Parents, libraries, and middle school clubs want to make D&D for kids (12 and below). Playing D&D with kids is a little different than playing with a typical home group. There are a few key differences when thinking about D&D for kids.
When making D&D for kids stick to cliche’s, encourage creativity, simplify rules, and go easy on the sex/violence or other taboo topics.
These may seem like simple ideas but how you go about them is what matters.
A lot of D&D for kids seems like dumbing down the game for them to understand. This is rarely true.
Dumbing down is not the same as making something simple or doing something differently.
When making D&D for kids do not view them as dumb. Do not view children as lesser. Children will play D&D differently than adults, but they are also more creative, engaged, and surprisingly focused than many adults.
As long as you do not have this negative view of children your games will be much more lively and interesting.
A great example of this is to simplify the game by explaining what things do instead of reading what they do. This is a bit much so let me explain. Instead of stating that a crossbow gains +2 to attack roll a 2d20 and tell them to add 2.
For explaining the concept of abilities tell them what abilities do instead of what the book says. For fireball you can say that you will do a lot of damage to a lot of creatures in medium size area. You are reading the wall of text instead of telling them what it does.
There are other ways to simplify the game but a great way of simplifying the game is to simplify combat.
Combat in Dungeons and Dragons is a long drawn out process that involves a lot of math. Most kids under the age of 12 (boys around 10) do not really enjoy combat. Instead, they would prefer to explore the world and be creative.
If children have to engage in combat make them engage in a fight where violence is not necessarily the answer. If you need help here is an example.
The group of adventurers goes to get rid of a goblin. Once they find this goblin the goblin is playing with some of the cloth that he stole. The goblin doesn’t know that stealing is bad and just wants to play. Furthermore, the goblin wants a friend since it is lonely and would love to play with the adventurers.
In that encounter, no violence was done and the kids got to have fun. But what does it do for the kids?
The kids in this encounter learned to not just fight whatever they see. They also learned about helping others and seeing the best in them even when others can be mean. Lastly, the kids were able to teach the goblin right and wrong while in the end playing with it.
Kids love being able to talk about what they know and teach others. These are great ways to let them do so.
Is it alright to have children kill some evil big bad monsters, but make the monsters more bad than evil and try to avoid killing humanoids. Depending on the age and complexity of children monsters should be good or bad. An in-between may be a little too much.
In addition to this, your monsters should be a little silly. The goblin example above was an extremely silly version of a goblin. Most goblins are designed in fantasy to be evil monsters. Not so here.
If you need some good ideas on how to make silly monsters I highly recommend playing Undertale. That game is based around you not killing monsters and questioning violence. In addition, each monster is extremely silly.
I would recommend keeping the combat brief. Combat in D&D can get boring if it is drawn out. This is why combat should be around 30 minutes. I know that some fights can last for hours but that can get exhausting. Keep it interesting and only around 30 minutes if possible.
Lastly, I would suggest that you use words like defeated instead of slain or slashed instead of cut deep into their flesh. Make the descriptions more like a television show or a video game. I recommended in my high school D&D club article to not leave out details, but these are still younger kids. Leave some out.
Combat involves a lot of rules. How should you handle the rules when you play D&D for kids?
D&D for kids does not need to have a lot of rules.
I mentioned above how most combats are not about violence in a kids game. If there is violence, the violence is toned down.
This naturally means that with less violence there will be less of a focus on rules.
Most kids are trying to get a feel for D&D. Kids want to enjoy something fun and rules can be quite boring. Especially with the hundreds of rules that we have for the game. Why would a child waste time learning rules instead of having fun?
I suggest having a rules light game with averages.
You know how when we level in Dungeons and Dragons we can choose an average health per level? What about monster damage? Most monsters have an averaged damage so that we will not have to calculate and roll new dice on the fly.
These are kids who while being okay at math can find math boring. Math is school and school is most of the time boring. Instead, I would suggest cutting down on all the rolling in combat.
Have kids roll to hit, roll for saves, and roll for skill checks but do not have them roll for damage. In fact, you could make it so that kids do not need to roll at all in your games. I have seen mixed reactions to this idea, but it is an option if kids really hate rolling.
In addition to combat don’t overwhelm kids with too many rules. Kids do not need to worry about what a square of movement is, the concepts of charmed, stunned, exhausted, etc. Only tell them about rules when they are relevant and do not overwhelm them.
This also applies to combat and how to approach it.
Theater of the mind
There are two ways to play the game. Theater of the mind vs grid combat. If you want to watch an in-depth video on these two concepts watch the web DM crew.
To summarize, if you don’t want to spend extra time somewhere else, theater of the mind is D&D without physical representatives while grid combat doing the exact opposite.
If you have a board for grid combat kids will get bored. While we may enjoy grid combat to help us as adults visualize what is happening this is D&D for kids. Kids have a great imagination and would rather use that than look at a board and see a piece taken off.
Kids want to feel like they are a part of the game and may even move around acting out what their characters do. That is why I recommend picking a gaming area that has enough space for children to move around. It is also why I am heavily against suggesting giving kids a board to look at or they will get bored! (I will see myself out now for the pun)
But seriously, kids want to be a part of the game and move around when they play to act out the characters. Let them and make sure to let their creativity run rampant.
Most of us adults are boring. We are trained by society to do this boring thing and that boring thing in order to live. Kids don’t understand why anyone would do something like this since they have not been trained by society yet. Make use of this creativity.
I would highly recommend letting kids make use of illusion magic. Some Dungeons and Dragons games do not take kindly to illusion magic and make it almost worthless. If your game doesn’t value the creativity of illusion magic, then you might find kids getting bored.
The reason for this is that games which do not value illusion magic are generally more war-gamey or less creative. Those games are fine in their own right but you are making D&D for kids. You need to encourage creativity and let their wild antics be rewarded.
Kids will be more creative than just having interesting illusions. I have seen kids do crazy things with the items in their possession. One weird thing that a child did was use candy in order to bribe someone. We don’t normally think of giving treats when we try to bribe someone in D&D but a child did.
That might not seem weird at first but think of how often players will give a person something who they are bribing. Most of the time players just roll and base everything off of that roll. When you play D&D with kids the roll is secondary. The approach is more important and therefore you will get many creative ideas.
Expect your campaign to be completely de-railed by some of these ideas and don’t be shy to have the big baddie be defeated by a summoned squad of dancing pixies.
I just mentioned how your campaign will be completely de-railed by children creativity, but you still need to have one.
When adults try to make a campaign for children they focus on teaching them the same games that they played.
My dad taught me Dungeons and Dragons when I was 10. I was a weird kid and broke all of the rules in the article. My friends, however, were normal. They didn’t like doing math or reading so I did all the work. In addition to this, I made campaigns off of what my dad used, modules.
I learned to run games from modules and awkwardly and my friends got bored. None of us were interested in the story or the environment. It didn’t go very well in the end, but I learned when the players got bored.
Kids want to have simple stories. If a person gets possessed or there are too many morally grey areas then the game is above them.
What I and my friends wanted were cliche’ games that followed what we already knew. We wanted to have fun being not just some adventurers but superheroes! We wanted to know who the bad guys were then beat them, win, and be awesome!
Kids still want this. I highly encourage you to make a cliche’ storyline where the kids can be superheroes. Kids also should be able to tell what the goals are very easily. Lastly, kids should not get confused or bored by all the extraneous things happening.
If you need help coming up with these kinds of campaigns I highly suggest taking a look at this campaign. Even if you do not buy it, looking at it should give you some inspiration on how to run a kids campaign.
If you are still concerned on how to make a D&D for kids campaign I would suggest taking a looking up dmsguild kid campaign. This search should give you a ton of modules and ideas.
My last idea to give you on making a campaign for kids is to make them based on children’s stories. If you are having a hard time thinking of a specific story make a game centered around a story that the child or children enjoy. Nothing would make them happier than to be their favorite hero.
But what will gameplay look like?
We talked about how D&D for kids does not involve heavy combat. That means that roleplaying will become a huge part of the game.
A great way to incorporate roleplay into the game is to add puzzles and mysteries. These will peak children’s interests and keep them coming back for more.
This also means that becoming a murdo hobo isn’t very likely. When kids reach around the age of 12 the murder hobo vibe starts to come in, but generally, kids will not be murder hobos. Some boys might, but again this isn’t that common.
We mentioned how kids will want to act out their characters. If a child wants to act out their character they will love to have the equipment of that character.
In short, if you can give them a foam dagger or some other prop to have they will love the game even more. If kids want to bring their own props let them (as long as it is safe). This will get them more involved in the game.
Kids also have shorter attention spans. This means that you will need to not have day-long marathon games. Sometimes a kids session is best if it is 30 minutes. Other kids sessions can go up to 3 hours but this is rarer.
The game must be extremely interesting to last for 3 hours and the child must be able to handle it. Most of the time this will not happen so be ready for shorter sessions.
One other thing to take into account with distractions is the area in which you are playing. If you play in a loud classroom with 4 kids while the other 12 are running and playing the game will not go well.
I suggest getting a quiet space that is free from distractions but still has enough room for the kids to move and physically act out what their characters want to do. Kids love to physically move and space is often a must.
Lastly, I suggest making positive spins on most of the story and not writing anything down.
While not writing anything down may seem intimidating think of it from a child’s perspective. If you are writing things down you are not paying attention. Now the child is bored.
You are making D&D for kids not adults. Keep them stimulated and the center of attention by actively listening to them with your body as well as your ears. Not writing anything down will help you greatly in this endeavor.
As for putting a positive spin on things, everyone likes a positive spin. Kids are not adults hungering for some edgy story. Kids want to have fun and be happy. Let them be happy and don’t send them back to their parents crying.
If you are in charge of a library club or middle school club, perhaps even your child’s friends you might need to get parent permission.
Here is where you can ask each parent what they are and are not okay within the game. Do not even bother with sex, torture, drugs and all the other taboo topics. Those should not be in your game or even thought to be in your game.
In addition to asking what the parents are okay with their kids being exposed to ask what you should be aware of. When we play with adults there may be personal issues that we can talk about in session 0. Not so with kids. Kids may not have the mental complexity to admit what is an issue or even know what personal triggers they have. Parents do.
Make sure that you understand as much about each kid that you can. What is normal or safe for children in one environment may not be for another child. Take these seriously into consideration. We want to make D&D for kids, not D&D for scarring kids.
Describe what you are doing with the children and make sure that the parents know about the campaign. Try to make the campaigns light and fun as described above, but add some funny things to the game in order to keep parents happy.
Nothing will make a parent happier than their kid having fun and talking about how they gave a monkey a purple mohawk while fighting a candy monster. Okay, there might things that would make a parent happier, but this will at least keep the parents happy with you and your game.
Make sure that the parents know the location of the game and that there should be breaks around every 45 minutes. If parents can participate all the better but most of the time parents will just watch their kids.
We have covered the best aspects of running D&D with kids but we have not covered how to handle potential issues.
Some issues may happen when a child becomes emotional.
If a child gets angry or sad you will need to talk to them. While it might be easier to sit them in a corner and then ship them off to their parents at the end of a session, this is not the best solution.
I have done a lot of research and some of the best ways to talk to children are as follows:
For a younger child address what they were emotional when they did an action. Ask what made them feel this way. For example, if a young child angrily throws a toy at the ground tell them that they were angry when they threw the toy and ask (with a concerned/curious expression) why they felt that way.
For an older child state that you thought the felt a certain way when they did something. Ask them if you are correct and have the child talk you through what just happened. Older children want to be treated more equal and this will let them feel that way.
I have read quite a few teacher responses on how to handle emotional outbursts and this is the best summarization that I could find. If you want to find more in-depth research there are a whole host of resources that you can get into just by googling ‘children emotional outbursts.’
Communication with the child is key but don’t forget about the parent. When parents let D&D for kids happen they also want to stay informed. If a child has an issue let the parents know. Conversely if the child did well that session let the parents know.
Keep communication open on both ends to minimize issues and handle issues in the best manner possible.
D&D for kids is about children going into a fantasy world and solving adventures with their friends.
One way to make this even better is to give them a pet!!!!!
This pet can be a monkey or creation of the child. A dove/snake/turtle/dog would be an interesting pet. Let them have these pets because kids freaking love pets!
Not every child may enjoy pets but many will. If you are unsure ask the child what they think of your pet. If they do not like your pet then they might not like pets. However, if a child likes your pet they may want to get a pet of their own in-game.
The most important thing with pets is that they cannot die in-game. The worst thing in the world for a child would be to watch their pet die. Surprisingly, some children are okay with their character permanently dying. Make sure the permadeath if done is in a light-hearted fashion but always remember.
DO NOT KILL THE PET!!!!
One other thing that might surprise you is that 3d6 in order is an option.
3d6 in order is when you roll each stat in order with just 3d6. I roll for strength. On 3d6 I rolled a 9. I now have 9 strength. Onto the next stat!
Many adult players understand the negatives of rolling 3d6 in order and want to have the biggest numbers. We have been conditioned to hate this idea, but it can be pretty amazing. The best characters I have ever had have been made this way.
When making characters with 3d6 in order you immediately force personality into them. A rogue with 3 strength is pretty hilarious when they are forced to fight in an arena with strength-based melee weapons.
Kids are naturally creative and if they do not have their heart set on a specific class will love watching their own character become awesome or funny different areas.
This can be a great way to have fun and teach teamwork. If one is terrible in one area then they can have friends to compensate. If they all do not have strength kids get to be creative.
Since kids are not trained to worry about numbers and min/maxing kids can have a ton of fun.
D&D for kids can be a blast. Kids are extremely creative and can have a ton of fun teaching you new things along the way as well.
D&D for kids will have a different structure than what you are used to. If you are able to adapt, you will be able to inspire a new generation and have some fun in the process.
I hope that I was able to help you understand how to play D&D with kids, and make D&D for kids a fun experience.
If you are interested in playing with kids 13+ (around high school age) I recommend checking out our article on high school D&D. It is meant to help those starting a high school D&D club, but it will talk about the differences between the age groups.
If you can think of any other way to help others who are trying to get kids into D&D leave a comment below.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!