D&D for young players is something that people can struggle with. You cannot do what you normally do so what do you do? Wait, can you do a normal game with younger players?
D&D for younger players can be quite fun. they are very creative and some can easily play normal D&D. Others might need to simplify the game.
Each child is different. That is why you will have to figure out what type of game is right for your younger player.
There are a few age groups when we are considering D&D for younger players. The age groups are usually able to be broken down into 9 or lower and 10-14. At 14 that child is now in the high school age range. If you are wondering how to play with them then I would suggest you read my article on High School D&D clubs. It teaches you how to play with high schoolers.
For the first age group (9 and lower) things play out exactly as you would expect. They are unable to grasp all the nuances of rules and will get bored easily. They will also not be able to play D&D the same way that you and your friends do since they are not mentally developed enough to do so.
This is fine, but you will have to play a little bit different with these children than normal. I will give you a whole host of tips to help you out, but there is another age group of children. 10-14 years old.
These 10-14-year-olds are in a very odd situation. Some that are 13 and 14 might veer a bit towards high school D&D. Others at 11 or so might still need to play like the 9 and under age bracket, and some 10-year-olds can play D&D just like, if not better than your normal D&D group.
This age group is the most complex and we will identify what to do with each type of player. You need to judge every child who is 10-14 separately. Some are more mature than others and this may call for a different style of D&D. But first, we need to cover the 9 and under age bracket.
9 and under
In this age group, you have to decide when the child is able to play D&D. There are a lot of ways to change D&D in order to help you play with these children, but a 2-year-old cannot play D&D no matter the changes made.
If the child is able to do some basic math and likes to tell stories or hear about stories AND is able to play with friends, they should be able to play D&D.
Not normal D&D mind you. The prerequisites are them saying that they are a princess who slays a dragon and rides a pony. Not a very high bar, so they will need some help in order to play.
Making a character
If you really must have stats you can have the child roll and congratulate them on high rolls while encouraging them on poor rolls. If you do not want to roll for stats that is fine too.
Ask the child what they want to be. If they state that they want to be a warrior wizard princes toad then why not let them do it. Let the child have fun when making their character and tap into their creativity. They will love this.
Once the concept and stats are figured out have them describe the setting. This may seem a little odd, but children at this age will get bored when you describe a vast land. If you have faith in your storytelling abilities you can make the setting but the child will be more engaged if they create the setting.
Now that the setting is made, you can ask the child who are their friends. If the toad princes has a duck friend then go with it.
Children will play a lot of animals and deal with animals in most games. This is because D&D for young players is essentially them acting out a fairy tale. They get to shape the fairy tale and will relate most of the time to animals. If animals are not used then just add an animal friend or two as long as the child is not opposed to this.
When making D&D for young players your plot should be relatively simple. Do not make something complex. Instead, make the child and their friends deal with a threat that may seem absurd. For example, an evil queen who has taken and hoarded all the candy in the land. This is a true crisis!
In order to solve the plot, the child should speed through scenarios. We sometimes do tedious things like shopping which can be fun for us but equipment management for a young child is just boring.
You want your game to be for them to make the game move fairly quickly. Only deal with things that are truly important. Is it necessary for this encounter? Will the child enjoy it?
Dungeon masters constantly worry about their players and if they are having fun. You need to think about this more with younger players. Fortunately, it is not hard to see if they are having fun or not.
Make sure the child is having fun and let them enjoy their character. Can a wizard in D&D conjure a giant candy to flatten their enemies? No, but you can make it happen. Let their creativity flow since they will not understand spell slots.
If you want to add difficulty to an encounter you can have them roll, but I would suggest only rolling a d6. If the child fails, let them fail and make it comical. A bit of slapstick humor is okay. Failure can make the child become more invested since they want to win.
You do not, however, want them to fail all the time. That is discouraging for even adult players. Make sure that they win or have the fourth failed roll in a row make something funny and unexpected happen. Instead of missing to flatten someone make the candy explode and have all the bad guys try to grab some candy.
The most important thing is to have fun. If you are having fun and they are having fun then the child will want to play D&D again. This means that you get more time and games with the child, yes, but they also might be interested when they are older.
Before we get to that though, some children might be a little shy. This is where a friend can come in and make the game fun for the child.
Have someone else their age
A child can get bored or be intimidated easily. That is why D&D for younger players can be hard. Some children just don’t want to play or get scared/shy. If you bring a friend of theirs though and that friend is excited to play, that friend will make the original child want to play too. Suddenly they will not be so shy.
This is a great way to help a child feel comfortable and have fun with a friend of theirs. The obstacle that keeps most children from playing is now solved and you get to have another person play D&D. A win-win!
You can have a family member of the same age play as well, but this won’t have the same impact unless that family member is around their age and they are on good terms. A friend is usually best, but playing with the family is a viable option.
Playing with others
Can a younger D&D player play with others who are older? If the other people in question are minors who want to play D&D as it is written, no. Playing D&D for younger players requires you to make some things different.
Are they able to play with adults or family who is fine with this style of D&D? Absolutely. The others playing may find that the child playing D&D ends up inspiring them to think outside the box more than usual.
For character creation, you might need to just give them a character sheet and have the child still think of a creative backstory, but not necessarily setting. In fact, if there is a friend or more players than just one child do not have them think up a setting.
Playing this way can lead to a lot of fun but a 10-14-year-old can fit in much more smoothly to a group with older people.
10-14 year olds
These children are at a weird stage. They will be viewed as younger players but might want to play as the adults do. Some children might be able to play as the adults do and some will still need to play as the younger group does.
Each child is different and in this age group, it is more apparent than ever. Some children are best suited to play adult styled D&D. Other children still want to play D&D for younger players. If you disagree with this, let me give you a little story.
I started playing Dungeons and Dragons at 10 years old. I played once with my dad and after that my friends made me become the dungeon master. Did it go well? No, dear gods above and below no! But I was able to play 1st edition like it was meant to.
My friends were solving puzzles, doing combat, and being creative in ways that would make adults inspired. I did not have a chance to pre-read the module so it didn’t go over too well, but we were able to do so.
If I was not handed a module and told to play in 20 minutes after just learning the rules, I would have been able to play like any other adult. As a player. I need to emphasize this.
Do not expect a child at 10-14 to become a dungeon master. Some 13 and 14-year-olds can, but a 10-year-old is a bit much. I was weird and liked numbers. I played a wizard as my first class and learned the spellcasting mechanics without an issue.
This is to help you understand how much of a weird nerdy child I was. If anyone should have been able to pull this off it probably should have been me, but I did not pull it off well at all.
This is why I would suggest to let younger D&D players help with the setting but never be full dungeon masters.
If you think that a 13 or 14-year-old can be a dungeon master than let them. let even a 10-year-old be a dungeon master if they want but expect it to be a terrible game. If you are fine with that and want them to just try and learn this is okay, but they will fail. They will fail and possibly not want to play again so keep this in mind.
10-14 year olds in a group
I talked about how strange D&D for younger players is compared to normal games. If your child in question still wants to play like a younger player then it may be odd bringing them into a group.
If your child in question wants to play like an adult and can do so, then they can fit perfectly into a Dungeons and Dragons group. That is if your group doesn’t swear like sailors consuming copious amounts of alcohol or other drugs.
If your group doesn’t do this then a child can be great to have in a group. They can give very creative solutions that make the game even more fun.
I would caution you that children around 10 or 11 might want a lot of attention and this can be a problem.
If a child isn’t constantly craving attention then they will be fine. If they try to do anything to get attention and don’t want to play the game then have some second thoughts before they join. I know this may be harsh but that child will want to do something else. Sitting at a table and playing imagination with rules does not work for every child.
A good way to find out if the child is alright to play with a bigger group of adults play a board game with them first. Something that mirrors a fantasy game with rules. This will be a stepping stone for the child and help you see if the child is okay to play.
If the child passes this then you are good to go! They can interact with a group of adults and make the game more than it would be otherwise.
A group of kids this age will be very chaotic. It shouldn’t be surprising if they turn out to be murder hobos.
One negative thing about kids this age is that very few are able to roleplay AND play Dungeons and Dragons well. They are just getting into the game and are now allowed to do anything. Their life is full of structure and rules. To be told by adults to do anything is empowering and power corrupts. This is why a lot of children and even high schoolers end up as murder hobos.
If you are playing with a child who might need some help I would highly suggest using D&D beyond. This is not a paid plug, but it is a free app that helps take away a lot of the calculation and difficulty for a younger person.
In addition, it helps them customize their character in simple ways that make playing D&d a viable option for them.
I just wanted to quickly give this option to those out there since this will help younger players a lot.
Now onto what you should do for the plot!
Plot for 10-14 year olds
The setting can be any normal Dungeons and Dragons game. You can run modules, have them be placed in a city, wherever. Plots vary a little bit.
I stated above that most 10-14-year-olds are not great at roleplay and are prone to becoming murder hobos. Children of this age are able to play Dungeons and Dragons but are not able to deal with complex human interactions involving political systems.
This doesn’t just mean that political campaigns are off the table. You will have reduced interaction with haggling, negotiations, children saying no to quests, and they are unable to deal with any complex world issues.
I as a 10-year-old ran “The Lost City” module. In that module, there were people who were high on drugs. I didn’t understand this concept when reading since I didn’t know a lot about drugs, but most of the natives were high on shrooms, opioids, etc. Personally, I just thought they were crazy.
I was able to act out what the inhabitants did but I was not able to grasp the more mature and advanced concept. This will happen with children around this age range so keep that in mind when you plan out the plot and the game in general.
D&D for younger players is a little different.
It depends on what age group they are in, but some kids can play with adults with few changes.
Younger children will need to play in a different way than normal, but it can be fun.
Make sure that you know what your child is like and play the appropriate version of D&D for the child.
If you are still hesitant there are other materials that you can use.
Here are two different systems that you can use. If you are unsure about making your own game, I would highly recommend these modules.
Here is one about being a monster slayer and the other is highly recommended by everyone online for younger players.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!