The other day wrote a post about why kids should play D&D, you can read it here. But something occurred to me. It’s all very well and good to say they should play D&D but how do you get them to play D&D? Does it take some kind of magic to pry them away from Fortnite? Do I have to bribe them with cookies and Sunny D (ideally not, as the parent of a kid with type 1 diabetes that would be highly irresponsible). How do I pull them into this amazing world and make them lifelong fans? How do I build my miniature army of cute goofy nerds? Well I’m going to try to explain how. Or at least put forth some theories and hey it might work, it might not. Results may vary.
Show them the books
Anyone who has sat down with a copy of Volo’s Guide or the Monster Manual knows, those books are gorgeous. The artwork in itself is enough to set the imagination reeling and wondering at the kind of adventures that would include such terrifying beasts.
I often sit with my son and show him pages from these books and talk to him about what cool things they can do and what a player would have to do to defeat them. To me this is one of the best ways to get them engaged in the game. Without even thinking about it they are already playing, they are imagining a story and characters and fighting these horrible hyena people, or gross demons. This gives them the taste of what they can encounter when they take their ranger or wizard into the woods.
Sitting with them and showing them the books gets them both excited to play and inadvertently begins to prepare them for being a DM. Many of my sessions, or ideas for campaigns have come from just flipping through the pages and thinking of what amazing stories I can tell using the creatures in those books.
Tell them about your games
I regularly regale my son with the tales of daring do from my campaigns. I try to tell them in such a way that might get him excited to know more. Kids love being told stories, and what better stories than about the game you played where you had to take down a zombie ogre. The more you tell them about what happened in your game the more intrigued they’ll be and want to join in. They gravitate towards stories of danger and excitement and as we all know D&D games are full of adventure.
Often my son has sat and listened to the games I run on Roll20, it got to a point where I created him an account and brought him into a game. He ended up playing way past his bedtime but that’s neither here nor there. The point is because of my interest in the game he has naturally gravitated towards playing.
Make the game tactile
Yes a lot of us play with miniatures and maps and terrain. But something I found works great and gets kids excited to play is asking them to make their own minis out of Lego figures. After you have helped them decide what their character is going to be tell them to go dig through their Lego and build their characters. They’ll have a blast thinking of what they should look like and what weapon they’ll have. It doesn’t matter if they come back with a figure that’s wearing a Stormtrooper helmet and is riding a skateboard. What matters is you’ve gotten them involved in the character creation and in creating the game they’re going to be playing. They build these figures all the time anyway so why not let them build them to use in the game.
If the game is all theater of the mind younger kids will get bored. It’s a universal truth that a kid with nothing to fidget with will lose interest. If the terrain is there, and the figures are there, even if it’s just a 2D map drawn on grid paper it gives them something to focus on and move their characters through.
Give them your time
Your kids want to spend time with you. Preferably doing something fun. Give them your time, share your interest with them. If they get to spend time with you they’ll want to do whatever you’re doing as long as it’s fun and you’re doing it together. Show them the ropes, make up the rules, tell a story together. In the end the time you spend with your kid playing a great game is the most important. You don’t need to play by the rules, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the things they want to do are. The game you play with your kids will be the best game you’ve ever played, simply because you got to spend time sharing something you enjoy with them.
Always say “yes”
If they say they want to do something, say “yeah, go for it” and make them roll. This is generally a good rule for any DM. But kids will ask if they can do things that an adult won’t. My son once asked if he can look for a can of Coke. I said “you can look” He rolled a natural 20 on his investigation check and, surprise surprise, he found a can of Coke. It also happened to heal him. Letting them do what they want even if it doesn’t fit in with the world is essential to getting them interested. They don’t want to feel constrained and they enjoy being silly. Let them be silly, be silly with them. If they want to make friends with the ogre let them try. It could be the most amazing thing ever. Kids will change the course of the story by their decisions and keep you on your toes, all because you said yes to their crazy ideas.
If they want to play a race that isn’t in the books, or a class that doesn’t exist, make it up. Let them play a fairy, or a spaceman, or a puppy. The point is to spend time playing a fun game with them not spending 20 minutes explaining why a spaceman doesn’t fit in the Forgotten Realms.
Kids will bring their wild imaginations and complete disregard for reality to the game. As the adult DM you just have to be willing to let go and realize that you will never play a game like this with adults. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. You aren’t in control of this crazy train so there is no use trying. Sometimes kids won’t be interested in playing, and that’s fine. They have their own interests to pursue. But if you want to try to get them interested, show them why it’s awesome. Show them the books, show them your minis, heck let them paint a mini and it can be theirs. You can’t force a kid to sit down and play. They’ll feel like they have no choice and won’t enjoy it. But slowly sharing the different aspects of the game with them will build their interest until one day they come and say “can we play D&D?” and of course your answer should always be “Yes”.
Have you played with your kids? How did you get them interested? Let me know in the comments.