Dungeons and Dragons with Teens
TL;DR – Running D&D with teens is so much fun. I suggest all DMs with kids do it. Just don’t be afraid to adapt.
For the past year and a bit, I run a bi-weekly D&D game with my son and his 5 friends. It’s all home brew content, in a world I created for my other Dungeons and Dragons crew. A beautiful Continent of Balan. Home to all races, and troubles. Everything from magical issues, political ones and some backstabbing. It’s a lot of fun. Since the beginning, I knew it was goign to be difficult to handle 6 kids aged 13-14 years old. I went in expecting them to just want to kill everything. They did, for the most part. Wanting to just go to places and kill and loot things. Which, I let them do. I also wanted to show them the world of RPG. Where story is king, and characters can change your perspective. I’m happy to say it worked.
Game Plan: Hook them in quick
A week before I started the campaign, I gave them a puzzle I printed. Very simple cipher that gave them a location of a meeting in one of the towns. I ended up having to give them a clue, but they managed to solve it. So, when we started the first session, I asked where they would like to start, and they knew. The 5 of them were drawn together by a mysterious man named ‘Mr. Edmonds’. Who proceeded to employ them to take care of people and situations around town to further his standing in the political world of Balan.
In reality, most players would actually ask who he was, and what his intentions were, but the kids were just excited to go out and kill things, they missed very important questions, and signed up with a bad, bad man. It’s going to be epic when they figure it out. By this point, they have a ‘hit-list’ of people they need to take out and a path to go. Not quite there yet though, one final thing was needed: Character goals.
After I got a brief background on each character, I devised plot hooks for each, that I have right away. Private goals for each character. Reasons to stay with the group. No one else knows the others secret and it gives them something to protect and strive for. It added so much to the micro of the game and helps each kid stay focused in who they are as a character. It was a hell of a lot of work, but well worth it.
Phase two: Emotions & Choices
Now that they had 2 people off the list (One was killed, one was negotiated with, due to the fact that they lost HARD.) I started throwing in little side quests they could embark on. Save the lighthouse, find a lost child, etc. Each one they had to face a choice. Such as, if we kill this one, that kid grows up alone. If we cleanse the island of the insane water elementals, the fish people of the island lose their source of stability. They would all argue for 20 minutes about what to do. To my surprise, they all stayed not only in character but kept to their alignment. I had done my job. They’re having a blast, and role playing. They care about the world I built, and are always excited for the next session. I tell ya, I am one happy DM.
On a side note, my son said the group wanted a name. They tried for a while to figure one out. I wanted to move along, so I said “All right, enough. You are now, uhh… ‘The Fabulous 5 and that other guy'” To my surprise, the kids loved it. So there we are now.
Phase three: Consequences
The final key to make sure they are all invested was to see what happens when they fail. It happened within the first 3 months. One of the kids had to leave the group. Something about having to go ‘play sports’. (inorite?) I pulled him aside and asked, “Do you want to come back later? Shall I keep your character?”
“No, it’s ok. I want to come back, but I want to try a new character.”
Hey No problem here. It gave me an idea.
The Fab 5 were tracking down ‘The Freelancer’ when they failed checks hard. Got themselves caught. The Freelancer almost killed the one character and took them as a trophy. The kids were shocked. (Little do they know, he’ll be back. Later. And very, very angry.) Now they know what it means to fail, and how things can go wrong. Like I said, they are invested.
“D&D with teens: Where everything is pulled out your butt, and the health points don’t matter.”
The biggest problem I have is keeping them focused on the game. They often go on tangents that don’t really involve the game, so I have to direct the flow every now and then. Not really a big thing to be honest. Just teens being teens.
The other thing I noticed, is they really don’t care about descriptions. I craft this beautiful world, and describe it, but they lose interest. So, I adapted the game style. Less environmental descriptions more focus on characters and immediate area & threats. I lose the atmosphere, but the kids fill it in with imagination.
Finally, I’ve learned how to adapt on the fly. If I felt the kids weren’t enjoying the scene as much as I had hoped, I will pull anything out my ass. New enemies, new goals or a new character. Something that catches them off guard and on their toes. Needless to say, I have a lot of extra characters and things around my DM screen just in case. Keeps my improv game tight.
There are two major surprises that have happened, and has made me beam with pride;
- As I mentioned earlier, the kids ability to embrace the characters and play them properly. In the Fab 5 is a necromancer. Very chaotic evil. Surrounded by 4 good characters. He plays the necro to a ‘T’. So well, that most times I find myself hating him and wanting to kill him off. it’s amazing to watch the interactions. Many great moments have come out of that.
- The biggest surprise, just happened this last session. The rogue of the group came to me asking if he can change characters. He wasn’t having fun as the rogue, and he was feeling useless. To be honest, it was due really, REALLY crappy rolls. The poor kid could not catch a break. I said of course. Helped him build a new one with a great back story that ties in the current campaign and fits well. What shocked me the most is he asked if he could play as a woman. I said, “Hell yes! I love that idea! But, why?”
“Well, we don’t have any women in the group right now, and I think we really need that point of view added to the group.”
I was floored with pride. Just, that alone made me so happy. This 13 year old, saw a missing piece in the group and wanted to fill it. I can’t even express how happy that made me.
But wait, that’s not all. See, I am an avid player of female characters. I love strong female protagonists. it comes from being raised by one hell of a strong woman. Now, when I was a kid, if I tried to play anything as a female, I would get bugged by my friends, called names, (even jokingly) and it would honestly stop me from doing it. I was curious to see how the rest of the group would handle this female coming in.
No one, and I mean no one even batted an eye. They said “Oh, your a woman? Cool.” That was it. They moved on and killed some evil pumpkins. (long story.) These kids, no matter what anyone says, know how to play. They know how to be people. It makes me happy.
Anyways, that’s my rant for the time being, thanks for reading.
See you all soon and may you never roll a 1 when you need a 20.