D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

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Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Since 1974, millions of geeks have dug their teeth into the lore, magic, and adventure of Dungeons and Dragons. Over 40 years of shenanigans and sleight of hand have carved a backbone in the Geekyverse, before many of us were born, and each of those 40 years has seen a new crop of newbies join the ranks of Dungeon-crawlers. Embracing the idea is the easy part, in the end. That hard part? Learning thousands of concepts, rules, and options.

No one can learn it all overnight, and sometimes, you won’t have a teacher. D&D for Young Players and DMs is a journal of the lessons our family learned while introducing my kids to D&D.

D&D has been one of my favorite pastimes for over a decade, and the first time I played was in a vacuum. None of my friends had played before, and only a couple of us had read Tolkien, Lewis, or the other fantasy legends. We knew nothing about the D20 system or miniature grids. It was a rough start, but we found our legs. I am a huge fan of horror, intrigue, and puzzles, so my games tended to be creepy and low-combat.

The first few times I played with my kids, I learned that they needed two things: 1) an experienced player in their party, 2) a funny/comical DM. So, we invited a family friend to DM for us, and I would play as a member of their party.

Gil had never been a Dungeon Master, and the kids hadn’t learned much in my campaign, so we started from the basics, and grabbed the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, an easy (and inexpensive)  kit to start playing. We started with the pre-made character sheets, and Gil used the starter campaign. We played a few times, to ensure that our group dynamic would work before considering the more expensive books. To our collective surprise, it went so well the kids chaffed at the limitations of the pre-generated campaign. (YES! Many Kermitflails from me, to the exuberant laughter of the kids.)

So, from scratch again. The kids had to learn how to make characters. I pulled out the Players Handbook (PH), some blank character sheets, and the dice from the Starter Set. Gil set aside an entire session for the process, so we could do it at a no-pressure speed. I asked the kids about who they wanted to be, and what they wanted to do. Drawing on video game experience, personal flavor, and the dozens of ideas in the PH, the kids crafted their characters.

If you’ve never created a character before, that’s okay! Here are the questions I used to get my kids started. By answering them, we had a place to start.

  1. Where do you want to be when fighting something difficult? Close (melee) or far away (ranged)?
  2. You’re locked in a room with no apparent door. There’s a book, a potion, a pickaxe, and a torch. Which tool would your character pick up first?
  3. Someone is swinging a sword at you. How do you respond?
  4. Why are you adventuring?

To keep things simple, I narrowed their choices for them, and let them make the final call.

My daughter responded with (in order), far away, book, dodge, to understand nature.
I encouraged her to consider a Bard or a Ranger. Bards use magic and their winning personalities to avoid combat and win friends. Rangers use their physical prowess and natural magic to combat threats to the world itself. She chose a Ranger, preferring natural magic to music.

My son, however, chose (in order), flexible for melee or ranged, potion, hit them back, a quest to help the world.
I encouraged him to consider Cleric, Fighter, or Paladin. Clerics wield magic in the name of a higher cause. Fighters are skilled users of all weapons and capable of great feats of physical prowess. Paladins are holy knights, ruled by their religious oaths. He chose a Cleric, preferring healing magic and autonomy.

I encouraged them to read the Race descriptions (Chapter 2, PH) and choose their race. Soon after, we had two characters. My daughter would play Raineth, a Woodelf Ranger. My son would play Hoon Von Cij, a Gnome Cleric.

After consulting with Gil, I decided to play a character that could fill the gaps. Raineth’s prowess with a bow, and knowledge of nature made her a good “striker”, a character that deals damage quickly, but can be overwhelmed in close quarters. Hoon’s ability to hold his ground in any fight made him a great “supporter/spellcaster”, able to deal damage and heal allies, at the cost of dealing less damage. We lacked a “heavy”, someone able defend allies and take hits that would kill anyone else.

Bedtime raised its’ vicious head before we could move on. The kids were excited for the next time, though. Gil left them with the task of writing character backgrounds. They both rolled their eyes. Apparently, creative writing feels like homework. Oops!

Gil and I assured them that it wasn’t too complicated, and that it would help determine their possessions and how much money they had. “Money” perked up some ears, and we showed them Chapter 4 of the PH, titled Personality and Background. Having specific options to choose from was “so much better” than creative writing, and they headed for bed excited to tell the story of their characters.

Tune in next time to read about the characters, and turning concepts into stats on a character sheet. It’s time for math, shh!

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7 thoughts on “D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

  1. Hello Rory!
    I found your story super interesting as I would love to teach role play to my kids some day as well!
    Please write more about it ^^

  2. Thanks for posting this! I’m involved in a D&D campaign on Wednesday nights at our local game store, and I’ve been wanting to get my two boys involved.

  3. I love this article. I recently started a “campaign” with my daughter(9 yo), Niece (14 yo), and nephew (11 yo). I’ll be ineterested in how your experiences differ from mine. I do like your questioner, I used a similar process for helping them pick a pre-gen to run for now. Soon I’ll be working with them to make their own characters.

  4. How old are your kids? I know mine are a bit under the radar, but my oldest 5 might be able to handle something short.. I was thinking about trying to get some friend’s kids involved as well.

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