Tips for dungeon master daddies (and mommies)


If you are not both a geek and a parent of geeks, then the following post will be of little interest. press the "j" key and move on. Otherwise, there's some good information for parents who like to play rpg with their kids.

Tom Fassbender says:

So I'm really digging the new Gweek podcast, and particularly I enjoyed your short review/recap of rpgKids and Joel's Castle Ravenloft summary in 003.

I have some recent experience with playing Castle Ravenloft with a group of four 7- and 8-year-olds (my daughter and three of her guy friends). Yeah, there were a lot of pieces, but this seemed to excite them rather than act as a deterrent. I didn't include them on the un-boxing, though, which may have been a missed opportunity, but it made the process go faster. When we were ready to play, it looked a bit like this: (added it to the BB Pool)

We played a total of three times over a month. The first time was us (and by us I mean mostly me) trying to figure out the rules and getting the kinks out. The second time everyone had a blast. But by the third time, they got bored with it and I had to work hard to keep them interested.

The trouble was that the game is essentially the same thing every turn: move, draw some cards, roll a die, attack a monster. There's a bit more to it than that, but these are kids with rich imaginations; they kept wanting to do things outside the game's mechanics--climb walls, investigate coffins, find real treasure, and act out of turn in response to other events. I did my best to incorporate their choices into the game, but it wasn't always feasible or satisfying.

And even though we changed the characters a bit (gender, mostly) to fit preferences, these kids wanted to play their own characters, tell stories about them, and level them up.

So, in a move that leaves me questioning my sanity, I've decided to run a real D&D game with these kids using the new fourth edition essentials rules, albeit somewhat simplified.

The first game is this coming weekend. The kids may miss the finer points of role-playing, so I suspect it might turn into a "dungeon of the week" campaign, but overall, I think it's going to be a blast.

Have a tip for fellow dungeon master parents? Post in the comments!


  1. Good day,

    I am in great debt to you good sir
    for this valuable information you
    have bestothed upon me.

    Thank you so much for the “j” key.
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    Yours Sincerely,

    1. I ran Ravenloft the AD&D 2nd Edition with my players way back when and it was the highlight of my DMing career. At the climax, the sight of a player almost screaming “I hit him with a chair! I hit him with a chair!” because he was out of spells and they knew Strahd was only helpless for a limited time will stick with me for a long, long time. That’s some fine tension building right there.

  2. I have one tip for D&D parents: Munchkin Quest. Not only is it a different play field every time, but there are enough in-jokes and hilarious opportunities for mischief that I’ve entertained a group with members as young as 8 for hours.

  3. I got Castle Ravenloft for christmas, and I’ve quite enjoyed playing it. the key thing to remember, however, is it’s not a D&D substitute and isn’t intended to be- it’s not designed to offer a full rolepaying experience.It is great, however, when you’re a few people short for D&D or are too busy to have prepared a scenario- you can just bash around a dungeon and get your monster kill fix.

  4. I am champing at the bit, waiting for my daughter (currently only 3.5) to be old enough to try D&D.

    I was 7 when I first played AD&D with my brothers, and still remember it vividly. (We were playing In Search of the Unknown; I was a magic-user and my brother a fighter. We didn’t finish the module, but it was a helluva lot of fun.)

    Advice (some shamelessly lifted from the DM guide; most of it applicable to games regardless of the players’ ages):

    • Try to say “yes”. Don’t shut down the kids’ ideas just because you don’t have rules on hand for every wild thing they might try. In the 4e DMG there’s even a section on adjudicating improvised actions (it was page 42 in the original book; not sure where in the new DM’s kit).
    • Don’t pull your punches. 4e is very forgiving with respect to mortality: dying is hard to do, and relatively inexpensive to recover from if it comes to that. I know I appreciated getting the “grownup” treatment when I played as a kid.
    • Don’t be afraid to go “off the rails”. Following on “saying yes”, if the players stray from your script, go with it. They don’t know what your script says, so you can easily rearrange things to fit whatever new direction they head in. (Think of it as “Schrondinger’s Dungeon” – encounters don’t exist until they’ve been played.)
    • Ask the community for help! If you get stuck, there are forums at and Wizards of the Coast with a big community of fellow geeks who will fall over themselves to get you out of a bind, provide inspiration, walk you through rules issues, or what have you.

    Wish you the best of luck!

    1. hehe, Schrodinger’s dungeon. Love it. And something i try to apply myself. Set up some scenarios and characters that can be slotted in at any point.

      I fear that the wave of “story focused” games have basically lost the basic idea of RPG. It becomes more a case of tag-team GM then anything else.

      1. I’m not meaning to be rude but I honestly don’t know what “fear that the wave of ‘story focused’ games have basically lost the basic idea of RPG. It becomes more a case of tag-team GM then anything else” means?

        1. Just be glad you do not, as i wish i could just wash my mind of all the arguing and pompous posturing and get back my enjoyment of the games.

  5. My only tip is pre-prepare as much as possible: character sheets, ability cards, etc etc.

    Also: where can we read the After-Action Report on how this goes?

  6. Remember the golden rule of GMing: Never say no.

    They want to do something impossible? Then ask, “How would you do that?” They want to do something very improbable, say, “You can try!” They want to do something that could work but would be very silly? Say, “Yes, but…”

    Do not, at any point, see yourself as an adversary of the players. This is basic GMing, but it’s crucially important when dealing with children.

  7. “The trouble was that the game is essentially the same thing every turn: move, draw some cards, roll a die, attack a monster. There’s a bit more to it than that, but these are kids with rich imaginations; they kept wanting to do things outside the game’s mechanics–climb walls, investigate coffins, find real treasure, and act out of turn in response to other events. I did my best to incorporate their choices into the game, but it wasn’t always feasible or satisfying.

    So, in a move that leaves me questioning my sanity, I’ve decided to run a real D&D game with these kids using the new fourth edition essentials rules, albeit somewhat simplified.”

    there’s your problem right there. 4E is a combat simulator, and nothing more. I hated every session of it, and our group gave it up for Pathfinder.

    1. Then why have all of my past year’s worth of 4th Edition sessions been about problem-solving and social role-playing with combat thrown in for spice? Why in Gygax’s name must EVERY MENTION of a specific edition of D&D spawn at least one mean-spirited comment about how much the commenter hates it, and thinks you’re wrong for liking it?

      Anyway, he didn’t say his problem was playing 4th Edition; he said his problem was playing Ravenloft, which is not an RPG, but a board game. I think it’s highly unlikely a group of 7- or 8-year-olds would be able to grasp the highly involved rules of Pathfinder. Remember he’s not talking about 40-year-olds; he’s talking about children. Giving them a more complicated and binding set of rules like that is not likely to encourage them.

      1. be fair, every mention of anything spawns at least one of those. The problem is never really the topic, I think we all know that.

  8. This just made my wheels turn for a return of the basic D&D set. Maybe that could be marketed towards kids again?

  9. I second the sentiment about Munchkin Quest. I played it quite a bit with my youngest and his friends when he was about 8 or 9.

    Also, of note, in Israel they have D&D games set up as an extracurricular activity for kids as young as 7 at local community centers. I think that the Israeli distributor (or someone of the sort) hires young adult D&D players to run a weekly game with the kids, teach them the rules, and get them hooked.

  10. I would advise leaning toward being a sandboxy DM. Let your players do what they want to do, and provide the narrative terrain such that it actually feels like they’re doing it, whatever “it” is. Always be flexible with your worldbuilding and physics.

    This goes double for kids, who will gleefully make any setting into Axe Cop given the opportunity.

    For example, my pirate ships’ engines now use live puppies as fuel, which evidently makes killing the pirates morally defensible. This has manifested itself in a number of ways, among them external puppy storage tanks which can be shot off and spared, puppy flow valves and puppy dispersement nozzles as background technobabble when aboard pirate vessels, etc.

    And I don’t even play with kids.

  11. I just started a campaign for the first time with my kids. (15,13,12,10 and 5).

    I started out playing MouseGuard, because I’d heard it was great to play with kids. I really had a hard time getting into the mechanics, but I (and my kids) really like the setting and tone.

    I modified it to use very simple FUDGE mechanics and we play mostly narrative style, rolling as infrequently as possible as long as the story is going in a good direction.

    Role-playing with my kids has been a dream of mine ever since the oldest as in diapers, and it has paid off. It’s even more amazingly fun and rewarding as you imagine it might be.

  12. Thanks for posting this! I had a conversation with two other gaming dads in recent months about using Castle Ravenloft as an introduction to RPGs (but, as others have said above, not a stand-in for them) and the difficulty of getting younger audiences — used to console/online gaming — into tabletop RPGs (and I blogged about it – ) so I’m excited to hear about what you’re doing. Good luck!

  13. Holy Model-M-Keyboard-Click, Batman! I never knew pressing “J” cycles through to the next post. Awesome trick!

  14. My only recommendation would be to NOT use D&D 4th for a children’s campaign. Not dissing the system, but in my opinion you would be better off using a rules-light system (swords and wizardry comes to mind, but there are others.) otherwise you’re going to be spending a lot of energy interpreting or figuring out what rules to ignore rather than keeping game fun and flowing.

  15. It would be so much easier (faster and a lot more fun, IMO) if you could dig out the old basic D&D rules by Moldvay or get a copy of Labyrinth Lord (which are rules based on old basic D&D).

  16. Consider buying the new “Red Box”, which is the first piece of Essentials and a much-streamlined version. It’s self-contained and a good intro set.

    Otherwise, I’d echo much of the above. Having been a GM for many years and ages, I’d offer to ALWAYS let your players try something. If they succeed, make it epic, especially if they’re young. If they fail…make it epic. And don’t forget to use a screen, so you can hide your dice rolls…so you can cheat. If a success or a failure, or a hit or a miss, would improve the story and the play…then roll whatever and make it the success, failure, hit or miss as appropriate. You are the DM, so as long as what you do makes everyone have a good time, you’re doing it right.

  17. I use D&D 4e to teach a couple dozen ESL students in several small classes. Ages range from 9-14.

    You are making a FANTASTIC decision. I also bought Ravenloft thinking it might be an easy into into D&D. I was wrong. D&D was much easier for them to play and really highlighted their creativity. Tons of fun.

    Don’t make it too easy for them. Kids can pick up a lot of complicated rule-sets these days. If I were starting over, honestly, I might use Pathfinder or Essentials. 4e, over time, really adds so many powers/options for players on every turn. It can really bog down a game, especially with children. I’ve since started all my new games with D&D Essentials with is a little more simplified and presents less options each turn. It’s also really cheap to buy into.

    I promise you one thing: when the kids go into an Inn, they will order pizza. Probably a Coke. Don’t fight it.

  18. I’ve played D&D with two 10 year olds a couple of times (2nd edition basic rules) and it was a blast. They love the fact that they can try anything they can think of.

    I think RPG’s that are not too rules heavy are very close to the way children play themselves.

  19. I second the suggestion to use a retro-clone system. Older RPGs are higher on sense-of-wonder and sheer awesomeness, while newer games like 4E relate things to movies, especially fantasy movies, which kid imaginations can easily defeat in vividness.

    Or maybe something like Call of Cthulhu, which in my experience is a fairly simple system where almost everything resolves down to a D100 roll, although you might need to rein in the cosmic horror. (Or not. Lovecraft was an extraordinarily imaginative child, and there’s lots of amazing monsters to find. Plus I think most kids would love roleplaying insanity!)

  20. Personally, I’d go with 3.5, modified. Type out simplified rules for combat, basically just whichever options you want to include, cutting out the more complicated things like grapple, cover, and rules for horseback combat (hell, it’s been 10 years and I STILL can’t remember how grappling works). Print out copies of the character classes, items (and spells if necessary), and alignments, and let them make their characters. You don’t even have to give them PHBs, at this point, you can run the game. The beauty of the system is that ALL the noncombat stuff is decided by skill rolls, so as the DM all you have to do for even the most bizarre actions (“I’m gonna steathily climb to the chandelier and cut the rope so it falls on the bad guys!”) is set a difficulty (Acrobatics or Sneak DC15) and let them roll. 3rd edition works well for this, too, but I think the classes are balanced better in 3.5. Of course, have a PHB available for when they get curious, but to start out, the players don’t need anything more than combat instructions and character sheets.

  21. I run a gaming club, and the feedback I’ve had from gaming parents is the latest DnD does not cut it. 4e combat takes too long, and the Roleplaying portion of the rules is undervalued in the books.

    So far, Savage Worlds has come up as the system of choice for most parents I’ve talked to. It seems to give the most bang-for-buck for kids style of play. It makes it easy to GM more sandboxy/random mayhem games. And because it does not have a default ‘setting world’, is not limited to use for high Fantasy games. There are published settings available for every genre Fantasy, SuperHeros, SciFi, Steam/Cyber/Rune-Punk, Naval/Pirates, Modern etc. There are also lots of fan ‘ports’ of other systems and settings to Savage Worlds, by GM’s who want an easier life.

    The Savage Worlds Explorer Edition is very rules light and is a bargain for ~$10/10 Euros. There is a “Test Drive rules” PDF available to try before you buy.

    In the interests of disclosure, i do not work for or associate with the Savage Worlds creators. It’s just that the Explorer Edition book is now my “backup system” if I have to stand in at the last minute for a missing GM at our club meetups. I used to carry 3 x 3.5ed hardbacks, now all I have is one or two easily portable A5 books.

    The other game that comes up is InSpectres (also ~$10). Its a narrative style game where you play normal people starting up a Ghost-busters like franchise in your town. The plots are random, Its all imagination, and i can honestly say I’ve never laughed so hard playing any other game.

    The kids friendly version is a free supplement called ‘In-Speckers’. Here the concept is an after school secret club, where the players have pet monsters, and go ghostbusting with them.

  22. There are some good fantasy rpgs out there that are a lot simpler than D&D4. The Dragon Age rpg from Green Ronin is a good example; it even comes in a box like old-style Basic D&D. The ready-made adventures are a bit dark, though. Also from Green Ronin, but out of print, is the Blue Rose game, which uses very simplified D20 rules and also has a romantic fantasy setting that should appeal to young girls. It is still available as a PDF from e.g.

  23. The 80s era rulesets were marketed directly at children and sold in toy stores. The latest editions of D&D and Pathfinder are not. It’s really that simple.

  24. I just wanted to be one of the people telling you going with 4th ed is a good idea. This whole idea is awesome and I look forward to hearing your results.

  25. I don’t want to perpetuate the edition wars, but why does everyone complain that 4E doesn’t have enough rules for out of combat roleplaying? Do you really need rules to facilitate your sense of imagination? 4E is largely combat rules because that is the aspect of the game that largely needs to be codified.

    1. It’s not a lack of rules for out-of-combat roleplaying that old schoolers are complaining about. It is the presence of rules that take the place of roleplaying. E.g. “dungeoneering” or “diplomacy”.

      In the older editions the player would just ask questions and use logic. Prod with a 10 ft pole. Today, you roll a skill check and the DM just tells you the answer.

      Please don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that 4th edition is “bad fun”. I’ve played it! It has a much different spirit however. It’s “crunchy”. Kids don’t need crunch.

      Check out A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming [1] by Matthew Finch for more on the matter. It’s a great read.


      1. I agree that the Skill Check aspect of 4e is a bit intense, especially for kids. It makes sense to make a strength check if you want to break down a door. But the more abstract skills (like diplomacy and insight) are best left to player roleplaying.

        I plan to enforce the whole skill check thing somewhat fast and loose (though consistent).

        Thanks for the link to Finch’s primer; it looks interesting.

      2. The skill checks have been in the game since 2nd Ed. Frankly if the DM is just requiring a skill check for everything then they are doing it wrong. Skills are meant to augment player knowledge and to some extent represent character knowledge. At the least the DM should be rewarding clever thinking with skill check modifiers. That being said, most people advocate 3.5/Pathfinder which has a larger list of skills than that in 4E so I’m not even sure what their deal is.

      3. I’m an old-schooler…been playing D&D since 1980. Rules like skill checks are there to facilitate role-playing, not take the place of it. If your DM is ignoring roleplaying and forcing people to rely solely on skill checks, then that’s a fault with the DM, and possibly the players, not the rules. Rules are the structure upon which good role-playing is built.

        I have been in games where the 18 charisma bard tells the DM “I totally charm the pants off that noble woman!” and the DM says “Okay, what do you say to her?” The reply has sometimes been, “Um…I say…uh, hey…nice dress!” Does that suck as far as role-playing is concerned? Yeah…probably. But wanting to play a 18 charisma bard shouldn’t require that you actually have an 18 charisma. Just like playing a wizard shouldn’t require an IQ of 170. And when you roll to hit that orc, you say “I swing my mace into the orc’s ribs with bone-crunching force!” and then roll a die to see if you actually do. You aren’t required to explain how you swing it, or demonstrate your ability to actually handle a mace every time you want to hit someone.

        Let’s face it…the heroes we play are usually much more talented than we are. I’m not saying that you should be able to roll a die to solve every puzzle. But certainly you should be able to call upon knowledge your wizard might have through years of study and research to give you some guidance, or rely on your cleric’s wisdom to suggest the right thing to say to mollify an angry king. Unless your DM is requiring the guy playing the barbarian to bench press 200 lbs every time he lifts a portcullis, there’s going to be some dice rolling. But that rolling is there to aid the role-playing…not hinder it.

  26. Thank you for this post and thanks to the commenters! I’m going to try DMing for my 14-y.o. and three of her friends sometime in the next month or so using D&D 3.5 and advice like “Say yes” is exactly what I need to learn.

  27. Tom Fassbender here. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. I really appreciate the feedback.

    This whole thing started when my daughter told me she played D&D at school. I was intrigued and found out she and a group of her friends played the whole thing in their heads, very similar to The Game that Daniel Donahoo wrote up on GeekDad:

    But once she and her friends found out there was a “real game” (their words, not mine), that’s pretty much all I heard about for a few weeks. So I figured why not go for it and committed myself to running a game once a month. As one of the kids pointed out, “That’s 120 times if we play for 10 years!”

    So we started with Castle Ravenloft, and although it wasn’t exactly what the kids were looking for, it did teach them the basics of the D&D mechanics–and the important lesson to keep the party together.

    Anyway, for the upcoming game, we started with the D&D Red Box, and that’s basically what we’re going with. But the kids wanted a broader selection of classes and races than the Red Box has, so I sprinkled in some options from the 4th edition and essentials books. As Tichrimo pointed out in #4, it’s important to say yes. I plan on being rather flexible with the rules and letting their characters do pretty much anything they want (pizza and Cokes at the inn it is!), unless they want their characters to start with the Ultimate Weapon or something similar.

    This article on Wizards helped frame the campaign and offered some great tips on gaming with kids:

    Once we get through the initial dungeon, the plan is to run some of the “Chaos Scar” adventures from Dungeon Magazine, mainly because they’re already written, easy to set up, and relatively short (time being one of our limiting factors).

    I really have no expectations, other than I think we’ll have a great time. I’ll write up the experience and blog about it. And if this whole thing doesn’t work for whatever reason, I will look into some of the other games mentioned here.

    1. As i keep on saying to people when they ask what it’s all about, roleplaying and games are a completely human thing, part of the core of our being. We all played cops and robbers, cowboys and indians or whatever when we were growing up, this is just a variation on that.
      We all know the scenario:
      kid 1: “pow pow you’re dead!”
      kid 2: “no I’m not! you missed! and anyway I have wings of steel, so there!”

      I’ve always thought that the rules were there to keep the GM honest, not the players :)

      Anyway, I have two 4E resources worth checking out. One is Keith Baker’s take on the Skill Challenges and the roleplaying mechanics, which as i said are underplayed in the core books. Keith is the creator of the Eberron setting, and has lots of good tips on running 4E with extra roleplaying. Here is one of my favorite articles:

      Second is the RPGA, or as i like to call it ‘a 4E adventure at your table in 30 min or less’. You have to register and qualify (an easy test) as an RPGA GM, and also ‘register’ your game, but you get access to the RPGA adventure archive. The adventures (mostly well written) are tailored for ~4 hours play in clubs or conventions, but are easy to adapt into whatever story you’re telling. The RPGA has other benefits, but as a busy dad myself, a 30 min prep time for an adventure is a godsend.

      Good luck with the 4E and try and get a followup posted :P)

  28. Before you go to an all out RPG, might I suggest Descent, which is similar to Castle Ravenloft, but with a ton more options, characters, monsters, and “real” dungeons? Ravenloft is okay, but sorta weak sauce compared to Descent.

  29. I’m currently playing in a bunch of different RPG campaigns, using a bunch of different systems. In recent years, I’ve played Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Savage Worlds, D&D 4e, D&D 3.5, Call of Cthulhu, Hollow Earth Expedition, LotFP, and Hackmaster. My comment on the edition wars? Your degree of fun is directly related to your gaming group. It’s your game and what you make of it is up to you. Anything beyond that really comes down to preference. Personally, I’ve found that I prefer the play style of the older games, where less is defined. It is more about exploration than combat, but again, that is a personal preference.

    I do find the mechanics of 4e to be a bit overblown. Combat can be slow. It can be a challenge to keep track of everything as the characters level. You spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you can do on any given turn. You rely on your character sheet to tell you what it “allowed”. (for the record, I have the same problem with 3.5/Pathfinder). For low level characters, though, it should be just fine. They will start with just a few special abilities. They will get to do something “interesting” on every round. Don’t be afraid to ignore rules that slow things down or are too complicated for your group.

    To get the ball rolling, you might want to take a look at Monster Slayers from Wizards of the Coast, a FREE simplified D&D game, just for kids (ages 6 and up) —

    Uri Kurlianchik, who does an after school program for D&D, has a semi-regular column on the D&D website with lots of pointers. Unfortunately, the dndinsider site is a bit challenging to navigate, but if you go to the tutorials page — — you’ll see the articles listed as “D&D Kids: _____”. That might provide you with some ideas and potential stumbling blocks.

    Tim from “The Other Side” blog has a series of posts from his kids gaming group, the Dragon Slayers –

    I’m sure there are other blogs out there for parents introducing D&D to their kids, so search around.

  30. I have played extensively with my family. I would not play fourth edition D and D with them. I would use 3.5 or Pathfinder. The sheer emphasis on combat instead of role playing, problem solving and the plot (aside from: kill it!) make fourth edition boring for some players.

  31. I just gave my friends younger step-daughter (I want to say she is 10 or so) my spare copy of the old D&D Basic Edition. I even bought her own set of pink/black dice.

    My soon to be 5 year old I think is ready to play some gaming – I just need to figure out what basic rules to dumb down. I’d like to use miniatures, but the dang things are pricy. I played the Star Wars minis game and the commons are very cheap. Not so with D&D. I guess players need and want 50 kobolds.

  32. I run a D&D club with high school students. Timing and attention span are issues–I second the suggestion of sandbox games and being flexible. My kids are actually *less* flexible on rules than I am–I am an anything-goes type, but they dig the structure.

  33. I just recently started playing the new Red Box with my older two children (7 and 9) and they love it. I have two NPCs that accompany them for now, to help them learn how the dungeon thing works and they are picking it up and getting really creative already. The older one used Mage hand to lift a carpet covering a trap to see if it would help him see the trap, then used the carpet to trip a goblin.

    I agree with all of the comments about being a good DM/GM. I have to stop myself from guiding them too much, and I have ignored a number of rules that would crush the flow of the game. So far we’ve played halfway through the starter dungeon over three 90-120 minute sessions, and they beg to play more. Honestly, it is making me wish I had more time to play, both with them, and with my gaming friends…

  34. Go big. Giant, steam-powered clowns. Vampire werewolf mummies. Archmage frogs. Realism and verisimilitude are for grown-ups. Also, physical humor goes over very well with kids.

  35. When I was 6-8 I used to play DnD with my friends all the time. Normally we would play adventures that were only 1-3 sessions in length, to accommodate our short attention spans.

    We’d also do a lot of silly sessions, like you’re a delicious burrito in a dingy bar in New Mexico, and a large drunk patron is very hungry and intent on eating you. Then you, as the burrito, attempt to squirt hot cheese in his face and roll in dog hair until you’re sufficiently unappetizing.

  36. Give your kids credit, they are the best role-player and once you get them going they will beg you to play. My 7 and 12 year old love it.We play old-school 1st Ed AD&D, and they love the fact that it is not “simple”. My warning is getting ready for anything, these kids will come up with stuff and ways to do thing you never thought of, in my experience the combat is their least favorite part, they like the puzzle solving and the diplomacy. We played In Search of the Unknown and they spent a whole session coming up with a way to scare the hobgoblins out of the kitchen rather than fight them head on. I thought it was pretty clever given that they would most likely die if they tried to take them on, but they really needed the key that was in there.

    Kids and D&D make for a fun weekend.

  37. I run a 4th ed D&D campaign for my kids and their friends, age range from 9-14.

    Combat can be slow sometimes and the younger kids don’t always understand their powers or when to use them in a strategic fashion. One thing I do is write up power cards for each player and on the back of the card I write down in plain words what the power accomplishes and an example of when might be a good time to use it.

    I also write them “reminder” cards, such as “Remember to mark your enemies” or “Remember to add your Prime Shot bonus” so that they can refer to them on their turn.

    I make a point of alerting the upcoming player that his turn will be next when I begin dealing with the current player’s turn. That lets them make observations and pick out actions in advance.

    I often use plasticine at the table (General Parenting Tip: $20 will buy you a crazy amount of plasticine in a variety of colours and is great for all kinds of kid fun) to make monsters, set pieces and props on the fly and I find that when a kid starts to get bored waiting for their turn handing them a hunk of plasticine is a great way to occupy them quietly (no clacking dice!).

    The kids at my table love to exploit role-playing opportunities! I try to make NPCs interesting and love to throw in pop culture references to keep them interested and laughing (cabbage guy from AtLAB, a duchess modeled after Lady Ga Ga…). They have very good ideas about how their characters would act and speak.

    Lastly I try to lead by example when it comes to adding flavour when describing a character’s actions. Some of the kids pick up on it and follow suit and it really helps the action come to life.

    Thanks to all the other players for their tips!

  38. veryone is missing a HUGE opportunity.

    I was 7 or 8 when my sibs and I played our first D&D adventure. We lived next door to a house where a bunch of teenagers hung out because the girl who lived there had a cool mom. We also had a cool mom and so sometimes we would go sit with the teens on the lawn.

    One of these teens (who probably couldn’t get his friends to play) asked us if we wanted to play D&D. He had no paper, no pencils – not even dice. He simply asked us what kind of characters we wanted to be, told us we were seeking a magic sword, shield and helmet and into the imaginary castle we went. He would make up every room and monster off the top of his head and we would fight and narrowly win every encounter, finding the magic objects one by one.

    It was amazing. With no game mechanics to slow us down, the adventure unravelled with all the pace and fluency of our favorite story books.

    Later in life I realized that no RPG (and I’ve played a bunch – still do) could ever reach that perfection. And the only thing that made it possible was that we were little children, willing to submit totally to the DM’s control. Once you hit a certain age and wise up to the whole thing you can’t enjoy an activity this way, so dice and rules and books enter the field to make it fair (and to make death a real possibility instead of merely a perceived possibility).

    But if you’ve got a couple 8yos who want to play D&D, for heaven’s sake don’t buy a thing. Just open your imagination and go for it. I think it’s RPG at it’s purest.

  39. I started running a D&D campaign for my kids and their friends a couple of years ago. They ranged in age from 8 to 11 when we started.

    Initially we started with D&D 4th edition, but I found that that combat was unwieldy and it stifled their imaginations. The problem was that most of the skills in the game are geared entirely toward battle. For example, there’s nothing like the old Enlarge spell that you could use to give a fighter a buff, but also use in weird and creative ways in non-combat situations.

    So we switched to playing Spirit of the Century for about six months while I wrote my own home-brew system. I pulled a lot from the white box and 1st edition, but updated it with a more consistent approach to event resolution (everything is d20-based), a mana-based magic system, and a 4th edition-like skill system that gives everyone some cool special abilities. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve been playing it since last fall and they seem to be having a blast with it. And there’s a lot more creativity at the table than there was with 4th edition.

  40. I’m going to have to side with some of the anti 4E peeps as well. Let me start by saying my daughter is 15 and my son is 13. I got them into RPGs by running a Microlite20 adventure with them and my wife with me as the DM. They loved it and the light rules allowed me to move the game along a good clip(although I would avoid dungeons with lots of hallways). Since then we have started playing another 4E based campaign with some friends of mine. I find that when we are in a combat situation my kids start getting bored because resolution takes such a LONG time. I have to be honest in some of them I get bored for the same reason.

    So if your looking for some great rules light systems I would suggest you try looking into Microlite20:

    Join the forums as well because there is some even lighter rules versions there.. In particular one called Nanolite6 which uses just D6 dice. The guy who wrote the rules has had kids as young as 5 and 6 not just playing the game, but DMing them as well.

  41. Children have amazing imaginations, and love the roleplay elements of RPGs. After playing a wide variety of systems, I think FATE would be the easiest and most free-form for kids to grasp. It’s rules-light and allows for a great deal of flexibility and creativity, while rewarding attention to detail.

    When I used to babysit, the kids would adamantly request playing make-believe over watching TV or playing video games. I wish I had known about FATE then, because it would have been fun to run a game for them.

  42. My son, now 9, joined my game group last year. I’ve been gaming for 15 years and this is not the first time I’ve had a child join in. In high school, my girlfriend’s little brother joined us for a couple games. There is one thing that I learned about children and their short attention spans: tank ’em. That is, the kids want to beat stuff up and think that rushing into combat is the greatest idea. If at all possible, offer the kids the role of the damage dealer or the tank (in my experience they pick the big sword or heavy armor nine times of ten anyway). 4e is good this way as roles are clearly defined. My son played a Paladin in our recent game and he knew when to heal and when to soak hits and when to unleash his daily. And really, that’s all he needed to have a good time and that’s all the group needed from a character with his role. Plus you can let them know how important their position is with the team, thus giving them a confidence boost and letting them know they are needed.
    As far as a group with all children is concerned, I have no experience other than when I was a kid playing HeroQuest with my parents and sister. I think there’s some pretty good advice to be had here though, from myself and others.

    Enjoy your game!

  43. Re: Agies (post #47), wylkyn (post #59)

    I agree with you both. I was simply providing the old-school manifesto answer to the question “but why does everyone complain that 4E doesn’t have enough rules for out of combat roleplaying?”

    I probably didn’t answer it as fence-sittingly as I ought to have. I use Proficiencies, Ability Score, and on-the-spot rulings based on role-playing in my adult 2E game.

    Good call.

  44. I’ve been running D&D games for my kids and their friends every Sunday for the last 8 years. I started out in 3.5 when the oldest was 10. Now I run 1st edition with a mix of a few 3.5 rules. I like the real role-playing aspect of 1st ed. Now my kid is DMing a game on Thursdays as well.

    I agree with the advice generally offered here of focusing on ‘yes’. I would add that it is vital to remember that this is a game and meant as a way to have fun. Sometimes this gets lost, especially if a kid shows up in a squirrelly mood and tries to block another player. I reward good role-playing with treasure or XP and ignore irritating behaviors. They go away.

    Also, I love sticky pads when a player wants to communicate with the DM privately.

    Good luck!

  45. I’ve found that complex game mechanics get in the way of very young kids (4-5), but their typical board games (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders) are terrible in terms of developing their creativity and problem solving skills since they offer no choices at all.

    Better games like checkers, memory, and connect 4 aren’t that fun either because of the lopsided nature of playing against a 4 year old ;)

    So to solve those problems, I developed
    as a simple RPG for pre-schoolers that uses simple game mechanics and their own blocks and toys to build the dungeon.

  46. I first played AD&D at 12 (I was the youngest in the group). I *wish* I’d been introduced to it at 10. 3 and 3.5 made the rules simpler and more intuitive. I could have easily handled that at 8, maybe even 7 with a good DM. I know nothing about 4, but I assume the same principle holds. So go for it, and have fun!

  47. I plan on starting my kids with “Mouse Guard”. This is a little less rules intense and it has some really cool role-playing aspects that encourage imagination and interaction.

  48. Star Wars D6 version is where it’s at. Can I get a whoop whoop for West End Games?

    Started playing that when I was ten! So much fun :)

    In high school, it was more D&D Modern and Red Dwarf. Yes, Red Dwarf. Also super fun.

  49. I haven’t gamed in about 30 years. My 2 oldest daughters are now 11 and 10. I thought this would be the PERFECT time to pull out the old D&D basic set. My wife and I have been having D&D sessions Fri-Sun with them ever since. I combined some AD&D elements (character creation). I even bought the 4E monster vault tokens to assist in combat/melee/ and monster visuals along with some new minis they picked out. Have your kids create a back story for their character and their character’s family. Then create elements in the adventure that draw off their character’s history. Create situations and morality plays in the campaign to teach them that every decision has a domino effect. Take them out to the local game stord to hand pick each dice in their set and their dice bag. Also let them roll for as many things as you can in the game. Create tons of situations where percetile dice (2D10) need to be rolled. Old school D&D Basic gives a ton of freedom and a handful of guidelines. NOTHING beats family D&D night!

  50. I would second teh comment above about Microlite20/Nanolite6 – I play with my 7 year old son and 3 year old daughter, and we have a blast. You can gin up an adventure in 10 to 20 minutes, play can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes – longer if they are willing – and the rules are flexible enough to allow a lot of imagination and exploration.

    My son is now obsessed with GMing his own version using his own made-up classes and spells. It’s totally unbalanced, of course – he’s 7, and doesn’t get that a level 4 character should not have a bomb that does 4d12 damage – but he is creating every day. It’s awesome.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘j’ was chosen because ‘j’ means “cursor down” in vi. In fact, h, j, k, l seem to perform operations analogous to vi’s left, down, up, right.

  51. I feel a need to defend the D&D board game system a little. No, this is not a replacement for a true RPG. However; I think you are thinking of it too much as a board game. The system given in the rules is exactly that, a system. You are not meant to stick strictly to the rules like you would in most board games.

    If the kids want to open a chest,let them. The roll a die to see what happens. If it is good find a boon card in the deck and give it to them. If bad, spawn a monster. Use your DM skills with the system. If they want to something out side of the written rules you can make something up and have them roll against a character stat.

    The system also gets much better with Wrath of Ashardalon. No it is not perfect. But it does give a co-op dungeon crawl experience that is very flexible in an hour time frame with no dedicated DM needed. That is a very hard thing to find.

  52. My 4 year old daughter loves playing Zombie Dice its real simple and fun. This week we are going to start playing D&D 3.5

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