I like to think of myself as pretty good nerd and a decent father. At the urging of my wife I have decided to share some ideas with the internet. My oldest child is eight years old and every other Sunday from 2:30-5:30 in the afternoon, she is a level six dragon-born sorcerer. We play D&D together. With the new attention tabletop roleplaying games are getting, and the general increase in age among the very geeky, this situation of families playing tabletop games is only going to become more common. So, how is it that this eight year old can effectively play D&D?
Undoubtedly many people would like to get their kids into thing like Dungeons and Dragons. To be honest, I started taking my daughter to play regularly as a way to trick my wife into letting me pop down to the local game shop for three or four hours a week. Chances are if you are reading this article you are looking for ways to share your interests with your kids. So, there is an honest bit of selfishness going on. But my daughter did not dive into Dungeons and Dragons right away. First we played Star Wars. The old D6 version can be found through various dubious methods online. I got together some non-gaming friends to play, figuring who can say no to Star Wars and everyone has D6s. This worked pretty well, we had a good afternoon with some adults who did not mind playing with kids. The next time we played was the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars at a con. This was meant to be a quick game with pre-made characters and a simple adventure and we had a blast with two other random folks and our volunteer Game Master(GM) at Lubbockcon. These experiences gave my daughter an idea of how tabletop RPGs were played in an environment she already understood from the movies and cartoons and video games she had already seen.
You’re the Parent
If you are going to play with your child, strap in because you are going to need to help them, especially the younger they are. One of the most daunting tasks is character creation. As a parent, you will be called on to help your novice roleplayer. In my experience, the mechanics of the character they play should be as simple as possible. For example, if you are playing D&D and can really sell your child on being a fighter who specialized in the champion path, so much the better. Usually your child will go for the most straightforward path through the game anyway. So, try and convince them to play characters that make use of more straightforward mechanics.
But don’t be afraid to let your children run wild. When we began playing D&D, my daughter immediately gravitated toward Dragonborn characters. The idea of being a dragon person just caught hold of her. I doubt I could have talked her out of it if I tried. As for sorcerer she wanted to be that because she figured out that at higher levels, they develop the ability to sprout wings and fly. Your goal of playing tabletop games with your child is to play with your child. That means that no matter what character they choose to create, you will be helping them with the finer points of whatever game you play anyway. In my experience, the moments created by helping my child to follow their own imagination far outweighed the headache of helping.
But You Can’t Play Alone
Most tabletop RPGs are played in a group, so you and your child will have to find others to play with. This can be tricky. A child plays these games in a different way and in a different pace from most of the more experienced gamers. I have seen though that the novelty of playing with a child is often quite exciting for most people. Undoubtedly, there are those out there who will not want to play with your child, or who may insist on playing in such a way that you might not feel comfortable having your children play a game with them. It may be helpful to find public groups, both D&D and Pathfinder have systems of organized public play, most often taking place at a local game shops. Because of the very nature of these groups being public, the individuals that play there are welcoming and forgiving of individuals who are not proficient in all the ins and outs. They also play according to some general standards of decency. As well, by their very nature, these groups are very come and go affairs. Some people come one week and skip several before coming back weeks later. They are more forgiving of schedules. But be aware! Multiple children may be too much for some public groups to deal with. Be considerate of those who may welcome you into their game.
When it comes to finding a group, don’t be shy about your hobby either. When school started back, the weekly game group at the game store was not something we felt we could keep doing and be rested for school the next day. As we talked about the fun we had though, other parents came out of the woodwork. We had to form our own D&D group. One person played back in the early days of D&D and had fun but had stopped. Now with his son beginning to reach his teen years, it was an opportune moment to pick up the old habit while sharing it with his son, who would probably find it himself in a few years anyway. Another parent had never played D&D before.They had wanted to try it but the D&D scare of the 1980s had caused them to miss the boat of teenager basement dungeoneering. They brought along their oldest before their youngest joined us a couple of months later and became a regular part of our group.
The secret to having fun in tabletop RPGs is open and honest communication. It is also the secret to building long lasting relationships, and well functioning game groups. Ensure that the GM you find is willing to work with kids. Convey to other players a child will be playing too. If you can’t find a group, be ready to make your own. You will probably have to act as the GM but at least when it is your group, you set a lot of the expectations and so can establish a group more welcoming of children in terms of scheduling but also story, and rules knowledge.
Ogre’s Teeth Necklaces and Attention Spans
Lastly a word on how I have seen children play. As I mentioned earlier they often favor pretty straightforward approaches to problems. So prepare for a game that tends to be actioned packed and is light on intrigue and deep roleplaying. First time we played with the public group at our game store, my daughter climbed up an Ogre and stabbed him in the eye. Brutal, efficient, and honestly I was surprised my daughter thought about such an intricate bit of action.
The younger the children are, the shorter their attention span will be. My daughter can really pay close attention to a game for an hour and a half. By around ten, most children seem capable of focusing more like two hours or more. By the time they reach the early teen years, they usually are capable of the longer sessions that characterize so much of the tabletop RPG style. What this means is that the younger your child, the shorter and more action packed your sessions will be.
In general, remember, you are the parent, even while playing. If your child needs help, help them with the game. If it is clear your child is not ready for the game or at least the level the group you are with wants to play at, feel free to step away. You and your child will have a more enjoyable time if you are a parent first. Be clear and open with others. Most gamers I have encountered have enjoyed having kids around. Children will always follow their imaginations and so sometimes they create great game moments people will talk about later. Ask me about the time my daughter won a horse race. Or the time one of my players spent the first half a session methodically studying a ballista. Be aware though that some people may have no interest in playing with you and your child. That is okay too. Playing a tabletop RPG with your child drives home how important it is to communicate with everyone around you. If everyone is open about their expectations, having a child join you at the table can be fun for everyone, and before you know it, your little one may be a regular part of your adventuring party.