Golden “Rules” For Running D&D with Kids

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!

On Violence – Playing D&D with Kids

Themes of Violence in Media (and my family)

Themes of violence and death are the elephants in the room when discussing D&D with kids. They are also inescapable themes in most media, old and new. Those suppositions, and treating violence as a theme, is crucial to what follows.

Dungeons & Dragons is rated PG-13. This point is not up for debate. I have far too much respect for the people at Wizards of the Coast to dispute it. That said, if recent cinema trends have taught us anything, PG-13 doesn’t mean as much as it once did.

For my family, we will watch a PG-13 movie with our 5 year-old, dependent upon the value of the content. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter all deal with violence and death. Those stories can provide great value for children, but I prefer to be on-hand to answer questions and provide context. D&D makes this easy, as we are telling the story together.

My Solution

The question then becomes, “How shall we utilized the themes of violence and death in our games?” I have come up with a couple solutions which will be playtested during the podcast. My intention is to share these guidelines in an attempt to get constructive feedback, and other ideas.

First, is Assumed Nonlethal Damage. Putting on my Rules Lawyer Hat, since nonlethal melee damage requires only a declaration of intent, the DM & players can agree that normal melee damage is done with nonlethal intent. Particularly, when targeting intelligent, self-aware creatures.

Second, never let the PCs commit manslughter! Ranged and spell damage is always lethal. So, either give the monsters a bit more HP, or make sure the player is cognizant of the consequences.

These two guidelines provide a minor but important modification. Violence is given a purpose and focused on self-defense and accomplishing goals. And the consequences of death are in the players mind and not taken lightly.

No Doubt I’m Wrong

At least, that’s my belief. When I am proved wrong I will throw this out and try something different. There has to be as many ways of playing as there are PCs. There is little doubt that as I learn there will be more blog/vlog posts on this subject.

If you want to see these ideas in action, please follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, @thedevelopingdm. Make the world a better place; roleplay with kids!

Am I Crazy? – Coming Soon!

I don’t think so. Not that I’ve been tested or anything. This seems like a solid idea to me. There are a few different ways to take this question, so let’s break it down.

Who Cares?

I do. When I fell back in love with Dungeons & Dragons, my kids came down with me. Sharing this with them is a pleasure and a privilege. Unfortunately, there is an acute lack of D&D content for kids. We have a cornucopia of content planned to correct this.

Do you know what you’re doing?

Nope! I have no experience in audio/video production. What I do possess is the technological self-confidence of your typical millennial caster (and some adjunct professional skills). As a long-time lover of podcasts and vlogs, I finally have something I want to share. The only thing left is to fully embrace it.

So smart guy, what are you making?

This website! Sorry if it’s a little rough. Getting it up was more important than getting it perfect. If anyone is interested in what we’re doing, we plan to pay a professional later to make it good.

Thanks Captain Obvious, what about shows?

In no particular order:

Podcasts

  • The TableTots: Hero’s League – Adventure’s League legal, liveplay, 5e Dungeons & Dragons podcast… with kids! Starting with The Lost Mine’s of Phandelver.
  • TheTableTots: Tiny Tales – Short form, liveplay, homebrew Dungeons & Dragons. As a big fan of podcasts like 99% Invisible and Radiolab we plan to try something different.
  • The Common Millennial Caster – A podcast about making podcasts! And vlogs! And websites! And New Media companies… maybe!

YouTube Videos

  • The Developing DM – My vlog. Campaign dairies. The What I Learned, Weekly Tomb.
  • Running the Game… With Kids! – YouTube series about running D&D with kids.
  • Kids Teach Kids D&D – Combat, character stats, classes, races, and more!
  • My 1st Monster Manual – Kids teach kids about monster lore.

Now I’m (you’re) excited! When are you releasing this stuff!

The Common Millennial Caster will go up next week.

The TableTots & YouTube Series will launch before the end of the month.

Where can I follow you?

Glad you asked! My favorite social media platform at the moment is Twitter. I am @thedevelopingdm. You can also find me by that name on YouTube & Facebook. Please subscribe! I would like to launch properly in two months; a custom YouTube URL would be epic!

Why is the post so short?

I refuse to believe that I need a specific number of words in a blog post. As this is my first ever, so I am keeping it short and sweet. Today’s order of business is to brain dump some blog posts from thoughts, notes, and my own Reddit posts (foreveranewbie). Attempting to head off questions by being open and honest about myself and my plans.

Thanks for reading! Really looking forward to meeting, and rolling dice, with tons of great people!