Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Alice in Algol-Land" and Child Adventurers

"This was my mental picture for Child Explorer.
Alice Liddell goes down the rabbit hole and ends up on Planet Algol (pictured after one day).
Drawn under the influence of the song "Spoilt Victorian Child" by the Fall."
- Lester/B. Portly

Despite the influence of Narnia, Oz and Wonderland upon the fantasy genre, the fantasy cliche of "precocious children in a magical world" seems severely under explored in RPGs.

The "young adult adventure fiction" I read in my youth was full of child detectives, child scientists, and ordinary children thrust into situations of adventure as well as multiple fantasy series' that dealt with ordinary children who stumble into the magic world, plus let us not forget "Harry Potter." Despite this, these established genres of fiction seems to be taboo in the RPG world.

I imagine one reason for the lack of child adventurers in fantasy gaming is an issue of "taste." Children killing sentient beings with swords or children being hacked to death with swords could strike many folks as being distasteful, which is understandable. When children go on adventures in fiction they often benefit from "plot immunity," something which is lacking in many RPGs (unless the referee is a "softball pitcher" and "dice fudger," which would be genre appropriate in this case), and it seems systems that give players some degree of "narrative control" would be appropriate for such a game.

There is the game "Little Fears," which is a horror game dealing with children and boogeymen, and apparently some people did find the first edition uncomfortable as it also dealt with the "real life horrors" that far too many children face. Although I'm unfamiliar with the Little Fears system, perhaps it's ruleset would be appropriate for emulating the "child adventurer" genre?

Many genre properties do have "child adventurer" characters, everything from contemporary epic high fantasy ("A Song of Fire and Ice" for one) to the sidekicks of Batman, Indiana Jones and the Road Warrior. I have also seen an AD&D adventure in an old issue of Dragon magazine that deals with a troop of Boy Scouts exploring a haunted house!

Although I would let a player utilize the "child adventurer" archetype in my own Planet Algol campaign, I do have misgivings about a fictional child being put into the fictional perilous situations of my campaign, which I guess shows how this can be an emotional and/or controversial subject for many.


  1. Goodman Games published the Escape from the Forest of Lanterns adventure where the PCs are turned into children and forced to escape from a wicked witch and her candy cottage. I've not played it, but I've heard great things about it.

    I've often wondered why there's no official Harry Potter RPG, especially given the extent of development of his world and the way magic works in the books. (I think there are a few fan attempts though).

  2. I am absolutely thrilled that "Child Adventurers" now has it's own label! Encylopedia Brown hybrid Blade Runner here I come!

    LEster, I'm also really diggin' that you gave Alice an axe. You know, all Lizzy Borden stylee. I think they both had the same apron too.

  3. I can see how this could be a controversial subject, but I beg readers to remember Halfings (read: cover up for humanoid children) were one of the original AD&D line-up staples...just as gruesome watching a halfling cutting an Ogre's tendon as it would be Alice. No? All I'm saying is, I don't see much difference between some 9 year old leaving their indentured servancy with a stolen machete in hand and killing their owner, and a halfling using a sling-shot against an owl-bear. Anyone disagree?

  4. Child adventurers are something D&D has more or less overlooked for years, despite theyr'e being very much in-genre for many of the game's earliest inspirations. Mind you, the same is true of displaced adventurers of any sort, be they Arctic explorers, shipwrecked sailors, or astral-projecting Civil War vets.

  5. CrusssDaddy says:

    I think D&D has shown a reluctance to place fictional children in harm's way because they were on the front lines of fighting the silly perception that they were putting real world children in harm's way. An overabundance of caution in the face of pitchforks and torches...

  6. Don't forget veryone's favourite 15 year old boy Explorer Tintin.

  7. Tintin is 15!? I though he was a pistol packing reporter?

    I guess in France having sex and drinking wine aren't the only things they start young...

  8. You realize Tintin opens the floodgate of characters with pets - you gotta have Snowy!
    Pretty soon Shag and Scoob will be sucked outta the Hanna Barbera continium and dropped into a Bakshi acid drenched feverish nightmare...