D&D & Kids: How To Scare A Dragon

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on June 21, 2011

Every time I leave the house for my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game my son asks me, “Daddy, are you going to scare the dragons now?” To which I will invariably reply as I give him a hug, “Yes, daddy is going to scare the dragons.”

With this conversation completed I head out to scare the dragons. My son will be three later this summer, his concept of D&D is non-existent he just knows that every week his daddy goes to scare the dragons. I’m not even sure if he really knows what a dragon is, other than a big dinosaur.

The focus on my son’s question to me is on the word scare. He doesn’t ask if daddy is going to go slay the dragons, he uses the word scare. He might be just shy of three-years-old, but I think the word scare is an important distinction.

The other day I was contemplating when it would be a good idea to introduce him to role-playing games? Dice at this point are beyond him and a distraction I don’t want. However, role-playing or make believe isn’t too far away. Currently, our make believe sessions are confined to building forts out of the couch pillows and making up grappling rules as my son tries to knock over and jump onto daddy.

As I gave some thought to the question I began to think what would a gaming session with my son even look like? The answer is it wouldn’t. It would be my son and I using some stuffed toys and playing make believe. At its heart that’s what D&D is, make believe. As adults we’ve just added in a lot of rules to complicate our lives and add to the depth of the game.

In playing D&D with young children the focus isn’t on the rules, the powers or the dice. Instead it is on imagining the scene. Being creative and trying all kinds of crazy idea’s. Of course this is the joy of role-playing or of pretending, it isn’t real and different ideas can be explored. For a child this is a magical thing.

As I have explored the idea of eventually playing D&D with my son I realize that the first steps into the game will actually have nothing to do with D&D. No books, no character sheet, no dice. There will be dragons and that’s about as close to D&D as we will get in the beginning.

It all gets back to that word scare. We don’t need rules and dice because we aren’t trying to kill the dragon. That’s easy, just keep attacking it and hope you win the war of attrition. Any adventuring party can slay a dragon, sure it’s a difficult encounter. When you are fighting the monster that has it’s name on the title of the game it shouldn’t be a cake walk, but you can kill a dragon. In fact I imagine it happens rather often.

But when was the last time you had to scare a dragon?

How would you do it? How do you scare one of the most powerful creatures in the game? How do you get it to flee its lair in terror?

My son would raise his arms, jump up and down and roar. That would do it! The dragon would be out of there, fleeing with its tail tucked between its legs.

It’s at this point in my thoughts about playing D&D with my son that my focus shifts. I realize that my son would approach the game differently than I do. In his eyes nothing is impossible, he doesn’t have the rules to constrain him. I also realize that because I have rules when I play D&D, and because I’m trying to slay the dragon, I don’t think as creatively as I could when I do play.

D&D for me is more about how can I use my powers in the coolest and most effective way. It’s about rolling dice, killing monsters and taking their stuff. Rinse and repeat. I realize that I wouldn’t have the first clue on how to scare a dragon. Sure, I’d figure something out but it would take me four times as long and be no where near as spontaneous as my son.

My take away on all of this is to loosen up, and think more creatively when I play. Maybe I’ll even disregard a few rules.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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1 Vance June 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

I DM a game at my house once or twice a month, and as folks are arriving and getting settled in, I usually run a mini-game for my four year old son and whoever else wants to play. They all pick minis, I throw some sort of terrain on the table, and I run a VERY simple battle. Each player gets two dice – anything 10 or higher on the D20 is a hit, and roll a D4 to determine damage. That’s it. My son is consistently the BEST role-player out of the entire group – he describes exactly what his character is doing, makes up new names for each player, and gets really excited about each swing of his sword. It’s not only a hilarious warm-up to our regular session, but it makes the adults get into their characters with a bit more enthusiasm.

2 Dungeon Maestro June 21, 2011 at 10:45 am

Since I’m a psych major, the easy answer is that he most likely doesn’t fully understand death. Even if it’s been explained to him it’s highly likely that the concept of slaying/death is not completely understood. However, fear/scaring is something that he does understand. Ergo he uses the word scare when talking in terms of defeating the bad dragons. He recognizes that daddy is good, and dragons are bad, so to him “scaring the dragons” is a good thing for daddy to do!

Go daddy! He’s saying that you are basically his hero.

3 Alphastream June 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I think your son just read the old AD&D rules for subduing dragons. I hate to have to tell you this, but your son is already breaking the game. Sigh.


4 JP June 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

How to scare a Dragon? – The same as a gruffalo maybe? :o)

5 Fenix June 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm

If you are interested in introducing your son to rpgs in general, newbiedm has designed a system specifically for this purpose. It’s called rpgKids, and while I haven’t personally used it, many people successfully have.

You can probably find more information on his blog: http://newbiedm.com/

6 Wimwick June 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm

@ Vance
Some great tips on getting a youngster into the game. The creativity of kids is great and most of it comes from the fact that they have nothing to base their wild and crazy idea’s on.

@ Dungeon Maestro
Yes! I knew I was someone’s hero! You are probably right about the scare/slay thing. What it does for me as an adult is allow me to look at the game through a different lense.

@ Alphastream
Leave it to a three year old!

@ JP
A gruffalo or the moonocerous!

@ Fenix
Newbiedm does have some great resources as does Chatty DM. I believe Chatty has whole play sessions with his son transcribed. Thanks for providing the link.

7 Matt Gallinger June 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

All I can say is just wait for a few years if you think he’s amazing you now. In the last year I’ve taught my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son to play, simplified in many ways of course, and I am consistently amazed at how easy it is for them to slip into character and how much energy and enthusiasm they bring to the role playing.

One tip, my kids are far more likely to have fun attacking and killing an orc or kobold than they are a bandit. The more human they “look” the more the kids seem to automatically think friend… makes for some fun surprises.

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