Parenting is a PbtA game

I have a 3-year old daughter and this evening she was banging away at something at the dinner table and I said she would have to stop or there would be a consequence and in a flash of insight: I realized that someone had rolled a 6- and it was time for a GM move. Then I started to think about all the other parallels and best practices that could come over from good PbtA play to parenting. What if you explicitly talked about your agenda together? Help each other grow, take risks, and be safe? And of course, “play to find out.” A lot of parenting sounds like GM moves: offer riches, with or without a price? Announce trouble? Demonstrate a downside? Good stuff. Anyone else have surprising parenting related insights from their gaming?


Be a fan of your kids. :wink:


The trouble is that it’s not really a sandbox and not really a railroad adventure - and your protagonists will often be Defying Danger to move it from the later to the former…


Go over to games without master.

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Oh, it’s true. Here’s the parent’s playbook that came with my order of the “little people”:


• Name everyone, make everyone human. (Very important! Don’t just “number” your children, they hate that.)
• Ask provocative questions and build on the
answers. (“Who do you think spent two hours cleaning up this mess yesterday?”)
• Respond with fuckery and intermittent
• Sometimes, disclaim decision-making. (This might annoy your spouse/co-parent, but effective.)

When they act up:

• Separate them.
• Capture someone.
• Put someone in a spot.

When they are about to act up:

• Announce off-screen badness. (This one is rare; usually it’s “Finish your food! There are children starving in Africa,” or some variation thereof.)
• Announce future badness.
• Take away their stuff.
• Make a threat move (from one of your threats).

When they ask you difficult questions:

• Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
• Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
• Turn their move back on them.


• After every move: “what did you do?”


Don’t just “number” your children, they hate that.


Unless you’re living in Ancient Rome, then you can go right ahead. Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius, Nonus, and Decimus are all noted as common Roman names.

This also happened a bit in Sweden in the 19th century, when the old naming conventions (with a first name you got from an older relative and a last name you got from your father) went out the window. Suddenly people would give their children two, three, four, or five names (three is by far the most common today), and often got a bit creative. Basically, people started making up whatever names they wanted for their kids.

That’s how you get a couple who named their first nine children alphabetically, like this:

Axel Bernhard Conrad
Dagobert Edvin Frithiof
Gustaf Harald Julius
Knut Leonhard Matildus
Nelly Olivia Paulina
Qwelia Rosalia Sophia
Therecia Urania Wilhelmina
Xecia Yrsa Zefonia
Åbertha Ägir Östgötha

Some of these are traditional Swedish names, some are imported, some are adapted from geografical locations or gender-swapped, and some I’m pretty sure are just made up. But after they had finished the alphabet they started in on the numbers: Child number 12 was called Detolfta (“tolfte” is Swedish for “twelfth”), and number 13 had Treton as one of his middle names.

Some of these number names were also puns, like Treodor (Teodor plus “tre” for “three”), Femilie (Emilie plus “fem” for “five”), and Tolvira (Elvira plus “tolv” for “twelve”).

But yeah, name your kids and make them human.

End of detour. Please carry on.


Parenting by the Apocalypse


  • See them to adulthood
  • Do them no harm
  • Help them achieve their goals


  • Address them as people
  • Embrace their interests
  • Engage them in everything
  • Ask questions and listen to their answers
  • Be consistent

Parent moves

  • Separate them
  • Tell them the consequences and ask
  • Announce future consequences
  • Make them use their words
  • Put yourself or them in time out
  • Give or take away their resources
  • Give them opportunities with or without a cost
  • Show them the up or downside of their assets
  • Model the correct way for them
  • Introduce a mentor, ally, or hero

Make moves when they are about to fail, when they look to you for something to do, or when they present you with a teachable moment.
[I wrote this maybe 5 years ago and keep hoping I’ll find a good use for it…]


Always thought parenting was a GMful game.

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