Sunday, 29 July 2012

Kids D&D: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I'm a bit behind in posts and have, in the meantime, played three Kids D&D sessions, that I am yet to write up. Ahem, Diablo 3, moving right along...


But I want today to get some general thoughts down on DM'ing kids.


I DM my own two children (girl 7, boy 5) and my niece (10) and nephews (8 and 12). You can read about their adventures here.


I was using Jimm Johnson's excellent Kid's D&D rules and character sheetsThey had reached as high a level as Jimm's rules really allowed for (3), I could have stretched on, but the wizard was already casting 3rd level spells (level = spell level in Jimm's rules). I felt it was time to graduate them to B/X D&D and onto the red book (though it was Mentzer first for me) that brought me into the hobbit. 


There was more resistance to the idea than I anticipated. Starting new characters and at level 1, wasn't appealing to my young players. There was some confusion over who the new character would be, could they try and be the same old character again? But then they discovered equipment lists! Yep, shopping. They had gold, and a list of items they could buy. That was all it took to convince them to go with the new rules. It also led them to wish to buy, tuna pasta, sleeping bags, pizza, toilets (where do you go on campaign), and lots of other items not in Basic or Expert set (or any edition for that matter).


So that's my first piece of DM'ing for kids advice - never underestimate the desire to shop. Now onto  a few home truths I have learnt.


The Good

  1. Nothing beats the feeling of five people begging to play D&D. 'When can we play next?' I loved this game and I love sharing it anew. They love the puzzles, the fighting, the variety of encounters, the victories.
  2. Kids are a very forgiving audience. Most of my adventures I have not written down, just a few ideas and I run with it. It doesn't take much pre-preparation.
  3. Originally I played with miniatures, which worked well enough. When we were all camping, I ran with no miniatures, just character sheets and dice. Back to how I always played. It worked even better. Kids have great imaginations. They don't know what a war game is, so they are happy to just imagine and run with it.
  4. Your kids don't like maths? Get them playing D&D and they are adding and subtracting all by themselves. It's part of the game. Maths becomes fun. 'You have found 600 silver pieces', 'That's 120 silver each' says one of the five kids. And away they go trying to add to their current silver.
The Bad
  1. Kids characters can't die. It is just unthinkable to them.
  2. It's a railroad. They want and need direction. It's your story and it's hard to get them to role play, think as their character or act things out. They want to know what happens next, in a passive story telling way, and you are the story teller. That's not to say they don't suggest things they want to happen, but the expectation is that you deliver it into the story, not that they go and find it in the campaign world.
  3. Kids won't surprise you. Well not at the age of my players. Usually their suggestions follow how you thought things would work out. It's not collaborative, though the fun is.
  4. Kids are rivals. They hate if one person gets more than another. It is very hard to just give out 1 magic item, there needs to be one for each player. They don't really get that different characters have different strengths and weaknesses. The thief, because she can attempt to open locks, despite always failing, appears stronger than the other characters! She has more choices = stronger. Everyone needs to do something that shines, each and every session, to enjoy the session.
  5. Kids choose names for their characters that are 'unique' (being kind here) or directly from another source such as a movie or book, and they often like to change names between sessions. 'Shampoo' was one name I recently overruled - but only for the second oldest, the younger I leave their name choices well alone.
  6. You are their performer and entertainer. They expect you to perform and entertain.
  7. This may feel a strange one, for someone who is an OSR blogger. But confession time here. I feel kind of strange, teaching them an out of print game. Strange enough when they say in public and to their teachers how they played D&D. Stranger still when the game I am teaching, can only be bought from eBay and is 3 times older than they are. Yes, of course I know about the clones, I own most of them, but try explaining to kids why there are clones, and why they are playing D&D, but the book they are using isn't called that.
The Ugly


Photo of my 5 year old son's ripped and screwed up level 2 fighter character sheet form the end of last session.
He didn't go up a level and the thief did. No matter the elf in the party is still only level 1.

  1. Kids D&D comes with tears. As the youngest, my son is often in tears. When he fails a saving throw, tears. When the rust monster rusts his armor, tears. "But now I'll have to buy new armor and I don't want to waste my money!" See, I told you they all love to shop.
  2. Kids D&D can make you feel like a bad parent. When my daughter was in tears after a session. I learnt, through the tears it was because her character didn't get to do anything. This was true. Her 1st level wizard with charm person and no one in the session to charm. 1st level wizards do suck, but despite my explanation of incredible cosmic powers to come, tears. Also I learnt from my daughter that I would rush her turn by saying, "Right if you can't think of anything to do, we'll miss your go." Ouch, did I say that? Unfortunately, yes. Even experienced players struggle to think of actions for their 1st level wizard to do, let alone a 7 year old. So not only am I a terrible DM I am also a terrible Dad. Advice - sometimes you are harder on your own kids than the other kids - don't.
Verdict:
Despite the negatives above, they still want more and it is a joy. 'Uncle Jovial, when can we play next..." I'm hoping, as much as they are, it won't be too long until the next instalment.

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