The Parent as Dungeon Master: Our RPG Parenting Experiment

RPG Character Sheet

Lydia the Dwarf Wizard, our 9-year-old daughter’s “real life RPG” character

Maybe I’m the only parent who has this problem, but our children hate doing chores. And they sometimes fight with each other. And each of them has several bad habits that we want them to stop. Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Last Christmas, my wife Elizabeth gave me this awesome book called Geek Dad by Ken Denmead. Based on his blog of the same name, the book offers (as the subtitle says) “awesomely geeky projects and activities for dads and kids to share.” A few examples:

  • LED fireflies
  • High-altitude video cameras
  • Eletronic origami

One of the chapters — “Parenting and Role Playing Games” — describes a Dungeons & Dragons-like system for getting kids to help out around the house and reward them for their successes. I mentioned it the other day to Elizabeth as something that might be fun to try, not really intending to put it place anytime soon. Our older daughter, however, overheard me and immediately fell in love with the idea. She could not stop talking about the idea of becoming a Dwarf Wizard, and she asked me several times a day when we start the game. So, on Friday during the kids’ snow day, we officially launched the Hickerson RPG.

The Parenting RPG System

The system is a bit complex, but our family likes complex things. Here is the basic idea:

  • Kids gain experience points by completing challenges.
  • Challenges include chores, activities, school/church/sports events, good behaviors — basically, anything that we want to the kids to do more often. The challenges are weighted based on the difficulty. For example, setting the table is worth 5 xps (experience points), while cleaning their room is worth 20. Challenges can also include activities like sports practices, musical performances, getting an A on a test, church events, volunteering, etc.
  • To claim their xps at the end of a challenge, kids have to roll a 20-sided die. A high roll means they get additional points (10%–50% more), while a low roll means that they receive a penalty (10%–30% less).
  • Earn enough points over time, and they will be able to level up.

OK, here’s where it starts to get more complicated, as well as more fun.

  • Just like in D&D, the kid get to choose a race (human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, or half-orc) and a character class (wizard, cleric, warrior, paladin, etc.).
  • The various races and classes gain benefits (and penalties in some cases) for completing certain types of challenges. For example, Dwarves gain a +10% xp bonus for indoor challenges and a –10% xp penalty for outdoor challenges. Wizards receive +1 to their die roll for any task involving “magic” (the system refers to knowledge and learning as “magic”) or computers.
  • The kids also rate themselves in attributes — intelligence, strength, wisdom, etc. — that also give them bonuses/penalties for challenges of certain types.
  • As the kids level up, they can earn skills, which are either bonuses for certain types of challenges (the skill “scullery” makes it easier for them to gain xps for doing the dishes) or privileges that they can earn (such as an increase on their allowance or a later bedtime). They can also earn skills that allow them to use tools around the house, and most skills can be “ranked” as kids obtain higher levels.[1]
  • To keep everyone honest, each kid has a challenge journal that they use to record their challenges, die rolls, and xps earned.

The math can get a little complicated, but some kids will enjoy that. For example, our older daughter cleaned off and set the table for dinner. That task earns a base of 10 xps. She rolled a 16, giving her a 10% bonus. Her character is a Dwarf, which gave her another 10% bonus for an indoor task. So, altogether, she earned 12 points for cleaning off and setting the table.

The Journey So Far

Here are who our kids decided to be. (The names are those for their characters.)
* 9yo daughter: Lydia the Dwarf Wizard. She earns bonuses for indoor tasks (penalties for outdoors) and those involving “magic” or computers.
* 7yo daughter: Abby the Hobbit Conjurer. She earns bonuses for crafting challenges (penalties for athletics) and those involving magic or creativity.
* 4yo son (who needed some help creating his guy): James the Half-Orc Cleric. Bonuses for athletics (penalties for crafting) and for tasks involving support (helping someone) and spiritual.[2]

A quick assessment after 48 hours of the system:
* It took the 7yo a while to get used to the idea that most challenges are chores.
* Once she did, though, she took to it. She spontaneously offered to set the table for dinner and has been looking for more ways to earn points.
* The 9yo has been even more aggressive in trying to earn points. She began cleaning her room (without being asked!) and then, when she noticed the fridge was kind of smelly, offered to clean it out for us. That’s now on the agenda for Sunday.
* Both girls have gotten the idea that harder tasks mean more points, and both have realized they can earn small amounts of points for practicing piano every day.
* The boy is just going along for the ride at this point. He’s a bit young to get the idea of planning ahead for points, I think, but he’s been happy with those he has earned.
* I also foresee this system helping keep us accountable as parents. Often, we find it easier to just let things slide rather than making the kids work on chores, and we haven’t alway been great at rewarding them for being responsible.

Stay tuned! We’ll see how it goes.

P.S. This week I also learned about a Cincinnati start-up called ChoreMonster with a similar idea. Looks like a great idea!

  1. For teenagers, Denmead suggests setting up the whole process of getting a driver’s permit and license as a series of rankable skills.  ↩
  2. We’re working with him on some attitude issues, which often count as “spiritual” in this system. If we keep up with the system, he’s free to change as he gets older and finds other types of challenges more to his liking.)  ↩

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s