Dungeons and Dragons for a 10-year-old
October 16, 2006 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to start up some D&D for my 10-year-old nephew. I need a lot of advice, on multiple questions!

About 3 years ago (when he was like 7) while we were on vacation and waiting an extensive amount of time for our food at a restaurant, I mapped out a simple little adventure on a napkin for my nephew. He was enthralled and has asked me about "that game we played that time" for years. I'm surprised he even remembered it! Since he's too young to play pay-for-play things like World of Warcraft, I'm trying to find ways to get him into a basic D&D game.

A little background on me...I've never actually reallllly played D&D. But I've read a ton about it, and played games based on it (such as old D&D computer games, Rogue, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, HeroQuest etc) So I'm pretty familiar with the rules and role-playing etc.

Now I own:

-AD&D set,

-the D&D Cyclopedia book

-another "basic" set (which I suspect was actually AD&D 3.5 edition, but just called basic)

I've got a ton of dice, because for years I really wanted to start playing but never got around to it. I have 2 first-level modules, and I also bought an old print of The Keep On The Borderlands. However all of these modules are for parties of 4-6.

Should I just create something from scratch? A simple "dungeon-crawl" for him? This brings my other part of of the question. I've never really DM'ed before, only read about it. I have a lot of good ideas for the "experience" such as using music to set mood, and some good ideas for encounters/storyline etc. But I don't know the first thing when it comes to running a D&D game.

Can it be as simple or as complex as I want it to be? Can I mesh versions? What would you recommend as being the "easiest' version of D&D rules to play? D20? THAC0? What about whether the AC is greater as the numbers increase, or the newly changed method where it's reversed? Anyone have any experience in just starting out for youngsters? I need a ton of tips-I want to make it a great time for him.
posted by PetiePal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He's 10, don't sweat the rules too much, and don't sweat story too much.

My advice is to map out a dungeon, throw some monsters and a treasure in each room, and let him clear it out. I'd say no more than like 5 or 6 rooms total to start.

If he gets into it, get more complicated as you go.

And no, the rules don't matter, especially in a solo game. Just be consistent.
posted by empath at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2006

I would send this question over to http://boardgamegeek.com, where a number of people are attempting the same thing.
posted by craniac at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2006

Ditch the dice as much as possible. Make the game about thinking creatively. Give him experience based on the wisdom/interestingness of his decisions, and his ability to play it as a character who is not 'him', but someone else.
posted by bluejayk at 9:57 AM on October 16, 2006

I asked a similar question awhile ago, but I wasn't as far along as you getting set up. Still, maybe something in my thread will help you.
posted by jazon at 10:02 AM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: I was thinking of a simple dungeon crawl, some dice rolls for battle, hit points etc. I don't know if I'll include chance to hit, for the first few games I'll just assume it's an "always hit" and maybe have the monster occasionally miss. I'm big on the puzzles and creativity idea. I'm thinking of doing some kind of abandoned mine, filled with low level rats/spiders.

Have him create his own character, pretty basic. I'll add rules as I go.

What about some good puzzles or rooms? Any good ideas?
posted by PetiePal at 10:03 AM on October 16, 2006

oh, another thing I used to like in simple games.. if you're doing away with THACO and AC, allow a 20 to be a critical hit (extra damage, include a bloody description) and 1 to be a critical miss (drops his weapon, injures himself, etc.). That's fun.
posted by bluejayk at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2006

Almost any puzzle you come up with is going to be incredibly frustrating for someone just starting the game, particularly someone that young.

If you're going to have one, make the solution very, very very obvious, at least at first.

Good game design is about learning. You introduce the tools to the player, one at a time, and then introduce new ways use them, one way at a time.

For example:

In session one, give him a short sword. What can you do with a sword? Well, you can go kill a rat that's bothering your mom. Then maybe you can cut down an apple. Then maybe you can use it to break open a box, or use it to push a button in a dungeon, etc etc.

Then maybe at the end of the first dungeon, you find out the sword is magical and glows when there is danger nearby.

Just keep it simple, and focus on one or two tools for the first dungeon, that is if you're going to use puzzles.
posted by empath at 10:21 AM on October 16, 2006

At 10, he's probably ready to play on his own without your help. I started playing at 11, so I wouldn't worry about it being overwhelmingly complicated.

Actually, there's a number of RPGs out there that are designed with kids in mind. 10 is getting old enough to handle complex rules for most games though.

Do you know what your nephew enjoyed most? If it was something simple you made up on the fly, especially if you let him have a lot of input as to what was happening in the game world, the approach D&D takes might not suit him. A friend of min has had great success running Donjon with kids. That system takes player input and runs with it, which I think is a good thing for all gaming, but for kids in particular. Nothing is more deflating for a kid than to make something up for the game, "And there's a purple dragon behind the curtain!", only to have their input disallowed by the framing of the game.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2006

You could also play Descent: Journeys in the Dark, a self-contained boardgame dungeon crawl.
posted by craniac at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2006

On a kinda tangent, what about nethack? Similar principles, it's free, and there's lots of implementations (some friendlier than others!)
posted by wackybrit at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Lol good suggestions so far.

I've planned out a simple "There's a spider nest on a path up near the mountains. A child from the village was attacked by a spider yesterday and the town is clamoring for someone to investigate"

It's a simple trip up a path to the mountain, with a little clearing on the way that has a pond with a little island on the far side. There's a pile of rubble on the way that has some rope, so if he chooses he can use the rope to tie to a tree in the clearing and swing over for some goodies.

The spider cave is small and simple, An opening annex with a few baby spiders, a soldier spider guarding a chest, the egg-room with some young spiders to battle, and finally the Queen's room. A big underground pond with a land-bridge across. He understands the concepts of being careful and checking out rooms, listening etc, so I'm going to have that spider drop down behind him from the ceiling if he rushes to the pile of bones across the bridge.

I actually have planned a few little puzzles that involve "introducing new items." Such as the rope, a sword, a torch, and a gem or two. It'll be a learning experience for him but I'm not out to have him walk into a room and have traps kill him instantly.

As for "on the fly" gameplay, he doesn't really lean either way. As long as it's fun and engaging and he can be creative and "anything can happen" he's really into it. I'll mold the experience as we go but I can toss in a few surprises based on his input during the game. I don't have to have everything planned out prior, I can thing up some stuff on the spot.
posted by PetiePal at 10:57 AM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Nethack is a good idea, I was going to hook him up with Rogue, my personal favorite. Nethack got too complicated and there were way too many ways to die, so he might get frustrated.

I think kids today get turned off by "Rodney" the little smiley too lol. They're too spoiled with high-tech video games.
posted by PetiePal at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2006

I introduced my daughters, 8 & 10, to D&D with the new Boxed version. They were able to grasp it fairly easily. I'm all for old school style, but the Boxed set made it easy to hook them in a familiar board game setting.

I wrote it up on my weblog if you want to see some pictures and read a little more.
posted by Argyle at 11:05 AM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks Argyle. I'll check it out. He's always glued to the screen and asking me to play World of Warcraft when he's over, and he was all into Lord of the Rings (thanks to me) so he's really interested in roleplay games, i just have to ease him into his first few adventures. Maybe get a friend or two of his to join in.

I'll check your blog out, it will be a useful reference.
posted by PetiePal at 11:10 AM on October 16, 2006

My dad ran a few simple dungeon crawls for my brother and I wehn we were young (younger than 10, at least). One cool thing he did was let us play characters from our favorite cartoon (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at the time). That way, personality and motivation were pretty clearly defined already, the location was familiar (the sewers), and we didn't have to guess about villains or NPCs.
posted by muddgirl at 11:27 AM on October 16, 2006

I left a link in Jazons thread that has some very useful information when playing with children and alot of other games that are good for children.

personally i find that 3.5 is more straightforward once you actually get playing than AD&D. 3.5 was designed to fill in the holes and give more structure to the game, without overwhelming the openness of the game, if that makes sense. at 10 he should be old enough to understand all of the concepts and will probably come up with some interesting scenarios that throw off your whole plan, so be prepared for anything.

the best thing about being a DM/GM for your child is that you can change whatever rules you want to make it more fun for the two of you. i would also encourage getting some of his friends involved.
posted by trishthedish at 11:43 AM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: My biggest incentive to do it, (besides his crazy 4-year spanning interest) is that it's something very creative and instead of playing mind-numbing video-games he can be creative and come up almost with his own.

I've never really DM'ed before besides being the Game Master for HeroQuest, but I'm looking forward to it. I may even start Keep On The Borderlands for a few of my guy friends who have expressed interest in playing.

I think he's old enough to get the basic rules, and I plan on gradually adding new concepts in each little module. Hard to find modules designed for just one player, but maybe his sister would even be interested in playing.
posted by PetiePal at 11:48 AM on October 16, 2006

Best answer: I'd start by talking to the wise folks at the kids-rpg list, who have a lot of collective experience running role-playing games with kids. (And you can find me there, too!)

Beyond that, I'd seriously consider what your focus of the game is based on what he seems to enjoy. Is the focus on rolling dice and exciting encounters with the rules? Is it on character development and his fantasy life? Is it about having creative input into the story?

I've done a bunch of role-playing with kids that age and I've generally found that minimal rules is better, or else the game becomes focused on the rules. I've used a super-simplified version of FUDGE which has met with great success. Basically, you give the kids seven stats which relate to the genre of game you're playing. (I did a pirates game, with skills like Boasting and Sailing and Swordfighting.) They assign skill levels to stats such as "Terrible" and "Superb." When they try to do a task, you can say things like, "Only a Great swordfighter would be able to knock the sword out of this person's hand!" The kid takes their base skill and rolls some number of FUDGE dice; each die has a 1/3 chance of adding one to their skill level, subtracting one, or leaving things alone. I like to let the kids choose how many dice to add, so they are setting the stakes of the conflict to some extent!! It's really easy to explain and the focus stays on the game rather than on the rules of the game, if that makes any sense.

In terms of the story, kids this age are surprisingly focused on social interactions. I wouldn't try to do elaborate politics with them, but you can do a lot more than just "kill the monster." Negotiating, tricking, and allying are all things kids this age understand and find to be a lot of fun.

I would also strongly advise you to take things out of the dungeon and be ready to improvise. In my experiences doing RP with kids this age, they love to be in rich environments where they can have tiny interactions that satisfy them. For example, my players were trying to take back their pirate ship from a rival crew, without upsetting their captain and causing a pirate war by hurting anyone. They LOVED doing things like wrapping their enemies up in the sails, booting them overboard, or stealing their weapons while they weren't looking. It's not stuff I could have planned, but I didn't want to penalize them for their inventiveness. That seemed to be half the fun for them!

Also - clear markers of success matter. Kids get frustrated relatively easily if they keep running into problems that are large-scale and can't be easily solved, but if there are interim steps for success (or, even better, solutions they come up with that cause new problems) then that can be very satisfying. You seem to have a very clear grip on this already though.

That's my rant for the moment. Please feel free to contact me through the kids-rpg list if you want more ranting! :)

posted by bibliomancer at 12:20 PM on October 16, 2006

Single character adventures can be fun, but they will limit the pre-packaged scenarios you can run. You might consider grouping his character with a bunch of other NPC that you control. This will also help provide him clues to advance the story if he doesn't figure things out on his own. Of course, his character gets to be the leader of the group.

Later on, you can have him control the entire group. It gets away from role-playing into more of a hack-n-slash, but it's fun in a different way. Or of course you can just let him have 2 or 3 characters. Whatever works.
posted by LordSludge at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2006

LordSludge's idea works particularly well if the other characters don't have to be people, exactly - for example, an animal companion or daemon can provide a way for you to intervene in the story and someone for the character to talk to, without having to worry about what the party is doing together. The nice thing about running for a single player is that you can also experiment with non-traditional types of relationships that you don't generally find in an adventuring party. Animal companions, sidekicks, mentors, etc. all open up for play, because the party characters do not have to be equal in game terms or in narrative significance.

posted by bibliomancer at 1:31 PM on October 16, 2006

Yeah, I'd probably run Keep on The Borderlands with three or four NPCs (maybe one of them could be a pet dog, if he likes dogs, and the others more disposable) helping out. Keep on The Borderlands is pretty much plotless, as I recall, so you may want to introduce some rivalry between the adventurers. Nothing too backstabby, just "who gets the most glory" or something like that.
posted by furiousthought at 1:38 PM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Hmm not a bad idea. A talking wolf or something of that nature he might find really interesting. Like a Warg or something.

I didn't even think about playing an NPC myself. I always thought that as the DM you weren't supposed to since you knew everything that was going to happen. I guess it will be like playing chess against yourself, you'll really just have to try to play to the best of your ability, but not cheat lol.
posted by PetiePal at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah I've also got A Dark And Stormy Night, and Wreck Ashore! as two other level 1 modules. I didn't think I could use them but if I play an NPC, have him play a character, and another animal or 2 characters, it would work just fine. I was tinkering with the idea of scaling the adventure down in difficulty, but with the right amount of players it would be cool.
posted by PetiePal at 1:59 PM on October 16, 2006

You might consider grouping his character with a bunch of other NPC that you control.

When I was in my teens, I ran a small campaign for my best friend and her brother, who was about 10. He did pretty well with the rules and liked combat. However, his favorite bit was simply interacting with an NPC in his party (a character somewhat like Disney's Aladdin) and seeing what sort of trouble they could get into.

This will also help provide him clues to advance the story if he doesn't figure things out on his own.

Or to serve as a handy meat-shield if the dice rolls are going bad. I had another NPC who was essentially the party's tank and could take punishment in combat. However, the NPC had vulnerabilities that played out in the story parts of the campaign and ended up needing rescue/protecting by the PCs. These story bits (where the PCs had to think critically) helped to balance out the NPC's tendancy to step in and take the nasty damage in dice-based combat (I never wanted the 10 year old's character to die because of a bad dice roll).
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:36 PM on October 16, 2006

Oh, you can play NPCs. I did something similar with my brother when he was 12 or 13. You just have to make sure they're second fiddle to the PC. Nobody wants to play sidekick to the DM's psionic ninja death machine as he trounces everything he runs across and railroads the plot. Ideally the NPCs would be a town guard and an cleric of the local church, I think, who could patch up the PC if he takes a hit.
posted by furiousthought at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2006

I still have my "Basic" and "Expert" D&D sets. You know, before Advanced. Honestly, I'd buy a copy of those two, used and beaten up, on eBay, and a few modules, especially the aforementioned Keep on the Borderlands.
posted by adipocere at 5:47 PM on October 16, 2006

Oh yeah, as a DM, NPC's will be half the fun---they give you a great chance to influence the story (as long as you're not heavyhanded about it) and to ham it up (Pirates are always fun).

Ah yes, The Keep on the Borderlands. Endless fun. Just remember that "BREE-YARK!" is Goblin for "we surrender!"
posted by washburn at 6:00 PM on October 16, 2006

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