Kids Should Play D&D. Here's How to Include Them.
Dungeons and Dragons is viewed by many as a pretty complicated game, and not without reason. The rule-books are hundreds of pages long, there's plenty of math involved, and lots of campaigns involve such complicated stories that the players have to take notes.
In comparison, when we think "kids’ games,” we tend to think of things like Candyland and Go Fish -- not exactly difficult or heavy on the rules. The two are so disparate that it may seem impossible to cross the two and run a game of D&D for your kids. However, it is not only very possible, but I firmly believe that it's a great way to improve a lot of core skills that every kid needs… while also having fun and spending time together as a family.
I currently run a game every other weekend for a few friends, my husband… and our seven-year-old son. He's been playing for about a year now, and I'll admit I was wary of it at first. After all, it's a complicated game! However, he'd seen us playing and expressed interest, and as a homeschooling parent, I was struggling to find ways to make simple addition more interesting.
Enter skill checks.
I was playing in a separate campaign when he wandered into the room and wanted to 'help.’ As a way of giving him something to do, I started having him add the numbers up for me every time I made a skill check. I expected a fight, but this kid who fought worksheets and homework set out to do my math. For fun. Happily!
From there, he started reading the Monster Manual to practice his reading, and when we made his first character, he had to help read through that section of the Player's Handbook (PHB) as well -- and as any player can attest, the PHB is a good challenge for anyone’s reading comprehension, much less a six-year-olds! Long story short, he was reading and doing math without ever realizing he was working on the same thing he'd been struggling with in school just hours before.
Beyond the obvious reading and math skills involved in D&D, there are also a surprising amount of critical thinking skills required. Most campaigns, no matter how simple, demand some level of investigation and deduction, and you'll be shocked at how capable kids can be of sussing out what's really going on.
Critical thinking isn't just about investigating either; sometimes it involves kids figuring out morals and how they apply in the game. I'm not going to lie; I absolutely expected my son to go full murder-hobo. I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when he encountered a possessed man in the game, and he refused to hit him back when attacked, choosing instead to take the damage without fighting back because "it's not his choice to be hitting me!"
Putting kids' characters into situations they'd never encounter in real life encourages critical thinking on levels they aren't likely to be asked for at school, and frankly, that's a skill we all need to develop more.
Running a Game for Kids
Once you've decided to try a game of D&D with kids, you need to determine exactly how you're going to do it. Are you going to have your child play with a group of friends, or perhaps let them join in with an adult group you already play with? Either way, you need to know a few things going in.
Kids hyper-focus. This is especially true of younger kids; they're going to find one aspect of the game that they really enjoy, and they're going to want to do it over and over again. It might be talking to every NPC they encounter, it might be stealing things, or, if it's my kid, it might be describing what his character cooks for breakfast every morning in great detail (who knew carrot soufflés were even a thing?). Anticipate this and plan to help mitigate it to help move the story along.
Fluff the danger. You want the kids to feel like their characters are in mortal danger, without the possibility of actually killing their characters, unless you're familiar with the child you're playing with and know they can handle that. If that means fudging a few die rolls, so be it, because "don't kill kids" is always a good rule of thumb.
Play by the rule of cool. I know how tempting it can be to rules-lawyer everything. The rules exist for a reason after all, right? While this is true, you can't expect a kid to read and remember the whole PHB. If they want to try something cool that isn't strictly allowed, consider letting it fly anyway. There will be plenty of time later for learning all the nit-picky rules.
As far as everything else goes -- how hard to make the puzzles, whether to simplify the story overall, how intense to describe the fights -- only you as the dungeon master (we call them Quest Masters) can determine what will work best for your group. You know your kid well enough to guess what they can handle, and if you're running for their friends as well, you'll figure them out soon enough.
As with running any D&D campaign, flexibility is the name of the game. Be prepared to adjust when things don't go to plan, and I can almost guarantee the kids will lead you somewhere an adult party never would.
Have you ever run a game for kids? What was the most memorable moment from the game?