Learning to play D&D with 8-11 year olds

I’m currently playing Hoard of the Dragon Queen with my sons and 5-6 of their friends in the past few posts. It’s been fun.

DM Tip: If you’re playing Hoard of the Dragon Queen, go read Mike Shea’s series offering suggestions on how to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen now, then come back after you’ve read it. (It’s that good).

We are currently on Episode 3: The Dragon Hatchery.

I’ve learned a few things about playing with these boys. Here’s a quick list:

  1. asdian_raptorian_by_marciorambo-d8aa6nnThey are resourceful: today, a Raptoran character (played by a 9-year-old) flew up to a mage on an overhead ledge in the Temple of Tiamat during the middle of the battle with Langderosa Cyanwrath, grabbed the mage with his talons and swung him into the statue of Tiamat across the room killing the mage. Impressive.
  2. They love being OP (stands for over powered) and having lots of healing potions available. They don’t stop to rest unless I make them, and they have more fun when they’re battling 3 Ambush Drakes, a Roper and 6 Kobolds.
  3. They’re a little impatient. The 9-year-old playing the Raptoran asked me if his PC could fly yet every session until he hit level five. Now it’s like a whole different player has showed up to play. (Next time, I might just start a Raptoran with flying skills… or move the level requirement down to level 3. If it makes the play more fun, I’m all for it. I’ve also got an 11-year-old that really wants a staff for his Wizard PC. He’s asked to find a staff during the last two sessions. I’m going to have to figure out he’ll find one during the next session… It might have a funny curse on it. He’d play that up hilariously.
  4. They’re finally starting to learn how to play after 10-11 sessions together (or maybe I’m finally learning how to be their DM). Today I saw some magical strategic discussions about how to go into an encounter, which helped reel back the more aggressive players, allowing for a quick discussion about pros and cons of different approaches, without the conversation devolving into 8 kids yelling at each other (those were some fun initial sessions, let me tell you!). Once they’d agreed on a general structure to their encounter, I’d coach them through the turns, while having one player help me keep track of whose turn it was. (sidenote: in Mike Shea’s excellent The Lazy DM, there’s a whole chapter on what you can and should delegate. That chapter alone has improved my DM’ing ten-fold. It’s also improved the kids’ playing!)
  5. These kids love understanding the game, but are totally willing to make it up. I had two players casting Acid Splash today. One was rolling 2d12 for damage. The other was rolling 2d6 for damage. Since I’ve delegated most of the “rules moderation” to the kids, I got to sit back and watch as they looked up the rules in the PHB and discussed which was right. I just got them all to agree after their discussion (the right answer is 1d6, btw). A little later during a different scenario, I asked the 2d12 player “are you sure that’s in the rules, or are you making that up?” When he admitted to not being sure, and that he made up the specifics, I let him have it, because he wanted to cast witch bolt into a Beserkers Iron Greataxe, because, according to his logic, channeling the lightning into a metal weapon would cause the creatures arms to freeze up from convulsions, allowing the rest of the party to attack the relatively imobilized monster. It was an awesome idea, so I said “sure, go for it”. Epic.
  6. Each kid is totally different in how they want to play, and what they want to get out of the game. It’s taken me a while to figure out each player, and we lost a few while I was still learning how to be 10 again, and I’m still a long way from being good. About 3 sessions into playing with these guys, I learned to “give up on what I think this game should look like, and figure out what they want it to look like and then go with it” … Since then, it’s been getting better and better each session.
  7. They can only handle about 2.5 hours of play if their characters are getting beat up, though they’re also willing to just keep attacking until their character dies, if I don’t reign them in. And they need a snack about an hour into the session, so I’ve just built in 15 minutes for snack/break. I also set an alarm on my phone for 30 minutes before the session ends, so that I can make sure I find a good way to “pause” wherever we are in the game. The kids don’t mind (they don’t know) that they didn’t finish an episode, they just know their characters are about to die, so they should rest somewhere safe 😉
  8. I wrap up each session quickly, and we’ve learned to “figure out XP, HP and the like” during the beginning of the next session. It gives us time to wrap up properly, without being pressed for time, and it lets us all get reacquainted when we all get back together.
  9. To play Hoard of the Dragon, I read through the entire published book. I’ve copied some maps and painted them. I also read all of Sly Fourish’s tips (priceless) and I’d spent 9 sessions playing The Lost Mines of Phandelver with these kids. For each session, I now prep with about 15-30 minutes of “work” and then let the kids set up the session once we’re all at the table together.

It’s taken us a while to get to this point, but I’m proud of the kids and happy with how they’re playing.

Author: The Family DM


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