Content of the article: "Kids & Dragons"
I have posted this occasionally as a reply to people looking to introduce their younger children to TTRPGs like D&D, but I was asked to make this it's own post, so without further ado, I introduce you to K&D!
Playing with kids
This is a game for children ages 3+ I've played it with my kids since they were 3 and a half, though I had to do a little more of the setup at first. Now 4 and 5, they can fill out their own sheets and add up their die rolls themselves! It's a very child friendly introduction to the world of RPGs.
One of the most common questions I get about playing with young children is how to encourage their creativity. Let me put that question to bed. Kids need no help being imaginative and creative. Once you let them know they can say or do anything, they'll blow you away with their creativity.
That said, there are things that will limit them. First is interest, or more specifically, the attention span of that interest. A game session with children needs to only last about as long as a board game, so none of those 4 hour D&D marathons. Instead, you want them to go around 10 to 20 minutes. Any longer and they will literally just walk away to do something else.
Second is complexity. Most RPGs are simply far too complicated for young kids. There are some nicely simplified options that work great for older children (but who are still too young for an adult game), but I found even those to be a little too convoluted for my family. Instead, this game reduces everything to a simple roll, a little customization, and a whole lot of make believe.
They liked the idea of making a character (even though those characters were literally them), and they wanted to make them unique in ways that affected the game. After all, despite not understanding D&D, they were aware that different PCs were better at certain things. They also wanted magic and super powers and unicorns and a literal locomotive, tracks and all, to materialize so they could safely cross the street. Well then, a lot of liberties needed to be given to them, while still constraining them to simple, understandable rules of a game. So here it is…
Making a character is simple. Each character has four stats: Strong, Fast, Smart, and Cute. They get 8 points to invest amongst them, with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 3 in each. So you'll get some combination of <2 2 2 2>, <3 2 2 1>, or <3 3 1 1>.
They also get 3 "hearts" and 3 "stars."
And that's it! Making a character is really that simple, and the only things you need to track on the sheet throughout a game are the remaining number of hearts and stars.
Starting the game
You'll start by setting the scene. This needs to introduce two main concepts. First, you need a setting. I found that my children could better imagine the scene when it was set somewhere familiar to them, like our house, the park, or the neighborhood. They could also do well with a setting they could clearly see, like a picture of a farm or swimming pool. It's important that you choose a setting they can visualize so they can focus their imaginations on playing and not struggling to understand what they can see, touch, or go to.
The second thing you need is a problem for them to solve. Maybe the spring stopped flowing and now nobody has water. Maybe aliens invaded the park and won't let kids play. Whatever the case, it should be easily understood by the kids, so no deep mysteries to unravel beyond what you'd see in an episode of True or Noddy or whatever shows they watch.
Now you tell them where they are, and ask them how they want to try to solve the problem. And the magic begins!
Playing your adventure
You'll play by presenting a series of obstacles to overcome, culminating in resolving the main problem. Maybe there's a force field around the park. Now the aliens are shooting lasers that turn kids into puppies. Now they're being sucked up into a spaceship! What's this? The aliens just wanted to play too, but they've never heard of sharing?!
Each obstacle can be overcome in one of two ways. First, your kid suggests a course of action, then you both roll a d6. Your kid adds a related stat to the roll, and you see who got higher. A strong roll is a d6 plus the number they put in strong, and so on for each stat. For instance, your kid wants to punch through the force field: roll strong. Now they want to dodge the puppy rays: roll fast. Now they want to drive the ship: roll smart. Finally they're trying to make friends with the president of the aliens so they can take turns: roll cute.
If they roll higher, they succeed. If they roll lower, they lose one heart. If they ever all run out of hearts, they get a "sad" ending, where if they succeed all the way, they'll get a "happy" ending, but more on those later.
The second way they can attack an obstacle is by suggesting an imaginative, magical, wildly improbable, or otherwise straight made up way of handling things. In those cases, they spend one star, and the thing, no matter how absurd, happens! They want their "pet dragon" to land on top of the space ship to force it to land? Rawr, spend a star. They want a magic force field of their own to deflect the puppy rays? Zap, one star. They want to fly around like superman for some reason? Go for it, pay one star.
If they've spent all 3 stars, though, they can't do this. Simply tell them that they've spent all their star power and that they'll have to come up with some way to proceed using more "realistic" means, namely their own character using their own talents rather than supernatural intervention.
This process proceeds as long as you and your kids like, but keep in mind that they've got limited interest and the longer it goes, the more likely they are to fail. Our games usually run about 10 – 15 obstacles with two kids, noting that they're, together, going to succeed 6 of them for sure. They'll usually fail about half their rolls, so try to give them a fair chance! For each child 5 – 7 obstacles seems to be ideal.
It's worth mentioning that if they get stuck you should give them hints. Never tell them what to do, but remind them of the kinds of things that might be possible. Use concrete examples like "you could fly up there," or "maybe you need something to protect you from the puppy laser, like a mirror or shield." They might use your suggestion, or it might inspire their own ideas, but in any case you didn't let them freeze up. Because if that happens, they'll immediately lose interest and the game will no longer be fun.
Ending the story
If they get a happy ending, tell them how everything worked out, and make sure to give them praise and credit for causing it. Sound excited about how they saved the day!
For instance, the aliens are now friends, leaned how to take turns, and they come to the park every weekend now to play with the kids! And all the other kids at the park are super happy and thankful because they can play again, too!
If they ran out if hearts, they get a sad ending. This shouldn't make them feel bad, or at least not any worse than losing any game does (an "I lost" tantrum is one thing, but crying because you made them sad is entirely another if you want them to ever play this again). Instead, explain that the problem went away on it's own somehow, but don't give the kids credit for it. Let them know that the problem might return and they'll get another chance to try to fix it forever. Then, next time you play, you can have the sequel!
For example, the aliens eventually get bored and fly away back into space, leaving you there. Everyone can play again, and it's OK, but you never know if the aliens will be back again to take over the playground again…. NEXT WEEK!
I hope anyone with young kids who loves playing TTRPGs will consider sharing their hobby with the next generation. My kids absolutely love it, and it's a great time with very little investment. You literally just need a six sided die, an imagination, and maybe a picture of a park and spaceship. Let me know if you try this out and tell me how it went! I'd love to hear any of your adventures (to blatantly plagiarize with my own kiddos).
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