Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Teaching D&D to Ten Year Olds

Out of the blue a work colleague (and former D&D player) told me that they had bought the 5e Basic Set for their 10 year old daughter and asked me for advice on how to run their first game.  The problem is twofold being as much about teaching dad to be the DM and daughter how to play.

Breaking it Down

All RPGs have the same basic elements:

  • Character Generation -  Where players get to "roll up" their characterss and use their imagination and creative writing skills to put some background flesh on their barebones stats.
  • Mechanics - The rules of the game which are there not to constrain creativity or storytelling but to add a little consistency to the experience.  In this way a fireball or a sword strike do a consistent amount of damage every time.
  • Storytelling - The art of story writing, dungeon mastery and how to be a player.  This is not really contained in any rulebook and is a skill which you develop over time and exposure to roleplaying.

Character Generation

I remember my own experiences as a young roleplayer some 35 years ago when I unwrapped my christmas gift of a 2nd Edition Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide.  Hundreds of hours were spend pouring through the pages and generating character after character who would never see a moment of play.  However, I know now that this was probably the wrong way of going about things.

Looking at the Lost Mine of Phandelver there are no pre-generated characters designed specifically for the adventure but there are some starter characters in the box set which is a good place to start. 
There are also a couple of great web resources if this is too limited a selection.
  • 1,000 Basic Pregens - has a huge array of different characters presented as short form stat blocks.  These take a bit of deciphering for the beginner but there is a key on page one to help you.

  • Digital Dungeonmaster Pregens - 1060 different pregens by class and level but strangely not by race so you have to go hunting round to find the right combination of race and class.
Once your players have played a few sessions they will understand how the game works and will be able to use something like the ORCPUB D&D 5e Character Builder to generate their own.


Every D&D game involves a mix of combat (melee / missile) magic and skill or attribute checks.

Melee and Missile combat boils down to finding the AC (Armour class of the target) and the player trying to beat it on a d20.  There are lots of modifiers (numbers which are added to the dice roll or subtracted from the AC) which as you grow as a DM and player you will learn to remember.  Once a successful hit is determined then the appropriate weapon damage is rolled and applied to the target.

Spells in D&D when any type of magic is cast, it always works unless the spell says that a target gets a Save.  This usually negates or reduces the spells damage and can be cumbersome and tedious to implement, so for first games I would always leave this sort of thing out.  Mages are low powered at low level and the important thing is that the ten year old magic user gets to do a bit of damage now and then so make sure that they have magic missile in their arsenal of spells.

Skill and Attribute Checks are used whenever a PC tries to do something which is not combat or magic related.  Searching for things, disabling or setting traps, scaling a cliff, these are all skill and attribute checks.  The D&D skills and attributes give bonuses to doing specific tasks, but they all require a roll (once again using the d20) to beat a target number.  For example climbing needs a dexterity check, so any DEX modifiers need to be added to the dice roll, but if a character has climb skill they will get additional modifiers.  The target number which needs to be beaten represents the difficulty of the task and starts at 15, a particularly easy task would be 10 and a difficult task 20.  


Visualisation is one of the toughest challenges when trying to get a group of people sitting round the table to all imagine the same thing.  A key tool is the Battle Map which represents a top down view of a location and has been a standard for decades.  This can be as simple as a sheet of paper on which you draw what the characters can see and interact with.

Key Text / Player Descriptions are contained in most pre-written modules and highlight a piece of text to be read out to the players when they enter a new location describing what they first see.  Supplementary text will describe to the DM only what the room may contain (for example monsters, hidden doors, treasure etc).

Feed the Players Excitement by putting them on the spot, adding tension when they are being cautious, make it theatrical, do voices, encourage them to do voices, make grandiose gestures and gory descriptions of monster death.  I always like to make my players to stand on the precipice throughout my games, they should never feel cosy and comfortable.

Let Players Explore - The joy of roleplaying is about being able to explore.  In some cases it might be a dungeon, in others it might be your options, but whenever you play, you are always exploring your character.  There is no right or wrong thing to do, if a player chooses a path which will bring about conflict or adversity, warn them, but let them do it anyway.  When the situation turns bad they will have to deal with the consequences.

Don't Be Scared to Fudge it, the rules are there to be ignore and modified as you see fit.  If a rule might prevent something heroic or cinematic happening just ignore it.  If a monster's die roll might inadvertently kill a PC then change it.  Need a new rule to get you out of a situation then make it up but always try to consistently apply the new rule when the situation reappears.

Keep it Simple, Stupid is a good mantra and the The KISS Principle should always be in the forefront of your mind when DMing for a young group.  They will want to be at the heart of the action quickly and they won't be too concerned with deep complex storylines.  Define the Good and the Bad monsters early on as clearly black and white and they be able to quickly react to any challenges they face.

Start Small by choosing a simple combat encounter for your first session.  Ambush your heroes in the woods with a small band of kobolds or goblins.  If the PCs kill half of them, the monsters will run away.  This immediately presents the players a plethora of choices, do they run after them? Do they run to town alert the authorities?  Do they loot the bodies? Do they track the fleeing monsters back to their hideout?  All have possibilities for the next installment.

Guage your Success as a DM

If all goes well your players should look like this:

Stranger Things - D&D Success!!

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