What to buy, where to start, and plenty of tips for introducing your child to Dungeons & Dragons.
So, you’ve decided to bring your kids to the gaming table and pass on your wealth of nerdy knowledge. However, you don’t want to just use some canned adventure for this memorable event. Some special considerations may be needed when planning your kid’s first Dungeon and Dragons adventure. For the experienced dungeon master, this process will be very similar to what you do for your friends’ adventures, but with some modifications to cater to your young gamer’s attention span and imagination. The purpose of this article isn’t to present a fully formed adventure to run but to help gamer parents develop their own awesome game sessions for their kids. Also note, these guidelines were written with Dungeon and Dragons in mind but can be applied to any game system. Feel free to use them with whichever system you enjoy most.
Part 1 What To Buy 🛒
First, you’ll need to purchase a few things to get your monster-slaying conquest underway. We’ve created an exhaustive list of DnD supplements to help guide you.
This box set is the perfect introduction to the world of Dungeon and Dragons. There’s a 32-page rulebook, dice, adventure book, and even pre-made characters that are ready to roleplay. Honestly, this is all you need to get started plundering dungeons. A perfect gift for families that are just testing out the hobby. Start with this.
This box set is a great addition to the Starter set. Think of it as the advanced Starter set. While dice are included, plus a new pre-made adventure, the Essentials set forces the players to create their own characters from scratch. Another nice addition is the included cheat sheet cards that will help players and the DM remember the rules. Finally, a world map and DM screen that lists some basic rules for the DM’s eyes only is only in the box.
If you’ve played the starter box to death, then it’s time to snatch up the DnD Player’s Handbook. This supplement contains all the rules for players that want to create more extensive characters and level up their current ones. It’s a must-have rulebook to really experience the vast world of Dungeon and Dragons. Buy this book second, after exhausting the starter box.
Similar to the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide offers rules and ideas for running a campaign. It’s not required for playing like the Player’s Handbook, but it certainly is considered a core supplement to the game.
The Monster Manual contains a wealth of information on different monsters that you can add into your next adventure. It really is a must-have for those of you that are beyond playing just the starter box set. You get stats, rules, and descriptions for over 153 types of monsters at varying difficulties.
Simply put, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is an expanded rules supplement. The book adds subclasses to the existing classes found in the Player’s Manual, additional spells, and new DM suggestions. This guide functions as an expansion to the three core rulebooks. Perfect after your family gets some role-playing experience under their belt.
Aimed at dungeon masters that want to add more lore to their campaigns and stronger monsters for players to face. When your players are ready to explore other dimensions or tackle the secrets of the universe, then you should pick up this supplement.
Not just a simple monster manual, this book is loaded with new playable races and detailed insight on some of the more legendary monsters. A must-have once you’ve completed a few campaigns.
I’m not sure how you play Dungeon and Dragons, or any RPG, without a cheat sheet. That’s exactly what this 4-panel DM screen is, a quick reference guide for dungeon masters. A definite must-have, unless you want to create your own.
These 179 cards act specifically as reference cards for monsters. One side displays the beast, and the opposite side shows all the stats you need. The cards offer monsters with a CR of 0-5. Kids will love these cards because they will be able to see an image of what monsters they are facing.
This dry-erase dungeon tile mat comes with everything you need to draw your next adventure. Your kids will love the ability to draw on the map as they delve deeper and deeper into the dungeon. This mat comes with four dry-erase markers and an eraser.
I highly recommend using miniatures, little toys, or even action figures when introducing any RPG to children. Adult players love buying specific miniatures and painting them for their DnD campaigns, but kids should be fine with a wider selection of visual examples. I love this set that includes 90 minis composed of orcs, dragons, dwarves, elves, skeletons, centaurs, and more. There are other great sets out there as well, but don’t spend a ton of money on minis unless you are sure your kids are going to play over a long period of time.
While the starter set comes with a complete set of dice, you’ll soon notice that campaigns run easier when every player and the DM have their own set. Chances are it won’t take long before your kids want their own set anyway. It’s hard to find a better deal than five sets of dice and pouches for ten dollars. This doesn’t need to be included with your initial purchase, but the sooner you have additional dice the happier everyone will be.
Tomb of Annihilation is a premade adventure module that lets characters of level 1-11 explore the Forgotten Realms classic setting. This book gives Dungeon Masters a complete necromantic campaign to use for their next session. This is great for parents that don’t have time to design their own adventures.
Do your kids love dragons? Are they itching to venture on a quest to destroy the most famous DnD dragon of all time? If you’ve answered yes to either question, then Hoard of the Dragon Queen is the perfect premade adventure for your family. Can you stop the Cult of the Dragon as they prepare to bust out the legendary Tiamat from her prison? This is part one of the Tyranny of Dragons, designed to test players with characters from levels 1 – 7.
The Rise of Tiamat is part two of the Tyranny of Dragons saga, the sequel to Hoard of the Dragon Queen. For those of you who have played DnD for years, you’ll recognize the final nemesis. Tiamat is arguably one of the most famous dragons in the history of the fantasy genre. Players need to have characters at level 7 so do yourself a favor and play through Hoard of the Dragon Queen first.
If your kids aren’t thrilled by dragons or necromancers, then maybe they will want to take on giants. Stopping a giant invasion sounds like the perfect task for a 12-year-old. Great for new characters, but be warned, players will reach level five by the end of the first chapter.
Premade adventures are wonderful ways for your family to easily jump into DnD. Don’t feel bad if you simply can’t make time to flesh out an awe-inspiring epic adventure. Princes of Apocalypse allows players to start characters from scratch and finish this super adventure at level 15. This supplement is perfect for newbies as it concentrates on dungeon crawling and limits role-playing with NPCs.
The Curse of Strahd introduces the horror behind the doors of Castle Ravenloft. Ravenloft is a classic staple in the world of DnD. This premade adventure takes the party through levels 1-10. Your kids will face off against ghastly beasts like werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Perfect, for families that live by the mantra, every day is Halloween.
Part 2: Running The Game 🎲
Here are some general rules to follow when designing and running your game:
1. Favor narrative over mechanics — It’s true that there are players who revel in the byzantine complexities of role-playing game mechanics, and older kids might enjoy figuring out these rules, but this will probably be a turnoff for your younger kids. Rather than forcing your child to memorize a bunch of rules and stats, focus on character interactions, exploration, and dramatic action. An engaging story will hold their attention much longer than repetitious dice rolling.
2. Respond to the unexpected with “Yes, and …” — When possible, avoid saying “no” during your game session. When your kid says her character is going to do a back-flip off of a balcony, catch a rope and swing around to kick that giant in the head, don’t say, “No, you can’t do that.” Instead, go with it and describe what happens. In cases where you feel there is a pretty good chance of failure, explain why, and let the dice make the determination. But, if you stifle your players’ sense of control over their characters’ actions, you’ll soon have a frustrated and uninterested party.
3. Don’t railroad the story — Most RPG players have several memories of times they’ve lost interest in a game because the DM continuously narrowed their options to force the story in a certain direction. The flip side, of course, is that DMs often invest a lot of time building adventures and don’t want the party to totally bypass all of those great, carefully crafted encounters. However, you’ll find that the most enjoyable adventures are the ones in which players take ownership of their characters and become totally immersed in the game world. So, don’t fret when your kid decides not to go into the troll’s cave to recover the missing villagers. You might spend the rest of the game session just winging it and making everything up on the spot, but you and your kid will enjoy the free-form imaginative play.
4. Use props — Sometimes the best technique to pull your players into a game world is to use good visual props. If they find an old treasure map, have ready for them an actual map they can hold and look over. If you’re having a hard time describing a specific setting, print out pictures to use as references. For more of a board-game feel, use miniatures to show the positioning of the characters during a fight or tense moment of action. Have ready for your kids pictures of their characters’ equipment and encourage your kids to sketch out their character’s appearance.
But what about the adventure itself? There are a lot of possible hooks and scenarios that you could play with, but I recommend sticking to a story on the local scale. Start your young gamer off protecting a trade caravan from bandits or searching the local ruins for treasure, rather than saving the world from impending doom.
The typical adventure, much like any story, has four main parts: setup, exploration, climax, and resolution.
In order to get your adventure started, you’ll need to set the stage. It’ll help if you and your kid agree ahead of time what her character’s role and motivations are. Is she a noble knight wandering the land looking for wrongs to right? A careless warrior selling her sword to the highest bidder? A shrewd wizard seeking to increase her knowledge of the magical arts? Knowing what drives the character will make it easier for you to keep the story relevant.
Present a variety of options and let your kid choose a path to follow. Has the local lord put out a call for adventurers to solve a problem? Is the local blacksmith short on supplies and in need of someone to travel with him to the next town over to restock? Maybe the local apothecary needs someone to gather rare ingredients from the wilds. Whichever hook your kid goes for, let him role-play the decision process, the negotiations, and the preparations for the adventure. It’s best to let all of this play out without dice, as you’ll want to encourage your child to think through the social interactions and really get into character.
While you may balk at having to have several prepared adventures, it’s not as daunting an effort as it might seem. If you use random encounters and allow most of the gameplay to be spontaneous improvisation, then all you really need to come up with are several hooks and the eventual story climaxes resulting from them. This will allow you to have ready multiple story branches without having to plan each one out in exact detail.
Next, you’ll need some exploration and encounters to help spice up the action. How you do this is completely up to your own gaming style. Two to three is a good range for encounters per adventure, and it’s always good to mix in combat and non-combat encounters. Are there wild creatures roaming the halls of the ancient ruins? Maybe the party finds an old hermit in the woods and trades goods with him. Perhaps the trade caravan passes a troupe of traveling musicians on the road. You can either plan these out in detail or use random encounter tables. I personally like to make a deck of index cards with a wide variety of encounters on them and then shuffle them before a game, drawing one out each time the party has a random encounter. With a deck of encounters, it’s easy to quickly remove encounters that don’t make sense for the setting.
This is also a good point in the game to allow your kids to explore your game world. Draw out a map of the dungeon while they explore it, or show them a map of the countryside and let them decide where they want to go, updating the map as they discover new places.
After your kid has enjoyed exploring, fighting, and interacting with the game world for a while, it’s time to move on to the climax of the adventure. Think of this as the “boss fight.” If your kids play video games, they’ll find this to be a natural and satisfying evolution of the game’s narrative. It doesn’t need to be a combat encounter, either. While it might make sense to have your party fight a band of highwaymen while protecting a trade caravan, maybe that hermit in the woods has the alchemy ingredients you need, but will only relinquish them if you defeat him in a game of wits. Whatever you choose, make it a cinematic and exciting reward for the party’s time spent exploring.
Finally, you’ll need to bring the adventure to a close. Like the beginning, this resolution should be played out through dialogue rather than dice rolls. Let your kids’ characters return to town triumphantly, basking in the praise of the townsfolk and receiving their rewards. You may even want to consider making some sort of physical reward or trophy they can keep to remember the adventure by.
Just remember, role-playing games are all about having fun, so keep things light and playful. If you do it right, you’ll have your children hooked on the RPG experience and begging for the next installment of their characters’ grand adventures.