How do you handle 'dying' in your games with your kids? Or, more appropriately, how do you handle 'killing' or the 'subdual of their enemies' in game?
I know this question doesn't apply to all styles of gaming with kids but it is one I have played around with myself and I am curious what others parents think on the subject.
This is something I thought quite a bit about before setting up the game with my kids. I decided that their chars should not die- EVER. To that end I created a DMPC heal bot cleric, to keep them away from too much trouble. After we were playing for a while my children started to become attached to their chars and I "knew" I had made the right decision.
When I got D&Di me and the kids would sit down and make new chars together with the CB, but neither of the kids seemed to be interested in changing char, having now taken theirs to 6th they were rather thrilled with their new found power.
During our games I have always rolled in the open. During our game a couple of weeks ago I rolled a crit against my boy and he says "I suppose that mean I'm dead" I told him he was only bloodied, his reply was "but daddy I wanted to play the minotaur barbarian we made last week. Please can this character be dead"
I was quite shocked and surprised, after all he's only 6. Together we worked out how he could change his char with more of a story element rather than death.
I think the lesson I learnt from this was that playing D&D with young children can teach them story telling, how to use their imaginations, how to behave in a heroic way, increase their grasp of basic maths, but also that life is cheap.
As a result I have changed the way we play. I have cut down the number of combat encounters and increased skill challenges and situations that have moral dilemmas. My kids still find the game fun and rewarding but the danger level is decreased and hopefully they will both become attached to their chars for what they do not just for what they fight.
I've also went towards more skill challenges and will sometimes add-in the moral dilemma.
Personally, I really enjoy making outdoor-setting skill challenges (such as a river crossing, cliff scaling, long journeys through harsh wilds, etc.) to keep everyone on their toes. Since we'll often hike in the mountains and have lived in many other different locations, it is a great way to help "teach" some outdoor fieldcraft during an adventure or tie-in other outdoor skills learned from different locations (deserts, coastlines, colder regions).
For our last adventure, the party (which includes my wife and my three sons (ages 16, 12, and 9)) was on a mission to get to a special location before the next full moon (no amount of days were given). As DM, I would present a picture of the moon starting two days into it's new phase and each night the party would "bed down" for the night, I'd show the next day's moon phase picture. My youngest, who just finished-up these lessons in science class, immediately began calculating how many days they would have to travel to get to their new location. My oldest found the fastest route of travel looking at maps and terrain specifics, and my middle son became the quartermaster determining how much food and water the PCs and their mounts would need.
We're still in "travel mode" right now, but they are about to be presented with a skill challenge (a river crossing) that will let them either get ahead of schedule (challenge success) or put them a few days behind schedule (challenge failure). I can't wait to see how they approach this new challenge!
My daughter has no interest in killing in any of the games she's played. When I first talked to her about my hobby and tried talking her through some back-and-forth improvised story-telling, I learned very quickly that she didn't want to deal with monsters at all. As a result, the few times I've tried to adventure with her, I ran her through more skill-based encounters. You can get pretty far just on skill challenges, and those also reflect more of the kinds of problems they're likely to see in most kids' shows they watch, like Dora.
My daughter has no problem killing, depending on what it is. She loves fighting dragons, and she won't hesitate to kill people if they are on the other side. She is, however, a bit of an animal lover (we have a lot of bears near us, even wandering the neighborhood, and she was upset when she saw one that had been tranqed, she thought it was dead) so I've avoided throwing anything furry at her.
My kids are 4 and 6 and we just started. My wife and I talked about this aspect for a long time and I decided to remove all killing for now. It is very easy to add back in whenever it is appropriate. Our household is extremely low on TV and we have an emphasis on outdoor play (no video games, etc.). So, it really would be strange for them to see violence in the game.
The majority of what I run is RP with NPCs, skill use to overcome obstacles, choice-based events, and simple "puzzles". I don't use villains or monsters. When I do introduce them they will be defeated via diplomacy once "captured".
I have used traps as threats, but the damage is more about exhaustion and not gore. They get to disable traps or smash them up. They can often use their attacks to do things like open doors from afar and then swing into the door on a rope from a ledge to get past a pit.
I don't at all have issues with someone who sees it as appropriate to have a more violent game for their kids. For me, this non-violent approach has played really well. I use a modified character sheet (which I plan to refine further) so that the game is simpler. I combined skills, reduced the complexity of powers, and grouped HPs into circles they can cross off.
I think that kids handle this better as they get older, as well as the amount of exposure they get to games in general. Video game characters die all the time. I think the biggest concern is the hissy fit if they lose.
My son's (9) been playing games for quite a few years now and he's quite adept at taking it all in stride. We picked up some Hero Clicks the other day, and I accidentally cleaned his clock. As soon as it was over, he offered his hand and said 'Good Game'. Then we discussed all the things that made the game go the way it did.
My daughter (7) is still pretty attached to her character and I think it would go poorly if there was an unhappy ending. My son on the other hand, tosses his archer into a room full of badies with the same enthusiasm as Arnold Schwarenegger with a minigun. "You want some of this?"
In the sessions I brought my son (7) and daughter (6) to encounters this season, they both experienced some death (to the monsters) and dying (of the players). My son takes getting hit in stride - he just asks how much damage he takes and notes it down. My daughter, amazingly enough, I don't think got hit more than once, and her reaction was to take revenge. She's a spiteful one...
One of the players did go down in one of the sessions and my daughter was very concerned and even put herself in harm's way to take the focus off of the dying character (she was playing a psion - so this was not a great idea in terms of the character - but very good in trying to help out a teammate).
They didn't have any problem killing the monsters because that's all they were to them - some bad critters that need to be beaten. I wouldn't be surprised if my daughter has a visual of the "boggles" from her Disney Princess game for the wii; my son plays Lego Star Wars often enough, he probably sees the critters falling into pieces
I have spent some time talking about the difference between real life and the games they play. They both know that hitting, yelling and the escalations beyond that are unacceptable in real life, but that within a game it is okay as long as it stays in the game. My son loves to play with me on Lego Star Wars because we get to fight each other while doing the segments of the movies.
Hmm I like the idea of more skill verses killing, although, like in video games, my kids understand game verse real life. But the skill route means every game does not need killing, and then they might understand why the list of skills after ever stats can help or hurt them via completing a mission.
They have been playing DnD style games for 2 years, computer and board games, so they are now 12 and 10, and I wanted them to get the feel of roleplaying. I am an old DnD player from the late 70's so therfor I too am learning DnD 4th edition Essentials. I am brushing up on my Dm skills lol or removing the rust i should say.
SO thanks for the tip of skill adventures to make the game interesting in a new route.
My five year old daughter has no problem killing monsters. Right after our first battle with a wolf, she said the PCs should set up camp and cook the wolf for dinner, then make a coat out of its fur! I didn't expect that. A couple sessions later, her character died. She wasn't upset at all and just took over my DM PC. This character now constantly says that he wants to eat more wolf meat.
Dying and killing are both things that really fascinate kids. We found that D&D was a good way to explore these ideas with our daughter and to help her differentiate between game killing and real killing.
Our daughter fears for the death of her own characters even when assured by the DM that such things will not occur in "our game", because our game is about the growth and evolution of the characters. We have all agreed that we want to have a great story where our characters grow from level 1 to level 30. That being said, she feels great empathy for her characters and knows what it would mean if they died. She seems to be able to translate these concepts into real life, and it gives her an appreciation for the value of life--even of people that she does not know.
One of her friends died in a car crash, so she knows that death means that the person is gone forever.
I think by having intelligent conversations with your kids about these issues will lead to healthier kids. D&D is a great way to explore morality issues.
As the DM, you can rule that no one is killed, only defeated. You can decide that 0 Hp means that the creature flees or falls unconscious. You do not have to have your child's characters kill anyone if you don't want to. That is the great thing about D&D, the rules are only guidelines. It's your game, play it the way that is most appropriate for your gaming group.
ON Death and Dying the Critical Injury Rules that were published recently helped our family over this hurdle. They do add some complexity and I were against them being an old school D&D player, but they definitely put enough pain in the game that people want to avoid being critically injured.
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