DnD is one of the most popular role-playing games out there, and its 5th edition (5e) is designed to be streamlined and accessible even to players with no tabletop game experience.
DnD games can be anything from simple, single session games to sprawling months-long adventures set in a world of your own design.
But the heart and soul of the game is creativity and collaboration making it a perfect activity for kids.
While video games tend to be limited in the kinds of things your character can do, tabletop games are much less restricted.
DnD allows kids to react to situations in any way they can imagine, whether it’s fighting those goblins or offering them some tea.
If you’re an experienced DM or just getting started with DnD, check out this guide for some tips and tricks on how to run a DnD game for kids.
Dungeons & Dragons Is About Storytelling
Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of rules, but it isn’t a game about rules.
When playing DnD the emphasis should always be on collaboration.
Everyone at the table should know that the obstacles they face aren’t all going to be solved by the strongest character.
It’ll take everyone to meet the challenge of the adventure.
This approach is not only a good way to get everyone involved and invested but can help kids develop and flex their creative problem-solving skills while learning how to contribute to a group effort.
In practical terms, what this collaborative approach means is that conflict between the players should be limited.
Sometimes, player character conflict can make for interesting stories, but this can be hard to do right.
Instead, playing DnD with kids should be an experience focused on teamwork and creative idea generation.
It’s best to avoid player character conflict by providing problems that can only be solved by collaboration.
This can be done with:
- simple puzzles that require simultaneous actions
- an enemy that needs a combination of spells and swords to defeat
- or even an annoying tavern owner that needs to be convinced by multiple people before giving the characters a special item.
However it’s done, remember that DnD is a lot more fun for everyone when everyone can contribute to the adventure.
What You Need To Get Started With DnD For Kids
Before you run a game for kids you should make sure you have a few basic supplies.
Dice: 6-Sided & 20-Sided
DnD is a dice-based game, so a few six-sided dice and at least one twenty-sided die are essential to the game, but other sizes might be necessary as well.
Online dice rollers can offer a substitute should you not have dice handy, but kids will enjoy being able to roll physical dice.
You may need to go to your local game shop for some of the more exotic sizes, or find a seller online.
You should also be sure to print out a few character sheets.
Having a DnD character sheet on hand can be a handy reminder of what stats need to be chosen and can give kids ideas if they get stuck.
For example, during a social encounter between the party and a friendly wizard, someone might look at their character sheet, notice that their character is good at persuasion, and decide to try to convince the wizard to come with them instead of just listening to the wizard’s advice.
As the Dungeon Master, you decide what happens in the game.
You should therefore be familiar with the important rules, and prepared to either look up or makeup whatever rules become necessary when the game starts.
D&D Handbooks and Guides
DnD’s Player Handbook and Dungeon Master’s guide are both excellent sources for rules.
They contain the core rules of the game and have a handy table of contents to help you find what you need.
You can also try simple online searches for “DnD 5th Edition rules” or “DnD 5e Rules”, but it can be tricky to find what you’re looking for if you’re new.
A Story To Play Through
Lastly, your group will need a story.
As the DM, you can make up whatever story with whatever characters you feel is appropriate for your group.
A DnD story will need a plot and characters of course, but you’ll also need to pick out monsters for your players to fight and decide what kinds of challenges you want to give them.
Coming up with a story on your own can be a lot of work, but luckily you can also buy premade stories called modules.
These modules have everything you need to run a DnD session, and Dungeons and Dragons even offers several modules specifically for kids, like An Ogre and his Cake and the sequel, Clonker’s Guide to Being a Hero.
The Lost Mine of Phandelver is also a popular choice for beginners.
Remember that you are the final decision maker about the story details, if you want to have less monsters or harder puzzles, feel free to ignore the modules and make the game your own!
I recommend that whether you make up a story or purchase a module you make your characters as memorable as possible.
Not every group of kids needs a complex plot to engage them, but imaginative and energetic characters are sure to make lots of memories.
How To Run A Game Of DnD For Kids
Now that you have a story, it’s time for everyone to make their own characters.
It can be intimidating for kids to navigate the DnD creation process, but as long as you focus on a few key areas the rest can be learned as you go.
Start By Choosing Race & Class
A lot of character creation can be done simply by choosing a class and race.
I recommend choosing these before figuring out your core attribute stats.
This lets your players start out by making a character they can get invested in, rather than diving right into number crunching.
It’s also important not to overwhelm your players with options.
Rather than telling everyone about every class, keep it simple.
Ask whether people want to play a character-focused on magic or weapons, or maybe a mix.
Then you can offer specific classes that meet their interest.
Maybe a player wants to play someone who fights with their fists. You can then show them the Monk class.
Then they decide they want to use a bow.
Either the Fighter or Ranger would be a great fit for them.
Starting out at level one means that you can avoid having to learn about subclasses right away, but if you do choose to have your players make higher leveled characters you should know that this will be more complicated.
Still, a similar strategy of finding out what kind of character your kids want to play and then giving them options in that area will serve you well.
Picking a race can be a lot trickier than a class.
Kids are likely to know if they want to use a sword or spells, but aren’t likely to have an opinion about what kind of tiefling they want to play.
To keep things simple you can present a few of DnD’s basic classes (Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk…).
You can also allow your players to get creative!
If someone wants to play as a bear, it’s not hard to let them and keep the game fair.
Don’t look for the statistics and abilities of a bear. Instead, just say that the character, with their normal stats and class abilities, is simply a bear.
Logical consistency is much less important in a creative game like DnD.
DnD character creation also involves picking a background. However, these usually only give you a few extra skill proficiencies and little else.
Instead of waiting for everyone to pick through 13 different backgrounds, it’s often simpler for new players to simply skip this step.
As the DM, you can just allow your characters to pick one or two extra proficiencies!
Choosing Character Attributes
The last piece to creating a DnD character are your attributes.
Each of these will be assigned a number between 1-20, with 10 corresponding roughly to an average person.
DnD stats can be determined by a number of means, including a point-buy system that can be a little complex for those new to the game.
I recommend a simple and generous dice rolling system for picking your attribute scores.
- Roll (4) six-sided dice
- Add together the three highest numbers
- Then pick an attribute for that stat.
- Repeat until you have a score for all six of your attributes.
For example, I might roll 4-3-5-1.
Adding the three highest gets me a score of 12, which I could then make that my Strength score if I wanted to save the high rolls for my Mental scores or my Intelligence scores.
Begin Telling The Story
Once everyone’s made your characters it’s time to tell the story you’ve chosen.
Hopefully, you’ve already made it clear that DnD is a collaborative game, but you should also let everyone know that it’s ok to be silly and loud.
In short, you want to create a space where kids know that it’s ok to do things they might not normally do as long as they are still respectful of their fellow players.
For DMs, there are some important tips to keep in mind when playing with kids.
Death of Characters
You should be careful never to let a kid’s character die for example, as kids can get really attached.
A good way to avoid this is to be generous with Inspiration.
Inspiration is DnD’s way of rewarding creativity and roleplaying.
Whenever the DM feels it’s appropriate they can give a character a point of Inspiration.
That can be spent at any time to give that character advantage on any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check.
Plus, Inspiration can be shared amongst the party, so if a character runs out, other party members can give them their own points.
Inspiration is a great way to avoid failing an important roll, and you can add your own rules about how Inspiration is used if you want to make sure your players have a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Don’t Worry Too Much About The Numbers
Another tip is to avoid being too caught up in number crunching.
It can sometimes get confusing for kids to keep up with remembering to add their proficiency bonus and the right attribute to an attack roll, or remembering what their Armor Class (AC) is.
Instead, just let them know that rolling high is better for them than rolling low and that natural 20s and natural 1s are a bit special.
The rest can be explained in smaller portions as you go to keep the game digestible.
Above All, Have Fun!
This isn’t just generic advice – forgetting to have fun with the game can be a real impediment.
If someone comes up with a creative idea, but it’s technically against the rules, you don’t always have to follow the rules.
If the players decide to go “off script”, make sure to follow them rather than making them follow the story.
If you keep things simple, make your characters memorable with vivid descriptions or odd habits, and let the game follow the characters your players create you’ll be sure to craft an experience that any kid will love.
Other Questions I Hear As A Dungeon Master
Can We Play DnD Online?
Since COVID-19 many people are looking for ways to do activities without meeting in person.
Luckily, DnD is well suited to online play.
For example, you can run your DnD sessions on Zoom or use a Discord voice call.
Discord in particular even has bots you can get to let your players roll dice online in the chat.
If you like to have maps and grids so that your players always know exactly where they are in combat (rather than just imagining the scene and approximating everyone’s locations) you can try out Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds.
These applications both create virtual spaces and have ways of rolling dice in the application.
However, I recommend spending some serious time familiarizing yourself with both options before employing them.
It can put a serious stop to the fun if you realize you have no idea how to roll dice or use the built-in character sheet on Roll20 at the last minute. (the dice command is “/roll [number of dice]d[number of sides]”!)
What are some good resources for kids about DnD?
If your players want to explore the world of DnD on their own, I recommend showing them DnD’s pre-generated characters.
Looking at some of these already made character sheets can provide a helpful example to kids and maybe even clarify some rulings.
Whether your players are fighting their way through a dungeon or trying to sneak into a fancy party, DnD offers many ways for kids to exercise their creative muscles.
A good session should give everyone the chance to contribute to the adventure and create a few memorable moments.
Remember to pick a story that you think your group will like! Killing monsters in a dungeon isn’t for everyone, but with DnD you can offer up something that everyone will enjoy.