I've been attempting to play 4E with my two kids for a while now. I've had some false starts trying to run very simple adventures partly due to lack of DM experience/prep time (demanding job for Dad) and partly due to complexity of the game mechanics. I have a bunch of books (both essentials and core) and really enjoy the 4e game setting/mechanics from an armchair perspective and as I've made some investment I'd like to reuse what I have. It's just that in practice of trying to DM and teach the kids what to do it's always felt overwhelming. What approaches or fixes exist within 4e to simply the game as we learn it together?


I started with the Red box starter set but the way the starter set works in terms of character creation, DM'ing, etc. felt difficult to use as a teaching tool for the kids as the idea of creating your character as you move was foreign to me and seemed to really disrupt the initial play in my experience. Being a completely newbie DM and player (I played AD&D maybe 3 or 4 times when I was 12 or so) I'm wondering if there's not a better way to get things off the ground in terms of d20 games in general. I've tried a couple things to ease us all into this world such as playing Wrath of Ashardalon which while it taught a couple of things about mechanics like rolling d20's it was utterly boring for everyone involved. For the holidays we started playing Dungeon command now (partly because I wanted to have some painted minis) and while we enjoy it as a game, the lack of roleplaying, dice, etc limits it's attraction as at the end of the day it's card based board game although it does an do a decent job of teaching the minor, standard, move action sequence during combat but the lack of dice limits what they're learning.

My kids are 7 and 10. One big thing for me is being able to move the game forward without the constant nagging feeling that I forgot some of the mechanics (combat advantage, flanking, attacks of opportunity, etc,etc). I realize I could just ignore those aspects of the game and roll my own rules but I feel I'm better served learning the rules and then bending them as needed. At this point during the times we've played we've all felt overwhelmed with remembering everything that it causes the game to crawl and becomes a constant "let me look at the rules" instead of enjoying the role playing parts of the game. One thing to note is we all like the rules concepts it's just putting them all together at once for 3 newb's that's causing problems :)

Related Questions:

1) I read a lot of reviews of the Pathfinder beginner box set and across the board it's described as an excellent intro to RPG's, d20, DM'ing and D&D in general. I can't seem to find any bad reviews of it. So one thought I had was maybe buy the beginners box to teach my kids the mechanics of d20 without the complexities of combat advantage, attacks of opportunity, etc which I from what I read are not part of the beginners box rule set and then once they're comfortable switch to 4e since I have a lot of the material already to play 4e. Is it a bad idea to start in pathfinder and move to 4e afterward? Would me as DM learning Pathfinder rules and the kids learning as players cause a huge upheaval moving to full blown 4e?

2) Should I completely retry my attempt at using the beginners box with another adventure? I played the intro one with my kids and also tried playing the continuation that comes with it so I would need some adventure to plug in there. My concern with the starter set from WoTC is that it's just too different. It didn't feel like a rules light version to me, it felt like a rules different version. But maybe i should give it another try.

Anyway any advice on direction with this would be greatly appreciated. My kids really really want to play the roleplaying game as the little bits of that we played they loved (my 7 year old said "it feels like we're in a movie" after our second attempt which is a good sign).


  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Pathfinder is based on D&D 3.5 and is not an official version of D&D from WoTC. D&D 4e is not a continuation of Pathfinder, nor of any other version for that matter - 4e is a completely new D&D based off of the other ones. The Red Box is specifically intended to introduce people to the game, and should be all you need. If you want to introduce your children to RPG's in general (not just D&D) you might want to try a more kid-friendly game. Try This \$\endgroup\$
    – Inbar Rose
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 14:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ 4E is a pretty hefty game, math and rules-wise. My introductory D&D game to non-gamers (adults) was using the most bare minimum D&D-like rules. This might be fun if you're not married to the idea of 4E: bankuei.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/90-minute-dd \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Inbar Rose - I realize Pathfinder is based on 3.5 and that 4e is different (I should have mentioned that). I'm just looking for a stepping stone that will get us used to playing RPG's in a rules light way but that has all the basics similar to what 4e is. As I mentioned reading a lot of the reviews for the beginners box had me thinking that we could maybe play that for a few months and then embark on a Level 1 4e encounter using the books/content that I have for that game. Again maybe this is just a bad idea - that's what I was hoping to determine before trying it out. \$\endgroup\$
    – earthtrip
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 18:56
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ 3.5/pathfinder's rules are at face value more directly connected with the narrative as they feature a bit of simulation in their many subsystems. However building a good character in both is something that takes a large degree of system mastery and all of those subsystems take a knowledgeable GM to adjudicate. I would not recommend it to someone brand new to RPGs no matter the age. If you were looking to shift to an extremely rules-lite game, one that let you as the GM control the mechanics but let your kids focus on the story I would say try Dungeon World. dungeon-world.com \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith Or for someone really invested in d20 / doesn't want to learn a new DMing paradigm, Microlite20. (Though I do love Dungeon World.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 20:47

4 Answers 4


Start with pre-made Characters

By which I don't mean generic characters that could be in any fantasy story, but by creating a character specifically for each of your children. These characters should be based around the characters from movies and TV shows they each seem to be drawn most toward. It's not the perfect fit that character creation is, but it can let you leap over the hurdles that character creation presents to a new player and let your children get right into the game. Your child's statement about it feeling exactly like a movie is what you want to most emulate.

Use essentials classes only, specifically MBA focused ones

Essentials classes (the Knight, the Slayer, the Warpriest for example) are built around having strong class features (always on) vs. making choices between how to use encounter and daily powers to most benefit the party. They work best in Heroic Tier (levels 1-10) and are strong classes that do not require as much optimization as the AEDU classes do. more importantly they focus on what are iconic archetypes both within and without of D&D. The Knight and the Slayer for example are both actually sub-classes of the traditional fighter. The first wears heavy armor and is all about protecting his friends while the second is about dealing as much damage as possible to monsters.

Use inherent bonuses

One of the best rules options you can take advantage of is inherent bonuses. Found in Dungeon Master's Guide 2, p. 138. as well as the Dark Sun Campaign Guide Book, p. 209 (where it was expanded) inherent bonuses take the place of magic items for the purposes of system math. At set levels the characters will gain +1, +2 etc. to their to hit rolls, damage rolls, and their defense stats. Magic items are still compatible in that their properties, item attacks, and bonuses to crit damage remain, but their mathematical bonus does not stack with inherent bonuses. Whichever bonus is largest is used.

Focus on the story and the adventure, adjudicate their actions to fit

If you were playing 4e with adults I would wholly say to depend upon the use of the powers their characters have and play the system as-is. However this may be a difficult pill for your children to swallow all at once (there are plenty of adults on the internet that can't handle 4e's separation of fluff, the descriptions and lore, from crunch, the hard rules themselves). When your children's turns in combat come up or they are making decisions out of combat ask them what they want their character to do and then based on their answer formulate what their character would do mechanically and then walk them through what their character does. This way you can introduce and have them take over parts of the rules at 1 piece at a time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @Joshua. This advice is exactly what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – earthtrip
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:02


Start by asking your kids what kind of character they want to play. Do they want to be someone like Prince Arthur (Guardian Fighter pg 71 Player's Hand Book 1), Robin Hood (pg 104 PHB1), or Merlin (Wizard (probably control wizard) pg 156 PHB1), etc? And then make the characters with the standard array stats on pg 17 or the examples of stat spread you can attain from point buy found on Pg 18 of the Player's Hand Book. Pre-mades would also work.


Then ad lib a game. By ad-libbing (or taking a few minutes to jot down a simple plot structure) you can tailor make all monster encounters to teaching your kids different aspects of the rules. Things like "As you walk along the forest path you think you hear snapping twigs from behind a tree. Roll Perception to see if you can identify the source of the noise." will introduce them to skills. This works for things like opening locked doors (thievery) or negotiating a cheaper price for lodging at an inn (diplomacy/intimidate).

Start your monster battles with dumb monsters (dumb as in not intelligent) use giant rats and dire rats or something equally straight forward. Use this to teach them the basic d20+mod attack and dX+mod damage rolls. Then move on to Kobolds or Goblins to teach combat advantage; many of their tactics involve flanking.

From here you can start adding in more rules, one at a time. Attacks of opportunity would be the next logical thing to introduce if they haven't come up already through player movement. Remember, fudging dice rolls of NPCs is ok from time to time. Perhaps introducing Attacks of Opportunity as missed attacks by a monster as the player runs past would be a gentle way of doing the instruction (just don't get carried away with fudging rolls, we don't want the game to be too easy either).

Personal Experience

I am currently DMing a group with 2 first timers, we have been playing fairly regularly for 3 months or so, and I am only just starting to add things like an enemy with a poison effect or using traps during fights.

I also want to add that I learned 4e (and am constantly learning more about 4e) by DMing. Taking it easy and 1 step at a time is really helpful when learning to run games like these. And always remember, the story comes first. If your kids are having fun with the story you are telling, it's ok to forget a rule here and there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @MC_Hambone. Great advice as well. If StackExchange allowed two correct answers I would have also selected this answer as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – earthtrip
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem, Joshua Aslan Smith knows his stuff. I really just wanted to offer the idea of focusing on 1 aspect of combat per encounter until your kids, and you, get used to the myriad of incidental actions involved in a Table top RPG. \$\endgroup\$
    – MC_Hambone
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 23:15

I would not advise you to run a 3.5e or 4e games for little kids. Those systems reward system mastery and contain a lot of complexity that might not be suitable for kids. Instead, I would suggest you:

Try Monster Slayers

Monster Slayers is a simplified D&D for Kids, released by WotC for free in 2010. It contains premade character cards with all powers on the card, comes with complete rules and some nice monster drawings.

Try D&D Next

D&D Next (in its current incarnation) is a nice middle ground between the very simple monster slayers and the quite complex D&D 3.5/Pathfinder/D&D 4e.

While the complete playtest rules are no longer officially available for download, you can buy the adventure Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle that contains all rules required for playing, and some pregenerated characters. Maybe you also downloaded the playtest PDFs before Dec 15 2013; in that case, you could generate complete characters.


It might sound a bit strange, but have you thought about playing D&D Gamma World? It uses D&D4 rules, but simplified. Hugely simplified. Playing it is a breeze and would have your kids learn the basic rules in no time. With its alpha mutation and omega tech cards, everything is at hand when you need it. Its wacky and goofy tone is a plus for playing with kids, too.

Granted, it is a completely different setting, but I really think Gamma World might be just what you are looking for.

(Might be your kids don't want to leave the Gamma Worlds, though ;-) )


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