In “What I Learned from DMing for Children”, I talk about running a D&D adventure for kids. In this post, we will explore some of the things that take place before you get to the table when writing the adventure. While there will be some overlap, I recommend reading that first post before you continue to read this one 🙂
As the D&D Workshops continue to grow, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes an adventure “family friendly”? A disclaimer before we continue: the things I describe below are in the context of an introductory one-shot I wrote specifically for the workshops, designed to provide an engaging foray into D&D and role-playing. Writing a full campaign would have different considerations that we can discuss in another post 🙂
First, remember to keep your story simple, but adaptable. By that, I mean don’t throw the players into an intricate tale of political intrigue or betrayal…a story that might not have a clear “Call to Adventure” or path to follow. New players are already susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by the seemingly unlimited choices at their disposal (Wait…you mean I can do anything??). Keep the story clear enough to give your players somewhere to begin, BUT allow them enough creative space that they can solve the problem in a variety of ways.
After running The Luminous Lake for 6 different tables, I can honestly say that they played it differently each time. Kids are imaginative– enable that creativity with open-ended options. Don’t restrain them by “railroading” the story down a single path. This can be done by presenting the problem but following it up with a number of ways to find the next clue or bit of information they need, whether that’s from a diverse cast of NPCs or by letting them explore the environment on their own and finding a lead through independent investigation. Just be sure that the key piece of information they need isn’t held by only one NPC. If something is important to the story, ensure that it’s not squirreled away somewhere the characters might miss! Give yourself different options for revealing it if the players need extra guidance.
Second, make your NPCs memorable! Nothing makes a world feel more stale than cookie-cutter farmers and nameless guards! When creating characters for a kids’ adventure, be sure to make them unique and memorable. You don’t have to create full background stories for each one, but try varying their speech patterns, races, and classes. Give them an iconic piece of clothing or physical characteristic, or make them very outspoken about a certain opinion or point of view. At the very least, make sure each NPC has a name…and that might extend to the baddies too! During one encounter, the kids were so invested in the battle that they even wanted the names for their Goblin opponents!
Remember, creating a diverse range of NPCs not only makes the world richer for your players, but it also improves your range and skill as a DM!
Third…the question of combat. One of the most common concerns DMs have when preparing an adventure for children is the acceptable level of violence. Many of us have a natural inclination to, well, soften combat for young players, and make it less graphic.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but some of the most blood-thirsty murder-hobos to join my table have been under the age of 12. Not even joking.
When a child describes disembodied intestines, stabbing eyes with daggers, and all manners of gore with the enthusiasm that I would normally use to describe a delicious pastry, I quickly lose any qualms about exposing the little angels to combat. With that, I will say that you can certainly include some sort of combat in your first adventure! Let the kids roll some dice and feel like heroes by throwing down with some Goblins and Evil Wizards!
HOWEVER, I do not believe that combat and violence should be the only, or even the best, solution to a problem. In fact, most children who come to the table are so eager to get to combat, that they may not even explore other options. Think of some creative alternatives to present to them. Subtly suggest that the adversary might not want to fight, or place things in the environment that could be used to manipulate the situation without drawing a weapon. The concerns of social desensitisation to violence are valid, and I happen to agree with them, so while combat can be fun and fulfilling, it should never be the only solution.
Finally, in the same vein as my notes about providing multiple solutions to a problem, be wary of writing your adventure in a way that depends upon the actions of a specific class or play style. D&D is a collaborative adventure…not a tale of a single hero and their side-kicks. Have a little something for each player at the table, and encourage them to interact with each other when problem-solving. Teamwork is a vital part of D&D. If your players aren’t talking amongst themselves then they’re missing out! Give them enough time to strategize, explore their options, and determine each other’s strengths without you giving them the answer unless they are really stuck.
I’d love to hear what experiences you’ve had creating and running D&D adventures for kids! Feel free to leave some memories in the comments below!
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