Hello again, it’s me your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon. Today I want to talk to you about how to prepare yourself to DM with kids. Don’t know what a Dungeon Master is? No idea how to play this with kids? Not to worry, I have some tips and advice for you.
A couple things before we get started. These posts will be for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. If you are new to the game that might not mean much to you but it’s important to know that there are different editions and that they have different rule sets. Fifth edition is especially flexible for kids because you can be a total beginner and pick it up pretty quickly. Most of the emphasis is on the narrative rather than number crunching so it’s better for kids in my opinion. Also, it’s the current edition that is out everywhere and is super popular with the masses right now.
First. let me start by saying that if you already know how to play Dungeons & Dragons and have been DMing for years, bear with me, this is going to look pretty familiar. However, I may have some tips for doing this with kids that you haven’t considered so it might be worth a read anyway. I am going to give you a few steps on how to prepare yourself. This will take some effort on your part but you can do it.
Know what Dungeons & Dragons is and is not
Dungeons & Dragons, aka DnD is a tabletop role playing game. It’s a shared narrative story where one person, the Dungeon Master, narrates the circumstances and referees how the game plays out based on a set of rules. It’s not a video game. It’s not story time (it’s a shared story where everyone participates). It’s not something every kid is going to want to do either. My first and most important bit of advice is this, never make a kid play Dungeons & Dragons if they don’t want to.
There are some adults out there who love role playing, or just want their kids to get in on this fad that all their other friends are playing. While I think most kids will love this game, given the opportunity to play it, if they are forced to when they don’t want to, they are going to walk away in frustration and no one is happy. And this is important, this includes in the middle of a session.
Nothing will frustrate a kid more than when they get bored with something and an adult forces them to carry on anyway. By that point you have lost them. And then you, as the adult are also frustrated and want to give the whole thing up, thinking that this kid is never going to be into this. That might be true. But you might just need to wait a few years after you blow it to try again. My advice? Less is more with kids. Leave them wanting a little more if you can, but don’t get upset if they decide they are done for now. Don’t take it personally and just give it some time.
Most of us who play Role Playing games understand what is called, “The Social Contract.” This is basically an agreement that everyone who is at the table to play is there because they want to be there. And that they will participate and, you know, not be jerks while playing. This is pretty easy for teens and adults to understand and if someone violates the social contract, everyone at the table knows it. With kids, especially young kids, this is different. I’ll go over how to set a social contract with kids in a later post but for now, remember this, if it doesn’t go great the first time, or the kid gets bored and leaves, you still have a good shot at bringing them back for more. If you force a kid to stay when they are over it, you are done and good luck getting that kid to come back again.
Know who does what at the table
Experienced Dungeon Masters, you know how this goes. For all you noobs out there, the people at the table are pretty straight forward. The Dungeon Master leads the game, knows the basic outline of the story and makes judgement calls based on what the characters are doing. The DM also controls the Non-player Characters (NPCs). Basically anyone the players meet that are not each other.
The rest of the people at the table are Player Characters. They get to invent and pretend to be the heroes of the story. Most kids are going to enjoy this role waaaay more than being a Dungeon Master. That’s not to say that there are not great kid DM’s out there, it’s just that most kids want to be in the action, doing the thing, rather than be the one looking up rules.
If a kid really wants to be the Dungeon Master, you might consider doing a short session with them where you basically DM together. Let them roll the dice, let them make some decisions but you are the one driving the story. If they love doing that and want to take over more from there, just help them along the way, depending on the age of the kid. The older the kid, the more likely they can handle actually being the Dungeon Master. Personally, I would say for the most part until kids are around 12, let them be the players.
Know the dice
Okay, really experienced game players are going to think this one is silly but we all had to learn this at some point. I am going to go over the dice, pictures and all just so you know what they are. You may or may not use all these dice depending on two things. 1. The age of the kid and how high they can count. and 2. What their characters are. You as the DM will probably use most of the dice at some point but there’s a couple that really are more important than others. I am going to show you the dice, lowest to highest. Basically, in the rules you will read that a situation calls for something like 2D6 + 2. What that means is that they want you to take two six sided dice, (you know like in Monopoly) and roll them. Then take the total and add 2 to it. But, kids don’t necessarily know which die is which. So here it is in pictures. Also, just a tip so pro-gamers don’t jump down your throat, the singular of dice is die. So if you are rolling 1D4, you are rolling a die, not a dice. People will call you out if you say it wrong, so teach your kids early.
The above are D4’s. They are four sided dice shaped like pyramids. The tricky part about these is you can have either top read or bottom read D4’s. I gave you an example of each. Do you need to know which is which? Not really. Here’s what you need to know, can you read the number as it would be printed on a page? If so, that’s your result. This die is usually used to determine damage for the smallest weapons in the game.
The D6 hardly needs an introduction. You’ve used this kind of die before in almost any normal board game that uses dice. This one is used for determining damage done by spells and weapons.
The D8 can be read by seeing what number lies flat on the top. Kids will mistake this sometimes for the D4 or the D10. This die is used for determining damage, depending on the kind of weapon or spell involved.
Again you read this die by seeing what number lands flat on the top. Depending on how good your kid is at counting, this might be your big die to use most often. Experienced gamers will use the D20 as the most commonly rolled die BUT if you kid can’t count that high, stop here. I’ll show you how to adjust your game to use nothing higher than a D10 in a future post. In most games this will determine damage done from specific weapons. But if your kid still needs to learn to do some counting, this is also going to operate along the lines of what the D20 die does.
The D12 is mostly used for battle damage. Any barbarian in the game will LOVE this die because they use it all the time. Like the others you read it by seeing which number lands flat face up.
The D20 is any table top role players favorite and most hated die. Why? Everything good or bad in the game comes down to how well this sucker rolls. Again you know what the result is by seeing the number that is flat on the top. This determines everything from who goes first in combat, if you can succeed dodging a falling rock, to dealing damage to a sworn foe. It can sometimes be used in mundane situations too, like finding out how many potions a merchant has on stock to buy. It’s the essential die in the game and it does help if your kid can count to 20. If not, we can still use the D10 for that but it’s going to take some adjustment.
Percentile dice are sometimes called for in the rules. You don’t have to have ones like the ones pictured above. In the ones above there is one, the one that has two digit figures on it that you use for the tens spot and one that only has single digits that you use for the ones spot. You can use two D10s instead as long as you know which one is going to be for the tens spot and which one for the ones spot, and don’t change them. Most often, I see these rolled on a table in preparation for the game rather than during a game but some instances can come up where you need them. To roll a 100 on these, all the numbers need to show up as 0. So if you have the kind like pictured above, it would read 00, 0 and if you use two D10s it will show 0, 0.
Know the rules
I’ve told you my first rule, don’t force a kid to play when they don’t want to. I’ve told you who is who at the table. I’ve shown you what the dice are. Now it’s time for you to do some work. You are going to have to learn some rules. But wait, those books are big! And expensive! I don’t know if I want to invest in all that before I play with my kids. To that I say, you are right, and no problem, you don’t have to buy the books. There are free online resources you can use. I am going to link them for you right here in this post. We’ll be starting with the simple rules, rather than the three core books. If you want the three core books, Dungeon Master’s Guide, The Player Handbook and The Monster Manual, more power to you. I love those books but if you are starting play with kids, simpler is better.
I expect that after you see the simplified rules you are still going to say, but Slick, that is a lot of reading! Well, yes it is. You are not wrong about that. My plan for this blog is to go through the simple rules with you to help pull out the key elements to allow you to play Dungeons & Dragons with kids. Not everything in these rules is necessary for kids (or even adults) and they can be adjusted. The rules are more of a framework or guideline for how to play rather than everything being set in stone.
When you go to the link to look at the simple rules, if you look around you will see some information about how the game is structured, how you create a character and how to run an adventure. Read as much of that as you can, even if it doesn’t make sense right now or if you think you can’t get a younger kid to understand it. For right now, we are in the prepping stages so the best thing you can do is to inform yourself but don’t tell a kid you are going to start playing tomorrow unless you are really ready to do that. Give yourself some time to absorb the information. Also, not to self promote too hard here but come back to my blog and like I said we will go through the basic rules. I’ll give tips on character creation for kids, how to adapt things so they are more simplified and even point you to some cool stuff that might make your kids more interested in playing.
Come on, Slick enough talk, give us the rules already!
Here you go! Simple Rules for Dungeons & Dragons 5e
Read those and come back to my next post where we will talk about some good guidelines about setting up a D&D world for kids.
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P.S. Just gotta have the core books? You can get them here.