DMing for younger players

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I am a 40 year old father of three. My daughter is 11, and my boys are 13 and 16. i have been exposing them to my geekdom since birth. They all have expressed interest in playing, but I have been hesitant. My take on the game has always been very dark, and I am not sure i could be an effective DM if i tried to be otherwise. I would love to hear some takes on my problem.
I was probably 11 when I first started playing D&D and played RPGs regularly until the end of high school (didn't do nearly that much gaming in college...despite being in a Fantasy/SciFi/Gaming club).

It might be a challenge for you to run a game for all 3 of your children.  You could probably get away with a game for your 11 & 13 year olds and a game for your 13 and 16 year olds.  You may have issues running a game that includes both your 11 and 16 year olds that will be appropriate for each of them.

What I would suggest is that you have a talk with your 16 year old to find out whether he's okay with the game being catered a bit more to the 11 year old.

I think that you should probably have the game very black-and-white...no shades of gray.  So, bad guys are bad guys and heroes are heroes.  No "dark and gritty" types. Let your 11 year old guide you to find out whether you're being too "cartoonish" for her as she matures.

You have a great opportunity to use gaming as a tool to instill values in your kids and help them mature.

PS. Just as an FYI, I'm a single 45-year old with no kids.  The opinion of a parent in a similar situation as you would probably be more valuable.         
Jerhiko28, let me ask you these rhetorical questions:

When did you start playing?
Has your view of D&D and gaming ALWAYS been "dark?"

If you started gaming at about the same age as your children are now, then most likely the answer to the second question is no.  In which case, you need to get your brain back to that time when D&D was about the knight in shining armor slaying the evil orcs and the good guys always winning.

If you started playing later in life, then most likely the answer to the second question is yes.  In which case I would recommend modeling your game around action movies and TV shows you allow your kids to watch.  Some can be rather "dark" but in a lighthearted/not so serious way.

Also, if so inclined, you could make the game a learning experience about moral choices.  There was a thread posted by a religious school teacher who wanted to use D&D as a medium for teaching bible stories (basically putting the kids' characters into situations faced by biblical figures) and some VERY good ideas came out of it.  I am not saying you need to or should do the same thing, but it would be a way to allow your dark side to come out (there's a lot of death in the Bible) while teaching your kids valuable lessons.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
Don't DM for them, just set them up with a set, maybe have them invite another person or two, and have them play their own game. I don't imagine you had an experienced adult leading you when you started out, so why not give them the same experience?

Or, if you are determined to DM for them, try a heavily collaborative and improvisational method in which the players have as much input as the DM, and the DM just guides it with leading questions. You can say something like "You open the door and are confronted with a horrific scene! What is it that your character sees?" and the players can moderate their preferred darkness level. Go along with and work with any answers they give you, rather than trying to steer the game into a particular style.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Or you can look for organized play opportunities or clubs that run open games days in your area. Things like D&D Encounters or LFR.  Then you can all go and play together.  Most of those kinda of thing are either designed to be appropriate for teens or let you know ahead that it isn't.  


My older kids are 10 and 13 and have been playing for a couple of years.  Regularly in organized play, and we've never had anything I would deem as in appropriate.  The see more graphic violence in tv and video games than in D&D.  Very rarely have anyone used language that we would like our kids not to use, though they've hear it all before and we have never run into any sexual themes. They have lots of fun and I get to share.  


I've seen plenty of other kids playing, some regularly, some not.  As young as 7-ish.  I'd love to run a regular game for them at home, but kinda waiting for the younger ones (3 and 5) to get a bit older/be able to read efficiently.


You could always try running a published adventure and keep it true to the text to keep it from getting to dark.  Or as Centauri said, let them run with it.  Maybe later on they'll invite you to play in their campaign.


TjD 

I personally think it is a great idea to run a game for your kids. As stated already there is a lot of potential use it as a tool to teach morals and important life lessons or bible stories. You might even try to encourage your wife to join in and make it a nice family bonding activity.
I am a 40 year old father of three. My daughter is 11, and my boys are 13 and 16. i have been exposing them to my geekdom since birth. They all have expressed interest in playing, but I have been hesitant. My take on the game has always been very dark, and I am not sure i could be an effective DM if i tried to be otherwise. I would love to hear some takes on my problem.

I recently ran my son and a friend (both 12) through H1.  All worked very well, but I am a complete softie as a GM so thats not a problem ;)  If you use a published module you are at least working from a base-line and within a few sessions I am sure you will have an idea what they like and what works well.

Definitely worth persuing. 
I started DMing for my three boys (10, 13, 16) last year and we've had some awesome good fun. I kept the story simple and old school, like the quests I used to go on as teen myself. The bad guys are monstrous and unremittingly evil, the good guys have a clear mission to smite evil and loot dungeons. I let my boys set the tone. They were bloodthirsty and relentless. When a heavily injured goblin fled the scene, they attempted to light his blood trail on fire so he would explode before he got too far. I set a pretty quick pace in terms of loot and advancement and encouraged them to try anything they wanted. They were actually very clever in their strategy. Rather than grind down the end boss in a mine with their attacks and spells, they tricked him into smashing down the support beams and bringing the place down on himself.
I've run a game for my 9 and 12 year old nephews and a friends son who's 15 years old. This is what I did in the end after some trail and error.

(1) Forget encounter building rules, make everything easy to begin with.

(2) In the end I didn't use hard fast rules for character death, because they started changing the name on the top of dead character sheets or rebuilding PC's with the same name.

(3) I let them have their digital devices at the table, and show them the cool new dice roll apps, character builder apps or sound boards. They just can't unplug themselves that easily and it's a battle you can't win. I tryed banning them and it just doesn't work, they just go back to the computer games.

(4) I kept it simple, the older kids will figure stuff out, but the younger kids will not.

(5) A fast pace works best, attention span is much shorter. If I started reading out long text blocks they were getting up to mischief, by throwning dice around or annoying each other.

(6) Prepare for every solution to involve burning it down or fire. A kids mind always goes back to fire as a solution for everything I discovered, frightening as a real world solution.

(7) Don't worry about the rules, till someone complains that Johnny is cheating. They are all cheating, you are only seeing some of the stuff they are up too. Often they would forget rules or are not aware of them, I didn't sweat it in the end.

(8) Appeal to their greed, blood lust and childish desires to keep them at the table and away from the internet (computer, playstation, xbox, etc).

(9) Stick really big things on the table to scare them during combats. It generated a lot of excitement for the kids I ran a game with, so long as they don't all die.

(10) Remember you censor rating can't go past the youngest kid at the table. I would slip up on this at times, can be tricky.

(11) I cheated many times with the dice rolls to keep them alive as they did some crazy stuff.

Good luck and may the force be with you.
I've run a game for my 9 and 12 year old nephews and a friends son who's 15 years old. This is what I did in the end after some trail and error.

(1) Forget encounter building rules, make everything easy to begin with.

(2) In the end I didn't use hard fast rules for character death, because they started changing the name on the top of dead character sheets or rebuilding PC's with the same name.

(3) I let them have their digital devices at the table, and show them the cool new dice roll apps, character builder apps or sound boards. They just can't unplug themselves that easily and it's a battle you can't win. I tryed banning them and it just doesn't work, they just go back to the computer games.

(4) I kept it simple, the older kids will figure stuff out, but the younger kids will not.

(5) A fast pace works best, attention span is much shorter. If I started reading out long text blocks they were getting up to mischief, by throwning dice around or annoying each other.

(6) Prepare for every solution to involve burning it down or fire. A kids mind always goes back to fire as a solution for everything I discovered, frightening as a real world solution.

(7) Don't worry about the rules, till someone complains that Johnny is cheating. They are all cheating, you are only seeing some of the stuff they are up too. Often they would forget rules and not be aware of them, I didn't sweat it in the end.

(8) Appeal to their greed, blood lust and childish desires to keep them at the table and away from the internet (computer, playstation, xbox, etc).

(9) Stick really big things on the table to scare them during combats. It generated a lot of excitement for the kids I ran a game with, so long as they don't all die.

(10) Remember you censor rating can't go past the youngest kid at the table. I would slip up on this at times, can be tricky.

(11) I cheated many times with the dice rolls to keep them alive as they did some crazy stuff. Goog luck and may the force be with you.

These tips are excellent and almost all of them are relevant to older gamers, too.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Thank you all for the input. I was very excited to see all of the responses and i think there is alot of really good advice here. I was considering doing a 4E update to good old B2 and setting it somewhere in the Nentir Vale. This should be an easy few sessions to keep light and action packed while still giving opportunities for lead ins to future adventures.