Online DM’s Kid-Friendly RPG

For Christmas 2010, my wife’s brother and his family stayed with us for a couple of weeks. We introduced my brother in law and his wife to Dungeons & Dragons, and they became big fans, continuing our game online via MapTool over the next couple of years.

My brother in law’s family also includes two kids, a girl who is currently 8 years old and a boy who is now 5. They’ve been really interested in D&D, so when the family came back to visit for Christmas 2012, I knew it was time to introduce them to role playing games.

Now, I love playing D&D 4th Edition, but I knew that there was no way my 8 year old niece and 5 year old nephew would be able to handle the game yet. I went searching for a version of D&D that could work for the children, and I took a great deal of inspiration from Newbie DM’s RPG Kids. Ultimately, though, I ended up going with something of my own creation, which I’m uncreatively calling my Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG if you need an acronym).

The rules

Each player has a half-page character sheet (see below). When you’re not in combat, the Kid-Friendly RPG works just like any other role-playing game – you tell the game master what you want to do, and the GM tells you what happens.

Character sheets

Feel free to use these character sheets yourself (note that there are two characters per page). I’ll note here that I do not own the character illustrations; if you own these illustrations and want me to take them down, just let me know. If you’re creating your own character sheets, I highly recommend having a big picture of the character on it for the kids.

Character sheets for half-elf ranger and human druid

Character sheets for halfling thief and dwarf paladin

Character sheets for human barbarian and wolfman warrior

Character sheets for zombie wizard and elf cleric


If a character tries something that might not work, the GM will ask for a d20 roll. In most cases, a 10 or better will succeed, but the GM is free to set the target higher or lower for harder or easier tasks.

If the character is trying to do something that’s connected to one of the three skills on their character sheet, they can roll the d20 twice and take the best result.


When combat breaks out, the party chooses a player to roll a d20 and the GM rolls a d20. If the party’s representative wins, their team will go first. If the GM wins, the bad guys will go first. Ties go to the party (ties always go to the players rather than the GM).

Rather than tracking initiative, each member of the party takes a turn, starting with the player to the GM’s left and proceeding clockwise around the table. The GM has the monsters take their turns in whatever order the GM wishes.

On a character’s turn, the character can move up to its speed (measured in squares on the board) and take an action. Most of the time, the action will be an attack, but other options include administering a healing potion to themselves or a friend, using a special power or trying something creative.

Attacking and Defending

Each character has an Attack die and a Defense die, ranging from d4 to d12. When you make an attack, roll your Attack die. Your target will roll its Defense die. If a player character’s Attack roll matches or beats the enemy’s Defense roll, the enemy takes 1 damage. Most enemies only have 1 hit point, so this is usually enough to take the enemy out.

When an enemy attacks a player character, the enemy rolls its Attack die and the player rolls the character’s Defense die. If the Defense roll is at least as high as the Attack roll, then the attack misses. If the Attack roll from the enemy is higher, then the player character takes 1 damage.

Note that in both cases, Attacking and Defending, ties go to the player character. So, if the player is attacking and rolls a 3 and the defender rolls a 3, it’s a hit on the enemy. But if an enemy is attacking a player character and they both roll a 3, it’s a miss on the player character.

Hit points

Each player character starts with 3 hit points, which are tracked with some kind of physical object (I use red poker chips). When the character takes damage, the player gives one of these chips to the GM. If the player has no more hit point chips, then the character is knocked out (not dead, just not able to act).


Each character starts with 1 healing potion, tracked with a green poker chip. One of the actions available in combat is to drink the healing potion or administer it to a friend. If a character drinks their own healing potion, they regain 1 hit point (the GM gives back a red chip). If a character administers it to a friend, the friend regains 1 hit point. However, if a character has the Heal skill and administers the potion to a friend, the friend regains 2 hit points. Note that a character with the Heal skill who drinks his or her own potion still just gets the 1 hit point (your Heal skill only helps friends).

If a character is knocked out, a character with the Heal skill can use an action in battle to try to heal the knocked out character, even without a healing potion. The healer can roll the d20 twice, and if they get a 15 or better, the knocked out character regains 1 hit point. A character without the Heal skill can try this, too, but they only get one roll and still need a 15 or better.

If a battle ends with one or more player characters knocked out, those characters regain 1 hit point after laying there for a few minutes.

Special Powers

Each character has a special power, which starts charged up. This is represented by a blue poker chip. If the player wants to use his or her character’s special power, they give the blue chip to the GM and then carry out the instructions.

Range of attack

Most attacks are melee attacks, which means that the character needs to be next to the target. If a Range is specified, the character can be that many squares away from the target and can still attack.


If two player characters are both adjacent to an enemy, they have the advantage on that enemy (they do not need to be in flanking positions, just both adjacent). A player character with the advantage gets a one-size bigger die for attacks (if the attack die is a d12, just add 1 to the result of the roll). Having advantage doesn’t help on defense.

Enemies can benefit from advantage at the GM’s discretion (a good rule of thumb is that you need 3 or 4 adjacent enemies to get advantage for them).


Each character has a Speed number, which is the number of squares they can move on a turn in addition to taking an action. The default is 5, with fast characters having 6 and slow characters having 4.

If a character doesn’t take another action, they can move their speed twice on a turn.


Most enemies have 1 hit point and a d6 for both attacking and defending, and they only attack in melee. They do not have special powers or healing potions.

A tougher or easier enemy might have bigger or smaller dice for attacks or defense. They might have a ranged attack (generally with a range no more than 5 squares). They might have a slight twist to their attack, such as an attack that grabs a character and doesn’t let it get away until the enemy is destroyed.

A boss enemy might have 3 hit points and a special power, just like a character (though no healing potions).

Optional rule: Charging

If a character wants to charge a far-off enemy, the character can move its speed and then move its speed again with an attack at the end of the second move. This attack uses a die that’s one size smaller than the character’s usual attack die (since it’s hard to attack while running).

Optional rule: Opportunity attacks

If you want to teach your players about tactical movement, you can rule that moving past an enemy without fighting it will let the enemy take a free attack at the character (which can work both ways for player characters and enemies).


So, that’s the game. I ran this with two kids and three adults (which later ballooned to five adults as more people joined in). We played a short adventure that involved three fights and a trap (note: the kids just didn’t get the trap at all), plus a bunch of role playing at the tavern at the beginning. The game lasted somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. The kids had a blast, as did I. The rules are simple and they encourage lots of improvisation all around.

If you end up trying this out with your own group of kids, please let me know how it goes!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Campaign session zero: Group character creation

I’ve mainly been a 4th Edition D&D Dungeon Master. I had a little experience with 3rd Edition, but nothing before that, and I hadn’t run any games regularly until mid 2010. Because my players have had access to the extremely useful Character Builder program, character creation has usually been a solitary activity. Everyone creates their own character at their own home, perhaps exchanging ideas via email to make sure that we end up with a relatively balanced party, and then there’s a little bit of trying to make the characters fit with one another story-wise at the first session.

This weekend, I tried something different. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to run the ZEITGEIST campaign from EN World, and my regular in-person group seemed like the right people to try it with. One of my players, Bree, has been in massive crunch time in art school for months and has been out of gaming, but that’s finally done now (congrats, Bree!) and she’s ready for some D&D.

Because ZEITGEIST is a more story-focused campaign than I’ve generally run, I knew it would work better if the characters in the party had a strong connection to the world and to one another. I first floated the idea of the campaign to the players after an earlier session of a different campaign a few weeks prior, just to gauge their reactions. They seemed intrigued, so I sent them the players guide for the campaign (which you can get here).

I scheduled session zero of the campaign this past Sunday. I told everyone to bring their existing characters for the campaign that we were wrapping up, but also to have a look at the ZEITGEIST campaign guide if they had time and to start thinking about character ideas. I sent a reminder email about this the day before the session.

When everyone arrived, they seemed excited about starting a new campaign together. One person suggested that we fully roll up characters right at the table – and to use dice to generate ability scores rather than point buy. This was fine with me, so we went with 4d6, drop the lowest, assign the six scores as you like.

Thus, my recommended steps for Session Zero of a new campaign:

Step 1: Tell the players about the campaign at least a week ahead of time. Since this was a published campaign, I sent them the players guide. Had it been a home brew, I would have described whatever made my idea special and unique, so that they could “get” the idea of the campaign and start thinking about character ideas.

Step 2: Schedule a session specifically for character creation. Since we also like to actually play D&D, too, I suggest still having a one-shot game with existing characters as a side show to the main event of character creation (ideally your players won’t be jumping right in with the new characters – see step 10).

Step 3: Sit down together and talk about the character hooks for the world. In the case of ZEITGEIST, this meant the eight campaign-specific character themes, which I explained were recommended but not required. In a different campaign, this could be talking about the different regions of the world that the PCs might hail from, or unique ways that particular races or classes are viewed in this world.

Step 4: Ask if anyone is particularly intrigued by any of the hooks, and if anyone already has strong feelings about what race and/or class they want to play. Let the people who already have ideas here be the first to speak up.

Step 5: As the rest of the players one by one what appeals to them or not about the options that are out there. If they’re non-committal at this point, that’s okay; ask if they have any feelings about something broad, like the combat role they want to play. If a player is willing to fill in whatever role is needed, no problem. You can come back to that player.

Step 6: Start going through specific class (and later, race) options. I used the Character Builder for this, but solely as a convenient all-inclusive list of the classes. If someone wants to be a controller, present them with the different controller classes and say a few words about what each class is like and the ways in which that class might fit into the world or the ways in which you would re-fluff it for this world. Jump around a bit from player to player in this process.

Step 7: As people start getting their classes chosen, start handing out books (if the players don’t have their own) and blank character sheets. I liked getting to use my physical books for a change, handing Heroes of the Feywild to the person rolling up a Witch and Players Handbook 2 to the player rolling up a Bard and so on.

Step 8: Generate ability scores. We used 4d6, drop the lowest, and we went one by one around the table so that everyone could watch. This was surprisingly fun to do! Point buy would have been fine, too, though. Start assigning those scores to the abilities, and adding in racial bonuses as the players make their race selections.

Step 9: Talk about the choices that everyone is making. There’s a lot of opportunity for give and take at this point. The players will want to get one another’s (and the DM’s) input on the different options available. Maybe someone will suggest a class or race change, either because of the way the character is shaping up, or in an effort to make characters fit with one another. Perhaps someone will suggest a name for someone else’s character. This a good thing!

Step 10: Set character creation aside until the next session. At this point, the players who have the Character Builder will probably want to get their characters set up in the program so they can browse feats and more powers and so on, and perhaps even reconsider their race or class choices. That’s okay. Let them do the fine-tuning between sessions before actually running the new character.

I have to say that I think this process went really, really well. The players seemed to have fun, and their characters definitely make more sense in the world of this campaign and relative to one another then they would have if everyone had created characters on their own.

Once this process was done, we had some food to eat and then played a one-shot game with characters that they already had from an existing campaign. We set a date for our first actual ZEITGEIST session sometime over Christmas weekend. I can’t wait to get it going!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

The pixie berserker is CHARGING INTO YOUR SPACE!

I picked up a copy of Heroes of the Feywild at my friendly local game store last Friday, which was apparently the day the book first came out at “premier stores”. I haven’t read through the whole thing yet, but a friend and I were talking about some of the content over the weekend.

The silly example that I tossed out there was building a pixie berserker wearing a Badge of the Berserker, with the goal of charging INTO the space of an enemy and making it really hard for that enemy to escape the berserker’s defender aura. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like something we had to try!

We were thinking about the character specifically for something like Lair Assault (which neither of us has tried yet), so we were talking about a 5th-level character.

1. Race and ability scores: Pixie. Okay, so a lack of racial bonus to Strength is going to make it tough to build a good barbarian, but so it goes. With the racial bonuses to Charisma and Dexterity (seems more useful for a berserker than Intelligence), the stats will be 18 Strength, 11 Constitution, 16 Dexterity, 8 Intelligence, 10 Wisdom and 12 Charisma. If we were specifically going straight to level 5, we could take Strength down to 17 and then bump it up at level 4, giving us some more points to make the other stats better, but I won’t even worry about that right now. I will assume that the Con score gets to 12 somehow.

2. Class: Berserker version of the barbarian. We get the Defender Aura and Vengeful Guardian powers. We’ll take the Temperate Land heartland (since we’re a pixie), which will give us +2 to damage as long as we wield a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other. We’ll also have +1 speed while charging (which I’ll assume applies to the fly speed, though I’m not 100% certain of that). We get 15+Con hit points at level 1 (26) and 6 more per level (so 50 total at level 5; 51 if we bump up Con). 8 healing surges per day (+1 if we get Con to 12), and a +2 bonus to Fortitude. I won’t worry about skills here.

3. Equipment: Since we’re going for level 5, I’ll keep things pretty simple.

  • Badge of the Berserker +1 (obviously)
  • Magic Rapier +2
  • Whatever magic hide armor +1 you like (level 5 or lower) – Barkskin sounds pixieish to me
  • Small shield
  • Other cool stuff

4. Feats. I like Light Blade Expertise and Streak of Light (combat advantage when charging).

5. Powers, themes, backgrounds, etc. I’m sure there’s lots of cool, potentially abusive stuff we could do here. That’s not really what I’m interested in, though, so I’ll skip it.

6. The results:

  • Crazy Wings the Pixie Berserker (Level 5)
  • 51 hit points, 9 surges per day (assuming we bump up Con to 12 at some point)
  • AC 22 (10 base, 2 half-level, 4 magic hide armor, 3 dex modifier, 1 small shield, 2 from Poised Defender in defender mode)
  • Fortitude 19 (10 base, 2 half-level, 1 neck slot, 4 strength modifier, 2 class bonus)
  • Reflex 17 (10 base, 2 half-level, 1 neck slot, 3 dex modifier, 1 shield)
  • Will 14 (10 base, 2 half-level, 1 neck slot, 1 charisma modifier) – ugh
  • Charging attack bonus: +15 vs AC (2 half-level, 4 strength modifier, 3 proficiency, 2 enhancement, 1 light blade expertise, 2 combat advantage from feat, 1 for charging)
  • Charging damage: 1d8+9 (4 strength modifier, 2 enhancement, 2 from Temperate Heartland, 1 from light blade expertise since Streak of Light gives CA)
  • Normal melee attack bonus: +12 vs AC (same as charging, minus the charge bonus and the automatic combat advantage)
  • Normal melee damage: 1d8+8 (no automatic combat advantage, so no +1 from LBE)

Is this the most powerful character in the world? Probably not. But the idea of charging INTO an opponent’s square and basically locking them down with the defender aura just seems like too much fun NOT to try. You don’t provoke combat advantage for charging with the Badge of the Berserker, you have combat advantage from Streak of Light, and you get extra damage from Light Blade Expertise. CHAAAARGE!

Crazy Wings sounds ridiculous enough to play one of these days. What do you think?

WATE 2-4: Factotum the Bard is back on stage!

This past Thursday evening, I had the rare opportunity to play D&D as a player rather than a DM. My wife has been feeling unwell for a while, so I try to mostly stay home with her in the evenings, but on this particular night she was getting together with another friend. A new-to-me Living Forgotten Realms module was being run at the friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, so I headed on down for a game.

Spoilers ahead for WATE 2-4 Stage Misdirection

The particular adventure we were playing was set in Waterdeep, the hometown of my beloved bard Factotum. This was the first time I had gotten to play an adventure with Factotum in Waterdeep, and I was excited.

I learned that the adventure begins with the PCs having various jobs in an opera house. “Star of the show” wasn’t an option, so Factotum settled for a spot in the orchestra pit with his horn, while the rest of the party either served as bouncers or sat in the audience. I asked the DM if Factotum could be an understudy, and he was fine with it. Excellent!

Imagine my delight, then, when the opening scene of the adventure involved an opera where a man was about to duel his sweetheart’s father, and the man fell to the stage – apparently dead after drinking poisoned wine. The poisoned wine was not part of the show, and it was soon accompanied by an angry crowd being riled up by some thugs. While the rest of the party sprang into action fighting the thugs, Factotum did the natural thing for him:

He jumped on stage, picked up the fallen actor’s sword, and continued the faux sword fight with the actor playing the love interest’s father.

He feinted and twirled, finding the time to shout words of majesty to his ailing compatriots and to sing powerfully to push interlopers off the stage (Majestic Word and Staggering Note), but largely focused on entertaining the crowd.

Yes, this adventure was tailor-made for Factotum.

The rest of the evening was a fun investigative romp, ultimately culminating in a fight with other actors. Factotum attacked one man who hadn’t directly menaced anyone yet, simply because the man was a terrible actor – an unforgivable offense.

WATE 2-4 is an adventure that definitely benefits from having a bard in the party. I’m sure it could have been fun without one, but I was really glad I’d brought Factotum to the table. It’s an opportunity for his fame to grow!

New OnlineDM avatar, courtesy of James Stowe

If you see me posting in the comments here on the blog or over on Twitter, or on EN World or the like, you may notice a new avatar.

Since shortly after I started the blog, I had been using this image as my avatar:

You may recognize it as the Rune of Terror from the room full of zombies on the first floor of the Keep on the Shadowfell. I used it because it was the first thing I had drawn myself that looked at all respectable (even though it was my attempt at recreating something that another artist had drawn). Ironically, I never got to use that image in-game, as the group that I was running through the Keep ended up not being able to play any more.

I’ve felt for a long time that I’d like something better. I’ve asked a couple of friends of mine who are artists if they would be interested in a commission from me, and none of them really were. Then I saw James Stowe’s offer to do commission work. I really enjoyed the character sheets he had created for his kids, and I like the cartoon aesthetic, so I commissioned him to do a couple of pieces for me.

The first is a portrait of my beloved bard, Factotum. I think James nailed this one.

The second is an avatar of me, Michael the OnlineDM. I sent James the link to this picture of me and asked if he had any inspiration about how to get the “online” part of my name across. I think he came at it in a brilliant way:

So, don’t be confused if you see a little cartoon guy in a computer screen box instead of a rune of terror – it’s still me!

And if you’re an artist who might be interested in commission work for a banner for my blog, I’m offering to pay! Send me an email at if you’re looking for work and think you might be able to come up with something good.

I’m going to play some Pathfinder

Sometimes life gives you a weird confluence of events.

A couple of weeks ago, I checked out the Pathfinder Core Rulebook from my local library. I’ve since renewed it and have been working my way through it. This was just for the sake of curiosity. I love learning new games, and I know that Pathfinder is quite popular, so I thought I’d learn more about it.

Shortly after that, I received an email from the guy who ran the Call of Cthulhu game I played in at Genghis Con back in February. He was getting ready to start a Pathfinder campaign and wanted to know if I was interested. At first I had to say no because he was planning on running the game on Wednesdays when I was already running D&D Encounters (and once the fall arrives, going to my bowling league). Then the game changed to Monday nights… and I have no reason to say no! So I’m going to give it a shot.

I haven’t read the entire Pathfinder Core Rulebook yet, but I’ve read enough to understand the game in general terms (and sitting around the table with experienced players will help, too). The first session is going to be this coming Monday, and it will be a one-shot Pathfinder Society game to see how the players and GM gel together.  The plan is to start an ongoing campaign every other week after that.

So far I’ve tried my hand at putting together a first-level cleric, Beren. I wanted to keep things relatively simple but not “well, you’ve got to play a fighter” simple. Beren is a human cleric of Desna with a focus in the domains of luck and travel. He’s wise and strong and charismatic, though not especially dexterous. He’ll stab things with a starknife or bash them with a morningstar… or, you know, smite them with holy justice a few times a day (though he’ll likely do his best to heal his allies instead). I’ve probably screwed everything up in building him, but I think I should be able to get by.

Incidentally, I used this Pathfinder Character Generator to build Beren. I’ll admit that I’m spoiled by the D&D 4th Edition character builder, and I expected to see even better free tools for Pathfinder. Hm.

I’ll share more about my overall thoughts on Pathfinder in a separate post. But for now, I’m putting out the call for input – what should I be thinking about as I embark on a campaign in a new game system?

Factotum will try anything

Given that I’m still pretty new to D&D (having started in early 2010), I’m still having “firsts” that are old hat for most gamers. I’ve just created my first character with a real concept, who I can really role play.

Factotum the Human Bard probably uses the same concept as a lot of 4e bards out there: Multiclassing. His motto is, “Oh, I’m great at that!” He’ll try anything. Note that he’s not especially GOOD at any of those things, but he thinks he’s ultra-capable.

His starting pre-racial stat array was 13 in every ability, with the one extra point in  Charisma (I wonder how many 4e players ever discover that trying to balance your stats gives you five 13s and a 14). As a slight nod to character effectiveness, I put his +2 human racial bonus in Charisma. So, he has 16 Charisma and 13 everything else. Optimized, he is not!

Factotum’s feats are, of course, his bread and butter. I made him a human so that he could have an extra feat at first level. Naturally, both feats are multiclass feats, so he’s a Warlord and a Rogue. Yeah, sneak attacking bards – woo hoo! I’m only picking feats that give him skill training; right now he’s trained in eight skills.

I’ve had a chance to play two Living Forgotten Realms sessions with Factotum. The first was not so great for him; it was the only LFR game I’ve seen so far that was four straight fights, with no time carved out for skill use. He muddled through all right, but he didn’t really shine.

The second session was this past week, and it was a blast. I hadn’t realized that the always-awesome Andy had set up a long series of LFR adventures at the local store with the intention of having a semi-consistent group of characters start at level 1 and go all the way through the heroic tier over the course of many months. I just happened to have signed up for the first game in this series. Two other players had brought fourth-level characters, so they obviously didn’t know about the series either. No matter – off we went!

SPOILERS AHEAD for CORE 2-1 The Radiant Vessel of Thesk

Our quest was to go to Thesk and find a mysterious “radiant vessel” on behalf of an insane halfling. We had a great opportunity for role playing in a small community in an effort to figure out what the heck this radiant vessel was. Factotum tried to turn on the charm, but managed to stick his foot in his mouth more often than not. With the help of the rest of the group, though, we ultimately got a lead: the radiant vessel was a woman with a mystical aura around her that destroyed undead creatures. She had been taken by orcs to some distant mountains, but her cousin had a map to get there (the cousin had been having a fling with one of the orcs – the hussy).

Into the mountains, then; Factotum was happy to stealthily lead the way. When we came to a room with ladders leading down to a chamber with enemies, most of the party climbed down to fight. Factotum, naturally, jumped down the 20 feet (and almost reduced enough damage with his Acrobatics check to land on his feet). He charged into a flank in order to sneak attack a minion. When confronted with a pit to cross (which could be done with ladders), Factotum jumped it.

Eventually the party found the kidnapped woman, surrounded by orcs and an imp. Factotum Bluffed his way in, saying that he was a trained physician. It would have gone well, too – if only he had been trained in Heal. A few failed skill checks later (the party’s Goliath Barbarian/Warlord didn’t have much luck, either), and we had killed the poor woman and her baby.

It was a sad moment around the table, but we wiped our tears and brought the body back to the cousin. Factotum was a blast to play, even though he usually missed in combat (his attacks were at +6 versus Armor Class or +3 versus other defenses). The best moment was when one of the other players said, “Factotum HAS to come back next week!”

Well all right then! It’s a lot of fun to have a character with actual personality. I need to learn to bring some of this to NPCs when I’m running games, too.

And since I think Factotum is so much fun, I decided it was worth taking 15 minutes to hack the five-page PDF that the Character Builder spits out into a one-page version. You know, I should probably just use the original offline Character Builder for this guy…