There have been a lot of games that of come out in the past five, ten years that have been aimed at younger players. And, I mean as young as four years old. There's a whole genre, and I'm willing to bet a market, for role-playing games that are aimed at people who are still in their single digits.
However, it was pointed out to me recently that there is at least one much older game that is perfect for younger audiences. One that I have played now and then over the years and even ran. A game that I have described as being the perfect introduction for non-role players, in fact. But not one that I considered for small children.
That game is, drumroll, Steve Jackson's Toon.
The game of 'we really wanted to get a Looney Tunes license', the first edition to Toon came out way back in 1984. Seriously, every time I find myself thinking how brave new ideas are breaking into gaming, I find that the seeds for a lot of innovative ideas are much older than I thought.
I remember how Roger Ebert, who was a vocal supporter for animation as a serious medium, would complain about how every time a new animated movie came out that was either aimed at adults or at least offered a lot for adults, you would see headlines talking about how cartoons weren't just for kids anymore. (Grave of the Fireflies came out in 1988, for crying out loud!)
Which isn't to say that new content and innovation are undercut because you can find older examples. It means role-playing games are actually a vast interconnected network of developing ideas, with nothing growing in isolation. Which is pretty cool.
And I just rambled my way completely off-topic. OK, back to looking at Toon.
Toon is the game of playing a cartoon. And by cartoon, I don't mean action adventure cartoons like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Transformers. I mean Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Slapstick silliness where the rule of funny is the most important one.
Designwise, Toon definitely reflects the time what it was made. The characters have stats and hit points, just like Dungeons & Dragons characters.
However, it is still mechanically light system that will be easy for kids, probably even as young as six, to handle. It uses a point build system, so you can make the character just the way you want. And, even though you have hit points, no one ever dies. If you get crushed beneath the grand piano that fell out of the sky, you just take three minutes timeout.
And the mechanics are really simple too. You just roll under your combined stat and skill on two six-sided dice to do something. So snake eyes is totally awesome and boxcars means you failed on an epic level.
While Toon fits the mold of being a traditional-style RPG and simulation driven rather than narrative driven, the mechanics are light enough AND intuitive enough that I don't think non-role-players, young or old, will have any problem understanding them.
Of course, what makes Toon really work as an introduction to role-playing is the theme. I'm not sure if there is anyone who isn't living in a cave who hasn't seen Sylvester and Tweety and the Roadrunner and Daffy Duck. And those people who are living in a cave under a rock, even they've seen Bugs. People understand how these cartoons work.
More than that, you don't have to worry nearly as much about consequences or doing something wrong. If Frodo tried to give one of the ring wraiths a noogie or Luke challenge the emperor to a thumb war, I'm pretty sure we'd be looking at a total party kill, not to mention some serious tone derailment. But in Toon, you can do that and it fits.
It's okay to make silly or stupid decisions. That can be a tough lesson to learn, in RPGs and out of them as well.
Toon is over thirty years old. I haven't seen the latest edition but I don't think much has changed. And I think it would make a dandy game to play with a bunch of kids getting ready for kindergarten.