Playing D&D with the Kids–a Difficult Choice

For over a year now, I have fretted over which RPG to start my kids out on before settling on D&D 5th Edition. I’m talking about an 8 year old girl, 9 year old boy, and 15 year old girl. The boy has some experience from playing in some Fate Core and Dungeon World games while my eldest has played Fate Core, Pathfinder, and D&D 5e. My eldest may have played some other games at her school gaming club, although I am unsure. I also had the added caveat of needing to find a game that my wife would enjoy playing. So, why did it take me so long to decide and why, in the end, did I choose to go with the latest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons?


How Hard of a Choice was it, Really?

Believe it or not, choosing a game to play with my family was actually quite difficult. There are a lot of awesome games out there. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. I thought about playing some version of OD&D or OSR, but I wanted something new, something with a bit more creativity written into the rules. Don’t get me wrong. OSR is great for encouraging creativity, but the rules are set around combat and there isn’t a lot of customization built right in. So, I moved one. Maybe Hackmaster. This has the old school feel, but is newer and the skills and such give a lot of customization and optimization. My wife really pushed for this one, because she liked the random background rolling. I’ll get to why we didn’t choose that one in a little bit.


Now, I also looked at both Savage Worlds and Cortex. Both of these systems allow the kids to roll all those funny looking dice. The rules are streamlined, so they should be easy for the kids and wife to pick up. There’s also a lot of customization available. However, with this type of game, perhaps there’s too many options. I have to get everyone to agree on which type of game to play, what’s possible, what’s not, etc. Such a task might not be the best option for just getting started. That’s one of the same reasons I avoided Fate core. Very easy to pick up, but a lot of player agency, a lot of agreement and understanding between the GM and the players. That’s the same reason I avoided a game like Dungeon World. These games that put too much control in the hands of the players: I had a concern I’d have to deal with someone trying to pull a purple dragon out of their pocket and then having to say “no.” Saying “no” as a GM is something I don’t always enjoy and I feared it could limit their enjoyment, especially if the rules weren’t set properly in the beginning.


Next, I looked at Pathfinder. This had a set series of rules and expectations. It was based off of a system I know pretty well and I know enough about Pathfinder to start running it and learn more along the way. The reason we didn’t choose Pathfinder in the ending was because of all the options. My wife and I agreed that having so many races, classes, and feats to choose from could cause a sort of brain freeze for both the kids and us. The rules are also a bit more complex, with so many combat maneuvers, restrictions, and options.


So, we were at the point where I really had two options: Hackmaster and D&D 5e. D&D 5e won out based on two things. First, its rules were a bit more streamlined. Yes, in some areas, the rules are so streamlined, they are even a bit broken. Also, D&D 5e has some pretty well explained math when it comes to planning out encounters. I didn’t see this with Hackmaster. I could go on. Hackmaster can be quite the deadly game and character creation takes about 2 hours whereas character creation in the sometimes less deadly 5e can be done in about 15 minutes. I’m more familiar with the D&D rules. There is also a ton more information and support out there for D&D.


How has the Game Been So Far?


Well, not to toot my own horn, but I have to be doing something right. Daily, the kids have asked me if we are going to play that day. They definitely want something more than a weekly game. We’re still setting up the gaming area properly, making improvements throughout the weeks, but it’s going great. We’re using a lot of different tools to make a grid map work, because we started out with mostly hack and slash—the role-playing taking place between the characters. The actual role-playing is going to be kicking in over the next couple of games as we make it into town.


It has been a lot of fun for everyone so far. And, I’ll talk more about the specifics of what’s happening in the game and what tools we’re using in upcoming posts. For now, I wanted to explain why we chose the latest iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.


Yes, many of my concerns may have been unfounded. If I just went ahead with any of those other games, we would’ve found a way to deal with anything that came up. After all, that’s kinda what my family does—deal with things. But, I am happy with our choice and everyone else seems to be as well. What about those of you out there with kids? Are you gaming with them yet? What games are you playing? Why did you choose that game?


  1. Glad 5e is working out for you. 🙂

    I have also struggled with this with my kids. My son Elijah is 9 and my daughter Mariah is 3. I’ve tried some 5e with my son and while he enjoyed it, it’s obvious to me that he’s not so keen on a lot of structure. 5e is wonderful in it’s streamlining, BUT it has a rather strict underlying structure. Elijah dug it but

    So I’d been looking for something lighter rules but with the right flavor. I was ALMOST sold on re-skinning Numenera, then MCG announced their No Thank You Evil game aimed at kids and more importantly, aimed at kids with an age and play style gap. So we’re on hiatus until NTYE is ready to go, and we’re in the middle of trading up in houses anyway. The new house has a 2.5 car garage that will be completely devoted to me for my office and hobbies (I work from home full time). I have a massive table that will be devoted to games and it’s going to be awesome!


    1. I”m really excited to see No Thank You, Evil myself. I think the structure helps the kids–especially my kids who are used to a lot of structure anyhow (just try doing dishes with me sometime). I’d definitely recommend having a look at Dungeon World as well. As I understand, it was written to be played by both kids and adults and Alex did well with that at both 8 and 9. Having just finished a move myself, though, I can understand.

      I think, just like adults, different games for different kids. And, they’d probably have even more fun with a game with less structure. Now, if I could maintain my sanity throughout–that’s an entirely different question.

      Thanks for stopping by, having a read, and sharing your thoughts.


    2. Have you tried Basic Fantasy? It is a rules light game that kids can pick up and Dm eadily yet satisfies adults especially any that grew up playing BX D&D or 1e. I know of 8 year olds that are running there own adventures. I bought the Core book off Amazon for 4 bucks or you csn get them from lulu printing for about the same. The book is a PHB, DM guide and Monster Manual combined. If your intetested you dsn get it all free ftom the basic fantasy website as well as a ton of adventures. There is literally years worth of matetial for free and its awesome, thus foming from sn adult who has played everything over the years. Cheers.


      1. I do have the rules but not yet given them a run.


    1. I’ve heard of it, but haven’t actually looked into it yet. Perhaps I will.


  2. So do your kids read the PHB on their own time yet? Are they enthralled with role-playing or are they just really excited to have some play time with dad? I ask because I don’t have children myself and wonder if just doing something you can all enjoy is what drives their appetite for your games. I can remember loving reference books in those early years, even at age 8. Are you molding the next generation of DMs, or are they excited to explore and develop their own personal stories?


    1. They do enjoy reading the PHB. I think they like the Monster Manual more. I don’t think I’d go so far as saying “enthralled,” but they enjoy it and part of it is certainly play time with dad.


  3. I recommend Hero Kids RPG especially for the younger kids. It is designed for ages 4-11 with nice simple rules. You can choose to use the more complex character abilities as the players capabilities increase. This game won a silver ennie a number of years ago.


    1. I really couldn’t get into Hero Kids. And, if I couldn’t get into it, it’d be quite difficult to help the kids get immersed in it.


  4. Im running Dungeon World with a group of 8-10year olds and they are really enjoying it (so am I). Kids dont think inside traditional rules but they “get” moves.


    1. Dungeon World was definitely a close second. I still enjoy it and will probably look toward it for our next game–that or Savage Worlds.


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