Role Playing With Kids
My wife and I have two kids of our own and we regularly invite their friends and neighborhood kids to play at our home. When it comes to roll playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons, our kids could not be more different, but engaging them both in the game is very important. Our daughter is very dramatic, I mean that in the theatrical sense. She loves to speak with NPC’s and other players completely in character. She often gets frustrated when other players responder to her as a play instead as her character. Our son prefers to refer to his character in the 3rd person, and often requires a lot of coaching to get into character. He prefers combat encounters to roll playing and diplomacy. Other kids in our group fall between these two extremes.
Knowing your players is extremely important for a DM. I highly recommend having direct, one-on-one conversations your players to find out what they want to get out of the game. Below are a few questions I like to ask players. I periodically ask them the same questions again after a session, just to make sure the players have not changed their minds.
- What kind of character do you like playing?
- What about that type of character excites you the most?
- If your character could do anything, what would you want them to do?
- Which do you like more, pretending to be your character and talking with other players, exploring dungeons, or getting into a hack-and-slash battle?
- What do you like most about D&D?
- If there was anything about D&D that you could change, what would it be?
- Do you feel like you understand your character and how to play him/her?
- Do you feel like you are getting along with all the other players?
- Are you having fun?
The answers to these questions will give you a good idea of what kind of play they are and how you can best engage them. Obviously, you can’t please all of the players all of the time, but you can switch back and forth between playing modes to keep them all engaged in the game.
Having DM’ed for a while, I can tell you that kids are fickle and can have aggravatingly short attention spans. They get frustrated when they are not the center of attention or if other players get more treasure. It is a serious balancing act to get all of them on board and keep them there. Here are a few tips for keeping them excited to play.
- Loot – Discovering treasure is a cornerstone of the game. Be careful to not give out too much loot and be very careful not to give out too many magic items or powerful magic items too early in the game. It can break your game pretty quick.
- Roll Initiative – Things getting too slow and the players are losing interest. You see them reaching for phones and tuning out. Tell them to roll initiative because they have just encountered a bad guy, or they have just been ambushed. Beat them up a bit and then have the bad guys retreat, perhaps to return with friends later.
- Make Treasure Personal – Try to tailor the magic items to your player and their characters. For example, my daughter’s half-dragon sorcerers wanted to grow wings and fly. At first level, giving any kind of permanent flying ability or magic item was out of the question; however, I ran across a supplement on the DM’s Guild with dragon magic that included a way for her to grow dragon wings. I purchased the PDF, printed it off, and had her find an ancient magic tomb during an adventure. Now she has a magic item that will allow her to fly, but she has to grow into it.
- Mine Character Backstories – Read your player character backstories. Find ways to bring characters from their past or have characters visit places from their history. Let the players describe their friends, family, home, and the places they came from. Straight up, just ask them to describe the scene to the other players. For those few minutes, they are the dungeon master!
- Listen to the Players – Create situations where you have no idea how the story will develop and let the players talk it out. They will come up with questions and ideas for you. Roll with them. “is there a chandelier in this room?” they ask. “Why, funny you ask. There is a large wooden chandelier hanging from a sturdy chain in the center of the room. It has several thick candles that are the primary source of light. The flickering of the candles causes shadows to dance in the corners of the room.”
- Create Puzzles without Solutions – Don’t create complicated puzzles that require lots of steps to be taken in a specific order to solve. Create the puzzle and let the players try to figure out how to solve it. When they have worked on it long enough, whatever solution they suggest works. “My character tries to stand on the tile with the eye symbol and I use my staff to poke the tiles around the fireplace,” says the player. “As you are standing on the tile poking the tiles with your staff, you hear a subtle click and the tile under your feet sinks slightly. You hear a scraping sound of stone on stone and the entire fireplace opens like a door revealing a hidden passage.”
- Roll with the Punches – Kids will derail your carefully railroaded adventure. It will happen. Be prepared and roll with it. If you need to, move encounters around to keep the story advancing. If they are dead set against playing the story you have prepared, wing it! Make it up as you go. You already have the stats for monsters and NPC’s to draw from.
- Talk to Them Like an Adult – Hey, kids are people too. Just ask them how you could make the game more interesting to them. You may find that they are enjoying listening to you and the other players and are just waiting for their character to have something to do. They may not be interested in playing right now. Maybe they are hungry and want a snack.
- Take a Break – Snack breaks are a great way to give your players time to disengage from the game and refill their creative buckets. While the kids are scarfing down their favorite snacks and drinks, you can check in with them to see how they feel about the game and what they think should happen next. The players can engage in so meta-gaming or just brag about how awesome their character was in that last battle.