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A friend of mine picked up the starter kit for 5E. After some discussion, we have 4 players and a GM ready to start a campaign. Three of us have little or no experience, while the other two have a few games under their belts but still think of themselves as novices.

Between the group members, we have five kids, aged 1-7 or so, including two 1-year-olds. None of us have extensive role-playing experience. How do we handle distractions from kids (and other sources) that will invariably come up while still enjoying the game?

I know this will vary, but what is a normal amount of interruptions in, say, an hour time period?

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I think people here are more likely to know what kids are (and have experience of them) than people on Parenting are to know what RPGs are (and have experience of them). So to get an answer specifically relating children's interruptions to RPGs (as opposed to leisure activities in general) this is surely the best place to be. If advice that would apply to any activity is fine (such as "get a babysitter", or "lock the brats in the basement for the duration", or "your life is not your own: wait until they're old enough to join in"), remove RPGs from the question and ask on Parenting :-) –  Steve Jessop Aug 22 at 17:34
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This is on topic for RPG.SE as it has impact specific to RPGs and possibly solutions specific to them. Answers for board gamers or video gamers would be pretty different (except for very basic "get a babysitter" ones). –  mxyzplk Aug 23 at 1:25

4 Answers 4

up vote 25 down vote accepted

I DM a 3.5 game and have a one year old. Yes, they will cause disruptions. They won't be the only things that do.

Disruptions Happen

The truth about "immersion" is that disruptions happen. That's the reality of tabletop gaming. They happen because the kids are running around, or they wake up, or the phone rings, or you need to pull something out of the oven, or someone at the table tells a joke, or you don't know how to do a given thing in the rules and have to look it up...

If you actually managed to create a gaming space where immersion is not broken at least once during a session, you are doing something I've never been able to do in a tabletop game. (I have managed to do it at a LARP, but there's a lot more effort going into making that happen.)

My point? Set your expectations realistically. If you don't have a babysitter, there is no realistic chance of you going an entire session without the kids needing the attention of someone at the table.

Bedtime

If the one year olds are with a certain player, play at that person's home and play after bedtime. Mine tends to be asleep by 7:30, and usually sleeps long enough that we can usually get past 10:30 before he needs attention again.

Take Breaks

If the kids do need attention and the person who needs to handle it is involved in what is currently happening in game, call a break. Go deal with it (because it won't get less distracting if you wait), and let everyone else go and get a drink and use the bathroom as needed. Once it's dealt with, resume the game.

If the person who needs to handle the given kid is not involved in what is currently happening game (party is split up or some other reason), that person can go handle it while the people who are involved keep playing.

It's also possible for the DM or a trusted player to take over another PC temporarily if someone has to go deal with real life, and that doesn't require stopping the game. I use this trick frequently in combat situations. Less so in social interaction ones, simply because it's harder for me to predict what a player will do when talking to the rest of the party (in combat, I know how my wife's Rogue is going to approach a situation and can take cues from the party leader).

Depending on how distracting the kids are, you might need to ask how to deal with them on Parenting SE instead.

Books & Other Immersion Breakers

One of the other problems you'll run into is that as a group of newbies, you don't know the rules. So in some cases you'll have to stop to look them up. If the DM does that and makes a ruling, don't spend a ton of time arguing about it. Nothing breaks immersion faster than rules arguments at the table.

Look at the rule, and make a ruling. If people don't agree and it can't be resolved quickly, go with what the DM says and sort it out between sessions. The middle of a combat encounter is not the place for a 30 minute discussion over what a spell does.

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This is what I was looking for and didn't word well in the question. As new players, we don't know what is normal or what to expect, and that applies to distractions as well as rules and etc. –  Dan Aug 22 at 16:22
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@Dan I'm pretty sure if you search for questions like "speeding up combat", you will find answers that will have some helpful advice for you as well. The trick to keeping immersion as much as realistically possible is to not get bogged down on out of character stuff. Parental responsibility can't be avoided, but rule arguments and overly lengthy combat can be. –  Tridus Aug 22 at 16:28
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Several articles, blogs, and entire chapters of gaming books have been written on balancing game-needs and real-life needs. For advice, you can also try searching for: "rpg managing new players" or "rpg handling xyz at the table" to start. I personally recommend D&D 4th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide 2, as it has a lot of system-agnostic advice on game-planning & real-world logistics helpful to folks just starting out with tabletop. –  MandisaW Aug 22 at 16:56

I will expand on this tommorow, but three things from my personal experience. Obviously it will depend on the individual children.

  1. Feel free to invite the 7 year old to play. If your child is mature enough, and depending on the relationship between the children, it's possible to have a 7 year old play a character, as well as have the younger children be on the 7 year old's "team" when making decisions and playing. This may not be ideal, and they might get bored too quickly, but I have seen my friends do it a few times, and the kids were really excited and happy. Other times with other children, I have seen it devolve into bored children who ran off to play another game instead.

  2. Even without children you will have many distractions, most games get sidetracked for one reason or another even if you are playing 2 hour sessions. Even with having children running around, some of my most hindering experiences were distractions from adults. Either they were too tired to play, were cooking dinner, or had other things on their mind (like the release of a new computer game) and getting the table to do anything together for more than 3 minutes was like pulling teeth. The longer your regular game sessions, the more often it seems that people are willing to find it ok to be off doing other things. I'd say that sometimes the distractions are even part of the fun, as it can turn a gaming group into a group of friends. The best way I have found to deal with distractions is to acknowledge them, and find a place to say, "Ok you go do what you need to do, and we will ask you if we need input about what your character does.". Then allow those players to be in earshot, but away from the table. This leads to point 3.

  3. Set up an area for adults to hold the one year olds out of reach of the table, and designate someone else to read the char sheet or roll dice for them. Rotate every 20 minutes or so. Sometimes you just have to have the children around, and they can't be occupied with something else. It happens. By having a "baby sitting" area, it allows people to take breaks, but not distract the rest of the table. Often the player in the "baby sitting area" can still be having fun, even if it isn't ideal.
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7 is a transitional age: still a lot of small child in them, but the beginnings of pre-teen wider awareness, and it's very individual. I give it about 50/50 whether they can play in an RPG with adults. Also, the other kids near in age may see such an invitation as unfair, since 5&6yos don't easily understand why they can't do adult stuff. (All from experience.) –  SevenSidedDie Aug 22 at 15:54
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Children also aren't equivalent at all to other distractions. Also from experience, a single persistent child can bring the game to a halt over and over again. There's a reason I don't host games anymore, not until she's old enough to play too or respect a "play somewhere else" without external enforcement. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 22 at 15:57

Another solution is play tabletop RPGs online with your friends in the evening, after your children's bedtime. This avoids problems with finding babysitters, interruptions while playing, and of course the huge disruption to your kid's bedtime routine if there are a bunch of people in your house talking & laughing.

I'm a father of a 4 year old and have been playing 5th edition D&D via the Roll20 application for several weeks and it's worked out very well. We've started playing ~8:00-8:30 in the evening, after my kid's bedtime. Admittedly a 4 year old will sleep through the night (most of the time) while a 1 year old will frequently wake up. If playing with your partner and your infant requires attention, one person can attend to the baby while the other temporarily takes over both PCs in the game.

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Luckily for us, our 1 year old sleeps through the night. Not sure about the other couple's 1 year old, but this is a viable option. –  Dan Aug 22 at 18:59

I can't speak from the perspective of new to tabletop because I've been playing for 35 years; however I can speak to the experience of having small children at the game.

I recently started running (and hosting) a D&D 3.5 game, and two of my players have a child just short of two years old who they bring to the game. I also have a 12-year-old, who sometimes joins in the game. The rest of the group are all adults ranging from 23, the mother of the two-year-old, to 50, me.

Now most of the time, we take advantage of the fact I have an unemployed 21-year-old stepdaughter living at home, who's more than willing to watch the toddler for much of the session. Unfortunately, not everyone has that advantage.

One thing that does help though is that the parents have a back sling so that one or the other can wear their daughter while they play. It actually works very well, especially when she falls asleep. One thing that does help is that both parents play, so they can swap off, with one handling the mechanics for both characters while the other just gives directions.

We also use a large battlemat (Crystal Caste 48 by 36 inches) so it's easy for the parent away from the table to see what's going on.

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