Currently, my group of players is my children, ages 7+ through 14+ (and several in between). They all are really excited about playing, but I am having great difficulty keeping them all interested during the game. We do keep the game sessions short (never more than 2 hours), which helps some.

I am certain the difficulty comes from me not having campaign elements that appeal to all the age groups. 7 yr old girls like very different things than 14 yr old boys.

Does anyone have any experience with making this work? OK, that's a really general question.

I'm looking for tips (preferably from parents who have experienced this) on how to keep all players engaged. Maybe some ideas on what styles of play work well for different ages of children. Are there campaign elements/dungeon features that kids find more fun than others?

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Young children are interested in different things than you are. The D&D that they play will not be what you're used to. I've read various threads where fathers played D&D with their kids and they share a few things in common:

  1. Length of play is fairly short. 30-60 minutes seems to be typical. If you can hold their attention longer, great, but don't count on it. Plan accordingly.

  2. Play often focuses on stuff other than the fighting. One father let his son build his character and parts of the village out of LEGO blocks. Consider swapping miniatures and graph paper for LEGO blocks. Make LEGO monsters, dungeons, and so on. Do it with your children so they get invested in it.

  3. Sometimes they're more interested in the tactical game than the role-playing. Let them fight if that's what they want.

  4. Sometimes they're more interested in the role-playing than the combat. Let them freeform role-play. Remember that D&D encourages a sort of sociopathic, genocidal approach to problem-solving and that your kids know better already. Their approach to solving problems might be to run away, to plead with the monsters to stop, and so on. Let these approaches work!

  5. When in doubt, just ask them what parts they like. Do those parts. Ignore the boring parts.

  • +1 for 1 and 2; 3 and 4 are more a "any players, always" kind of thing than a "one's own children" specific. – LeguRi Nov 9 '10 at 15:28
  • 4
    Agreed, but adults will generally sit through the stuff that doesn't capture their interest for 15 minutes without giving up on the game entirely, so it's important to point them out here. – Adam Dray Nov 9 '10 at 17:36
  • Excellent point; it's still relevant, if not more. – LeguRi Nov 9 '10 at 19:11

My kids have been playing RPGs since they were around 5 years old - it can be a lot of fun, but it's very different than running games for older ages. My wife and I have found a couple of helpful things:

1) Separate them by age. As you say, 7-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys want different things. For a while, we separated our teenager from her 11-year-old sister. They each played in different groups with their friends. The teenagers ran around fighting stuff, stealing stuff, and generally giving their id a good workout (with proper parental direction). The younger ones talked to people, collected things, and had a weird array of imaginary pets. Everyone was happier.

2) The younger ones don't care about the rules. Eyes will glaze over if you're flipping through rulebooks to find answers. Wing it. Some older kids will enjoy messing with the rule set, but the game aspect of RPGs is rarely what draws anyone in. They like to pretend that they're doing interesting imaginary things; focus on that.

3) Pick a different game. I've got nothing at all against D&D, but aside from perhaps the 1980s red box editions, it's not kid-friendly. For our girls, we mostly ran (and still run) games with fewer rules and stronger themes. We had particular success with the d6 version of Star Wars, as well as Toon and the FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes.

  • 1
    To point 3 - my 8yo played WoW before encountering D&D. I tried introducing him with the 80s Red Box, thinking it was simpler. Several of the concepts from the Red Box actually confused him more - we quickly moved to 4e. He's now regularly playing a Warlock (level 7 at last ding). So, be aware, different kids will understand different things. – YogoZuno Nov 12 '10 at 2:46
  • +1 on the 2nd answer. Don't get bogged down in the rules. Just make it up. They will drift toward following the rules more later. For now, just let them have fun. – Steve Rowe Nov 12 '10 at 8:40
  • @YogoZuno - Fair point. I never liked MMOs, so a game that mimics their style is more confusing. But to someone who knows them, it's a great starting point. Thanks! – sprenge777 Nov 12 '10 at 14:40

You might try using Five Room Dungeons. Pick ones that appeal to the current interests of the players. Or, make up your own, since you know them better than anyone else.

  • 3
    Don't count on having an extended campaign, from 1st until 10th level or something like that. In my experience, you'll have a few false starts before you find something that they keep coming back to. 5 room dungeons (roleplayingtips.com/articles/5_room_dungeons.html) are a great idea for distilling D&D down to "just the fun bits" – Azeari Nov 9 '10 at 20:43

I have found focusing on the storytelling can help keep younger kids interested. Use voices and affectations to act out NPC interaction. Use less expository descriptions.

It may be better to run one game for the little ones and a different game for the older ones.

For the little ones, holding their interest for more than 45 minutes is going to be tough. If you can tie it into the sorts of things they like to do already then this works. I did a little story-game like thing with my 5 year old girl one day. I printed up some freebie paper mini's online and cut them out. We made up a story and used some of Schliect animal figures. Every now and again I'd tell her to roll some dice and I'd make up what it meant on the spot. She loved it. The 14 year old could probably play even some of the most complicated games for hours if the adventure is appealing. I DMed and played AD&D, Twilight 2000 and Car Wars for hours and hours when I was that age.

You could also try teaching the 14 year old how to do GM'ing by helping him/her create short adventures for the little ones.

A few more suggestions for maintaining the interest of kids:

  • Colorful visual aids: campaign setting maps, town or city maps, and dungeon tiles or printouts. Miniatures or plastic figures are a big plus too.
  • Appropriate fantasy-themed background music.
  • Encourage the players to draw their characters with colored pencils or crayons.
  • Fun props: plastic gold coins, coin pouches, dice (not just the standard d4, d8, d10, d12, and d20 - let kids play with d5, d7, d9, and d11 dice).
  • Funny accents and humor are always good. Monsters and NPCs should have unusual features or habits: scratching, warts, farting, etc. Don't be afraid to use the cliché Scottish accent for Dwarves, "upper class" British accent for Elves, West Country or Cockney accents for trolls and Orcs. Silly, quirky characters are good: the arch-villain sorcerer with a floppy toupee, the half-Orc barbarian bruiser with a cute kitten companion - who talks & calls the shots in a Master Blaster-type relationship.
  • Don't let combat get bogged down with endless turns and modifiers - borrowing a page from Dungeon World wouldn't be a bad idea. No initiative rolls or specific turn order for each player. Especially if there are more than three kids playing, they may get fidgety waiting their turn in combat. Let them all declare what they're doing at the same time.
  • In addition to combat and roleplaying, some kids also enjoy purchasing stuff for their characters at the town market - going shopping, getting good deals, arbitrage opportunities! The gold coin props would be fun here. Plus kids will be practicing their arithmetic skills.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Could you edit to include the experience backing these? From my own experience, props and costumes would hijack their attention completely, so I would anti-recommend them. Including your own experience with using each of these successfully is important as context to enable readers to understand the circumstances under which they do work. – SevenSidedDie Apr 2 '17 at 2:13
  • @SevenSidedDie Yes, my seven year old loves props and costumes. This isn't a scientific study, I'm just offering ideas, take them or leave them. – RobertF Apr 2 '17 at 3:06
  • Okay, but we need answers to be limited to what can be backed by experience, so that we don't just become yet another discussion forum. Could you edit this to be about what you know works from experience, and leave the other ideas out, and leave those to someone who's tried them to write about? Thanks! – SevenSidedDie Apr 2 '17 at 3:23

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