In my last post about Role Playing, I argued that parents should play Dungeons & Dragons with their kids. Today I am going to lay out why kids should role play. The posts after that will begin to show you how I role play with kids and some good strategies for preparing yourself to play with them.
What exactly is a Tabletop Role Playing Game?
In case you don’t know, a tabletop role playing game is usually played over a table. There is a Game Master or Dungeon Master who leads the narrative of a story. The rest of the players at the table create and play characters that act within that story. There are different rule sets for different games. Some are definitely easier than others to learn and play. For the purposes of these posts, the game I am going to focus the most on is Dungeons & Dragons. It’s the most popular and commonly known of all of the RPG’s and is extremely flexible, making it perfect for kids of almost any age to play.
Should kids play Dungeons & Dragons (or other tabletop RPGs)?
You can probably guess that my answer to this question is a resounding yes. But don’t worry. I am going to give you some reasons why kids should play this game.
Let me start with the obvious. Kids have huge imaginations. If you don’t believe me, ask any kid who is eight or under to tell you a story, any story. They can go on for hours about their favorite TV show characters, things they did on the playground, reasons their little sisters stink, or tell you all about some new species of butterfly they dreamed up. Role playing games let that imagination out.
When you play Dungeons & Dragons the whole point is to tell a story and it’s structured in such a way that kids can just roam free in a massive world in their own heads. They get to be the heroes of the story and feel good about the things they make up. It encourages dreamers and in point of fact, there are not enough dreamers in the world. We need kids to keep their imagination healthy. Dungeons & Dragons is a good, safe way to do this.
The next reason kids should play this game has less to do with imagination and more to do with a vital life skill. Socialization. Kids playing this game learn how to socialize with others. That’s true whether they are playing with other kids, adults, or a combination of the two. Unlike a simple game of pretend, there are some rules about when you can do something. This helps kids to learn how to talk to others about what they are doing and be aware of what others are doing. It helps them learn to play cooperatively with other members of their group. And that can still be true, even if you are playing one on one. The Dungeon Master will almost always have at least some characters that the kid playing will need to get along with in order to accomplish a goal. While a game of pretend is extremely healthy for a kids imagination, a game of Dungeons & Dragons is healthy for their imagination and their empathy. That’s another thing we can always use more of in this world.
Dungeons & Dragons also helps with problem solving skills. The game is set up so that there is almost always more than one way to solve a problem. There might be ten different ways to approach a nasty looking Ogre, from trying to attack it to offering it the hand of friendship in order to get the magic item the kids are looking for. That’s not to mention all the ways in between those extremes. Dungeons & Dragons constantly puts problems in front of kids and says to them, “What do you want to do?” The kids can experiment to see what works. They’ll quickly learn that one way of solving a problem doesn’t work for all problems.
If your child is of the age where they are starting to read or learning to read, Dungeons & Dragons can be an awesome tool to encourage that. You can have kids who are not able to read or don’t like to read still play Dungeons & Dragons (I’ll talk about how in a future post). But for kids who are able to read at least something, if you can get them invested in your Dungeons & Dragons world, they will want to know more about it. What’s a great way to learn more? Yep. Reading. And there is a vast wealth of reading materials for Dungeons & Dragons. I know you are all probably picturing the huge hardback books with pictures of monsters on the covers. Sure, there are those to read but those books do take a bit of good comprehension to really understand. Thankfully, there are books about Dungeons & Dragons geared toward younger kids. And even if you don’t want to have them read those, you can always give them a simple story about something in the Dungeons & Dragons world you created that they can read. I will go over how to approach some of the reading challenges that come up in later posts but just know that playing D&D absolutely makes kids want to read more. And any time you can do that, it’s a win for everyone.
Okay, here is where a lot of parents get tripped up. They think that Dungeons & Dragons might take pre-calculus level math in order to play well. Why else would there be so many rules, so many oddly shaped dice and so many mentions of numbers any time you see someone playing Dungeons & Dragons? While it’s true that there are numbers involved and there is no way of completely getting around this, if your kid can count to 10, or even better 20, she has enough math skills to play this. And guess what? They will learn a little bit of basic addition and subtraction if they don’t already know it. But what about all those rules and things? How can they play if they don’t know all those? They don’t have to. You need to know some of them for sure, but the kids just need to know how to tell when something good or bad happens in the story. As long as they can count to 10, we can make sure they know.
To me, this is the most obvious reason to do anything with kids. It’s fun. It’s really fun. Did I mention that this game is fun? Don’t believe me? Give it a try and get back to me. I will admit that not everyone is as nerdy as I can be. Some people are just never, ever going to think it’s cool to pretend to be a wizard who is trying to stop an evil dragon from taking over the world. That’s fine. I’m sure there are other things you find fun. But check with your kids if they want to play this. Give it a shot. You might be highly surprised by the fact that once you start, not only is your kid having fun but so are you. What do you have to lose?
You convinced me, what’s next?
There’s probably a lot of you out there thinking, “But I have no idea what to do to play this game.” Not to worry, your pal Slick has you covered. My next post will be about how to prepare yourself for playing Dungeons & Dragons with kids. I’ll be honest, there is going to be some work involved on your part. You’ll need to put in some effort, but probably not as much as you think. I will point you to some great resources and I have a whole lot of tricks up my sleeve to make your life easier when you play this game with your kids. The point really is to have fun, not make it a headache. For a lot of the stuff I am going to write about, I’ve already had the headaches but I think I can keep you from experiencing the same. See you next time!