D&D 5E D&D 5e suggestions for two beginner children and a first time DM dad?

Voadam

Legend
I would suggest one character per player and no NPCs, though a pet or two would be OK. This would be to go for them feeling they are the main character focus and not feel like they are in the background tagging along. I would tone down the combats for the two person group, either run them in modules designed for lower level groups or cut down numbers from defaults. I would focus on exploration and some talking interactions, neat things to experience and weird creatures or things to interact with.

A lot of intro modules for kids/new players across the editions have been presented as low stakes training scenarios (arena training or rat killing), which I think is less fun for a participant than something like be a ghost buster and check out a haunted house, or be Indiana Jones style archaeologists investigating newly uncovered ruins.
 

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My advices:

Simple rules, try to avoid lots of dice throwing. More storytelling like a gamebook "Choose your own adventure" or "Endless Quest". Faster and shorter games because they are worse to keep the concentration.

They are more coward but also more impulsive, and worse social skills.

Why not to try any touch of comedy? For example adding some rip-off/affectionate parody of famous characters.

Offer extra XPs if they tell their own stories, good grades at school, helping in the cleaning of the home...
 

Hello EN World!

I used to play AD&D 1e at school when these were the player’s handbook and monster manual:
advanced_dungeons_and_dragons_dd_players_handbook_1st_edition_second_cover.jpg
advanced_dungeons_and_dragons_dd_monster_manual_1st_edition_second_cover.jpg


Now, some 30+ years later, I have two primary-school children aged 8 and 10 who I’d love to get into D&D 5e. They absolutely loved the D&D Young Adventurers Collection:
ProductImage_300x449yacollection.png



How might I best introduce my kids to actually playing D&D, in a simple, age-appropriate way, in short sessions of max 1 hour to suit their attention span, and most crucially in a format that just three of us can play - the kids and I? We have a busy family life and I don’t see the opportunity for many four-hour play sessions with three other kids to make a bigger party happening on a regular basis. I don’t know anyone else who plays, or wants to start - yet! Maybe when my two are a bit bigger and have a taste for it we can organise something like that, but I would really love to have options for just us three to play now.

Should I get the kids to play two characters each, with some justification for why pairs of PCs might cooperate so closely? (Maybe the PCs they play are two pairs of twins?)

Should I try to play extra NPC party members to help with balance? Remember I am inexperienced as a DM… but willing to put significant effort in to prepare. It must be fun for the kids, and ideally me too, after all otherwise we will lose interest.

I’ve nearly finished reading the 5e basic rules, and (having a bit more money as an adult than I did back then) I have the core three 5e rule books, plus several others from WotC.

However, I have not yet found any kid-friendly adventures or campaigns suitable for an inexperienced party of two players. Do they exist? Can I realistically adapt other adventures to suit this severely limited party size and experience level?
Keep it simple. Keep it under and hour, two if the kids can handle it. Add something you know the kids enjoy, be it Samurai Jack or a Harry Potter look alike. And, if possible, add a magic item they have not seen; a rope that scales walls and ties itself off or a pair of glasses that slows down combat so they get an auto hit when they miss. Something that is descriptive and allows them to use it once or twice.

That is what I have found pulls in interest.
 


Keep it in the family. Don't bother with NPCs. Balance will be fine, and anything missing you can easily make do by giving a few extra potions or a wand of detection or some magic items to fill any void. But I really don't think you will have one, 5E works really well that way.

You can run pretty much anything, LMOP, Icepsire, etc. Just keep it rules ight, lots of fun, and end each session with enthusiasm.
 

I would suggest one character per player and no NPCs, though a pet or two would be OK. This would be to go for them feeling they are the main character focus and not feel like they are in the background tagging along.
That's why I went with sidekicks instead of full PC-class NPCs. They're less capable and, in my case, I went with characters that are also psychologically less able (the dwarf warrior tank, for instance, is fatalistic and believes he's destined to die in battle, so all of his plans revolve around charging face-first into certain doom, so the kids have to stop him and come up with a better plan). The PCs remain the star of the show all around.

The sidekick rules let you create anything, so I have another sidekick I sometimes use that's an awakened raven, who can offer scouting and advice. It would be trivial to make a sidekick dog or other pet with the same rules.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
One thing about keeping it simple - I think that age is suitable for a "twist". The kind of predictable, cliche "it was X all along" works great with them.

But have the shadowy enemy not be some great evil but... something a bit silly. Perhaps fish people?
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
However, I have not yet found any kid-friendly adventures or campaigns suitable for an inexperienced party of two players. Do they exist? Can I realistically adapt other adventures to suit this severely limited party size and experience level?

First off -- welcome to the boards.

I agree with those who said having only one character is best. Using the intro adventure in the box sets is certainly a way to go. With my son and his friends, we rolled characters, and began. with what were really small, three-room dungeons (initial challenge, development, climax and reward). Just that would usually fill 60-90 minutes, once the characters were made, and the kids felt they had done something BIG.

Here is one example: I think they were 8 and 9. There's some orcs on an island that are bothering a village. (a) get to the island, (b) get past their guard animals, (c) defeat the (one) big orc (the rumour had exaggerated the number, but he was harassing the village). -- The two kids borrowed a rowboat, but one of them was afraid to leave it unattended, in case the boatman they'd got it from got mad at them. The kid was afraid to get in trouble for losing the boat -- it was lovely. He needed permission to break rules, to do what he wanted, and the scenario gave it to him. But that was emotionally taxing for him. It doesn't need to be big monsters all the time.

It does mean that there's a payoff every session (good) and that you can scale up when needed, throwing in complications and traps. In that case, I made them think about whether the were going to kill the orc, or not, when they didn't have to. Then, when they took the captured orc back to the village, they were thanked and called heroes. That was their payoff. Again, the emotional connection was way more interesting for them than pyrotechnics.

Pyrotechnics came later.

Some other things:
  • handwritten character sheets. My son at 8 had written dexterity and constitution more times than he had his last name, I think. If they wanted there to be something specific in their backpack, they just had to write it on the sheet. That was parenting payoff, but was also a way for them to invest in their character choices.
  • let them leave space for character drawings (or have extra paper). It was a good way for some of his friends to represent what they saw their character doing. They'd erase hats when they lost them, etc. It was wonderful.
  • Kids like pets. Give them a pet, or a talking pet.
  • whenever a friend would play, I'd give the kid a set of polyhedrals. Everyone gets their own dice, and friends get to take theirs home with them (and bring them next time!).
 

  • handwritten character sheets. My son at 8 had written dexterity and constitution more times than he had his last name, I think. If they wanted there to be something specific in their backpack, they just had to write it on the sheet. That was parenting payoff, but was also a way for them to invest in their character choices.
I'm planning on running a Strixhaven game over winter break with my kid. I'm thinking of letting the little one's character know anything in the Young Adventurers Guides (and maybe the older Practical Guides created in the 3E/4E era) if she can access the information without much delay. In-game rewards for being a good reader is a D&D tradition, after all.
  • whenever a friend would play, I'd give the kid a set of polyhedrals. Everyone gets their own dice, and friends get to take theirs home with them (and bring them next time!).
My wife called last Christmas "the Christmas of dice" because we gave dice or a bag to everyone we played with. We went with dice from Etsy, since you can get hyper-specific stuff like the dice with pandas inside that I got for my daughter.
 

First off -- welcome to the boards.

I agree with those who said having only one character is best. Using the intro adventure in the box sets is certainly a way to go. With my son and his friends, we rolled characters, and began. with what were really small, three-room dungeons (initial challenge, development, climax and reward). Just that would usually fill 60-90 minutes, once the characters were made, and the kids felt they had done something BIG.

Here is one example: I think they were 8 and 9. There's some orcs on an island that are bothering a village. (a) get to the island, (b) get past their guard animals, (c) defeat the (one) big orc (the rumour had exaggerated the number, but he was harassing the village). -- The two kids borrowed a rowboat, but one of them was afraid to leave it unattended, in case the boatman they'd got it from got mad at them. The kid was afraid to get in trouble for losing the boat -- it was lovely. He needed permission to break rules, to do what he wanted, and the scenario gave it to him. But that was emotionally taxing for him. It doesn't need to be big monsters all the time.

It does mean that there's a payoff every session (good) and that you can scale up when needed, throwing in complications and traps. In that case, I made them think about whether the were going to kill the orc, or not, when they didn't have to. Then, when they took the captured orc back to the village, they were thanked and called heroes. That was their payoff. Again, the emotional connection was way more interesting for them than pyrotechnics.

Pyrotechnics came later.

Some other things:
  • handwritten character sheets. My son at 8 had written dexterity and constitution more times than he had his last name, I think. If they wanted there to be something specific in their backpack, they just had to write it on the sheet. That was parenting payoff, but was also a way for them to invest in their character choices.
  • let them leave space for character drawings (or have extra paper). It was a good way for some of his friends to represent what they saw their character doing. They'd erase hats when they lost them, etc. It was wonderful.
  • Kids like pets. Give them a pet, or a talking pet.
  • whenever a friend would play, I'd give the kid a set of polyhedrals. Everyone gets their own dice, and friends get to take theirs home with them (and bring them next time!).
We constantly have starter dice sets as well. :)
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
However, I have not yet found any kid-friendly adventures or campaigns suitable for an inexperienced party of two players. Do they exist?
Trail of the Apprentice.

I found this gem at Half-Price-Books; 284 pages of age-appropriate greatness. It's a whole adventure path for levels 1-5. Written specifically for family game nights. I wish I had kids!

Whats's more, it's a style of adventure that you, as an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons player, would recognize.
 




I strongly advice against the starter set and instead support the essentials kit.

The big advantage over the starter set is that it has a lot of short adventures, many of which are against monsters, not humanoids which I do prefer in a game for kids. Many of the adventures with humanoids can be resolved without killing them, which is also a big plus.


It also brings real character advancement rules and rules for NPC classes.

It has 5 charactet classes and a short players guide.

It also has magic item cards and NPC cards which helps kids a lot.

That said, DnD5e works very well with just 2 players even without an added npc. And also with any class combinations the like. The short rest mechanic to heal is very handy for that playstyle.

Edit: if your children are not that rules savant, you can let them just use sidekick classes themselves. They are good enough to be played as player characters. You can have them start at level 2, so that your kids have a slightly easier start (and are better than the npc).
 

TheSword

Legend
My advice would be the following.

- Don’t create DM PC’s use NPCs to prod and support them with what they need and adjust the difficulty accordingly.

- Take our character death. Have them fall asleep at 0 hp and then wake up later. Character death is not necessary to have fun. There can be other consequences for the the enemies beating the characters on time.

- For adventures I would go back to dungeon magazine and have flick through some adventures in there. The online library archive.org has a lot of them I believe. There are several whimsical and fun adventures published there. When I’m home tonight I’ll have a flick through my set and see which ones stand out. There are also many many indexes and suggestions online for great dungeon magazine adventures.
 

Raven_King

Villager
I'm just amazed by the quality and thoughtfulness of the answers everyone's giving here. Thank you for all this help - most of which seems to be in agreement! :)

I strongly advice against the starter set and instead support the essentials kit.
I have both, so I'll take a look. Both seem somewhat complex to me, which will no doubt make the long-time DMs laugh (which is fine by me!) :)

I'm much more concerned about keeping play sessions and adventures short. I can see how it can be fairly easy for me as DM to 'rescue' my young party of two (perhaps plus sidekicks) if they do something too rash or run into a hard fight that they're in real danger of losing because I've not got the hang of balancing things for them yet. Later on, when we're all a bit more experienced, we can take the training wheels off a bit more, but I can't imagine anything turning them off the game faster than having the party wipe - or even getting really badly beaten up - on day one! That can come down the line :)

Keeping things short will also help me to get things straight enough in my mind that I can follow an adventure roughly as written, apply the rules and mechanics of play at least roughly correctly, and not have to keep fudging things or intervening too much, which would spoil the flow and feeling of player agency. I'm new to 5e (and wow is it simpler than 1e was - thank goodness!!!), and really want to be able to hold enough of the game mechanics, character stats and attacks/spells, and monster details in my head or have them close at hand, so it doesn't become a dreary reference session! I have all the key books, and I'm working my way through reading them all, but there's a lot there, and I'm very keen on keeping pacing brisk and keeping it fun - and funny! The Starter Kit and Essentials Kit material is clearly designed to help consolidate 'all you need to know' in one place, which I really appreciate, at least until I can remember the order of how to run combat in the heat of the moment without having to look it up. I know where to look it up, but it's no fun for players if I have to during a game, and in any case, it seems simple enough that this shouldn't take very many play sessions to really master. But listening to the early Aquisitions Incorporated shows, it's clear how helpful it is to have a DM who knows that e.g. Healing Word takes 1 bonus action to cast, so a cleric who knows it can make an attack or cast a spell AND cast Healing Word on the same turn. That's not necessarily the sort of thing you might think to look up in the heat of the moment, you kind of need to know. So, I expect to have to learn the key features of the premade characters for good roleplaying/interaction, and learn their actions, attacks, spells, equipment etc. reasonably well before we start playing so this is at least partly second nature. As someone said earlier on, sight-reading this stuff isn't going to work for a first time DM.

I also think the stakes my kids have in the adventure - what they stand to lose, their risk - needs to be lower than the stakes an adult party would have (massive loss of equipment, death!), but there still have to be some, and it should not feel to my kids that the outcome is entirely in my hands (even if it basically is, as a last resort). I want them to feel they earned their victories by making good decisions and playing their characters, not (necessarily) themselves.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Hello EN World!

I used to play AD&D 1e at school when these were the player’s handbook and monster manual:
advanced_dungeons_and_dragons_dd_players_handbook_1st_edition_second_cover.jpg
advanced_dungeons_and_dragons_dd_monster_manual_1st_edition_second_cover.jpg


Now, some 30+ years later, I have two primary-school children aged 8 and 10 who I’d love to get into D&D 5e. They absolutely loved the D&D Young Adventurers Collection:
ProductImage_300x449yacollection.png



How might I best introduce my kids to actually playing D&D, in a simple, age-appropriate way, in short sessions of max 1 hour to suit their attention span, and most crucially in a format that just three of us can play - the kids and I? We have a busy family life and I don’t see the opportunity for many four-hour play sessions with three other kids to make a bigger party happening on a regular basis. I don’t know anyone else who plays, or wants to start - yet! Maybe when my two are a bit bigger and have a taste for it we can organise something like that, but I would really love to have options for just us three to play now.

Should I get the kids to play two characters each, with some justification for why pairs of PCs might cooperate so closely? (Maybe the PCs they play are two pairs of twins?)

Should I try to play extra NPC party members to help with balance? Remember I am inexperienced as a DM… but willing to put significant effort in to prepare. It must be fun for the kids, and ideally me too, after all otherwise we will lose interest.

I’ve nearly finished reading the 5e basic rules, and (having a bit more money as an adult than I did back then) I have the core three 5e rule books, plus several others from WotC.

However, I have not yet found any kid-friendly adventures or campaigns suitable for an inexperienced party of two players. Do they exist? Can I realistically adapt other adventures to suit this severely limited party size and experience level?
I have been DMing for my kids using 5e since the youngest of them was 6yo, so I have some first-hand experience.

Before then, I had DMed for them a few times some super-basic RPG with home made rules since they were 3yo, so at least they knew what was a RPG about. At 6yo, we started playing 5e as-is.

(1) Yours are already older, you can use 5e rules, don't waste your time trying to modify the rules, and don't waste your money in other systems. All you really need, is keep their characters simple, and avoid what is not necessary during the game. Do not teach them the rules in advance, tell them how things work only when they ask to do something. If you don't know the answer, or you think it'll be something too complex to explain, you are allowed to make something up.

(2) Before you play, create some ready PCs of various classes. Not all of them, it's enough to make a Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, a couple more if you wish. Make them as simple as you can, by picking the simplest (and shortest to read) spells and abilities. Then tell your kids what does each character do in general: the Fighter fights and defends his friends, the Rogue explores and finds dangers, the Wizard does magic. Let them choose which one to play, and decide only the name, gender and race*, and whatever appearance and personality they want.

*Use human stats when creating the PCs, and let race be only a cosmetic choice. Although, you could pick ONE special ability for each race such as Dwarf's darkvision, Halfling's luck or similar.

(3) Strictly one character each. You'll make very easy encounters instead.

(4) You don't need an award-winning story: "save the puppies from the evil goblins" will just work. But you can include samples of all traditional D&D tropes: talking with NPCs, doing some investigations, explore a place with possible traps and hazards, and of course combat.

(5) Combat rules in 5e are super simple if you don't tell all the possible actions in advance. Tell them the principle of "one important action per turn", and wait for them to come up with anything less obvious than an attack or spell. Similarly, don't explain stuff like opportunity attacks before a character triggers one, then of course let them avoid them properly.

(6) Give them room to choose how to solve problems without constantly calling up rules. Reward good ideas by not having them roll dice at all, explain that they need to roll when the idea is ok but not that great.

(7) Do not let them lose their first game! If they fail, always open up a new possible continuation of the story towards a positive ending. Maybe the goblins got away with the puppies, but you can still figure out where they live before they eat them!

(8) Should it ever happen that one of their PCs dies, well just DON'T. Replace death with something else: a bad wound that forces them to stop and see a doctor, losing consciousness and being robbed, or being captured and now having to escape. You can tell them that adult gamers usually accept their PC to die, but it's not yet the time for them.

(9) Visualize stuff (for examples using maps, monster pictures, minis or treasure props) but be careful not to overdo it: keep an eye open that your kids don't become more interested in the props than the game (like they start playing with minis instead of following what happens in the story).
 

Raven_King

Villager
This is fantastic.
I have been DMing for my kids using 5e since the youngest of them was 6yo, so I have some first-hand experience.

Before then, I had DMed for them a few times some super-basic RPG with home made rules since they were 3yo, so at least they knew what was a RPG about. At 6yo, we started playing 5e as-is.

(1) Yours are already older, you can use 5e rules, don't waste your time trying to modify the rules, and don't waste your money in other systems. All you really need, is keep their characters simple, and avoid what is not necessary during the game. Do not teach them the rules in advance, tell them how things work only when they ask to do something. If you don't know the answer, or you think it'll be something too complex to explain, you are allowed to make something up.

(2) Before you play, create some ready PCs of various classes. Not all of them, it's enough to make a Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, a couple more if you wish. Make them as simple as you can, by picking the simplest (and shortest to read) spells and abilities. Then tell your kids what does each character do in general: the Fighter fights and defends his friends, the Rogue explores and finds dangers, the Wizard does magic. Let them choose which one to play, and decide only the name, gender and race*, and whatever appearance and personality they want.

*Use human stats when creating the PCs, and let race be only a cosmetic choice. Although, you could pick ONE special ability for each race such as Dwarf's darkvision, Halfling's luck or similar.

(3) Strictly one character each. You'll make very easy encounters instead.

(4) You don't need an award-winning story: "save the puppies from the evil goblins" will just work. But you can include samples of all traditional D&D tropes: talking with NPCs, doing some investigations, explore a place with possible traps and hazards, and of course combat.

(5) Combat rules in 5e are super simple if you don't tell all the possible actions in advance. Tell them the principle of "one important action per turn", and wait for them to come up with anything less obvious than an attack or spell. Similarly, don't explain stuff like opportunity attacks before a character triggers one, then of course let them avoid them properly.

(6) Give them room to choose how to solve problems without constantly calling up rules. Reward good ideas by not having them roll dice at all, explain that they need to roll when the idea is ok but not that great.

(7) Do not let them lose their first game! If they fail, always open up a new possible continuation of the story towards a positive ending. Maybe the goblins got away with the puppies, but you can still figure out where they live before they eat them!

(8) Should it ever happen that one of their PCs dies, well just DON'T. Replace death with something else: a bad wound that forces them to stop and see a doctor, losing consciousness and being robbed, or being captured and now having to escape. You can tell them that adult gamers usually accept their PC to die, but it's not yet the time for them.

(9) Visualize stuff (for examples using maps, monster pictures, minis or treasure props) but be careful not to overdo it: keep an eye open that your kids don't become more interested in the props than the game (like they start playing with minis instead of following what happens in the story).
It's obvious you know what you're talking about. I am intrigued by #4 because I think you're right, and I'm a bit apprehensive of blowing an award-winning story in the first session, in case it unravels in some way that's beyond my control. Kids can have a bad day and a tantrum. We might briefly fall out over something unrelated to the game or one of them just winding the other up and need to take a break. I'd be happier to abandon something with a bit less content to it if that happens, and get one or two very simple adventures under all of our belts first, and then bring out the Essentials Kit and/or Starter Set once we have a feel for it.

#6, #7 and #8 are exactly what I'm thinking too. I won't tell them they can't die, but I definitely won't actually let them die. Or lose more than minor and readily replaceable pieces of gear, to begin with.

Thanks again.
 


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