposed to be a roleplaying/puzzle encounter, and not a combat one – how can I get past this without hurting the kids?

#10 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On June 6, 2008 @ 4:54 am

Swordgleam: That’s exactly the challenge.
I like to have statted NPCs handy for one reason only — the players will surprise you. No matter how well prepared you are, the players will surprise you. The moment you think you WON’T need a statted NPC, then that’s exactly what the situation will call for.
I grant you — that’s probably a weakness of the d20/3.x system. But that’s the sandbox I choose to DM in — and write about.


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