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I GM a game of D&D with my cousins, who are 10 and 11 years old. This happens:

Me: Let's fill your character sheet. Which race do you want?
Eleven-year-old: What are the available choices?
Me: [list available races]
11: What do they look like? Me: [Show the images]
11: How does it work?
Me: [Read 16 pages of description]
11: Let's try Dragonborn.
Me: Ok, let's pick class...

Repeat the same routine as above but more pages since we there's more class to explain.

Me: Ok, let's choose your trained skill.
11: What does that do?
Me:[Explains the skills]
11:Ok, let's pick— wait, what does each skill do?
Me: [Explains again]

After explaining and explaining...

Me: Ok, job done. I will fill in the character sheet for you. (Looks at the ten-year-old). You heard everything I just explained, right?
10: Sorry, what? I wasn't listening.

After 1.5 hours, I have read 72 pages loudly, just for filling character pages. Yessss.

How do I prevent this?

Four requirements for a solution:

  1. Remember, we're looking at young players. I can't ask them to stay focused.

  2. We made this game with a snap judgement, so it will be good if no preparation needed.

  3. No D&D character builder. Let me make this simple and painless. I'm poor.

  4. They're new players. No knowledge at all. This is their first game.

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Are you committed to D&D? 4th edition in particular is... finicky. There are many other RPGs with more streamlined and narrative-focused systems. –  Jon of All Trades Jul 19 at 17:01
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Agree with Jon of All Trades. Something like Dungeon World is far more suitable for new and young RPG players. –  Russell Borogove Aug 18 at 16:07
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If character generation is a prohibitive problem, maybe you could try starting them with pre-made characters and see how that goes? You could make the characters yourself, or find a few free ones online. Once they understand the rules a bit better, then maybe try weaning them off pre-made characters onto characters you make yourself. –  Zibbobz Aug 20 at 19:28

5 Answers 5

Stop babying them

Ten and eleven years old is not young. I started playing D&D at that age, and I know plenty of fellow players who did too. I read everything I could and learned to play because I wanted to, and nobody was going to do it for me.

Speaking from that experience, and speaking as a parent of a young child: If they have concentration problems, it's because you're helping them not pay attention. "I don't have to do anything at all! I can even sit here asleep and he'll explain everything over and over again. All I have to do is ask questions, and he does all the work. This is easy!" Stop reading the book to them. That's what they have their own eyes for.

To build characters faster, the people building the character must understand the game better. There are no shortcuts to understanding how to build a character, so you need to either change who is building the character, or you need to improve the understanding of the game of the people building the character. That means that you either build pre-gen characters for them, by yourself, or show them the book and let them learn the basics of how characters work so that they can be equal participants as you help them with character creation.

If you do decide to build pre-generated characters for them, don't worry that you're taking away their choices. After one or two sessions they might want to keep them, or they might want to make new characters. Either way, you'll have started playing faster, and they'll understand the game better. If they do choose to build new characters, it will be faster because they will understand better the things that make up a character.

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Focus on Narrative/Character choices, no mechanics

Your original approach is how you might help someone familar with the system or RPGs to build their character but it relies on so many assumptions/priori knowledge that it of course fell flat when you were trying to build a character with your cousins.

Instead of asking them mechanical questions at each step, instead asking what type of character they would want to be, offer examples from fiction, or give short archetypical descriptions. Do you want to be a powerful magic user or a mighty warrior? Is an example of a good first question. Basically make a decision tree of questions which leads you to the class they should play to meet the concept. Then build that class for them on their sheet.

Use Essentials Classes

Essentials classes like the Fighter(Knight) have far less choices to be made at lvl one than an AEDU class. They get a lot of strong class features that are generally always on and allow new players to focus on playing the game, not on creating the perfect character.

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Perhaps have them imagine something, and then you make a character based on what they imagine. It would be faster for sure.

Instead of showing them what is available, just say "Every weapon that has ever been made that you could ever think of except guns"

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  1. Start off with premade characters focusing on archtypes. The Elven Archer, the Dwarven Fighter, the Human Paladin, the Halfling Rogue, and etc.

  2. Have them all sit down, and go over the player's handbook together.

  3. Ask for feedback from everyone not just from one person. Encourage participation.

  4. Use a Fillable PDF Character sheet that does a lot of the number and math for you. Print as necessary.

I also started playing D&D when I was 11 years old. I read every book I could get my hands on. Of course, that was in the days that America Online dominated the internet and having an 8 mb harddrive was top of the line.

Since nearly everyone has a smart phone and a tablet, get them the core rulebooks on pdf so they have it available to them. Google is their best friend and yours. Try to keep everything clean as well. Discourage bad language and sexual encounters. The idea is adventuring and having fun - not exploring possibly taboo fantasies.

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Hm, I don't understand the "bad language" and "taboo fantasies" argument. IMHO roleplaying can be a way to dip into areas that are not possible in the real world. I would not discourage these things, but show the kids how it resolves in the fantasy environment - which might be a mirror of the "real adult world". That's a safe way to try out things in your mind without repercussions in real life. –  mawimawi Aug 18 at 8:58
    
@mawimawi So roleplaying sexual encounters is appropriate with 10-11 year old cousins? The DM has a great chance to be a positive role-model. Not the creepy uncle. –  Ruut Aug 18 at 13:34
    
I deliberately excluded "sexual encounters" in my reply, if you re-read my comment. And "not discouraging" does not necessarily mean "encourage". Just handle the situation well if the kids bring it on the table. Without saying in an adult out-of-game way, that this woul not be permissible. –  mawimawi Aug 18 at 14:33

Building off of @SevenSidedDie 's answer, you could try asking them to build a character on their own. Tell them what they need to read, hand them character sheets, and let them know that in a day's time (giving them a day to do this isn't unreasonable) you'll expect them to be ready to play.

This may seem like a lot, but the more you ask them to do on their own, the less you will have to do for them. Leave them to fill in as much as they can. If you're responsible for watching over them for the whole day, tell them to bring it over when they are done, and then go over what's missing or wrong when they're finished. That way, you can focus on fixing and finishing their character, rather than on building it for them.

In fact, I'd recommend this method for any age of player. Players that are old enough to play the game should make an attempt at creating their own character for that game, and anything that needs changing once they're done should be discussed with the DM after they've filled in their character sheet.

With pencil, of course.

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