These kids need some dice. Image by Keren Fedida on Unsplash.
The other night I made my son cry. Like ugly cry. I didn’t mean to. He wasn’t being punished or anything. We were playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Now before the internet crucifies me for child cruelty, let me explain. His PC is a dragonborn, and he’s obsessed with a dragon egg he found and wants to try to hatch. We were ending one adventure, and I needed a hook to get them into the next. What better hook than this egg, right?
So I had them ambushed while celebrating their latest victory. Cultists snatched the egg, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that would guide the party into the next campaign and set up a chance to rescue and hatch the egg!
Welp… It worked. They were hooked. But… it was also a bit traumatizing. The kid is invested. This game has stakes.
Now you might not want to make your child cry, but you also might be wondering “how do I get my kids interested in DND?”
I have some advice:
- Don’t start with Dungeons & Dragons. Whether your tabletop RPG of choice is DND 5E, Pathfinder, or something else, don’t start with the “REAL” game. Don’t just throw them into the Big Show. Get their feet wet first. Let them get an idea of what roleplaying is all about. There are tons of options, but we started with No Thank You, Evil! It’s fun and silly and full of imagination. The rules are ridiculously simple. If your kids can play Candy Land, they can play this game. Honestly, my youngest still prefers this to the “real thing.”
- Let them create their characters. I’ve seen other guides such as this suggest you should give kids pre-made characters. Now you should definitely help them with their character sheets. If you’re like me you’ll end up in charge of them forever! But creating characters can be the most fun part of the game when you’re just starting. Kids love this part of it. Let them be creative. Let them have ownership of who they are in this world you’re creating. They’ll be more invested in a character of their own creation.
- Start with a one-shot. Don’t just dump your younger players into a complex, elaborate campaign. They don’t need political factions and vague intrigue. They are not going to notice those hints the NPCs keep dropping. They’re not going to save the world (yet). Start them off with something simple with clear objectives. Rats in the basement. A stolen locket. A wizard with a hankering for apple pie. Kids love problem solving, but let’s keep the bar low at first. You can get complicated later. For the first one (or two) sessions keep it simple and…
- Keep if fun (and flexible). Games are supposed to be fun, and tabletop RPGs are no excpetion. So keep it fun, especially for younger players. When you’re running the games, always let them do the cool thing. (Well, almost always.) Imagination is the best part of tabletop RPGs. So let the kids run a bit wild. My youngest daughter did an inexplicable back flip to land in a boat in the middle of a battle in our last session. She stuck the landing, avoided the attack of opportunity that she triggered, and was ecstatic. My son just wanted to punch monsters, so he’s using a homebrew Pugilist class. My oldest daughter became obsessed with kender, so her character somehow plane-walked to Faerun. And it’s fine. It’s all make-believe anyway, so who cares? We spend so much time saying “no” to our kids, it feels great to say “yes!”
- Keep it short. Sure, your kids are going to love playing DND with you. But young players don’t have the attention span for a six-hour RPG session. And honestly who does? Try to break up the action into bite-size chunks. For the first few sessions, aim for no more than 90 minutes. They’ll build up the stamina with time (hopefully). And always read the room. Are they drifting? Maybe wrap it up early even if you didn’t get to that cliffhanger you’d been setting up.
- Don’t use (electronic) screens! My older kids are really interested in Roll20, but I’m refusing. I get it. We live in a digital world. And tools like Roll20 and DND Beyond can be really useful. And if you aren’t able to sit together, those tools are indispensable. But kids already spend too much time staring at screens. Part of the point of this is getting us around a table looking at each other, interacting directly, and having fun without technology. I really think putting an electronic screen (or screens) on the table between us is like building a wall. The only wall I want is the DM’s screen, so they can’t see me rolling for the goblins that are about to pounce!
- Don’t force it. This probably goes without saying, but this is the quickest way to get them to run. If you’re here you probably already love Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop RPGs. And it’s natural to want to introduce kids to something you love. But they’ve got to want it too. My youngest is still on the fence. I’ll include her when she wants to join us. But sometimes her PC just “wanders off” for half a session. And that’s okay too. She almost always comes back!
So has anyone else introduced their kids to DND? Any other tips or tricks that helped along the way? Anyone else make their kids cry at the table? Let us know!
Also I must shamelessly say that getting kids their own dice is a GREAT way to keep them hooked. My kids almost immediately started fighting over their favorite sets when we started playing Dungeons & Dragons. You seriously can’t have too many for them. So maybe get them an RPG Dice Subscription! 😊