My daughter has been bugging me ever since my friend Mike C gifted her her 1st D&D set at age 6. Ambitious, yes, but he wanted to make sure the groundwork was laid early. I promised her that she could play when she was 8 (incidentally the same age that my cousin Jeff had come to my house one summer attempting to teach me how to play – but I did not take him up on it at that time) – and somehow she became 8!
It was a rainy weekend and she had already broken her teeth on Heroquest and various other similar games so after allowing her to convince me I told her that we would roll up characters. Over the years I had introduced probably 20 or so people to the game but honestly, no one as young or as important to me as my daughter. I wanted to think about this and do it right so I had to think about WHY and HOW we play and explain it in such a way that an 8 year old 3rd grader could understand and appreciate. I took some time to think about it
So below are the 7 policies regarding Dungeons and Dragons and what I talked about with my kid before we even cracked a book or picked up a pencil. They are worthwhile to repeat and it does not matter what age or experience your players are.
1) Winning at D&D means you show up. That’s the most important lesson – unlike Chutes and Ladders or Monopoly – there is no end game and the game ends when you stop playing. As long as you come and come with 3 things: 1) A willingness to listen, 2) Respect for others around the table, & 3) A good attitude; you will always win at D&D.
2) There is only one Rules person at the table. Being the DM is hard and you should always respect him or her. That means that if a rule is made or something is told to you regarding how an action plays out, there is no clamoring for a change or a reroll or can I instead do this. This goes back to the 1st point in which there is NO winning. Sometimes your character will die and sometimes you will get hurt – but there are also times when you will do the same to the foes arranged against you.
3) Teamwork – This is not a solo endeavor, there will be other people in your group. Some will be players, some will be characters the DM is controlling – but the long and short of it, it is a group effort and there are going to be times that your character can shine and times when someone else will be the main focus. Be respectful of both instances. Share the spoils always and always remember that no one should be left behind.
4) Good Sportsmanship – Sometimes the dice are going to be in your favor, and sometimes they won’t. What matters is how you compose yourself at the table. Cheering when the results are good and not complaining or calling out “not fair” when the results are poor. There is going to be the desire to cheat or fudge a dice roll – but a good player will refrain from doing that.
5) Social Gathering – This is a social event, just like a party or play date. It’s a chance to get together with friends and family and do things with them that everyone enjoys doing together. There will be shared laughter and joys and groans and stories. And when you see these people again even if it is not a game day, there will be that shared experience that binds you together.
6) Math and Reading skills – There is much to be learned in regards to statistics, addition, subtraction, estimation, probability, how to read a chart, as well as learning new words, definitions, sentence structure, manners of speaking, and further personal enrichment of this and other similar topics. (Words I had to define just during character creation: Alignment, Class, Constitution, Wisdom, Charisma, Paralyzation, Ventriloquism, Portal, Pole Arm, Platemail Armor, Tinder Box, Waterskin, Morale)
7) Historical Facts – Although it is a fantasy game, there are hundreds of things to learn about the past that you would most likely glean just from casual play even the first night. What’s the difference between bows and crossbows? What’s a Keep and why was it used instead of castles everywhere? What’s a dairymaid? What’s a cobbler? Why are some roads cobbled and others dirt? What IS a cobbled road? Why doesn’t everyone own a horse?
Another thing I did that I don’t normally do is I dropped the DM screen and rolled all dice in front of her. When able to, I allowed her to roll her own dice as well. Kids love dice, heck we all love dice, so seeing how it plays out and telling her what number she was looking for to achieve what goals she wanted was not only a kick but very appreciated.
As for systems, I went back to my 1980 red book Basic D&D set – the same one that I had used and learned when I was a kid. It meant jettisoning most everything I’ve tacked on over the years but it was a pleasurable experience to go back to the basics and play as it was originally inferred. Things I was happy to relearn – healing potions do 1d6+1, all 1st level characters need a 10 to hit AC:9, Initiative maxes at +2, short range on missile attacks get a +1, Halflings hide at 90% when outside and 2/6 when in a dungeon.
And lastly, I kept the actual game play time down to about 2 ½ hours. A short goal, defined solution, and a trip back to town all wrapped up in 1 fell swoop. We could have played longer but I did not want to burn her out and instead wanted to leave her hungry (if she was interested) for more and to come back when she wanted to.
Allow me to say, she very much wanted to (and still wants to!) come back and play again.