HOWTO have a D&D party for 8-year-olds

Tavis Allison staged a Dungeons and Dragons birthday party for a group of 8- and 9-year-old boys. He came up with a lot of clever rule-simplifications to make the game easy to learn and play, and it really sounds like a fine time was had by all!
2) Kids chose which color dice they want and which miniature will be their hero, both of which they got to keep as "goodie bags" from the party. We didn't have them do any further character creation (all heroes had the same stats behind the screen) except for name. Lots of the kids who hadn't played before had problems coming up with a name, so I asked if they wanted to roll for one. I didn't actually have a table, I just used the time they were rolling the dice to think them up.

3) The scenario was that the heroes set forth from their stronghold to explore the surrounding wilderness in search of magical items to claim and Pokemon to capture. We had the kids construct the wilderness using Heroscape hexes, and the stronghold using wooden Kapla blocks

What Made for a Successful D&D Birthday Party (Thanks, Jason!)

(Image: Painted Trophy: Red Dragon, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from benimoto's photostream)

(Thanks, Jason!)


  1. Lots of the kids who hadn’t played before had problems coming up with a name, so I asked if they wanted to roll for one. I didn’t actually have a table, I just used the time they were rolling the dice to think them up.

    I love the simple brilliance of that, having been in similar situations with the nieces before…it’s what appears as magic to the kids but is more a form of justified trickery…

  2. Also: HeroQuest. What a great game, particularly for the 8 to 12 age group. Given the prices on ebay and amazon, I’m sure a re-release would make a mint.

  3. This is very similar to how I’ve run RPG games of all kinds at our library. Get them ramped up and playing as fast as possible.

    The biggest impediment to setting up a game is the set-up. The buy-in of “here’s a stack of manuals” is too much for kids. When I first played (Palladium’s “Rifts” back in the 90’s) my friends who ran the game pre-made my character and my first few sessions were focused on play, not mechanics.

    What was really cool for me was seeing how many kids wanted to add more technical aspects to the game as time wore on. Oh and they wanted to read the books, cover to cover, to learn the world too. Little meta-gaming tykes ;)

    1. ‘The biggest impediment to setting up a game is the set-up. The buy-in of “here’s a stack of manuals” is too much for kids.’

      When I started playing D&D at age 10 or so, the buy in was that one kid had to have the box with the 64-page manual, the Keep on the Borderlands, and a set of six cheap-ass plastic dice. Even then, almost nobody had read that 64-page manual cover to cover: rules got made up as we went along, often in direct contradiction to what we didn’t know was in the book.

      Although games by major commercial publishers (which, after all, pay the bills by selling lots of product) tend to encourage or require buying lots of rulebooks and supplements, there has been something of a renaissance in “old school” game designs (such as OSRIC, BFRPG, Swords & Wizardry) among hobbyists and small publishers. Some are essentially straight-up clones of original 1970s and early 80s games (modulo elements likely to cause copyright or trade mark issues) while others use more modern conventions and mechanics, while trying to reproduce the spirit of the original role-playing games, such as brief rule sets that are meant to be interpreted and expanded upon by the players rather than being exhaustive in their own right.

  4. The entire idea is just totally brilliant and to be honest I’m a little jealous. None of my friends or family had any idea D&D existed when I was that age. The mainstream opinion of RPGs in general was influenced more by television movies like ‘Mazes & Monsters’ than anything else.

  5. Well you could just play 4th edition, though that may be a little below an 8 year old’s level, seeing as that edition was designed for ADHD six year olds.

  6. Heroscape is a great game in the fantasy genre for kids too, get it before it all sells out (recently discontinued :( ).
    One of my daughter’s favorites is ‘Tales Of The Crystal’, an 80s-era LARP with several scenarios driven by a cassette tape game master. More likely to appeal to girls I think, but her 7 YO step brother loves it too.

  7. Wow, what a great idea! My son just had his birthday and party, or we’d do something like this for sure. Maybe the next one, or maybe we’ll find some other excuse for a party for him and his friends.

  8. I started running D&D for my kids and their friends when 4th edition came out. The kids were all between the ages of 8 and 11, a mix of boys and girls. It worked okay for a while, but as they started to level up the increased complexity did us in. (Plus, I found 4th edition over-designed and soulless.)

    So about a month ago we made the transition to my own home-brew rules. The new rules mix the parts I liked best from 1st, 2nd, and 4th edition in a lightweight, simplified system. The first two game sessions have worked really well — much closer to the freewheeling fantasy adventures I remember when I was playing using the white box rules in the late 70’s.

  9. My son, who turned 18 last month, was in kindergarten when the Pokemon card craze hit. As a geek gamer mommy, I knew just what to do — I told him we’d get cards on two conditions.

    (1) we own the cards together, so he had to consult we me on trades (immunized him from some of the rare card hawks among the older kids)

    (2) if we had the cards we were going to learn the game that goes with them, and play it — and if he didn’t learn the math/reading damn fast, I was going to consistently womp him.

    Well, my son went from a reluctant reader with counting skills (our theory was he figured his friends who read to themselves didn’t get read *to* as much) — to a 4th grade reader with decent math skills by the end of the school year. By the end of 1st grade, he was reading at a post-secondary level, doing first year algebra, and had a more solid concept of real statistics than most news analysts. :) OK, even more than most college grads who aren’t engineers.

    Yes, I had to play Pokemon with him, but frankly, it beat the heck out of getting on the floor and playing Calvinball Lego games for hours. Pokemon as a card game was a reskinned Magic the Gathering without mana. Meh. And since we didn’t have a TV, I was mostly saved from the media overexposure.

    The point is, parents all over, and the news media, were hysterical with how bad this Pokemon craze was. If any of them had pried their lazy brains out of the boob tube and played the game with their kids, they might have found it a motivating educational activity, particularly for their boys who typically have less urge to read in early grades.

    1. My son largely taught himself to read through the GameBoy Pokemon games. He’d been playing action games like Spyro by dragooning me or his Mom into reading the occasional bits of text that popped up, but Pokemon has so much reading there was no way that would work. We made it clear to him that if he wanted to play Pokemon, he’d need to puzzle out most of the text on his own. It worked like a charm.

  10. This, a thousand times, this. This is how you engage kids without sitting them in front of a TV or computer screen. It’s still a game, but it’s fun, it’s a group deal, and it encourages critical and creative thinking (because you need to come up with creative solutions, but also have to be very aware of the potential consequences that the DM might decide an action will have).

    This is an awesome write-up of what must have been a fantastically fun event. I get the feeling that a few stores had some very excited young visitors this weekend. I would take these folks out for a beer and so on simply in recognition for this, but I fear I’m quite far.

  11. Brilliant!

    But, small note. How was this D&D? It was certainly role-playing, and I heartily approve. But.

  12. It’s D&D in the sense that we used D&D miniatures, thus setting the iconography (we didn’t have the Pokemon cards, so their presence in the imagined space was purely conceptual unlike wow! little plastic dudes with swords and wands!), and if kids run out to a store D&D is the thing they’re likely to find that will best enable them to do something like this on their own. More importantly I think a great deal of the D&D played throughout the ages has been super-awesome-let’s-pretend-time that ignores as many rules as it follows. What James and I are doing is firmly in the D&D tradition because it grows out of thirty years of voraciously scarfing up everything under the D&D umbrella so that that’s what we can effortlessly improvise, and three years of old-school D&D campaigns with the New York Red Box learning which rules matter and where we’re better off and reaching consensus.

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