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Kids & Kobolds: The First Delve

Kids & Kobolds: The First Delve

Kids & Kobolds 1The monsters are slain. The sodas are drunk. The nachos and Sweet Tarts are gone. The PCs divide the treasure while the GM tallies the XP. The fighter looks up her new magic sword, and the druid is already selecting his new powers, certain they will level up tonight.

Suddenly, the cleric blurts out, “Hey, guys? My son watched the Lord of the Rings over the weekend, and now he’s asking a lot of questions about D&D. Would it be okay if I brought him to next week’s session?”

What do you do? Do you ask how old the cleric’s son is? Do you wince and shudder, already planning your excuse for not coming to next week’s gaming night?

Or perhaps you’re a parent yourself, and your daughter has made a connection between the Harry Potter novels she loves and the fact that you pretend to be a wizard once a week.

“Dungeons & Dragons!” she says, eyes shining brightly. “Can I play?”

D&D with kids—is there a skill challenge for that?

When one of these situations or something similar comes up, we encourage you to embrace the opportunity, whether you are the parent of the would-be gamer or just someone who plays regularly with a parent. D&D can be a great activity for kids; after all, D&D is a highly interactive game that requires creative problem solving, cooperation, and imagination all within the framework of complex rules, and all that’s good for kids.

But it’s also a lot of fun, and fun is good for kids, too…

Keep It Fun

Here are some guidelines for you to consider to help D&D game sessions with kids run more smoothly.

Character Generation
Creating a character the kid in question wants to play is an essential first step. Your instincts may be to find whatever you think is the simplest class and have the child play that role, but doing so could be counterproductive. Rather than saying something like, “I know you want to play a wizard, but a fighter would be much easier for you,” work to come up with a wizard character that the child can handle.

If your kid doesn’t know what class he or she wants to play, talk it out. Describe some options. For example, you might contrast the sneaky style of the rogue with the straight-ahead mentality of the fighter and ask which sounds more appealing. You may offer the young player a selection of miniatures or tokens to choose from (most kids love the opportunity to pick miniatures to represent themselves), and then build the character from there.

It’s also okay to ask the child to shape a character in terms of pop culture. For example, you might ask which Lord of the Rings character the child would like his or her character to resemble.

The Rules
Try not to get too bogged down with rules. Especially for younger children, anything that gets between them and the game is a problem—a serious, deal-breaking problem.

If you’re introducing the game to a young person, use a stripped-down rules system. Start with the essentials and add more rules as you go.

In one game we played with a 9 year old, the character sheets noted only the character’s AC, hp, movement, and one or two attacks. The GM handled skill checks, and we didn’t worry about the finer points of things like marking or opportunity attacks. The result? It was the fastest-moving game we’d had in ages, and everyone—even the veterans—had a blast.

The Play
Kids often perceive combat as the most exciting part of the game. Therefore, you should have combat encounters early and often.

In the game mentioned above, we asked the 9 year old if there was anything he would have liked to be different about the session he played. He responded, “Yes, after the last room with the dragon, it would have been great if there had been another room with a bigger monster for us to fight.”

But the game doesn’t have to be all combat by any means. Younger children like options. If they seem stumped by a situation or perceive that combat is their only option in a given encounter, offer them three distinctly different choices—fight, flee, or negotiate, perhaps—and give them the time and space to work through their decisions.

When presented with yet another minion standing between her and rescuing a captured unicorn, a 6 year old surprised everyone at the table by offering gold for the unicorn’s freedom, explaining why magical creatures should be allowed to roam free and rolling a natural 20 on a Diplomacy check.

Keep It Lively

The Endgame: What if a younger player’s character falls victim to the bad guys? What do you do when that solo brute rolls enough damage to kill?

You might argue that fair is fair, and the kid might as well learn about character death sooner rather than later. This approach is great—if you want to ensure that the player leaves the game and never looks back. Children, especially young children, are likely to be very attached even to characters they just generated an hour ago. If an encounter looks like it’s headed toward disaster, give them a chance to fall back, rest, and regroup.

Do whatever you can to keep the characters of young children alive and, for that matter, actively involved in the action. It’s hard enough on experienced players when a character has to sit around and do nothing; try not to subject the beginners to the same strife.

If you keep these guidelines in mind, introducing a child to the world of Dungeons & Dragons should be a significantly less daunting challenge. It’s also a great way to remember what it was that you liked about the game in the first place—the monsters, the loot, the magic, the wonder, the hours and hours of playing with your friends.

Furthermore, in a very real sense, kids represent the future of tabletop gaming, and we owe it to ourselves and to the hobby to do whatever we can to encourage kids to play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. At the ENnie Awards Ceremony at GenCon in 2008, Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson implored us all to go forth and make new gamers.

And so we shall… for it is our duty, our right, and our privilege.


Dungeon Dad is Jeremy L. C. Jones, a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Booklifenow and Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.

Uncle Chris is Christopher L. Dinkins, a freelance writer, part-time professor, and full-time gamer. He and Dungeon Dad teach at Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that Dungeon Dad and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

25 thoughts on “Kids & Kobolds: The First Delve”

  1. Great story and great advice!

    My son started playing Pathfinder with me about 2 years ago. He’s 16 now and has become a very good and very knowledgeable player. Playing together in our weekly Pathfinder games is the best.

    In addition to the fact that kids do indeed represent the future of tabletop gaming, an additional benefit of teaching you kids to play is being able to play together, which is just the coolest!

  2. I just worked with my 11 year-old daughter to make her first character, using the Pathfinder rules. She and her friends are jointly developing a fantasy story, with them as characters, that they sometimes play at school, and she’s been interested in what games daddy plays in the garage with his friends on Saturday nights, so I explained, and she was interested, and we worked through it.

    It wasa blast. She already had a well-developed, deep, and unique backstory, which helped guide her through the pages of feats and skills and classes. Being the story-focused gamer that I am, this warmed my heart. Good stuff all around.

  3. I’ve been playing the Legacy of Fire adventure path from Paizo for my kids (10,13,13) for about a year now.

    The boys (13 & 13) built combat machines, while my daughter (10) had an elaborate back story about being an abused apprentice who’s dead parents were great wizards. It was story from her family heirloom trait that led to the design of my “Necklace Vital” King of the Monster’s finalist.

    It has been interesting to see how the kids learn from each other. One of the boys came to me “How come [the girl] has all the cool stuff happening, with her parents and…” And my daughter was all “It isn’t fair that [the boys] do so much damage in combat. I don’t get to do much.” So they are learning the value of backstory and character focus from each other.

    I have found that the kids are very tactile, so props are key. I have also found that handing out Paizo’s item cards when they find treasure is a lot of fun for them. Early on I had some trouble with squabbling over cards, but eventually they learned what items were appropriate for each character.

  4. The 16-year old joined the Friday Night Group in our Al-Qadim campaign about a year ago. It’s been fun watching him interact with his parents.

    The 12-year old just joined the Friday Night Group for our CoC superhero campaign. Should be interesting.

  5. Great article and great advice. I played D&D with my kids–7 and 5!–over Christmas. They both really loved it. The 7-year-old could handle the math (she’s a math wiz), but the 5-year-old had to have all the math done for him. They both totally got–and loved–the creative, imaginative, and narrative aspects of the game, though.

    We were playing 4E, and I have to say that the Red Box method of character generation worked especially well for them. (It walks the players through a choose-your-own-adventure type of activity that steers them toward a race/class/option option build based on their choices.)

  6. Good point.

    I know Paizo is also actively working on an ‘intro’ version of the Pathfinder RPG geared toward teaching younger folks to play.

  7. My 8 and 11 year old kids are exploring the Keep on the Shadowfell right now. Not only is the game a ton-o-fun, but it’s also an opportunity to build their skills in math, vocabulary, morality, problem solving, and imagination.

  8. My 5-year-old son’s been asking to play, so I cracked out the Ravenloft board game and we’ve found that the simplified rules have worked out very well. He picked it up a lot better than I expected. Also, he loves that you get to play the monsters, too.

  9. I caught myself nodding in agreement the whole time I was reading this.

    My son is 5 1/2 and we have been playing some form of simplified DnD for well over a year. He loves it. He is always wanting to play some kind of game with me and I love that. He has his own miniatures, dice, and writes out his own version of a character sheet. One time when I was busy with work and he wanted to play so bad that he became the “DM” and made my wife play a character in the dungeon. (Geek Dad Pride!!!)

  10. It might sound insane, but my kids started playing 4e at 5, 8 and 10 years of age (girl, boy, girl) and the youngest two love it. The boy is now 11 and runs his own monthly game with schoolmates, as well as playing in my regular game with other parents. It’s the best thing that’s happened with our relationship.

  11. I started my nephews on the road to D&D in about 2005 when they were 11-13. They had heard that I played back in the day from my brother and parents and were keen to know what it was all about. Kept the game simple and quick in the beginning and gradually added more complexity and rules as they got older and more experienced with 3.5. It was challenging at times, especially in the beginning.

    All of my nephews still play, one is DM’ing a campaign and the other two now play in college. Of the nine or ten of their ‘friends’ who wandered through the games, two or three have picked it up and are still actively playing.

  12. I’ve been playing newbiedm’s rpgkids with my 6 year old, and he loves it! I can’t wait to introduce him to Pathfinder in the next 2-3 years or so.

  13. Actually, I think this is pretty good advice for the DM of any new player. There are many games that I probably would have picked up along the way, except for the fact I ended up bogged down in the rules and never felt I could win due to my lack of mastery. Next time you have some greens at the table, or even host a game entirely of greens, follow these tips to see if you can get them engaged and enjoying the game.

  14. Good article. For many years the group I play with consisted of parents and their children. Some or the kids are grown and have kids of their own now who will hopefully wind up gamers, too. It was a challenge sometimes, but it’s been loads of fun.

  15. Ultimately, isn’t this what it’s all about? I think so. My 13 yo boy is showing a huge interest in D&D after several years of computer and xbox fantasy games. He’s grown somewhat bored w/ the electronic games, and his constant and voluminous reading of fantasy is leading him to the obvious solution to that boredom…

  16. My dad started my brother and me on 3.0 at ages 6 and 8… he hadn’t played since some 2e in college, so we were all pretty clueless (it took us four years to figure out how AoOs were supposed to work). Good article, though from personal experience, there is another possible reaction to PC death; when my first character was slain by a lucky crit from an orc with a greataxe, I became determined that my later characters should not die, and promptly started min-maxing.

  17. My 5 year old daughter has played 4e D&D Encounters for about 6 months now. Shes playing an Essentials fighter, mainly cause it’s the easiest. :) I’ve found it’s helping alot with her reading and math skills, but she doesn’t have alot of powers to sort through on her turn. Simpler is better for newer players, and it’s worked for me. :)

  18. A couple of years ago some old friends visited for the first time in several years. We played a classic (1E) D&D game, and their daughter (about 10 years old) was fascinated.

    Because they can visit only about once per year (or less) she only gets one game per year; but so far she is always very excited and ready to play!

  19. As an gamer who was brought in by his parents it’s true. I was big into fantasy and sci-fi and only had an Snes with a few games. I also continuously read my mothers 2ed books (I liked the monsters, especially the demons and devils, and the ideological differences, and just that they were cool.) So I knew what my mother was playing every week.

    I showed interest at like 10, and so one of my mothers gamer group got me the Board game with all of the cards.

    I got the wizard. I knew not to cast fireball in a 30×30(Although how I played a first level wizard with fireball is beyond me). My spells were so limited it sucked, and then an ogre got up on e and missed it’s attack. I only had the fireball left, but that would kill my friends. So I swung with my staff, and roll a twenty. It was the first twenty of the night, and I bashed the ogre’s head in with my staff in my desperate hour. That was the moment I got hooked.

    Now I DM regularly and play often, and now the rules to 8 different systems by heart and 3 others in hazy memory.

  20. Here’s another vote for RPGKids. My son, age 4 loves it – especially since I bought him a mini of his own for his character. At $2.99 it’s well worth downloading. It’s not so simple that the older kids get bored, either. (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=84050)

    My daughters (7 and 17) like Pathfinder better. One thing I’ve found helpful when introducing them to the game is a guide that says “what you can do in a round”. It helps remind them that there are options other than Full Attack.

    Also – kids roll luckier than anyone. I know this to be true.

  21. I’ve been playing full on 4E with my 11 yr-old daughter and 9 yr-old son!

    The rules work very well for us and we’re having a blast. Its a great time to spend quality time with your kids in my view!

    We’re loving it! :)

  22. Lunarius Haberdash

    My son was 6 when he started playing, and chose to play a Half-Orc Barbarian. During the duration of the game his solution to most things was to bash them open (a particularly hilarious exchange happened between the parties mage, and my sons half-orc regarding opening a door.

    The half-orc had taken to knocking open doors with his axe, mid swing the mage says “Why don’t you just try the handle?” the half-orc reaches out, finds the door is locked, and my son casts the mage the most SCATHING look that dripped “Axes… They’re how you open doors, stupid mage” said that look.

    He did very well, had a great time, and has played with us fairly frequently over the years. Never underestimate a childs capacity for tactics.

    The party was very tactic heavy, and was discussing how to prepare for the next wave of hobgoblins to attack their position. They had chopped up the bodies of the previous attacks and scattered them about for intimidation factor, and set up a blockade at the end of a choke-point to face the oncoming slaughter.

    For the half-hour this was going on, my son was perfectly silent, which was strange. We thought maybe he was getting tired. As they were wrapping up the final bits of the tactics, this 6 year old looks up.

    “I’m going to go out to the hall, and cover myself with blood from the bodies.”

    We looked at him… thinking he was exhibiting some random bit of morbidness. We all just kind of looked at him, slightly creeped. “Alllright.”

    “I’m going to lie down among the bodies.” We were being very.. very.. dense, and attributed this to further morbidness, but had the sense to ask. “Uhm… Son? Why?”

    “They don’t know I’m not dead.”

    That’s right.. The 6 year old had come up with a very.. very effective ambush. He let the first wave of hobgoblins charge by him into the arrows and spells of the party behind the barricade. He then leapt up with a roar, his double-headed Orc ax, and charged into their rear.

    I was so proud of him that day. XD

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