The D&D Teen Comedy

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 26, 2010

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of 80s teen comedies. Revenge of the Nerds, Real Genius, Summer School and of course the greats by John Hughes – Weird Science, the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (to name just a few of my personal favourites). While watching these again recently, I started thinking about how the formula for a teen comedy could be used to create an interesting D&D campaign. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have kids in their mid to late teens get into all kinds of fun and frivolity when they are left unsupervised.

In the world of D&D most adventures begin their career in their late teens or early twenties. Other fantasy races are older, but their social, physical and mental maturity is roughly in the same place as a human reaching the age of majority. But what if we looked at heroes who were even younger? A bit less refined and a lot more naive. Level 1 adventurers already look at the world through rose-coloured glasses, but if they were a few years younger how much more would this outlook change?

By playing kids (and by kids I’m thinking mid teens) the PCs are old enough to know better, have some educational background or street smarts, and be physically ready to handle D&D style combat. Playing character any younger potentially adds all kinds of complications. I can hear some of you already saying that the kids in Harry Potter were only 11 in the first book, but I remind you that they were confined to Hogwarts school and had some heavy hitting Wizards nearby should things go really wrong.

If you decide to run a D&D campaign where the PCs are kids, where do you begin? First off is character creation. In previous editions of D&D there were rules for adjusting abilities based on age. In 4e they’ve done away with this. And in my opinion this is the right way to handle it. If the PCs decide that they want to play kids, let them just use the normal rule. Leave it up to the role-playing to define how and why they have a really high Strength or an exceptional Charisma. When they reach level 4 and get to bump two abilities, this can easily be explained as part of the maturing process.

The next part of character creation that should be addressed is equipment. Again, my recommendation is to leave the mechanics unchanged. Let the PCs have fun with the role-playing. “Although I use a great sword, it’s clearly too big for me. But when I use it my moves are so unpredictable that my opponents are unable to anticipate my attacks and I actually connect more often than you’d think.”

Once the characters have been created it’s time to work on the back-story. Why are these characters taking on this adventure, especially if they’re too young to be faced with this responsibility? This is where I look to those comedies again. In almost every movie the real fun begins when the kids are left unsupervised and get into trouble. Perhaps they weren’t intentionally left unsupervised, maybe escaping an authority figure is the first adventure?

If you’re a DM who wants a more goal-focused adventure you can always fall back on an equally popular motive – rescuing a loved one. An older sibling or a parent is missing and the PCs set out to find the lost family member despite the jeers and laughter of society. This scenario works, but it’s a bit boring and tired.

Although the movies that inspired this brainstorm were comedies, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a D&D campaign revolving around teen PCs need be hilarious. It could be a perilous adventure where the PCs quickly realize their in way over their head. In a dangerous world where dragons exist, the less experience you posses the more danger you’re likely to get into. However, I see much more opportunity to have fun with teen character as a comedy.

If the group as a whole agrees to undertake this kind of game then the DM should allow a certain amount of fortunate coincidence. It’s up to everyone to let the role-playing guide the style of the game. If the players are willing to have fun with it then keep it light hearted.

Would you consider playing a really young teenage character? Have you ever played one before? Have you ever played in an entire party of kids? What do you think the most significant difference is between playing an adolescent vs. playing an adult? Are their too many drawbacks to playing a youngster making it a bad idea?

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1 Wally May 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

This could be very intresting. One of my favorite campaigns was the teenage super hero campaign we ran for Champions and Mutans and Masterminds.

2 Mike Katz May 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

There are some iconic plot points of these movies: an underdog (usually poorer than one’s peers), a love (triangle) story, a mean teacher and a wise, understanding surrogate parent figure, etc. Most of these work around having a central character. How do you see working these in for a whole group of protagonists?
.-= Mike Katz´s last blog ..Do You Play Differently In a One-Shot? =-.

3 Dungeon Newbie May 27, 2010 at 2:58 am

What about having them escape school? Then, when playing truant, they “meet” a wise old prophet who makes equipment “appear”, then trains them. In case you cannot roleplay well, here is some inspiration:
High Strength? The Jock
High Sneak? The Lunch Stealer
High Charisma? The Popular Guy
High Knowledge of enemies? Teacher’s Pet
High Knowledge of dungeons? The Geek(that’s you and me, peoples)
High Street Smarts? The Orphan
High Intimidate? The Gangster
High Bluff? The Homework Hider

Now for weapons:
Too heavy weapon? Don’t talk nonsense. Mr Jock over there can lift 100 pounds.
Too Low-Damaging weapon? Hey, that guy can kill with his slingshot. Whaddya mean he can’t even hurt the monster with his bow?
Too few weapons? There’s no weapons? Rubbish. Grab 5 stones and a Y shaped stick and we’re done.
No distractor weapons? What happens if you throw a stinkbomb at that Hellhound which can smell a person 10 miles away?

The PCs themselves:
Goody 2 shoes=Paladin
Tree Hugger=Ranger/Elf/Wildkin
Nerd=Studious Magician?
Bad Boy=Anything that’s good at killing and is Chaotic Evil
Druggie=Erm… Drunken Kung Fu?
Insane Psychopath=Chaotic Evil Demon(Yay! I get to be a demon. Wait… that implies that-oh never mind)
The Guy who believes in Magicka=Invoker/Shardmind?

I hope that helps and inspired you!

Celebration time! School is out for the
whole of June(Summer for you Americans)

4 Nick May 31, 2010 at 4:00 am

I just rolled a human psion who is a fifteen-year-old son of minor nobility. Interestingly, the ability scores for the psion class map on fairly well with what would reasonably be expected of a fairly exceptional teenager: a high INT is easily justified, as is his decent CHA score–he’s a likable and well-educated son of nobles, so it’s natural that he would be more charismatic than the average person. On the flip side, his relatively low CON and 8 in STR make a lot of sense–there is nothing more squishy than the kid psion, and his -1 to Athletics is rather fun to roleplay.

The class itself is one that lends itself to a kid hero, too. Certain classes stretch believability, raising the question of how a teenager could rank as an exemplar of humanity despite his callow age: fighters, warlords, wizards and clerics do not lend themselves to young heroes. However, some classes make sense, especially those that either involve low thresholds of training or spontaneous manifestation of powers: rogues and possibly druids and seekers fit the former, and sorcerers, psions and invokers fit the latter. I went with the psion because psionic abilities can manifest without years and years of training that would be the case with, say, a wizard; a crazy STR score and accompanying battle prowess (ie, a warlord) is harder to justify than the manifestation of psychic abilities in a child.

To justify why my young psion has joined up with a bunch of rugged adventurers, a fellow player rolled a guardian character: a warforged battlemind that is the psion’s companion and protector. The synergy between the defender and the controller works well both in terms of RP and battlefield tactics, and it avoids the necessity of elaborate justifications for why the kid is allowed to tag along with ale-swilling dwarves and pyromaniacal tieflings.

5 Ameron May 31, 2010 at 11:44 am

I’ve tried playing teenagers in other RPGs too, but never in D&D. I think it would work best if everyone agrees to play teens. If it’s just you playing a 14-year-old and the rest of the party is in their 20s and 30s it just seems kind of creepy.

@Mike Katz
I envision a D&D campaign playing out more like the Breakfast Club than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. By having all the PCs in the same situation, sharing common problems and foes, they can bond and develop as a group. Singling out one “spotlight” character isn’t really fair to the rest of the group. But that’s not to say that situations from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off couldn’t be expanded to be relevant to an entire party.

@Dungeon Newbie
These are all excellent suggestions. Normally I encourage players to avoid stereotypes, but in this circumstance I think playing the “teen comedy” stereotypes might make the adventure a lot more fun.

You bring up an excellent point that I totally forgot to mention in the article. Some classes are defiantly more suited to younger characters than others.

I really like the idea of another PC being a metaphorical or literal guardian of the younger PC. You just have to make sure that both players work out the details together. The player working the younger PC should dictate how the other guy plays his character.

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