How can I get my kid to love roleplaying games as much as I do? How can I teach her to play pen and paper tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons so in a few years I can finally have a full group of players to game master for.
These were questions I asked myself and in the end the answer was really simple. Just start playing pen and paper games with her. She may be only 5, but she is more than ready to learn how to roleplay.
Of course, I didn’t sit her down with the AD&D rule book. To get us started I came up with a very simple rules system and I followed a few basic guidelines that I believe helped make it a success.
Rules for pen and paper roleplaying game with young children.
My aim with the rules was to create a very simple framework that would give my child a taste of “real” roleplaying games, without overwhelming her or making it all too convoluted.
I started out creating the character sheet while explaining to her what the different elements meant.
I settled for just 4 stats to keep It manageable for her. I spent a fair bit of time considering which stats to include. In the end I went with the following:
Strength: Easy for kids to understand how you can apply this in physical problem-solving situations (roll 1d6 to find your strength)
Intelligence: Same as with strength. It is fairly easy to understand when something requires brainwork situations (roll 1d6 to find your Intelligence)
Niceness: At first, I was going to go with the RPG norm Charisma, but decided against it as I felt a bit odd teaching her about using looks and charm for manipulative purposes. This led me to consider what values I did want to instill in her (and that I am trying to teach her on a daily basis). This led me to create the stat Niceness. I also gave her an innate +4 to the stat because she’s such a nice girl in real life. This made her super happy. 😊 (roll 1d6 + 4 to find your niceness)
Energy: After a bit of consideration I decided I didn’t want to go with HP. While I don’t think kids learn violence from games I also didn’t want her to get scared or sad if her character died. So, I decided that energy was a better description. After all most toddlers and kids can relate to being tired (even if they’d never admit to it). (roll 3 x d6 + 6 to find your energy)
After setting up her stats we moved on to giving her some equipment. I started her out with a sword (1d4 in damage) and 10 gold.
Finally, I told her to name and draw the character she had rolled. She was very excited about this and it had her really engaged with the character before we even started playing.
How to determine the outcome of a situation
As you will see in my guidelines below I never get too tied up in the outcome of die rolls, but I do have a simple system in place to determine success.
To see if my daughter accomplishes the task she wants to do she first has to describe how she is going to do it, then I determine which stats she needs to check against. Let’s say she wants to get to the top of a tower. She tells me that she will try to scale the wall by climbing up the side. I tell her to roll a strength check and I determine that she needs to get 9 or above. She rolls a d6 and adds her strength to the outcome. If it’s above 9 she succeeds, if it’s below she fails. At some point I will introduce critical success and fails, but for now I think that might be a bit too complicated. I’ve also stuck to d4 and d6 for now, but will likely expand to the other die types as her math skills develop.
Combat is handled similarly, but instead of me setting a target I let her roll against the opponent. So if the troll has 8 in strength + a roll of 2 and she has 5 strength + 6 she will win and the troll loses energy according to the damage roll from her sword (in this case 1d4).
How to level up your kid’s character?
I wanted my daughter to experience the level up feeling, but I also didn’t want it to disrupt our story, so in the end I decided to grant her a level up at the end of each adventure. Depending on the skill/s she had used I would give her a point in it. I would also give her 1d4 more energy.
Guidelines to successful tabletop RPG with young kids.
As a long-term RPG nerd, it is sometimes a bit hard to not go all out AD&D on my daughter, but it is important to keep the goal in mind and remember that while her imagination and enthusiasm is enormous she still is only 5 and if things become too complex she may lose interest, possibly. To avoid that I have set up 3 guidelines that adapts the RPG tabletop experience to kids between 4-9 years old.
Focus on Storytelling
They will enjoy throwing dice, but it’s a lot more fun (and developing) to spark their creativity and teach them that solution focused thinking gets rewarded. If they can talk themselves out of a dire situation, that’s a lot more valuable than them being able to roll high with a dice. (And a lot more entertaining, kids’ imagination knows no boundaries!). In short, don’t be too bound by the rules you’ve set up.
Paint a picture
Both with your words, but also literally. My daughter loves when I accompany the story with some visual clues. She will sit intently focused for the entire time it takes me to draw up something and I can see the wheels turning as she connects the object or map to the story I am telling.
It also helps her remember the details of the story and important objects, characters or places that am trying to nudge her into incorporating in her actions.
Mix new concepts with things they can relate to
Roleplaying with my 5-year old has proven to be a great way to introduce whole new concepts, but I have also interwoven the game sessions with characters and elements she knows from her daily life.
One of our adventures, for instance started in her kindergarten where she met a gnome who was crying because and evil troll was stomping on his house. My daughter of course ventured forth to help the Gnome, but not without first informing the adults at the kindergarten (Yes, it was a relief to hear that she wouldn’t just run off without informing everyone! 😉)
And the last guideline is a really powerful way to make a roleplaying session not just fun, but also educational.
Through our adventuring I have helped her train conflict-solving (when she had to persuade the troll to be consider other peoples (gnomes) feelings. I’ve taught her that people are good at different things and that abilities and skills can be applied in a number of different ways and that problems often can be solved with a number of different approaches. And then I have seen her work through dilemmas that I didn’t even consider when I created the story, like when she found a chest in a tower with a magical wand in it and decided that she couldn’t just take it, because it was someone else’s item. (Very proud mom-moment!)
How to get your child started with roleplaying games
So how do you get started? It really is just about jumping into it. Kids have wonderful imaginations and will help you tell the story. Use the framework I’ve described above or create something even simpler, but just get started.
It really is a great experience for both parent and kid and a fantastic way to teach moral, problem solving, conflict resolution, math and I could go on.
The most giving thing though is, that it gives you a unique view into the thought process of your kid.
I can’t recommend roleplaying with young kids enough!
If you are unsure how to get started or have any questions at all, let me know and I’ll be happy to give my two cents. And if you feel you need a bit more support than the framework I’ve provided, there are some good RPG table top systems developed specifically to children.
My recommendation here would be to go with Little Wizards, which provides you with a simply ruleset, a world and a few adventures to get you started. You can buy it at Amazon by clicking the picture below.