No rules are needed to play 5e D&D with kids, beyond what’s in the PHB. What follows are three guidelines that I keep in mind when running the game with my kids. Since every family is different, feel free to take or leave these as seems appropriate. As always, feedback is appreciated.
Beginner’s Mind; Ruthless Minimalism
To the best of your ability, throw out all previous experience. Approach the game as YOUR child might. You know them best. What can, and can’t, they handle mechanically? What kind of player might they decide to be? There are player-type breakdowns in the DMG. Also a great video Matthew Colville. Information is helpful, but expect kids to deliver surprises (both good and bad).
Now, throw out everything that might possibly break flow/engagement. Like a cook, you can always add ingredients into the mix. But if their first experience is negative, you may have to wait for a second chance. Make sure their first experience is positive, and it’ll be easier to add mechanics.
While I won’t go into style details here, but I will share two key resources I used in developing my present style. Sly Flourish’s Guide to Narrative Combat in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition and The Angry GM’s How to Manage Combat Like a Motherf$&%ing Dolphin. While there is no one best way to Dungeon Master, there should be a best way for each person who Dungeon Master’s. Part of this project is finding what that means for me.
The Most Important Session 0; Getting Adults on Board
Building the first character is best approached gradually. In general, I find that my kids can stay locked in on any one thing for around 20 to 30 minutes. After that, they steadily begin to lose interest. That is the last thing I want. If this sounds familiar, then here is what I recommend.
Start with character building as a one-on-one thing #QualityTime. Read through the races and classes like a bedtime story (no mechanics). Paint a picture. Same for the background. Build the picture in their mind of who this person is… and then used google to find an actual picture.
Now, they run along and play while the nerd-parent finishes the detailed stuff (abilities, equipment, etc). Turn the person in your child’s mind, into a PC. Now mechanics don’t matter (as they shouldn’t at this point). All that matters is the awesome PC they get to play in the Dungeon & Dragons Game.
If you will be playing with other adults, their Session 0 is important for other reasons. Make sure what you consider appropriate content and themes is made clear to everyone. Not everyone will want to play with kids, which is fine. But keep in mind, if you approach it right, playing with young kids can be incredible fun and rewarding. At least, that’s what my sister and her husband tell me at present.
Boredom is the Enemy; Engagement Is Everything
It’s been said before, but bears repeating; engagement does not equal fun. D&D is frustrating, frightening, fascinating, and occasionally heart-breaking. But the stories that do those things engage us, and make an indelible impact on who we are. Never more so than when we are young.
My current opinion, is that engagement is based on flow. If we could split D&D in half, it’s a tabletop miniature wargame, with a high school drama improvisational game laid on top (ex-drama geek). The wargame part barely need to matter at this point, you can handle that. Keeping the flow, and therefore engagement, is the primary concern.
So, as with any group… read the party. Are they talking? Are there eyes on you/the board/the other players? Are they on the edge of their seat? You know when your child it about to cause trouble (at least sometimes I do). Use your knowledge of the player as much as possible. Where is the joy in parenthood if I can’t mess with my children’s head sometimes?
What This Meant For My Game
The proceeding word vomit was what came out of much reflection on how I wanted to play D&D with my kids. To give you a general idea, we run without a grid, and enforce quick choices in combat (usually A/B/C). In principle, I have no objection to a DM leading a player as long as they don’t balk when the player does something completely different.
Specifics will be more thoroughly covered in the vlogs. “Running the Game… with Kids!” will step through the basic rules from the Starter Set; specifically with the intent to play with kids. Kids Teach Kids D&D will be my daughter teaching D&D to kids from the Started Set PHB. We have done some dry runs and she’s pretty excited.
If you want to keep up with what’s next for The Developing DM follow me on social media @thedevelopingdm. If you found this interesting/informative/infuriating, please share with you friends. Now go out and make the world a better place, (role)play with your kids!