My eldest daughter is nine, the same age I was when I got into the hobby. With the new edition of D&D out, it seems like too much of a fun co-incidence to give her her first taste of role playing with the starter set.

I have no doubt that if I give her a pregen character, run the game and take care of most of the rules, telling her only the basics as she needs them, she'll have a fun time. But she has a 4.5 year old younger sister who will want to join in as well, and I'd like her to be able to share the fun. The trouble is, I'm not sure how best to include her in the game.

I could give her a character too, and just let her roll some dice from time to time while trying to focus on including her in the storytelling/role-playing elements. But I'm worried her attention span will wander, especially given that D&D is a very combat focussed system.

It has to be D&D (I'm working on something for a written article about this) — so no suggesting I use a simpler, alternative system please. Otherwise, I'm after ideas on how best to help a very young child enjoy the game. It will be just kids, no adult players, and me as the DM. If you don't think it's possible, or may spoil her experience of gaming, just say so — that's a perfectly valid answer in itself.

Update: After your advice, I tried it. Here's what happened.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Answerers: please keep in mind site guidelines of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. If you have not tried gaming with a young child or have seen it done, you should not answer with random unsubstantiated opinions/thoughts. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ This resource - jamesstowe.blogspot.com/2011/09/dnd-for-8-year-olds.html is a great inspiration, though aimed at a bit less young kids. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peteris
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not fitting as an answer, but something to get inspiration from. My friend made "doggies and dragons" for his 4 year old to play before/while we game. billygoes.blogspot.co.il/2014/07/advanced-doggies-dragons.html \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ "...the youngest finds it a little dull, and starts building towers out of all the pretty dice." - tbf I think we've all done that at some point or another! Great question, looking forward to the follow up about how you get the mother involved as well! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ A quick litmus test might be to explain the game to your 4-5 year old, and see if they can explain it coherently back. If not, you may have to accept that they will be at the table, but won't understand what is going on. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 15:00

8 Answers 8


I'm not familiar with D&D so this will be a system agnostic answer.

What you could do is provide an in-game explanation as to why the character of the youngest daughter sometimes disappears from the game or does strange things. Give her a character with a chaotic neutral allignment and take over some of the narrative aspects of the game for her.

She could even play a pet (maybe she would like being a big cat?) that's not very loyal and tends to runs off on a whim if she hears a mouse rustling somewhere.

Your youngest will be happy to be included as long as her attention span allows her and the older one will get amusement out of your explanations for the little one's actions.

It would of course be ideal if you could just keep both of their attentions as long as possible, but in my experience nothing is guaranteed to hold a 4 year old's attention for an extended period of time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I love the idea of her playing a pet. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ This. I have my daughter play random urchins in the setting, and ask her for questions, which are pretty much spot on to the random responses that a kid would give. The rest of the time she colors, or plays with dice, or whatever. Her attention span is so short that "questioning" her periodically is about an equal match for what she's up for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kzqai
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 20:47

You shouldn't do this

Your stated goal is to introduce your 9 year old to gaming. Does your 9 year old still enjoy Dora the Explorer? Would playing in a soccer game with her 4 year old sister be a real game or just a goof? Would you have them playing the same instrument together to learn it? Do they play each other on Wii/360 games without it ending up in tears? Probably not, and as a result the changes you'd need to make to keep a 4 year old happy will make this a bad first experience for her older sibling.

Sure, you can do this eventually for "family game night." But child development is so wide ranging, I don't think that introducing a 9 year old to just about anything is going to be as successful with a 4 year old around. I've "gamed around" with my 12 year old daughter through the years, and at 4 (pre-k or kindergarten age, for those who aren't around kids much - no math, little to no reading, number/color/letter recognition if you're lucky) requires a fundamentally different setup than a 9 year old (4th grade, can do basic math, can read fine).

When my daughter was that young, she was of course interested in my hobbies and so we'd "play dice" - move minis around, roll d6's, highest wins, 3 hits and you're dead. That's the level of sophistication she's ready for. The nine-year-old will be frustrated and turned off by that.

If you really care about your 9 year old getting into it, give her what she deserves - some dedicated time for a hobby that she can enjoy without being a babysitter at the same time.

Then Later

You can "involve" the 4 year old later on by letting her watch, while also having something she's playing with. Initial queries about playing can be simply handled with "sorry, this is a game for big kids" - just like (I hope) you would do with Risk or whatever.

You and/or the 9 year old (if she's interested) can then play some games designed to include her. Use the "playing dice" rules above. Focus on the make believe. Make challenges into real tasks - a Dora the Explorer scenario where she has to defeat 3 challenges, which aren't "by the D&D rules" but have her draw a picture, solve a puzzle, answer the troll's riddle... See When and how should I introduce my kids to RPGs? and How do I foster enjoyment in the type of make-believe required in RPGs in a child who isn't old enough to play RPGs? for more on that. You also need to make sure she's ready for gaming, not all 4-year-olds can distinguish well between fact and fiction.

Once she's ready for the bigger game - sure, let her play a pet or an intelligent sword or something. Use short sessions, focus not on the rules but the RP, all those other fine suggestions. But you're not asking "how to get a 4 year old into gaming alongside a bunch of established gamers," you're asking about mixing a 4 and 9 year old as part of an attempt to introduce the 9 year old to gaming, and that is a terrible idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're obviously right and you got my upvote, but I'd like to add one thing... I know 4yo kids that can play piano better than me (and I've 10 years of experience), and I know kids of that age who are better actors and roleplayers than most of us... So the real answer should be IMO You shouldn't do this (unless your kid is a prodigy slash genius, that is) \$\endgroup\$
    – user7740
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's always an "if" - but if the kid was Doogie Howser I assume that would have been mentioned (or if the 9 year old was developmentally disabled, or if they all didn't speak the same native language, or...). \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 2:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for discussion... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 14:05

I have played a bunch very simplified D&D dungeon crawl games with my 4.5 year old, using the D&D boardgames (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/59946/dungeons-dragons-castle-ravenloft-board-game and such) for most of the content.

The included rules are almost like the 'big editions' of D&D but includes a number of simplifications already - such as fixed damage, low-number hitpoints (normal hit = 1 hp), etc providing for less math and less rolls. The general feeling is very much like 4e, less 3.5e or 5e. That still was far too much for a kid this young, so what I did was a freeform D&D game, using the content as a rough guideline and further simplifications of the rules. And even then, I feel that for this age liberal on-the-spot alterations of the game rules (or in-game 'reality') for a specific situation are both useful and neccessary; it likely could be different for a 6-year old where a proper structure would be more welcome and accepted.

First, remove all math - replace any [d20+bonus vs DC] with [d20 vs adjusted-or-arbitrary DC], to make the dice mechanics clearly understandable - if you/enemy rolls X or more, then A happens, else B. Picking a fixed DC of 10 for most common rolls was also okay - dragons and big heroics get specific rules, but otherwise a single fixed DC to attack a monster works better than a DC that changes every time.

The thingies from the boardgame (dungeon/labyrinth tiles and figurines) were very useful for making things specific; I don't feel that working from pure imagination would be productive; things could be forgotten or changed within minutes.

Also, the sessions should be short - after an hour, the attention will be already wandering; a nine-year-old will want more than that but it will rapidly grow less and less productive and controllable, so I'd recommend to plan for 60 minutes, or a maximum of 90. You should have a pre-decided and pre-announced end criteria, to facilitate an orderly wrap-up after a reasonable story climax point - with the option to continue a further adventure tomorrow.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have all those games - they're big sister's favourite boardgames. Great idea to bring in some of the props. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 15:41

I speak from experience when I tell you that starting them at a young age can be done. I began playing D&D (2e) with my two sons at ages 8 and 3 respectively. We have gamed together for over 10 years now, and both my sons have gone on to play and gamemaster with their friends (2e, 4e). We are all now learning 5e.

First of all, I can not overstate the advantages of introducing D&D early to help grow your child's imagination and interpersonal skills. Both my boys have excelled at speaking, story-telling, writing and other creative endeavors. My oldest is now attending Emerson, a top 10 film school, and my youngest is an advanced creative writer in school. So please ignore the naysayers...it is a great idea to start them off now.

My advice is to keep it simple. Don't ask them to learn too many rules. Focus on the story. Allow them to improvise, and try things out of the ordinary. My youngest at age 3 was one of the best role players I have ever played with after a few sessions because he didn't min/max or overthink anything. He just had fun. How many experienced players drop their sword to pick up a chair (in game) to hit a monster? It adds realism and makes playing more fun than just a math exercise.

Help them create a character that fits their age. Fighter or barbarian is highly recommended. I had the youngest roll his stats and assigned the lowest to his intelligence/wisdom scores to reflect the reality that not everything he would do in game would be well-thought out. For example, one night he interrupted an overly lengthy parley with an enemy leader with a declaration of "this is boring, I hit him with my axe". Instead of trying to convince him not to take the action because it was inconvenient (group was surrounded), I let it happen. It added depth to the story...the group had to react to the big, dumb dwarven fighter abruptly starting a general melee. The group survived and now we reflect on it as one of our most memorable nights.

As I said earlier, keep the rules simple. Ask them what they want to do and when they need to roll, hand them the dice and say "roll high on this." Then do the math for them. The older one can learn some rules but introduce them slowly. It should be all about the story telling, not the mechanics at this age. As they grow older you can teach them more.

Never play their character for them or tell them they should or shouldn't try something. It's their character...respect that. If he wants to use a dagger to fight the baddie instead of his +1 battle axe, let him. Trust me, you'll realize how lame your own role playing skills have gotten when you see young kids improvise and have fun.

Finally, if they fall asleep and you want to game on, their character's narcolepsy just kicked in. Again, adds some flavor to the group. The next day you can tell them how it all worked out (hopefully).

Good luck. You're about to make a hugely positive impact on their lives and your own.


I agree with mxyzplk, in that I think the 4 year old shouldn't really play the game, or you'll weaken the 9 year old's enjoyment of it; but I do think you can involve her without doing too much damage to the 9 year old's enjoyment.

I haven't done this with D&D, but with other games with my nephews (7 and 4 at the time) what we'd do is play with the 7 year old, and have the 4 year old be on a 'team' with Daddy or Uncle, and be given some important tasks. With Ticket to Ride, for example, it was to place the train pieces, move the point counter, and to draw cards from the deck. Then we'd have him help us count up points at the end (the ticket points).

With D&D, I imagine we'd do something like have the 4 year old roll the dice, and make some choices (but not all - ones that won't get anyone killed). Then talk about the simple math (my bonus from dexterity is +2, and the lock has a difficulty of 4, and my dice roll is 3, is it high enough?) and talk about the story. This includes the 4 year old without having to dumb the game down to 4 year old levels.


I'm a psychology student and for my thesis I developed a simplified version of D&D with the aim of developing social competence in agressive or withdrawn children. I found in my searches that the minimal age to enjoy fully group activities is 7 years old, an age when the children are more capable of focusing on the others, of cooperate...

I think like others have said that 4/5 years old is too early to enjoy a full fledged game, but the fantasy and magic is always welcomed, and the best thing about fairy tales and fantasy is that the children, knowing that this isn't real (of course they know that, like they know deeply inside that Santa Claus doesn't exist but still believe in him) can work through their problems without the limiting boundaries of reality.

The main research related to the ages is from Piaget (1926), many things about his works, mainly about social-cognitive development still remain very important and interesting.

About the fairy tales and fantasy there are many interesting works about therapeutic metaphors (Mills & Crowley, 2014) [this is the second edition of a 1988 book] and play therapy. For example if you want a review of therapeutic methods using games you can read the book: 'Game Play: Therapeutic Use of Childhood Games' (Schaefer & Reid, 2004) and 'Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy' (Rubin, 2006), where there is an author used a method with a simplified version of D&D and made a case study.


I made the switch to 5e from 4e last month (preparing for new 5e campaign that is), having my first 5e session today. My six-year-old daughter has been watching DnD videos on YouTube with me for a few months, and likes for me to read through some of the player handbooks aloud.

So it shouldn't have been to surprising that during our campaign tonight, my brother had to leave early and she wanted to fill in. To be fair, the party of 5 already had 4 IRL girls in it, so it's not like she's ever seen DnD as a 'boys game'.

She was amazing.

For the past few months she's been my 'DnD helper'. She moves plot along by doing voices for NPCs, and she helps me build maps and things for fun.

Again, tonight was her first time actually playing. Consistent high rolls on her monk (my brother's character) led her to actually saving the rest of the party when she singlehandedly beat 4 goblins. She followed this up by stealing treasure, thumbing her nose at the bad guys and helping the party escape in the wilderness.

It was so fun that she wants her younger brother, who is 4.5, to play. He has a great imagination, he's beat all the Mario, Sonic, Pacman games on the Wii u, but he's like every other 4 year old with a short attention span.

So we're calling up my brother tomorrow and I'm working on a fun little campaign for them tonight. They choose a halfling and gnome mini, because they look the most 'like kids'.

While I'll be using 5e rules, I'm keeping it very simple for them. "What do you want to do? Punch the bad guy? Talk him out of being bad? Sneak around him? Run away?" Etc.

So to answer your question, it's not so much about fitting a 4.5 year old into a 5e game; it's more about altering the narrative style and taking a hands-on approach so that your kids will enjoy the interactive story telling.

I imagine my daughter, whose character is a six-year-old Halfling magician named Rainbow, will be shooting glitter out of her hands in place of magic missile at Boogerface, Captain of the Evil Guard.


P.S. That 'giant cat' idea was gold. My kids pretend to be animals all the time. Even on games like SSB, they have the monkey and cat costumes and make their respective noises while playing.


I've introduced my almost-5-yr-old to D&D with great success by using building blocks as dungeon walls, printed monsters and treasure chests and 1d6. I would take three different kinds of fruit that he normally doesn't eat (something I would like him to start eating) and wrap those in aluminum foil and number them 1-3. I would place three printed treasure chests in different rooms, each also numbered 1-3, along with a printed monster guarding it. Then he'll romp through the dungeon and battle each monster in a fight for the treasure. For the battle sequence I would ask him to roll, and then I'd say something like "You have 30 hit-points. You were hit for 3 hit-point damage. How many hit-points do you have left?" and I taught him the simple technique for adding/subtracting by putting one number in your head and using your fingers, and he's able to do it now, and getting better every day. Once he's vanquished the enemy he gets to open the treasure chest and get his reward which is a fruit treat. I'll say something like "You found a hit-point enhancing apricot treat that can be used to recharge your hit-points by 10." and he'll always opt to eat it right away; night and day difference, ask him to eat it outside the game and it's a struggle, within the game he'll eat anything and cap it off by saying "Yummy!". I then have him add 10 to his points and write it down for him. The same goes vice-versa. You won't believe how easy teaching them something like math is or getting them to eat something they normally wouldn't when you frame it in terms of something they enjoy doing.

I've recently upgraded to the Dwarven Forge dungeon tile-set which I absolutely recommend if you have the funds; he absolutely loves the new look. I'm also in the midst of enhancing the curriculum to include sight-words so there'll be a treasure room that you can only open by collecting words found along with the treasure and reading the "secret words of power" in front of the door to be able to pass through. Of course a single-reading is not sufficient for them to memorize the sight words so I plan on setting up a "word-of-the-day" system where I post a word on the wall and we practice it that day, then another wall the next day and practice both words, then the third word the next day and he practices all three, and so-on. I'll tell him we're practicing "words of power" so we'll be prepared for the next dungeon adventure.

I've also recently ordered a set of copper/silver/gold/platnium coins to teach him about money (here's an example) and also so that he learns the value of money and saving to shop for items that he can use, like better armor or weapons or tools. A great free set of cards you can print are here; I laminate them using a cheap $20 laminator from Amazon. I also purchased some real RPG-dice and plan to slowly introduce him to each one; I'll probably start by using D6 for movement and one of the other dice for damage. The rules are too complex so I'll slowly build up towards using the 5e rules; for now I come up with something simple, and I ignore the stuff written on the printed cards as well... I'll just say that a piece of armor reduces damage by x, and a certain weapon increases damage by x. I'm sure it won't take long to get the full rules going, I just don't want to overwhelm him with too much at once... slowly but surely, it's all about making it fun for them. I also ordered a small treasure-chest for him to store his avatar, dice-bag, coins, and item-cards ; the chest can be personalized which I did with his name. We currently use one of the Dwarven Forge soldier miniatures as his avatar but this weekend I'm going to take him to The Compleat Strategist in Manhattan so he can pick his own. I'll also start introducing him to character classes so he can decide what he wants to be; right now he's just himself, but I'd like to start getting him to role-play. That's pretty much it, the goal is to make it as fun as I can for him and to integrate teaching into it as seamlessly as possible. My very next item on the list is to have him start writing his hitpoints down and work our way up to him doing all the writing (which is keeping track of his and the monster hit points as well as addition and subtraction). So far this system works for me, I'm sure you can tweak it to work for you!


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