PLAYING D&D WITH TWEENS: PART II

Some of my notes prior to Session 0
Last year, I wrote about how my (at the time) 10 year-old daughter expressed interest in playing a D&D game, and how we approached the the parents of three of her friends to see if they wanted to play in an ongoing campaign. In that post, I shared the email that I sent to the parents, all of whom (with one exception) had either no knowledge of the game, or in one case had very negative feelings based on the kids who had played it when she was in school. I also invited the parents to watch us play or even to join the game. One parent, my daughter's friend's dad (and my friend) chose to play, but so far, none of the other parents have joined us either to watch or participate. 

In this second part, I’ll go over some of my pre-playing preparations, some of the questions I asked the players, and also our “Session 0,” which we held via Zoom and, in retrospect, which I wish I had taken some screen captures from just so I had some fun pictorial evidence of our “first session.” 

After her group of friends had agreed to play, I asked my daughter two questions: What was the favorite color for each of her friends, and what was their favorite animal

Once we had the color question answered, she and I made a trip to our local craft store where I bought a small notebook with a cover matching each player’s favorite color. I also ordered one set of dice matching the favorite color of each player and had the dice sent directly to the players’ houses. Ideally I would have purchased the dice at my local game shop, but this was during the height of the pandemic and our shop was closed during that time. 

Once the dice had arrived at each player’s house, I started thinking about how best to teach them the rules. I had my old Moldvay Basic D&D Boxed Set from 1981, but I was also planning to play using Old School Essentials (OSE), a 100% faithful restatement of the B/X rules but with better organization and layout. A side benefit would be that my original copy of the Basic Set wouldn’t get wrecked during our game. I’d purchased the OSE boxed set which came with five books (Core Rules, Fantasy Genre Rules, Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Monsters, and Treasures) and with a PDF version of each book. I wanted to support Necrotic Gnome, the publisher of Old School Essentials, so I also ended up purchasing a hardcopy and PDF of the Player’s Rules Tome to have a table copy of the rules for the players and a PDF copy the players could look at in-between game sessions. 

With that out of the way, I set about organizing a time for a Zoom call to go over the rules and explain things about what the game was really all about (e.g., what a role-playing game is), the terminology (like D20 or Player Character or Campaign, etc.). I also emailed the group the PDF copy of the Player’s Rules Tome along with a few pages of notes about my world to help them have context to make their characters. 

It was at this point that I began to understand that communicating with this group in-between sessions was going to be a challenge. I was relying on them to read their emails, but this is an age group that didn’t grow up checking and reading emails. They didn’t know how, or didn’t bother with trying, to open attachments. They were being forced to use email for school but I wasn’t emailing their school accounts because those accounts are blocked (and rightly so, so that outsiders can’t email school kids). But, while each of them had a personal email address, none of them ever checked it. Some, but not all, had phones so texting them wasn’t a reliable way of communication. They were more used to chatting on SnapChat, TikTok, or Discord. 

At this point, I began to rely on the parents to help coordinate and remind their kids to check their emails. This was about 50% effective, as I’ve found some parents in my group also aren’t great about checking their emails. So, communicating between sessions for things like setting up when and where the next session will take place is a challenge for me, and I end up emailing and texting multiple times asking for input or confirmation.

We held our online Session 0 in September 2020, about six months after we had first begun talking about playing. Part of this was me thinking about how to structure the campaign, but also dealing with pandemic-related depression for everyone, summer vacations, and other things. 

I prepped for the online session by writing down a list of things I wanted to discuss with the group and I even practiced how to say a few things on my morning walks. While this might sound like overkill, my main priority was to make sure I didn't forget anything but also that I didn't talk too much, as I know I have a tendency to do. The attention span of the tween-age years was very much on my mind. 


SESSION 0
My list of topics to discuss, and the order in which I did them, was: 

  • Is anyone familiar at all with D&D or with role-playing? 
    • As expected, they all said "not much" or "no," but then I mentioned that they had all role-played before, most likely as younger children playing games like "cops and robbers" or "superheroes" with their friends, which is really just a version of live-action role-playing. I did this to help them feel less anxious about it, as I'd learned that at least one player was very nervous about playing because she had no idea "what to do."
  • I explained how they would be playing a role, called a character, and that we'd use a series of numbers and some rules to determine what their character was good at doing, so that there were no disputes over who could do what and when. That was the main difference between a game like D&D and a game like "playing pretend."
  • Then I got more into the numbers and mentioned how some were static/set, and others were random, and those random numbers were determined by dice, which helped keep the game fresh and exciting. 
  • I talked about my job as the Referee being like a combination of Director and Screen Writer to their Actors, but also more like a Judge to determine the rules as needed. 
  • We chatted about the dice and I had them all hold up each of the dice I'd given them and we talked about how they're called D4, D6, etc. I also mentioned a bit about percentages (e.g., a D4 shows a 25% chance, a D20 shows a 5% chance) because I knew at the time that my daughter was discussing this in school so I figured the other girls, who were all in her same grade, were doing likewise, and this helped reinforce that what they were learning in school actually does have practical applications. 
  • Then we chatted about the six ability scores, and I used the "Tomato" example to help define them (I wish I could remember where I first saw this - I didn't come up with it): 
    • Strength is used to crush a tomato.
    • Dexterity is used to catch or throw a tomato. 
    • Constitution is used if you accidentally eat a poisoned tomato. 
    • Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit. 
    • Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn't belong in a fruit salad. 
    • Charisma is the ability to sell someone a fruit salad with tomatoes in it. 
    • Everybody laughed, but they all liked these examples.
  • I talked about how they would use the D20 most often, and the D6 the next most, with the D12 being the least-used die (at least, in the version of the game I'm playing). 
  • We then spoke about creating characters and I went over the seven basic D&D classes (Cleric, Dwarf, Elf, Fighter, Halfling, Magic-User, Thief) and the pros and cons of each, and then told them that they could either roll their ability scores first and then based on that, pick what class they wanted, or they could pick their class first, then roll their ability scores, and assign them where they wanted. They all decided to pick their class first. Three of the five players picked Elves because it seemed the best of both worlds (a combination Fighter/Magic-User). One player wanted a Thief, and then one of the Elf players asked her dad to be a Cleric since "we might need some healing and that undead turning thing sounds useful."
  • I also asked them what kind of fantasy stories/movies/etc. they were familiar with. All were familiar with Harry Potter and most also with Avatar: The Last Airbender. They had very limited knowledge of the Lord of the Rings, and I had to remind my daughter that I'd read the Hobbit to her when she was little, but she said she "didn't remember it." I also mentioned how stories like Star Wars and even some superhero movies can be classified as fantasy. 
    • This helped give me context as to their frame of reference for certain things that might come up during the game. 
  • At this point, I had planned to have them all roll their characters up and then I was going to engage in a short exercise in role-playing by just talking and asking them questions, but we never got to these two parts, as we'd already gone over our scheduled time and it was getting late. So, I asked them to create their characters over the next few weeks and I eventually made a video for them to show them how to go through the process and fill out their character sheets.  

My Daughter's Post-Session Feedback:
"More interactive" 
"Ask for breaks"
"It doesn't all have to be about D&D"

After our online Session 0 was over, I asked my daughter how I did and if she had any suggestions or tips for me on keeping her friends engaged. She helpfully provided this post-it note of ideas for me to consider. 

KEY LEARNING
My main take-away from all of this is that between-game communication with this group is tough

As I mentioned, before our Session 0, I had emailed a PDF copy of the Players Rules Tome to each player as well as a blank character sheet and a few short documents about the campaign world (lists of nations with a short 1-2 sentence description, etc.). I learned very quickly that kids this age just don't check email very often, if at all. Even after I asked their parents to remind them to read their emails, I learned that none of them had downloaded any of the attachments I had sent. It's just not something they were used to doing. 

At my wife's suggestion, I created a Google Drive for all our documents and began sharing them there. At least this way, all of the kids are used to using Google Drive, since they use it for their school work. 

I still have trouble getting the kids (and, to be honest, even some of their parents) to read my emails between sessions to confirm dates and times. Now I've learned that if we don't set a date for the next session at the end of each session, it's like herding cats to schedule it via email or text message. 

NEXT TIME
In Part 3 of this series, I'm going to share a long thread I wrote on Twitter of all the tips I learned over the course of preparing to run this campaign and our first few sessions. In Part 4, I'm going to talk about some specifics of issues that have happened in our game and how I have navigated them, such as keeping the group focused, dealing with real-life arguments or disagreements between friends, the need for breaks, and more.  
 

Any other parents out there who are playing D&D with your kids, or considering doing so, please share your tips, ideas, and questions in the comments. Thanks!


Hanging: Home office (laptop and small notebook)
Drinking: Templeton Rye Whiskey (6 Year), neat 
Listening: "Charisma" by Lee Morgan, 1969 (link is to listen on Spotify) 

Comments

  1. This is good, because while you do sometimes get this sort of thing in RPG books, it tends towards the theoretical; how many "examples of play" are drawn from actual play, I wonder?

    Yours is much more practical, and shows the very real obstacles that come up (for example, people being flaky with email) that get overlooked in other guides. It makes it much more useful as a guide for others trying the same thing.

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    1. I really appreciate your insight and comments. Thank you so much!

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