Either Wizards of the Coast have done a good job promoting the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons or Stranger Things got it into everyone's head, because a bunch of people have asked me about getting D&D for their kids this Christmas.
"You know about this stuff, Dave. Where do I even start?"
Good question! If you've never played a tabletop Role Playing Game before, guiding your child into the hobby could feel like anything from confusing to terrifying. Luckily, I have your back!
There are actually a lot of games that give you a great RPG experience. Some of them are even specially designed for young people. Despite that, I'm going to suggest starting with the fifth and current edition of Dungeons & Dragons for a few reasons. Everyone who has contacted me has had their kids ask for "D&D" by name. They want something that says "D&D" on it. As the former kid who received a Tandy COCO II from Radio Shack instead of a Commodore 64 for Christmas like everyone else, I'm telling you it's best not to disappoint them with an almost what they asked for. (Don't worry, my parents don't read my blog. Their feelings are safe!) The other thing is D&D has always been something of a lingua franca of roleplaying. Because it is so ubiquitous in the hobby almost everyone has some experience with it and can relate what they are playing to it. It's also the most popular game so it's easy to find other people to game with. The last reason is they've went to a lot of trouble to make it easy for new players to pick up the game without someone helping them through it.
The best place for a new player to start is The D&D Starter Set box. It has a stripped down version of the rules with a set of sample characters to play and one of the best starting adventure campaigns ever! They can open the box on Christmas, read through it, choose someone to run the game and be playing as early as that evening (although Boxing Day is probably a more reasonable expectation). Everything necessary to jump in and actually play is in the box, including the funny dice. It's carried by some book and gaming stores, but it's also available to order on Amazon and Chapter's Indigo.
Each player controls a character who is an avatar in the shared, imaginary world of the game. One person is going to need to take the role of the referee who adjudicates the rules, runs all the people in the game not played by the players, and presents the problems and situations for the players to solve with the resources of their characters and their wacky ideas. This referee is know as the Dungeon Master or DM. The series of adventures in the box helps a new DM get the hang of running all these things with a great advice and explanations.
The adventure, called The Lost Mines of Phandelver, has a series of locations that the players can interact with in any order they like as they figure out what is going on in the campaign area. This is important because it introduces the idea of player choice to everyone playing. The fact that the players can do pretty much anything they want is what makes a tabletop RPG so much better than a video game.
|Everything in the D&D Starter Set box|
To continue playing after they are done with what they get in the box they will need more rules. The Basic Rules are available online for free with a guide for both the Players and the Dungeon Master. These will allow them to create new characters and adventures of their own that can keep them going for years. As much as I love how the ease this creates for entering the hobby, I think it is worth spending some more money on a hard copy of at least the Player's Handbook. Dead tree books are easier to reference at the table than tablets and you can roll dice on them without scratching a screen.
The Player's Handbook for D&D has all the rules and offers all the possibilities needed to create characters to suite the imaginations of the players in straightforward steps. It's fairly easy to get. Most book stores carry it and you can get it on Amazon or Chapters in a couple of days.
At this point you are up to nearly $60 in stuff, but if you are sure your kid is going to love it and you want to spend money on things that fit neatly on a shelf, there are a couple more things you can look at right away.
The first is not made by the D&D people, but one of their competitors. It's compatible with D&D and has a great deal of value beyond the adventure itself. Broodmother Skyfortress is an adventure in the first half of the book with all kinds of options to tailor the adventure to their taste. It is amazing! The second half is full of advice on how to create campaigns, settings and run adventures. The advice is super useful to a DM new or experienced. The other wonderful thing is the Jack Kirby, 1960s comic book style art is a nice contrast to what you get in the D&D products and might help them think outside of the box. It's from a publisher in Finland called Lamentations of the Flame Princess but is also available in a few days on Amazon.
After that you might want to look at the Monster Manual or Volo's Guide to Monsters for them but it's not necessary. Save them for a birthday!
To make playing easier you could look at player tokens or miniatures. Painting miniatures is a whole other part of the hobby that comes with its own costs and entry hurdles. If people ask me about that I'll do another post, but for now I'll give you some resources for paper miniatures. These can be printed out on a home printer and used as needed to help the players keep track of where everything is when they are playing. They aren't necessary, but I found with my girls that when they were younger (6-8) having miniatures helped them engage with the game.
|Paper minis slid into plastic slotabases. They could have as easily been glued to some cardboard.|
One of my favourite sites for these is Eddnic's Fantasy Paper Minis. They can be printed and folded to create all kinds of monsters to help run encounters! It is possible to find these with some time spent on Google or Pinterest with a simple search for "fantasy paper miniatures" if you have the time. If you don't you can buy PDFs of different printable miniatures for a few dollars (a good use of someone's allowance maybe?) and download them from DriveThru RPG. I'm a fan of the Disposable Heroes and Trash Mob Minis.
|Click image to see more detail. |
These are the characters from the web series JourneyQuest and film The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. :)
After that they'll want more dice. To keep them for stealing all the normal dice out of your boardgames you should probably buy them a set or two at some point. This is another thing that there is no rush for. You can buy them in comic shops and order them online. I know a guy with an online dice store that can get you a great deal with free shipping (not in time for Christmas)!
If you are wondering about the benefits of RPGs as a hobby for children, it is a social game that helps develop problem-solving skills, creative thinking, imagination, vocabulary, math skills and teamwork. There are all kinds of benefits so if they want to do it there's no downside. After 35 years of gaming I have no regrets for the time spent. My involvement in RPGs has allowed me to meet some incredible people and is a part of some of my longest lasting friendships.