I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1979, starting with the Eric Holmes rules, moving on to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, then to the Basic and Expert Rules as created by Tom Moldvay and David Cook. As a teen, I mocked the Moldvay/Cook rules as “Family Night D&D.” But it wasn’t until my kids became old enough to enjoy the game that I truly understood how great “Family Night D&D” could really be! The secret to playing D&D with your family is in creating adventures that appeals to kids. Watch the cartoons they enjoy the most, and see what sort of stories are told there.
Don’t just copy the plot lines though, rather look for ways to mix and match the different shows. Video games offer a trove of ideas to bring into your tabletop games as well. When my son was around 8 or 9 and first got into playing, Samurai Jack and Pokémon were on Cartoon Network, while Avatar: the Last Airbender and Danny Phantom were on Nickelodeon. Sam never played Jack, but his first character was a cleric with a heroic nature. The adventure was a pirate story, where a band of pirates had been smuggling exotic animals from a faraway island to the town the players’ characters lived. Tracking the pirates back to their hideout, then finding a map to the island to get them deeper into the adventure was fun for everyone. So, what appealed to the kids the most? Pirates, of course!
Kids love pirates, and the myths that have sprung up around them. Travel and adventure. Finding a ship of their own, and using it to sail off to new places. Dinosaurs and exotic jungle creatures were also popular. Some of the kids wanted to capture the dinos, others wanted to battle them. Solution? Make sure there are young dinos to raise if the heroes defeat the adults. Consider the Pokémon concept to defeating monsters. Some kids will balk at killing, but if the game master describes victory as the monsters running away or being knocked out, kids will often engage in combat and will develop their own tactics.
As a game master for kids, try to look for ways to say “yes” to the players. Limitations should be considered as well, as some kids will want to try to have everything at once. Players with a Pokémon bent should be reminded that Pokémon trainers are limited to six ‘mon, and that the trainer has to work with them to level them up. Non-combat encounters are a chance to promote role-playing over roll-playing. Talk to the players in voices, if you can. Since it is probably all new to the players, they tend to get into character more than older players.
Puzzles are very popular, but do need to be modified to the knowledge and experience levels of the players. I substituted a 4×4 sudoku puzzle with animals for a rather more obscure “how many eyes do these monsters have.” Solving this puzzle together was one of the most popular events of the game. There are a lot of new tabletop role playing games specifically written for kids that have come out recently. In addition to fantasy role playing, there are modern world adventures that take place in locations kids are intimately familiar with. School, the mall, and of course their friends’ homes. When gaming with kids, ask them what they would do, and not necessarily what their character would do. Kids love coming up with creative solutions. If they see their character as a fighter or a wizard, they may think they are limited to the cool moves or magic powers of their character. By focusing on what they themselves would do will get them to think beyond the sword or spell list.
Thomas Shuler is the author of The Demon Eye Gem and several short stories. He is currently working on a Kids LitRPG book where three young people enter a world of video game adventures.
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