TTRPGs with Kids – What to Expect

Before life became somewhat more isolated than usual, I often joined in with the D&D club at my school. I also DMed for the children of friends who heard their parents playing and wanted in. From ages 5-18, I’ve run tabletop games for close to a hundred kids.

One thing is for certain, its a very different experience than running a game for adults. If you are thinking of hosting for young people, either as a friend or a teacher, there are a few important things that will help you:

They are more creative than they realise

It’s a well known fact that young people have great imaginations. Yet, ask them what their character is going to do next, and they’ll often stare into the proverbial headlights.

Normally, the DM/GM would simply ask ‘what do you do?’ and sit back. Asking leading questions could be considered railroading, but for young people, prompts and examples of what they could do is a very good idea:

Here are some of the things you can do in town. Whilst she’s searching for traps, does anyone think their character would do anything with the strange writing? What skill does your character have that might help here and what does your help look like?

Character creation is the best place to practice this. If your playing Dungeons & Dragons, the character sheet only requires five sentences for a character – two ‘personality traits’, ‘ideals’, ‘bonds’ and ‘flaws’ – but there’s all sorts of prompts you can throw at the players to get them in the creative zone:

You’re playing a fighter, but why did they become a fighter? When did your sorcerer start to show their powers? How did everyone react around them?

With a little extra push, you will soon have young players who are aware of their creativity, and know that this is the space to let it show.

They are great problem solvers…

With the confidence up, and a feeling that their voice is being heard, be ready for ideas and solutions to your created problems that you were not expecting. Solutions that only a child’s mind could conjure.

Adult players will use straightforward logic, and the mechanics of the game to figure out how to dismantle a trap of unpick a puzzle. There must be one way to solve a puzzle, so lets find it. Worldly experience may actually inhibit them, as they try to hone in on the very sensible and straightforward way to pass your challenges.

Young players, with their superior imagination and fresh eyes, are going to ask questions that bamboozle you. If there’s a shortcut to the prize, they will spot it. If there’s a wrong way to get to the right ending, your young players will travel it. If there’s an absurd way to break the puzzle entirely, they will try it.

The advice here is, and should always be (A) go with whatever wacky compromise these new players come up with, and (b) have one more extra puzzle or encounter ready just in case time needs filling. Also, (C) if their weird solution is too bonkers to succeed, let them roll anyway – most kid players love when their friends weird idea backfires on them.

They might need reminding about teamwork

On the other side of the confidence spectrum, you will get young players that temporarily forget that their are other players at the table. Calling out every possible question before others have had chance, excitedly inserting themselves into every conversation with an NPC, giving too much advice to other players deciding what they want to do. To be fair, adult players can do this too, but with young players these issues can be so much more prevalent and intense.

If the other player(s) is young and the group benefits from a leader, then this can work, providing your interject occasionally:

That’s true, that is one of your options. Would your character have thought of that? Is that what your character would want to do. Is everyone happy with that?

If its clear that the other players are being sidelined, its possible to intercede without singling out the player or stamping out their enthusiasm. “What’s everyone doing?” is always a good line to get everyone involved, though doing this in every scenario can slow things down a bit. Sometimes people don’t want to talk to the person asking 20 questions; having an NPC approach, and be more trusting of, a quieter character is a totally viable thing that can mix up who’s doing the talking.

Penalising a player for being overbearing can be something to do with grown up group, but its not something I’d recommend with young players. They are much more likely to feel embarrassed or get the impression they are being told off, which is never good in a tabletop game. Instead, reward the positives. Lean heavily into giving advantage, or a bonus to a roll (or whatever mechanic works for your TTRPG) when players work together and/or selflessly.

I have a few ways I reward young players, which I will likely expand upon in another blogpost.

A Few More Thoughts

There’s much more to expect from young players, and a part 2 to this post is on its way. There are extremes of positivity and negativity that are almost alien to a grownup game that I have not yet touched upon.

The main thing is that if you are in an opportunity to host games, for young players at home or at school, you should absolutely go for it. Partly because its such a great feeling to introduce young people to D&D or Mutant or Pathfinder or even Dread. Partly because it will be such a great experience for you. The game and the player mindset will be so different from what you’ve seen before.

Thank You For Reading

For more posts about being a gamer-teacher, click here!

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Author: Rufus Scott

I am a long term Gamer, a full-time History Teacher and a part-time geek. I enjoy writing about the positive aspects of gaming, especially when it comes to education. My posts are sometimes nostalgic, occasionally irrelevant, largely meant to provoke further discussion. I'll sometimes punctuate these whimsical ramblings with a random comment on gaming and/or teaching.

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