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My players are my children, aged 7 through 14. A GM has a different relationship with players than a parent does with children. A parent tries to encourage and nurture children; a GM tries to kill the players (OK, not always kill :) ).

Having had a little experience with this, I have been reasonably successful in modifying my behavior from parent-mode to GM-mode. I guess the real question is, what can I do to help my children make the mental switch from child to player during the course of the game?

This may seem a little subjective, but I'm earnestly looking for tips that I can use to help my children feel more comfortable as players.

(And no, 'get a new GM', is not feasible right now, mostly because of geographic limitations. Though I would love to use that option, as it would give me the chance to be a player again!)

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The question's fine and the answers on point. –  mxyzplk Nov 10 '10 at 4:07

6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I've gamed with my kids, I think most importantly you have to look at RPG gaming as you would playing a board game or any other "traditional" gaming. #1 you should be having fun and using the time together to create future fun memories. How would you act if you play Monopoly, or Sorry, or Scrabble with your kids? Obviously you try to win and do it in a way that everyone has fun; there is no reason a game of D&D cannot follow the same precepts. Losing sucks no matter what age you are; fortunately, the open ended structure of roleplaying games allows most games to end with a "win". To this day I prefer these sorts of games over "winner take all" types of games because of the positive feelings everyone gets when they leave the gaming table.

My one suggestion would be for the parent/GM to adopt a less "hostile" or adversary relationship that can be the case in most GM/player relationships. Don't "let" them win, but definitely don't treat them as you would a gaming group with two decades of experience. Give the kids a chance to retreat in the face of superior foes or attempt to solve a puzzle more than once. Less death traps, more "capture" traps, etc. Because it is the parent that is presenting the challenges, a parent that relentlessly hammers his kids by TPKing them, making them slavishly obey rules, or berating them for not solving a problem correctly runs the risk of turning them off future gaming completely. This is not to say you shouldn't hold them responsible for their actions, but the variety of responses available in such a game means that their ingenuity will be rewarded more often than not if they approach a problem from a "non traditional" point of view.

From personal experience, making the game an enjoyable one will have great rewards. My own father had no concept of "taking it easy" on kids when playing any sort of game, doing his best to crush us into the ground no matter if the game was Monopoly, Rock em Sock em Robots, or Electronic football. The end result was that we stopped playing games with him completely at a certain point, and certainly never invited him to play with us by the time we were teenagers or even adults due to the bad taste it left in our mouth. Gaming now with my kids I realize all the enjoyable times he missed with his kids because of his behavior.

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Thank you for your very well thought-out answer. I did not expect the responses to this question to produce as much re-evaluation in myself and my attitudes as it is doing. I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.....I'm taking the rest of the day off, and am going to go spend some time with my kids. I think that we'll play CandyLand or Uno or whatever else they want. Thanks again to you and Ron both. –  Stewbob Nov 9 '10 at 16:05
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+1 for 'Less death traps, more "capture" traps'. Totally awesome advice. Building on that - focus on skill-challenges over combat mechanics. –  F. Randall Farmer Nov 9 '10 at 18:10
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It depends on system. What kind of game do you want to run with them? Work with them to iron out a "social contract" (it's good practice for the real world) as to what they want to play and what you, as DM, are allowed to do/with them. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 10 '10 at 1:53
    
Great suggestion Brian. In my "kiddie" campaigns I do solicit a lot of advice on what they want to do and how dangerous they want the adventure to be. –  Badmike Nov 10 '10 at 2:29

Being someone who is just thinking about starting to RP, i'm not surehow relevant this advice will be. However from my knowledge with games in general, it could be useful to teach one of your older kids to take the GM role, and leave you available to help the younger children in a purely "parent" mode.

When they start finding you more of a nuisance than a help, then you could continue being GM (or taking turns with the older kids)

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I am of the mindset that kids need to play with other kids in order to develop in certain ways. Adult organized activities have their place and anytime a parent can connect with their kids in a meaningful way, especially when it doesn't involve a screen I'm all for it. That said, I believe there are certain things that kids can only develop without adults around. It might be that to develop that player instinct you will have to get out of the way and let them do their own thing. Encourage them to run their own games with their friends and without you. One game with dear old dad during the week for family game night and one for the pals in the neighborhood. I suspect that you will find that player mindset develop. The reason for this is that with Dad in the room they may not be willing to cut loose and do something irresponsible. I think that risk taking behavior only really develops when we send the kids out the door and at least give them that feeling that they are on their own.

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One way to make your children feel more comfortable as players to make yourself a player, too. Try games that share GM responsibilities or are GMless. I highly recommend Matthijs Holter's game Archipelago II:

http://norwegianstyle.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/archipelago-ii/

Similarly, letting them GM for you would be a great step toward developing both empathy and a sense of the distinction between parent/child and player/GM.

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And the final alternate arrangement of authority - if you have a 14 year old, you have outlived your usefulness to the group! They can GM and play without you, too. I know that's not your goal, but again - let them take a crack at it and appreciate you as a contributor to the game rather than the boss/organizer/dad when you return to play with them again. –  Jmstar Nov 11 '10 at 18:58
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My eight-year-old son prefers to GM when we play, because that way he gets the narrative power in the game to counterbalance my authority as parent and knower-of-the-rules, and in the afterschool class I teach for kids 8-12 everyone takes a turn as GM. It can be helpful to have some guidelines, like the random dungeon generation system in the '81 Moldvay D&D Basic, CR in 3E, or the encounter design budgets in 4E - but if kids want to make an impossibly lethal dungeon (and they will) that's a learning experience too! –  Tavis Allison Dec 9 '10 at 11:41
    
My children (a 10 year old girl and a 13 year old boy) ran through "Dawn of Worlds" together. This is a world creation rpg, where everyone takes turns adding feature to the landscape, e.g.-mountains, rivers, Elves, dwarves, plagues, forest fires. Now that we have "our" world, we are creating two characters each. I will run a game for one each of their characters, and I'm hoping to get them to each run a game for the left over characters. Our world will be shared, our other characters will be influencing other games, stories and songs will drift around, and I get to game again. –  Rich Apr 22 '12 at 16:48

This is a common problem when a parent is coaching a child's sports team. Of course there a lot of the dynamic is because you need to be fair to the kids who aren't yours, and also because it's competitive so you can't under-challenge them. You could consider being more of a "dad-coach" if it was just your progeny. But I think we all know what is expected if you're a coach - "don't call me daddy, call me coach" and less handholding than you'd do if it was just you and your kid.

You don't want to set bad expectations. What about when you are GMing for your kids and their friends? Or when they go play with someone else? (14 is about 2 years older than kids started GMing when I was a kid.) Some of your responsibility is to prepare them for the dynamic in the wild.

How different that is is based on your parenting style, but I personally (I have an eight year old) might be "dad" if it was just me and her, but if we were doing it much or doing it with other kids, I would consider it to be to her best advantage to step up the game. You don't have to play to win instead of playing for fun, but then again if you play checkers with your kid and let them break the rules and cheat until they're 15 and then they go play with other kids, they're going to get beat up and probably justifiably so.

If you are home schooling - do you make things "less challenging?" No. You don't have to be antagonistic, but it also requires you to be able to present a little more distance than usual.

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Great answer, thanks. All the answers here have provided me with meaningful and helpful advice (that I have already started to use). –  Stewbob Nov 10 '10 at 14:47

I was interested in D&D in the '80s, but I never got to play. Now, I have been playing with my wife, my children and their boyfriends, and some other friends (usually 9 in the group) for about six months. The GMs went easy on us at first. They didn't get too technical, and we all knew we were bending (or ignoring) the rules at times. But the object was to have a good time. It's a game, right?

Recently, both my son and I have started GMing. For my part, it's because I want to foster togetherness and spend time with everyone. I don't want to kill their characters. I want to put a challenge before them and let them figure out how to meet it. They need to learn to overcome, to think outside the box, to relate with others and learn to negotiate first and kill last. All of that is encouragement and nurturing, completely in line with my role as father.

When they were young I played Candy Land with them. Now we play grownup games together. It's so cool to see them mature as a person. So, my answer is that I reject the premise of your question. There's no need to switch. You might dumb things down a little if the kids are young, but not too much. Don't take the fun out of learning and playing. Learning life lessons on the tabletop is much easier than outside the home.

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Absolutely awesome answer! Thanks. The 'I reject your premise' was the perfect comment to get my attention. :) –  Stewbob Nov 9 '10 at 14:49
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... and their boyfriends!? That's awesome! –  LeguRi Nov 9 '10 at 15:30
    
I voted up this answer and wanted to echo its thoughts. I game with my son (now 10) and the idea of a GM having a different relationship never occurred to me. Plus by the sound of it I am something of a soft games master, if I ended up killing any of my players I would assume I had made a mistake. :) –  Jagged Nov 10 '10 at 10:03
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+1 for "learning life's lessons on the tabletop is much easier than outside the home" - I have some friends who, through roleplaying were able to learn how to speak in public less self-conciously (one of them has tourettes, you can imagine the trouble this would have!) I have seen, personally, people learn about consequences and decision making process through gaming, especially roleplaying. –  aperkins Jan 25 '11 at 16:40

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