Are you considering running a roleplaying game for kids? You can create a more supportive environment for the kids, reduce your own anxiety, and foster the kids’ creativity and love of the hobby by learning from my past mistakes. In my previous post, How Not to Run D&D for Kids, Teens, and Tweens, I wrote about some of the major pitfalls that adults can face when trying to DM for a younger audience. This time, you can discover my missed opportunities and things I would do differently the next time I run D&D or any roleplaying game for kids.
One of the things I struggled to watch and deal with was the amount of (often subtle) bullying that went on between the players. I wasn’t expecting it, and as a result, I hadn’t prepared a way to address it when it occurred. I still don’t feel like it was my place to do something that (in my opinion) came close to disciplining other people’s children, which also made me hesitant to act. But I feel guilty about the possibility that our game sessions were a source of anxiety or hurt for any of the players.
Since I stepped down as the DM for this group, I’ve read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. In it, he talks about how he’s made his classroom a “NO-MEANNESS ZONE!!”: because a lot of his activities are collaborative, the students need to feel comfortable with each other in order to succeed. Next time, I would set up the expectation of no bullying or meanness from the beginning, probably with a physical sign that sits on the table at all times. That way, all the kids understand what I’m asking of them, and they won’t be surprised if I tell players to leave the table and read a book until they can apologize and be nice. “Monsters are mean; heroes are not.”
There were some sessions where I showed up but wasn’t truly present: stress about work or my personal life, or a lack of preparation, would make me dread running the session, and it probably showed during the session. Going forward, I would want to make sure that whenever I sense myself stumbling before or during a session with kids, I tap into my passion for GMing for the younger crowd and the prospect of opening up my favorite hobby to new players. I wish I had heard about tabletop RPGs as a kid and teenager—I’m fairly certain that my time would have been spent more productively and creatively if I’d been playing or running tabletop RPGs instead of grinding levels in World of Warcraft. So I have a lot of motivation there to draw from to get fired up.
“Light yourself on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles around just to watch you burn!” – Burgess, Dave. Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator (Kindle Locations 260-261).
So when I’m feeling down, I will remember to draw from that wellspring so that I can “bring it” to every session. Enthusiasm is contagious, after all, and they deserve the best play experience I can give them if I want them to develop a love for the hobby. And it’s my duty to show the kids that I’m excited to have them at my table to play games. To help myself stay positive, I also want to develop new strategies to help combat the feelings of dread that came from feeling unprepared, which brings me to my next point.
I made a ton of extra work for myself that made prepping for my monthly sessions something of a chore: I leveled the kids up every session, and I wrote many of my scenarios from scratch. Leveling up my pre-generated characters, printing them off, and preparing a new adventure for them was actually a lot of work every month. In the future, I would drastically limit the amount of leveling up that occurs over the course of the campaign. It would be much easier for me if I could distribute level-up bonuses as extra handouts, possibly as magic item index cards, rather than modifying the character sheets themselves. Who doesn’t love getting magic items, especially when they come printed off with pictures!
I would also pick a less prep-intensive system and potentially lean on things like uncomplicated published adventures to get me through. I would also want to make sure that I always ended an episode at the end of a session—no more of this “to be continued” stuff. To that end, looking at adventures originally designed for organized play programs would probably be a great option, since they are designed to be run in four hours or less. But keep in mind that with large groups of kids especially, things can take twice as long as they might normally, so it’s important to be flexible and keep an eye on the clock. I might recommend figuring out what the necessary encounters are and then keeping some backup encounters on hand to insert into the session if the kids are speeding through the main ones.
Because I was running a public drop-in game and not a game for family members or their friends, I was meeting some kids for the first time every week. I knew some of the players at my monthly D&D table by name, but others I did not, and I feel bad about that. I am definitely going to be using name tags next time, and I’m sure the other kids will benefit from them as well.
To help break the ice at the start of each session, and also to help everyone get to know their fellow players, I would also recommend having kids give short introductions, such as their name and one thing (movie, sport, book, place, food, etc.) they like a lot. If the kids are return players, I would try to encourage them to tell us a new thing they like a lot each week. That way, some kids can help break through their shyness thanks to the invitation to speak, I can potentially custom-tailor the adventures to incorporate their interests in their future, and they can feel like I care about who they are as unique individuals. The kids might even discover new friends among the group who share their love of roleplaying games and other interests.
If you are closer with the kids to begin with, either as a relative of friend of the family, you can still show you care by asking them about their week or the things that interest them. Most of us have fond memories of teachers who cared about us as people and were interested in watching us grow. As adults who have an impact on the lives of our players through roleplaying games, we can be similarly supportive and encouraging.
Some of my most rewarding moments while DMing for the next generation of tabletop gamers was hearing about their RPG-related side projects, answering their questions about roleplaying games, and generally fostering their interest in the hobby by telling them the many ways they can interface with RPGs. Next time I run a game for a younger audience, I would see about building in additional time before or after the session to answer questions and provide feedback on their ideas and original material.
I might also consider making time for workshops and crafts: drawing, decorating a character binder, writing character journals, creating character backstory, worldbuilding, creating original magic items and monsters, or letting them try their hand at being a dungeon master.Roleplaying games can inspire a tremendous amount of creativity, and kids of all ages can use RPGs to develop their other hobbies. Just look at video games, movies, and TV shows nowadays—so many of them have come from writers who played D&D as kids and teens.
What have you learned from running roleplaying games for kids? Share your advice in the comments below!