How to Introduce Your Child to Dungeons & Dragons
A long time ago, I was a wizard named Gandalf. Admittedly, the nickname is unimaginative, but it came from a teenager who had just finished reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As Gandalf, I knew several common defensive and offensive spells and could speak dwarven. Naturally, I declared that my outlook was lawful good, and went about my business in search of gold and magical treasures.
By the time I got the ability points for Gandalf – my first character in an RPG – Dungeons & Dragons disappeared after a couple of years. My most challenging friends and I got together on Saturdays or overnight stays to pretend to be medieval fantasy heroes battling lizardmen and beholders in search of the elusive +2 Vorpal Blade. Even when I hid my 20-sided crystal in storage when I was going to college, I couldn’t wait to get it back and play with my kids.
In 2010, I bought my two sons a Fourth Edition D&D Starter Kit, which consists of a set of elaborate rules. The game lost interest to my children before their first characters learned to swing an ax.
I could sympathize. The small print controversy is as much a trademark of the game as Crazy Dice. Many of my D&D sessions during childhood and adulthood spent a lot of time trying to start an adventure or finding specific rules as situations arose. To make my childhood pastime more accessible to children, I had to iterate again.
Keep it simple, sorcerer
At the time, my solution was a stripped-down version of D&D (“DnDish”) that discarded all but the most important parts of the experience. In doing so, I broke the rules and kept only the most important parts: create a character, roll the dice, level up. The rest rested on our collective imagination.
With the release of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2014, the official rule set now removes some of the hurdles my family faced in learning the game. However, there is more you can do to simplify 5E and improve the experience for your kids.
The biggest threat to an enjoyable role-playing session is concentration, so all of your house rules should be implemented with three goals in mind:
- Accelerate the pace for the first act.
- Minimize link searches.
- Keep players engaged at the end of the session.
These goals can be achieved by letting go of the rules and setting up the game as the Dungeon Master, the person most responsible for driving the adventure forward.
Hide what you are not using
An early battle with some light monsters will help the new player learn how their armor, weapons and magic work. This knowledge will carry over into future sessions, but little used bits will likely force the DM to check the books. As long as you’re browsing one of the three essential D&D tutorials or browsing online resources , your kids may find more interesting activities. To avoid costly link checks, don’t play with parts that require research.
If you can’t exclude link checking, consider making it easier to find the information you are looking for. Create simple one-page cheat sheets containing only the most useful information. Try to reduce all books to four key pages: character creation, player actions, shopping list, and leveling up. If something doesn’t fit on the sheet, don’t use it.
Solutions are investments
D&D takes a lot of decisions to create your character. For new players or those trying to use an unfamiliar character class or race, these options may delay the start of the action for everyone. The faster you get to the first monster, the better.
There are 9 major races and 12 classes in 5E, although most are rarely used . You can greatly simplify the game by making everyone use Human Fighter as their character template, but letting them play as they can imagine. In my own kids’ adventures, we’ve had the Oracular Ducks, the Plumber Babies, and the Walking Goldfish Chef. However, under the hood lies a single D&D archetype.
Some of the boxes on a standard D&D character sheet are vital. You, of course, need a name and a worldview . (Children usually choose Lawful Good, but play Chaotic Neutral.) Ability scores and their modifiers determine most of the gameplay. There are also several derived stats such as initiative, passive wisdom, armor class, speed, and hit points that are used regularly. The rest of the sheet looks open, but it is actually backed up by a lot of structures that can be found in the Player’s Handbook. If you replace this structure with negotiation, children’s imaginations create their own limitations.
Don’t offer the opportunity to play a pre-scrolled character. While this is by far the quickest to get you into action in the game, players tend to invest less in characters they didn’t create. This makes it easier for them to exit the fight later or make reckless choices in the game.
Let weaknesses become strengths
When creating characters, it’s not uncommon to see a bunch of small numbers and hear, “It doesn’t count.” Re-scrolling to get an acceptable set of high numbers will ensure your character starts strong, but playing with low scores inspires creativity.
In FATE, another RPG platform, traits are seen as double-edged sword . Every strength can be a weakness, and vice versa. This is a valuable perspective to consider when encouraging children to play with bad videos. The DM has the right to use ambiguity to reward weaker characters for admitting their mistakes, or to turn strengths against others. The smartest tactician might think a plan, while the dumbest tank might be shrewd.
Use fewer cubes more often
Rolling the dice is the most fun part of RPG. It combines player control and destiny. Since dice only fall out when a problem has to be overcome, there is always a premonition that the story could take a dramatic turn. Players should not roll the dice with every action, but asking the character to roll the dice when the player’s attention wanes will increase everyone’s engagement without having to rely on endless battles with monsters.
In D&D there are usually seven dice – d4, d6, d8, 2d10, d12 and d20, but most of the action can only revolve around two. The 20-sided die is often used in combat and skill tests. A roll of 20 (critical success) and 1 (critical failure) allows the DM to improve the result to bring additional joy or pain to the character. d20 is a signature die for D&D.
The rest of the dice are most often associated with damage done by various weapons, or for easier searching in the larger lookup tables. By replacing these bones with the most familiar – d6 – you can reduce the frequency of the frequent question: “What bones should I use?”
Clearly separate the context of conversations
Bored children are blunt and say funny things. However, there is a difference between Suzy insulting an orc and her character Bard Pickles. In the game, bad behavior can be fatal. Outside of the game, DM and players can talk more freely to prevent their characters from engaging in unreasonable combat.
Using conventions such as “In play” and “Out of play” helps to distinguish between what is exploration and what is not, and which game decision can influence the narrative.
The end before they’re ready
The younger the children, the less stamina they have for a long play session. I try to stick to the three-encounter rule, which is to get three experience opportunities in any game session before stopping. This means that a session of 90 minutes to 2 hours is a reasonable length of time, long enough to get players into the stream, but not long enough for us to overdue.
This helps to complete the future game as long as all players give it their due attention. Game sessions are like episodes of a TV show. While I am trying to resolve the last collision before closing the session, I prefer to walk away with a hint of the next puzzle or an unexpected character at the end. This facilitates conversation between sessions and makes it easier to move to the next game.
Make leveling up easy
Leveling up a character is a temporary reward for continuing to play. The savings in experience points are such that an increasing amount is required to move to the next level. In D&D, the score varies from one monster or action to the next. Instead of dealing with these nuances, I give the same points for every meeting. Each participating character receives these points. Moving forward through the story continues to be stimulated – the more meetings, the more points – but it diminishes the importance of individual achievements.
Don’t put off your satisfaction. Since the attendance at my kid-friendly games is unreliable, we have to deal with characters that don’t evolve in the same way. The last thing I do during a game session is reward experience points. This avoids the awkward situation in the next session, when some players have to watch how others use previously earned points to increase their abilities and strength.
Manage all character tables
If you don’t like collecting new stats and backstories every week, it’s a good idea to collect character sheets at the end of each session. This not only reduces the likelihood of the player losing, but also allows you to re-evaluate the character’s abilities between sessions to prepare for the next chapter of the adventure.
Between drawing and trauma, the character sheet may be overflowing with pencil marks. If you have a digital copy of the character sheets, you can update and reprint them to keep everything well readable.
The DM needs to know how to play the full game even if the players don’t. If you are new to D&D but are interested in learning it, chances are you already know someone who is into the game. An estimated 20 million people have played D&D since its inception, and 5E’s continued public testing has led to a resurgence of interest in role-playing games. Once you know the rules, it will be easier for you to find places to break them and make the activity more enjoyable for your children.