Introducing a 10-year old to D&D: framing the adventure
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  1. #1
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

    Join Date
    Jul 2017

    Introducing a 10-year old to D&D: framing the adventure


    So I am going to stay for a few days at my cousin's place and she has a 10-year old son. He's fond of me because I'm the big boy who understands his centers of interests, plays with him, and at the same time has the experience to show him new exciting games.

    That boy is, I believe, the sort of child who gets deeply into fiction (not all do). At his school, Pokmon and Yu-Gi-Oh are still big things so he can just talk about it for hours and hours. And, since he plays the corresponding TCGs, I introduced him to the next level, namely Magic. Following that, I was literally buried under questions on MtG lore. [As a side note, WotC was wise to replace old-style theme decks by planeswalker decks. New players, especially the younger audience, want poster-characters to relate to]. He'd been reading every single piece of subtext on the cards, and asked me about even the most irrelevant names appearing there. He thought about logical inferences on relationships between characters that made sense but were completely unexpected, such as "this dragon [mentioned in a subtext], is part of Kolaghan's brood and Kolaghan is a scion of Ugin, therefore it's Nicol Bolas's grand-nephew, isn't it?" "Uhh... yeah I suppose so".

    So, as he has such a mindset and is old enough to navigate relatively complex rule systems, I believe the time has come to introduce him to tabletop RPGs. D&D 5 is a natural choice. It's a very flexible system, not exceedingly complicated when appropriately DM'd, conveniently it's the system I'm most proficient at these days, and it's the one my little cousin is most likely to play with school buddies in the future.

    I think the challenge of introducing a newbie to D&D, and in particular a kid, comes in two parts: first, teaching the principles of role-playing and game mechanics; and secondly, devising an appropriate scenario.

    Regarding the first part, I'm certainly not the first one to wonder about it, so I researched it a bit and found some pieces of sound though oft unsurprising advice. I'd like to rather focus on the second part, namely scenario-design. Nonetheless, I'll summarize what I have in mind for the first, more general part of introducing D&D.

    -don't overwhelm the audience with a lecture on rules and the adventure setting. Instead tell them the basics of roleplaying, that they're going to roll D20's most of the time, that the adventure is rather free-form but for skill checks, except in combat where it's structured more like a board game... things like that. Present the broad strokes of the setting. Then, jump into the game and let people learn by doing and explore the setting. This piece of advice applies to any newbie, not just kids.

    -as a result, pregenerated characters are to be preferred. The first time you create a character, it takes hours and can feel overwhelming. The amount of information to process is simply daunting. A roster of pregens (with blank fields for gender, physical features and personality traits) to choose from is largely enough. Attach easy-to-read spell cards to spellcasters, possibly using a color-code to distinguish between cantrips, prepared spells and unprepared spells. Players can prepare other spells once they've a better understanding of the system. Again, that applies to all newbies.

    -Now this is more specific to the younger audience: props and visual elements are especially important for them to get into the setting and their character. Bring pictures of people and places, minis, tokens, maps...

    -Children love doing cool stuff and they have a vibrant imagination for that. In case of a conflict between rules and cool RP, the latter should definitely trump the former.

    -They also like to emulate tropes and famous characters.

    Now, regarding the second part, the scenario... The boy doesn't know much about fantasy, he has never watched the Lord of the Rings (his mother find it too violent for now, so there's no starting with Tolkien 101) or the Hobbit, and has probably never played RPGs beyond Pokmon. As a result, he doesn't have expectations about gruff ax-wielding Dwarves, refined Elven archers, stealthy but surprisingly bold Halflings and the like. Thus, I can't tap into those tropes. I can use them, but they won't feel familiar.

    However, this isn't necessarily a hindrance because my go-to setting is Eberron. It's the one I know best and can improvise best in. Eberron adds it own twist to the classic fantasy tropes, it doesn't feel as Tolkien-ish as the Forgotten Realms. Now, Eberron is often advertised a "pulp-noir". Obviously, I'm not going full nihilistic noir with a 10-year old. There won't be troubled antiheros with a very dark past, shades of grey everywhere, moral quandaries, clash of political ideologies, everyone being a potential villain with a relatable excuse... I won't do that. The pulp side, though, would in my opinion do the job.

    The way I see it, the atmosphere of Paul Dini's Batman cartoons from the 90's would be a very good fit. It's pulp in a noir dress, so to speak. The action would be set in Sharn, Eberron's most detailed metropolis, with a distinctive Gotham feel. Yes, there would be corrupt cops and not-so-benevolent institutions... because we need room for heroic action. The villains may have a detailed backstory but they would still be pulp / Bond villains.

    At that point, I'm considering ripping off the plot of The Attack of the Clones. Say whatever you want about the movie, if you remove the terrible angst & love Anakin parts and focus on Obi-Wan, you're left with:
    -an assassination attempt (could be a kidnapping, heist, whatever)
    -a chase
    -an investigation that goes from the slums to the Jedi archives (university library, in game terms), involving different skill checks
    -travel to an exotic location
    -another chase
    -a stealth / infiltration scene
    -a climactic battle

    All of it leading to the gradual unraveling of a conspiracy, with a a plot that "thickens" along the way.

    Doesn't it look like a perfect pulp RPG scenario? There's combat, investigation, social interaction, exploration, infiltration... And a deep-running mystery.

    So, yeah, I believe I'll do something along those lines, maybe throw in a small dungeon in the mix because the game is called D&D for a reason. I'll watch a few episodes from the aforementioned Batman series for inspiration.

    It's most likely going to be a singleplayer game. I'm pondering letting my young cousin play multiple characters at once, so he can experiment various things. That being said, a friend of his as well as his older sister may join us, who knows.

    Alright, so that's what I have in mind. I'd be very interested by your comments / suggestions. I'm looking forward to reading them !

    Thanks in advance :-)
    Last edited by Magean; Monday, 10th June, 2019 at 05:30 PM.
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  2. #2
    Enchanter (Lvl 12)

    Join Date
    Sep 2015
    Amherst, Nova Scotia
    Ok, I'll admit I didn't read all that, but I think I got the basics. You want to teach a 10 year old D&D. Great, do it!

    I started my kids at age 6 & 11 (4 years ago), and their friends, and here are a few of the things I learned:
    - I get the pre-gen argument, but kids will get attached to a character of their own making a lot quicker. My kids enjoyed all the decision making and it made the character feel like it was theirs.
    - I break character choices down to "what do you want to be? A strong warrior? A fast, nimble attacker? Wizard? Healer? Nature magic?"
    - short sessions - younger folks have shorter attention spans. Of course if they say "lets keep playing" that doesn't hurt
    - let them feel like a hero, if that means unbalanced ability scores, more magic items, or the occasional "practice roll" then so be it.

    It seems like you have a handle on the adventure. If you get the chance for more than one session, you can always ask what parts they liked best and lean into those.
    XP Mort, Monayuris, EdAbbey gave XP for this post

  3. #3
    Spellbinder (Lvl 16)

    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Plane of Earth
    First of all - will you be writing this up and posting to the Downloads section here? I want to play it!

    That said, you might want to check out the rich content on the DMs Guild. Lots of great low-level introductory adventures that you can get for free. Allows you to get up and going right away with minimal lifting.

    I quite like creating spell sheets at - it has helped speed up play at our tables.

    I'd caution against having him play multiple characters at once. Let him concentrate on mastering a single character. Maybe give him a few support NPCs that tag along for the ride - perhaps a guard and an acolyte from the Monster Manual, just to keep them simple. He can tell them what to do and roll for them, but they otherwise stay in the background.

    Have fun!

  4. #4
    Superhero (Lvl 15)

    aco175's Avatar

    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think that exposing him to the 80's D&D cartoon may be appropriate to a 10 year old. Although he may find the graphics a bit childish.

    I introduced my son around 10 and he picked it up quickly. He made a fighter and I played a thief NPC to aid him and drop hints if needed. We had a simple few missions and ended up in the sewers fighting a wererat which he still talks about, mostly because he rolled a crit 3 times in a roll and killed it before the thief NPC could help.

    I found keeping things simple and making roles transparent helped to get the hang of things.Make good be good and evil be evil without making it over the top. I also kept missions short and had him leave town on simple overnight trips and not a long journey since we were playing intermittently.

  5. #5
    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)

    Join Date
    Sep 2015
    South Carolina
    Have you considered the Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica? It includes an intro adventure and the book has tons of lore for him to devour once the adventure is complete?

  6. #6
    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)

    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    I think you guys should have a good time. Something that's going to be pretty key, at least if you want play to feel streamlined for both of you is you will probably have to change the way you present the information in each encounter. You're right to want to not overwhelm with the rules and at 10 that's a very real possibility. If he gets the d20 with rising difficulty thing he'll be fine though, especially if you take care of some of the ancillary math for him at the beginning. My suggestion for running the game is to run the decision making and description in each encounter a little more like a Choose your own adventure. If there are going to be multiple inflection points in an encounter, let him game them out in sequence. Give him some choices about what to do at each step and then let him add some narrative detail. If you chunk down decision making and sequence it I think you'll both have a better time. As his comfort level with the rules increases you can slowly phase out the sequenced presentation and list of options and he can really start to explore the sandbox of RPG play.

    I say this as a teacher of grades 5 and 6, and my own kids of the same age who've done what you're going to do. The above is what I wish I'd done to start off my first campaign with my kids. Good luck! I hope you guys have a blast.
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  7. #7
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    How much time do you have? I get you are going to be there for a few days, but are you going to have 12 hours or so? Because that's what I would expect with what you have laid out.

    Plus given how others might join you, I think of bunch of 1-2 hour one-shots that are roughly related would be a better start. Would allow for you to change and adapt as people want to join. Would allow for him to try a couple of different characters, etc.

    Thought I've never played it, I've read it and this one has always stuck out to me as a great one-shot and place to start off new players;

  8. #8
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Oh, and another reason I think small/short adventures will be better, if life happens and you don't finish, that's going to leave a poor experience. Like getting half-way through a game of Monopoly your first time (now why did we do this?). Multiple quests that he 'wins' at each time will leave him with 2, 3, or 4 'games' under his belt.
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  9. #9
    Pit Fiend (Lvl 26)

    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Aloha, or
    Ive taught kids in the past, and I think the most important thing is to keep rules very light. Just the basics. Too many rules are intimidating. And encourage their out of the box and creative thinking. Every time I teach new players, especially kids, they are very good at I wanna try this! As opposed to experienced gamers who get caught up in what will the rules allow?
    XP S'mon, Li Shenron gave XP for this post

  10. #10
    Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)

    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    London England
    Re PCs, I would take him through making his own character. Making a level 1 5e PC really shouldn't take long. The main problem would be if you use point buy, so I recommend rolled stats in order, replace any one stat with a 15. Reroll the whole PC if necessary - this should be a lot quicker for him and he'll get to see the character emerge as he rolls it up. Also younger players especially find rolling a lot more fun than point buy number crunching.
    For a solo campaign especially, I recommend full CON score + max hit die as level 1 hp, rather than CON bonus + max hit die, so he doesn't drop too easily.

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