What do I need to get my son started playing Dungeons and Dragons?
September 27, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

My son (11) has expressed an interest in playing Dungeons and Dragons. I would like to help him but I know nothing about the game and Amazon reviews of the basic starter set confuse things even further. What exactly does he need in order to start playing?

I've never played D&D (I’m not that kind of nerd) and only vaguely understand it. There are dice, and you have characters, and someone is the Dungeon Master and he kind of makes stuff up as he goes along? Or something? Anyway…

Reviews of “The Red Box” claim that there might be more needed than just that set. I don’t get how that could be. I’d like to not only get him started, but do it in such a way that he can get maximum enjoyment out of it.


Getting a bunch of his friends together can be difficult. Does he need a whole crowd to play or can he do it with just one other friend? Amazon says 1-5 players but how fun would it really be with two people? My wife and I can play with him but have neither the time nor the interest to really get too involved. Can friends and family join in and out as time and availability allow?

He loves designing stuff on graph paper (Minecraft buildings, Lego structures, mazes, etc.) The design part of D&D might actually hold more appeal than actually playing it.

He specifically wants D&D, so getting him another RPG would be like getting him Wranglers when he wants Levis. I’m not interested (yet) in entertaining other game ideas. This particular thread is about D&D.

I would be getting him the latest and greatest rule set. I understand there’s some controversy but I’m not interested in debates over which version is the One True Version.

I want a paper and pen version, not a computer game. Part of the idea is to get him off the computer for a bit.

tl;dr: How can I get my son started playing D&D?
posted by bondcliff to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Two-member games--one DM and one player--are definitely viable, though the game is intended for multiple players and it is likely to be more fun with 2+ players. He sounds like he's probably going to end up being the DM, unless you take it upon yourself to learn the system with him and introduce him to it with you being DM and him being the player.

That's probably how I'd do it if I were the dad, because learning the system as a player first and then as a DM strikes me as safer overall. (I have no experience with the latest system, but AFAIK it hasn't changed enough to invalidate any of the above.)
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 9:00 AM on September 27, 2013

The Dungeon/Game Master needs to have some idea what they're doing for any of it to make sense. You CAN play with just one other person but... the real fun is when there's more than that. Check out local gaming stores, they often have days when games are being run, they often welcome kids - or any new players! and if you go together, you'll both learn. It really is worth being shown how by people who know how. The rulebooks are really daunting without any context of how it all works.
posted by tomboko at 9:03 AM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

someone is the Dungeon Master and he kind of makes stuff up as he goes along?

While a DM does need to be able to improve, only a very poor one makes it up as they go along.

I agree with tomboko. Find a comic/gaming store that has gaming sessions. He can learn what version they are playing and join a new/kid-friendly group that is a good fit.

FWIW, I am pushing 40 and I really miss playing D&D. It is great fun.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2013

My kiddo (also 11) is just getting into RPGs. She went to a one week, half day summer camp this summer that did an RPG and now I'm starting her on a Pathfinder group at a local game store this Saturday.

I know you're specifically looking for D&D, but I'm wondering if you can google Role Playing Game camps or D&D camps for your region. And also call all the local game stores and ask them.

I know I was relieved to discover that I don't have to learn this stuff myself to help her get into it, although I wouldn't object to playing with her eventually, I'd like to see if she's actually into it first.
posted by latkes at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2013

I'd ask around among the parents of his friends. That's how the newer gamers get sucked in. Perhaps there would be an interest with one of the other parents to be a DM for some kids and to help them get started.

You really do need a few players to make it fun.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2013

Yeah, plug into the support network at your friendly local game shop. (With appropriate caution. Some people in this network may be unpleasant and not especially socially skilled.)

You can play with one player and one DM, but it's not nearly as much fun and you don't mention your son having a crowd of other friends who are also moving in this direction.

And yes, friends and family can pop in and out as available. Happens all the time, actually. Think of them as recurring guest stars in a TV series. "Oh great, Uncle Ted's Ranger is in this adventure! He always does something fun."

But in general, this tends to work best with a core group of, say, three ongoing players who are all pretty serious about it. It's not clear you have that in your existing social circle, but you can probably find it at your local game store. They likely have a bulletin board of people looking for groups or games looking for players.

Another thing that gets you is ready-made knowledge of the fairly complicated rules and conventions of gaming, which you admit your circle lacks right now.
posted by Naberius at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking as a decades-long player (and the parent of a 10-year-old just starting to play D&D himself!) I see two easy options: the Red Box, which will have a set of truncated, possibly somewhat simplified rules, a pre-written adventure, and some tokens and a map. It's a good starting point to see what D&D is like, and the pre-written adventure will demonstrate how an adventure is supposed to flow. If you're not sure if this is something your son is going to be into for a long time, go ahead and get it -- it's only $18 on Amazon. Consider it a "sampler" of D&D.

If your son is more likely to get into the real minutiae of rules and enjoys making things up like maps and so forth, I'd spring for the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual. Those three books are the "core" rules, and will give you everything you need to play the game. (You can probably find them cheap at a local used bookstore.)

It's certainly more fun to play with more than just a Game Master and a player, but that's very doable as well. The nature of the game might make it difficult for people to join in casually (what with learning the rules and all) but that too can be done. Remember, the rules may be bent or changed or ignored as the people playing prefer -- it's all about having fun and not about being hampered by iron-clad immutable rules!

(In addition to checking out your local gaming/comic store, you might try the forums at the Wizards of the Coast site. They have a "gamers seeking gamers" section that might help you find someone to play. And of course use the same caution there that you would in contacting/vetting someone from the bulletin board at the game store!)

Hope he enjoys it! I started playing around his age and it's been a big part of my life ever since!
posted by Janta at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a starting point, the D&D board game Legend of Drizzt provides a pretty fun, structured dungeon-diving experience. It comes with different story campaigns.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:26 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is not an in print version of D&D that is currently relevant. Fourth Edition is abandonware and D&D Next isn't done yet. Pathfinder with the beginner box is the most accessible and actively played version of the game. It's not a one true edition thing, just a question of what is available and supported. In a year or so D&D Next will replace 4e but Pathfinder will still be around. Note - I'm an OSR gamer myself but PF is more popular at the moment.
posted by graymouser at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll second Legend of Drizzt - or the similar Castle Ravenloft - as a fun way to pick up D&D basics, and you get a great collection of miniatures and tile sets for putting together your own adventures.
posted by mean cheez at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2013

Best answer: D&D with two people is very possible, especially in the context of the Starter Set, but it's helpful to have someone who knows what they're doing as one of the two. I started playing D&D in junior high school, diggety-odd years ago, so, when my now-15-year-old asked me to teach him to play D&D a few years ago, it wasn't hard to grab a copy of the then-current Basic Game and run him through the sample adventure.

He's not going to get everything he needs to play D&D to its fullest from the Starter Set, but you and he will get enough to actually play the game some and decide if he (and you) really like it.
posted by hanov3r at 9:50 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "He loves designing stuff on graph paper (Minecraft buildings, Lego structures, mazes, etc.) The design part of D&D might actually hold more appeal than actually playing it."

I hope you don't feel my comment is unhelpful since it's not a direct answer, but.... I was a pretty lonely kid and graphing mazes, designing towns, writing NPC dialogue (on Mom's typewriter), etc. was a HUGELY entertaining pastime when I was 11-12-13. (I'm dumbfounded at my college-age decision to trash a legal file-box full of fiction and maps.) It's not "playing" D&D, but it was a blast and fed both my math and verbal brain cells.
posted by easement1 at 10:01 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

One easy way to start might be to see if your local game store hosts D&D Encounters. One night a week gamers at stores everywhere play an adventure provided by Wizards of the Coast. It's designed to introduce new players to the game but also attracts veterans (who, in my experience, are usually happy to help), it's free and one usually doesn't even need to bring a pencil, as pre-generated characters are available, and other gamers may be willing to lend dice, etc.

(That said, buying your child that first set of dice is both a memorable experience and a nice way to pay the store back for its hospitality.)

I know you specified D&D, but the Pathfinder Society is a similar program for Pathfinder, which is the current version of 3rd Edition D&D, more or less.

One complicating factor is that, as graymouser mentioned, D&D is currently running its public playtest of its next version (called, at least for the moment, "D&D Next"). Previous Encounters adventures were designed for the now-current Fourth Edition, but the one running now can be run with 4ed or Next (or even 3.5!) rules, and which one, if not both, is running might depend on the individual store. The store at which I play used to run a table of both but the 4ed DM hasn't been around so we're strictly Next right now.

Since 4ed is still the current version, though, I'd second the recommendation of the Red Box as a decent starter kit.
posted by Gelatin at 10:02 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Find your local gaming store and see if they have D&D Encounter sessions. They are purposely designed to help beginners get into the game, and are usually short say 1 - 2 hours and meet weekly. They usually consist of a bit of role playing and a small fight or 2 and each session is a chapter in an over arching story line that usually goes for 16 weeks or so. The current Encounter might not be a great one for someone new to gaming to jump into as it is a lot of RPing and not much action (which I like but if you are wanting to learn the rules it's hard without a fight or 2).

No one minds new people at these sessions, and as someone that started playing only this year, I found even the most serious long term player at the Encounters to be friendly and helpful because they know that's what Encounters are about, though they may take a session or 2 to get chatty. The sessions are free and a great way to get an idea of how the game works, some larger places might have 2 or 3 games going at one time and even have them played in different editions.

I've tried several editions and pathfinder in the 6 months I've been playing and as a beginner I found 4e the easiest, as to me it works the most like the computer games I was used to playing, I would personally not suggest starting with D&D Next if possible, just because it is still in player testing.

Get there early and talk to the DM and they'll help set you up with premade characters and walk you through the basics. It's handy to have your own dice and pencils, but most of the DMs I met have spare set or 2 just in case.

If after a few sessions he is still interested in going, and mature enough to not need the other players to babysit, then if you are busy you can always drop him off and pick him up.
posted by wwax at 11:04 AM on September 27, 2013

You should take a look at illustrator James Stowe's "DnD for Dads" simplified character sheets for kids! From his site:
For my son's 8th birthday party he convinced me to run Dungeons and Dragons for four 2nd graders ... I decided to take actual characters made in the DND Insider and simplify them so that the boys could have fun without much of a learning curve.
» Sheets for boys
» Sheets for girls, part 1
» Sheets for girls, part 2
» Summoned creatures (zomfg Zombie Kitteh!)

I'm a forty[mmumble]-year-old newb to DnD and these streamlined sheets really helped me understand how characters' powers worked. I totally want to play that Drow Rogue (Sugar Rush Stabby Stab! D20+12 v. AC!)
posted by mon-ma-tron at 12:02 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: So, my friends and I, at around 11 or 12, taught ourselves to play D&D with no parental involvement or assistance from anyone who actually knew the rules, using an abandoned 1st edition D&D boxed set and some random other D&D splatbooks and adventures of varying editions that a friend of my mom's left behind when she abruptly moved away. I am probably biased but I can't really imagine a better way to learn the game. We didn't have too much difficulty parsing out the rules, and in retrospect, while not all of our understanding of the rules was correct, we were close enough that it didn't impair our fun at all. It's definitely something that can be done with only one or two other friends, you don't need a big group (and a big group may make things tougher, actually, as there's a lot of trying to get group agreement on what X means or what seems fair when Y happens.)

One of us would usually end up playing the role of DM, which involved a *lot* of improvising although sometimes we'd put together a dungeon map on graph paper first; there were also a lot of really stupid things that amused the hell out of us as kids (a recurring-gag gassy gnome NPC whose farts were smelly enough to knock out bad guys, etc.; 11 year old boys, doncha know) and we wouldn't really have wanted to share that with the grown ups in our lives. YMMV.

So, my advice, without knowing your kid, is basically, get him the basic books, some dice, and then, unless he actually asks for your involvement, get out of the way and let he and his friends figure it out.

In earlier editions, "the basics" tended to come as a boxed set; in 3rd edition it was a Player's Handbook [rules for making up your character], a Dungeon Master's Guide [rules for being a DM] and a Monster Manual [rules for monsters]. Of these, the Dungeon Master's Guide is the least necessary to an 11-year old boy; it's generally more for authentic, internally consistent worldbuilding and smooth campaign arcs and those are the kinds of things that connoisseurs of D&D care about, not novices. A graph-paper map showing where the monsters are, the stats for monsters, and the ability to create stats for your heroes is all they'll need or want at first. There are some pitfalls - kids at that age do not always grasp that the 'ultimate power' of being the Dungeon Master is easy to abuse but abusing it makes things less fun for everyone - but they'll learn quick, and TBH I think realizing that you'll have more fun when you're helping other people have more fun instead of just lording your power over them is a fantastic life lesson.

Frankly I wouldn't try to teach him D&D by introducing him to a bunch of people who have already been playing it for a while (like a group at a gaming store); while they may all be very nice and understanding folks they'll still want to make sure he learns the rules "right" and IMO it's more important to learn how to have fun with the game first, even if his grasp on the rules or the math isn't 100%.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:44 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In the long far-ago, I played D&D with a group at my local public library. My friends and I played on the floor outside the mall in a gamestore. There was a school club.

Don't know how much of that infrastructure exists these days, but that used to be the way it was done.
posted by Mad_Carew at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, to be clear I was looking more along the lines of "Buy the Red Box and these two other books and he'll be good to go."

I'm not so much looking for where to play, though the gaming store D&D intro nights sure do sound interesting. Right now though, I don't think that would be his thing.

He has a friend in school who turned him on to it, so there's at least one potential partner.

Thank you all for the advice. If this catches on I will refer back to this thread many times.
posted by bondcliff at 5:35 PM on September 27, 2013

For what it's worth, my post on the blue about how to find an RPG may be of use.

There are a lot of free or cheap alternatives to D&D out there -- Old School Hack is the one that comes to mind first -- but starting with D&D is probably a good idea.

I started gaming when I was about 11, and similar to what mstokes650 described, my friends and I mostly just figured it out by ourselves at first. I eventually ended up hanging out at the major local FLGS and joining established gaming groups.
posted by jiawen at 9:35 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Follow up: About a week after this thread I bought him the red box starter kit of whatever the latest edition is. He devoured the books, made a character, and got together with a buddy a couple of times to play the game, where one of them was the DM and the other the... player... guy? His buddy had some of his dad's old D&D books so I think they played one of those adventures.

Last night he had three of his friends over for their first ever D&D night and they had a blast! He organized it all, sending invite emails to his friends and their parents. Two of his friends were new to it so after maybe a half hour of setup/character building they played for about four hours. I made them pizza and they ODed on potato chips and apple cider. They're going to try to make it a semi-regular thing but I suspect it will be difficult to get them all together more than once a month or so. We'll see. There are a couple more kids who have expressed interest.

So, thanks in part to you guys, he's on his way. Last night was just the beginning. There will be more D&D items under the Christmas tree, I'm sure.
posted by bondcliff at 1:40 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

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