When we find something we enjoy, we naturally want to share it with our friends and family. And if you’re a parent who enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, then you’re probably eager to share it with your children.
Or maybe you’re reading this because your child has started asking about D&D as a new hobby they’d like to try, and you have no idea where to start. Or perhaps you’d like to volunteer for an after-school program to help kids learn the game.
Either way, running D&D for kids is much different than running it for adults—not only in content, but also in style. To learn how to run Dungeons & Dragons for kids, I turned to Rachael of Jade Vala Designs who hosted DnD and other tabletop RPGs for kids (ages 9-17) for years as part of an after-school program for a local non-profit. I put together her expert advice on the benefits of DnD for kids, the best approach to DMing for kids, and more in this guide—enjoy!
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Benefits of D&D for Children
“D&D (and other tabletop RPGs) are great for kids,” Rachael says. She points out that playing these types of games helps kids learn important social and emotional skills like:
- Critical thinking
In addition, “the game can help kids explore facets of themselves in a safe space and teach them skills for working with people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and education levels.”
Learning to run their own games as Dungeon Masters can be a great learning opportunity for kids as well. Rachael explains, “Running the games as a GM teaches kids how to manage a group, schedule sessions, write a cohesive story, improv, be flexible, plus many of the other skills you learn as a player. And that’s not even touching on the math, reading, science, language arts, art, history, or other topics that it can help them learn about!”
How to Run D&D for Kids
While D&D for children has tons of benefits, running a game for kids can be a unique challenge if you aren’t prepared. It’s important to prep a good adventure, set appropriate ground rules, and, most importantly, focus on the fun.
Prepping an Adventure
As you decide on what kind of story to play through with your young adventurers, keep these strategies in mind:
- If possible, ask them what kind of adventure they’re interested in. Not every child wants to fight monsters or cast magic spells.
- Start with a simple one-shot adventure rather than a full campaign.
- Use pre-made characters so they can get straight to playing.
- Make a handout with the basic rules (like what to do during combat) that they can reference on their own during the session.
- Focus on the basics to start, then clarify more complex things if/when they come up.
For her after-school program, Rachael would run a variety of adventures depending on her players’ interests and ages. Sometimes the kids helped create these adventures using “one-page encounters that [they] made as part of another activity: you start with the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of the encounter. Then you build a short, one-shot adventure from there.” She continues, “I’ve run adventures that include everything from infiltrating a tower and stealing an item to managing diplomatic relations between warring factions—and even Iron Chef: Faerun Edition!”
Setting Ground Rules
Establishing rules for D&D etiquette and table manners is good for any group, but with kids it is especially important. Providing some ground rules makes it so everyone at the table has a good time. Here are a few guidelines you could use while running Dungeons & Dragons for kids:
- Don’t talk or distract others while the DM or another player is talking.
- Agree on a “Be Quiet” hand signal to hush the table when necessary.
- Take turns (even when not in combat) so everyone has a chance in the spotlight.
- Dice should stay on the table or in the dice tray/cup unless making a roll.
- Speak respectfully to everyone at the table, both in and out of character.
- Keep language and content G-rated at all times.
According to Rachael, “the biggest challenge is definitely table etiquette.” She said, “I was a broken record some days with ‘Please be quiet,’ ‘Please get the dice out of your mouth,’ ‘Please stop throwing things.’ Some days I spent a ton of energy corralling them, but other days they were consumed with the game and it was great.” She also explained how important it is to “be mindful of the sensitive nature of working with kids. Even when playing a game with older kids and teenagers, they may have very different backgrounds and comfort levels with various topics, and you need to be careful of that.”
Making It Fun
Kids have a great capacity for imagination and play, but they may also lack patience and focused attention. So, it’s important to make it as fun and engaging as possible. Here are few ideas for how to do this:
- Don’t get bogged down with looking up rules. Just go with what seems like the most fun.
- Provide little details like weird items on a restaurant menu or exotic types of flowers in a meadow; kids often find magic in the mundane.
- Encourage the players to solve problems in their own creative way.
- Often, the crazier and sillier a scenario, the better.
Rachael said, “Do not hesitate to make things crazy. Whatever adventure you run, be prepared for it to get silly at some point—just roll with it! They love it when you lean into their weirdness, and you’ll have a blast!” One of her favorite things about running D&D for kids, she explained, is that “they don’t have the restrictions of past experiences and knowledge to confine their in-game approach to a problem, so they end up coming up with crazy ideas. When you use the ‘yes, and…’ or ‘yes, but…’ method, you can have some awesome moments, whether an idea succeeds or not!”
Good D&D Modules for Kids
If you don’t feel confident in inventing your own adventure from scratch, it can be easier to run a game of DnD for kids if you have a pre-built module. As you look for a D&D module for kids, pay attention to the length (short and sweet) and the content (family-friendly and accessible). These are a few good ones to try:
- An Ogre and His Cake– An introductory adventure where the players must retrieve a stolen birthday cake—built for and tested by kids!
- Clonker’s Guide to Being a Hero– A collection of five all-ages adventures, each with a hand-drawn map and artwork depicting some of the most important NPCs.
- Truly Madly Deeply: Level Zero to Hero– A mini-campaign arc designed to teach players, especially young ones, about RPGs and guide them through character creation through roleplaying.
- First Adventure– A well balanced mix of exploration, role-playing, riddles, combat and tons of fun suited for both DnD kids and adults!
- Yeryl’s Super Happy Fun Murder Dungeon– A highly obnoxious and mildly ridiculous collection of traps, combat, and puzzles designed to test your players’ wits and patience.
- In The Black Midwinter– A holiday-themed adventure where the PCs battle an ancient evil threatening a remote village in the subarctic north.
There are tons of fun, creative, family-oriented adventures available on DM’s Guild if you go searching. For just a few bucks, you can be set to run a great game of D&D for kids.
Other Tabletop RPGs for Kids
While D&D is great, there are plenty of other tabletop RPGs for kids, too. If you want to try something new with young adventurers, check out one of these games:
- Starport– A game of adventure and imagination designed to facilitate growth in problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, critical thinking, reading, writing, oral communication, mathematics, and self-esteem.
- No Thank You, Evil– A tabletop game of creative make-believe, adventure, and storytelling where players use their characters’ special skills, companions, and equipment to overcome obstacles.
- Hero Kids– A fast and fun introduction to RPGs with a simple combat and adventuring system, perfect for younger kids who are just getting interested in role-playing games.
- Golden Sky Stories– A heartwarming, non-violent role-playing game that’s all about magic animals helping others and becoming friends.
- Mouse Guard– A game based on the comic book and graphic novel series by David Petersen about cloaked, sword-wielding mice who protect the common mouse against threats of predator, weather, and wilderness.
Give It a Shot
Even if you don’t have kids of your own, there are many libraries and schools that could benefit from starting a D&D program for kids. In fact, there may be local programs already up and running that need volunteers—that’s how Rachael got her start. Introducing kids to the wonderful world of Dungeons & Dragons (and tabletop RPGs in general) can benefit them now and for years to come. So, go give it a shot!