Running D&D For Kids

I’ve just been having some thoughts on how you might adapt the D&D game for younger players. As-is, it might be considered much too complicated and violent. Here are some tips on modifying the game for a younger audience. Some of this might also apply to a rules-lite game for audiences who would be overwhelmed by complex rules.

Simplify combat. The grappling rules are complicated enough, even for adult players! Remove things like grapple, disarm and charge. The only attack options are which weapon you use, if you have more than one; in either case it’s not an action to switch or draw weapons. You only get one attack per round. Spell selection is limited.

Generate the characters in advance. This is good advice for anyone running a game with new players. However, your sheets may represent simplified more rules.

Simplify magic items. Adding multiple bonuses can be too complicated, so instead of magical weapons granting bonuses, consider granting only special effects.

No gore. Monsters reduced to 0 HP are knocked out, not killed. Swords don’t decapitate or maim; they clash off each other or bash monsters over the head. They probably wake up the next day. (Incidentally, this provides incentive not to rest at will.)

Assume well-defined morality. Teaching kids that it’s okay to beat up anyone for their money is a no-no. Opponents are always monsters, and they are always evil. Defeating the bad guys and taking their loot is always the right thing to do, because they’re always objectively the bad guys.

Join me tomorrow when I complain that I can never find anyone to run a game of Paranoia for me.

Comments (8)

longcoat000 (May 17th, 2007)

Ah hell, your site just ate my entry. Bastage HTML! Anyway, the long & short of it is instead of dumbing-down 3.5, just use the old Basic D&D (red / blue / green / black boxes) rules, which are extremely simple when compared to AD&D, or play The Princes’ Kingdom, which is an RPG geared towards kids, but concentrates more on problem-solving than playing whack-a-mole with kobolds and goblins.

Alan Oak (May 18th, 2007)

I run a regular game for a group of 11 year olds. I can tell you they know the game as well as any adults, no dumbing down. I’ll also add that they fully appreciate all the gore and absurdity you can add.

I’ve also run one-time intro games for the 9-12 year olds. In that case, I used some of the concepts you suggested. I wrote up standard characters for them, all fighters, that used the same feats. That way it was eaier for me to manage and easier for them to learn.

If I have anything to contribute about their age it’s: action, action, and more action. All the rules lawyering that can kill any game does so more with their age. I just keep the action rolling. If I don’t know how a rule would work exactly, I don’t waste time looking it up. I just keep the action rolling.

Alex Schröder (May 29th, 2007)

I haven’t played with kids, and I don’t have kids. If I had kids, however, I’m not sure I’d follow your advice. Why protect children from difficult ethical decisions? They need to make ethical decisions in real life as well. Many children know death and violence from TV, the movies, or comics. Just play at an appropriate level — that’s how I would do it.

I agree with the simplification, but I’d probably just use a rules-light derivative such as M20.

Dogstar (June 23rd, 2007)

Alex, it’s really not about moral or ethical decisions, but more about trying to make things as simple as you can to teach the kids how to play the game. Give ‘em a few sessions and make things as simple as you possibly can. This is also a good idea for teaching RPGs to complete newbies.

Naomi (November 11th, 2007)

I appreciate the advice. I understand that for certain age groups, this might be a bit sheltered; but I am currently trying to teach my 5 and 6 year olds how to play because they love the story telling/role-playing aspects.

Thank you for posting this!

alaskan tarrasque (November 18th, 2009)

Thats offensive to a preteen GM like me. I played a horror campaign when i was 10 and it was awesome! This guy did not hold back anything just coz i was ten!

Anthony (October 9th, 2011)

There is a difference between a 10 year old and a 6 year old Alaskan Terrasque. A 10 year old is better equipped to handle a Role Playing Game, horror & gore and all. Whilst a 6 year old on the other hand doesn’t have the tools for a full blown game but they can understand well enough between whats right and wrong (of course using the game to strengthen that belief is a good idea as well) and basic math and problem solving they can preform as well so a “simplified” game is best for kids under the age of 8 or so.

An as with anything as they grow you can introduce more into your games with them.

windcaller (September 16th, 2012)

The group I play with are mostly 17-18 years old. I have to treat them like they’re 5 because they have no attention span. None of us really know how to play but I got a hold of some books (1E ad&d)and created my own world :)

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