It’s your friendly DM Slick Dungeon, back again with a few tips for preparing to play Dungeons & Dragons with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kids, why playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple rules.
Haven’t read the rules yet? No problem, we are going to start at the beginning of the rules and talk about the Introduction which includes Worlds of Adventure, a little bit about How to Play and Adventures. I’m going to pull out the key ingredients from those sections that will make gaming with kids fun and easy.
The first sentence of the rules says, “The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery.” Notice how they say it’s about storytelling? That’s the emphasis here. A lot of kids will absolutely love sword and sorcery worlds. But not all kids. We’ll get more into this later but if your kids love robots and can’t stand knights of the round table stuff, this game can still be for them. My recommendation here is that whatever your kid is most into, that’s what you want to set your world in. It’s fine if rather than barbarians running around, you have a bunch of ponies making friends with each other. (They do have a different game for that if you want but we’re not talking about that one here) The point is to have fun and tell a story. What stories do your kids love? Those are the stories they will be into. It can be a show they watch, a book they read, or something completely original that you make up based on thoughts in your own head.
The next part of the intro goes into a long description of the surroundings followed by comments made by players about what they want their characters to do. For teens and adults it’s a great description and works well to demonstrate how DM’s and players can go about playing. For kids, it’s way too much description.
Unless you have kids who are really into fine details, describing the location should be relatively brief. You want to point out any important points, especially things where their characters might do something. The clue in this is the player comments. One player wants to look at the gargoyles. The other one is trying to check out the drawbridge. As a dungeon master you probably already know the gargoyles could be more than statues waiting to attack, or whether or not the drawbridge is a trap. If you run D&D with kids and you want to describe a castle that has gargoyles and a bridge that their characters should check out, I would do it like this. “You come up on a big castle. It has a rickety old drawbridge and some creepy looking statues that look like gargoyles. What do you want to do?” That’s going to keep from overloading them with unnecessary detail while also highlighting the things they might have their characters do. And for kids, sometimes they will need more of an A or B option than the open ended what do you do? In this case you might even suggest that some things they could do are, get a closer look at the statues or the bridge. When you start out, I would go with minimalist descriptions. but if your kids get into it, you can definitely make it more as time goes by. Just test it out a bit and see what works for them.
The next part of the intro has the player characters making checks with the dice. Do give your kids the chance to role the dice often. They will likely enjoy the feel and action of rolling, but don’t make it the main focus of the game. The point is the story, so if it’s something that their character can even reasonably do, just let it work. We’ll get more into when and when not to roll dice later in this series of blog posts but my rule of thumb is, if the kid is getting kind of fidgety and could use the distraction of a dice roll, call for one. If not, keep the story going as much as possible, as long as they are contributing.
The next part of the intro talks about the difference between a player and a Dungeon Master. Other than the cool title, the main thing to know is that the DM is the describer of the situation and the decider of the rules. And that’s pretty much it. The players get to be the heroes, you get to provide the world in which they are heroes.
They go on to describe a campaign. I think the easiest comparison is in a television series. An episode of a television series would be a session of game play. That is, it’s a short bit of the story. The campaign is the entire season. And just like some shows can have more than one season, some campaigns can go on longer than others. For now. you don’t need to have a full campaign figured out. What you’ll need most in the coming weeks is a good amount of material for a session. But not yet. For right now, you just need to know the difference between the campaign and the session. So again, one session is an episode and a campaign is a season.
The next thing I want to highlight in this section is vitally important to having a good understanding of the game. “There’s no winning and losing in the Dungeons & Dragons game– at least not the way those terms are usually understood.” Okay so a few things here. Kids can get really black and white and will want to know if they, “won” almost every session. If they had fun, they won. If you had fun, and they had fun, everyone won. Yes, they can win a combat or defeat the big boss of the campaign and they might think of that as winning. If they do, that’s fine. But it’s not like Monopoly. This is cooperative storytelling, not a winner takes all game. If they lose a combat, they can also take that poorly. In that instance you will want to remind the kids that there is no real, “winning” or “losing”. You can even point them to the rule book and show them that is exactly what is printed on the page. This is one of my absolute favorite things about this game. It’s not about beating someone else, it’s about imagining yourself doing incredible things, along with a bunch of other people also imagining themselves do incredible things.
One note I have here about the section on winning and losing. It says that some characters might come to a grisly end and that maybe the rest of the adventurers can revive that character or the player can change to a new one. With kids? Don’t do that. Don’t kill their characters. If they want to change characters, that is totally fine, just figure out a way to incorporate the new character but if you take nothing else from this post, just never, ever, kill a kid’s character. It’s devastating to them. Just don’t tell them that you will never kill their character.
Worlds of Adventure
This section is cool to read but there is really only one key ingredient you need to pull out of it when playing with kids. “The worlds of the Dungeons & Dragons game exist within a vast cosmos called the multiverse… Within this multiverse are an endless variety of worlds.” Did you catch that? You can literally set your D&D world anywhere. Want it to be a fictional place where there is a weakling prince who rides a big cat and transforms himself into a powerful warrior by saying some magic words? You got it. Want your world to take place where there are glittery vampires who are obsessed with one average high school student because of the way she smells? No problem. (I might not recommend that one for kids but whatever floats your boat) Want to set your world where it’s the future and there is a robotic boy hero that flies around a modern city, helping citizens? There is plenty of room for you to do that. Now, you might need to change some of the “monsters” that are available in the simple rules, but you are completely allowed to do that. This really is why I think D&D is an awesome game for kids. There’s not a lot of limitation imposed on it.
Now if you are overwhelmed and you feel like, there is no way you can make all these adjustments and come up with your own world, don’t worry. Also, if you are thinking, but I love the classic D&D stuff, I want my kid to fight a dragon and go in a dungeon, also don’t worry. There are modules put out by Wizards of the Coast that you can use that make it pretty easy to have a story to tell with your kids. You might still need to make some adjustments but you don’t have to start from scratch.
The next part of this section just tells you how to use the rule book so I am not going to go over that. We’ll go through section by section until we have made it through all of them.
How to Play
This section has a lot of good information in it and sums things up nicely. However, it can be a little daunting for someone who has never played before, kids included. I’m going to pull out what I think is important here.
The first part that is really useful is the description of the pattern that is used in game play.
They list it like this.
- The DM describes the environment
- The players describe what they want to do
- The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions
They don’t add lather, rinse, repeat but they might as well have. That’s actually a really good summary of how games should go. Tell the kids where they are. Let them tell you what they want to do. Decide if they can do it. If it’s a maybe, have them roll dice. Decide if the dice rolled high enough for it to happen or not. Narrate what happens. Do it over again.
I don’t have a lot to add here because they pretty much nailed it on the first try, whether you play with kids, adults or someone in between.
Next they talk about rolling dice and adding modifiers. This may or may not work for your kid. I’ll get into how I do it later on, but if your kid can’t do addition and subtraction, can’t count past 10 or are very math averse, adding up bonuses, modifiers and penalties can be a real chore and feel like homework. This is a section you may want to minimize as much as possible, and you can still make the game work without a lot of that stuff. As you kid learns more math and understands more of the game, you can add this stuff in.
Here is their description in brief.
- Roll the die and add a modifier
- Apply circumstantial bonuses and penalties
- Compare the results to a target number
In terms of younger kids, you are going to roll the dice, not worry about modifiers, apply bonuses and penalties but as a DM you should be doing that, and compare the results to a target number. That target number is generally going to be what tells you if the player fails or succeeds.
The whole point is to figure out if the player does the thing they are trying to do. So, I feel like the third step here is what is really important, and why we can get away with fewer modifiers.
They then get into Difficulty Class and Armor Class but we’ll talk about those further along the rules. It’s just a way to figure out how tough something to do is.
Advantage and Disadvantage are the next topics. I think this system is great, and really good for kids. Basically, there are some situations where you will have the players roll twice instead of once. If they have advantage, they get to pick the higher number. If they have disadvantage, they have to choose the lower number. It’s also a great way to reinforce counting. This calls for doing it with a D20 but if your kid can only count to 10, I have a really easy solution. Use a D10 instead. They still have the 50/50 shot of succeeding most of the time, although I know, the D20 changes the probability mathematically (depending on the situation), but we’re talking about younger kids here. They just need to know if what they tried to do worked or failed.
The rest of this section leaves you with two rules that you really should know, even if they don’t make total sense right now. Firstly, specific rules beat general rules. I can give you an example here. Generally, players cannot fly. Specifically, if a player has a magic spell that says they can fly, that character can fly, even though others can’t.
The last rule in this section is Round Down. This is pretty straight forward but it comes up more often than you might think. If at any time, you are dividing a number and you come up with a fraction, round down, even if the fraction is greater than one half. It takes some getting used to but if you see a fraction, just round down.
This section starts off by talking more about the whole idea of heroes adventuring in a shared story, like those in a television series as mentioned above. They talk about longer and shorter adventures. One rule I have for kids is this, the adventures are short, the heroes are long. That is you can use the same characters as many times as the kids want but keep your session short. Less is more.
Then they talk about the three pillars of adventure.
- Social Interaction
Exploration can be really fun for kids but it can get tedious because it sometimes takes a lot of time and description. Like I said above, keep the descriptions brief and expand as needed.
Social Interaction can be really fun. It’s where you get to act as the characters that the kids are talking to. If you are able to ham it up, and be goofy, your kids will loooove this. If you don’t feel like you can do this and it’s embarrassing , that’s okay, every Dungeon Master has felt that way at one time, Matt Mercer included. It’s not strictly necessary for you to ham it up and be silly, but try it and you might find yourself getting really into it.
Combat can be tricky. You need to know what your kid is comfortable with. Some kids are just going to want smash, slash and destroy stuff. If you and your kid are okay with that, no problem go for it. If you need to tone it down, that’s something you will have to work on. There are tricks for this and I’ll get into it when we get to the combat section of the rules. But for now, just know that if you are pretty sure that your kid (or anyone who might be listening in on your session while you are playing) would be horrified to hear that he just chopped off a creature’s head and threw it’s agonized body down a well, don’t describe that. You can always make it more later as they get older.
Combat also has the most rules around it (maybe with the exception of magic) so it’s something you probably are going to need to simplify both for kids and to make yourself a little more sane.
The next section talks about Magic. This is a subject that’s a little too broad to get into here but suffice to say, there are special rules for magic and as the Dungeon Master, what you are going to need to know is what the spell should do. Most of the time the name of the spell gives a clue but not always, so we’ll go over in more depth later. And yes, your magic might actually be, the arc reactor blast that comes out of a super suited chest plate instead of what is written in the rules, but you can still use the same idea of the spells.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this post and found something or other of value out of it. I’m really excited about the next post I am going to be doing because we are going to make some characters and this is finally, finally, a step where the kids can participate!
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