Let’s face it – Dungeons and Dragons isn’t really a kids’ game.
It can be played as such, of course. I myself started out at around 10 years old. And as the game has increased in popularity, we’ve seen no insignificant number of educators and parents take to using tabletop as a means for teaching cooperation, creativity, and storytelling. Alternatively, parents (much like my own) who play TTRPGs often wish to instill a similar love in their children, and pare down the mechanics for a family campaign.
It makes sense, since kids like to play make-believe all on their own. But DnD can be a little complex (even 5th edition, which is the most simplified and streamlined it’s ever been), especially for younger players. It also requires a pre-established interest in the fantasy genre to engage kids. Luckily, there are plenty of games out there that were created with little ones in mind.
Getting Your Kids Interested in Tabletop Gaming
I started out playing DnD – but I grew up in a family who lived and breathed fantasy (and all things geek) and had watched my parents play. My mom read me The Hobbit and Half Magic at night, and I watched The Princess Bride and The Dark Crystal religiously. We went to the Renaissance Fair every spring. I already knew and loved the setting of DnD.
Kids who grow up with different media are going to have an interest in different genres and settings. It’s best to try and match those interests, or spark them with media that is already accessible to them, like movies and tv. For DnD and fantasy, I’d recommend The Chronicles of Narnia movies for a start (the Hollywood ones for older kids, and the older BBC versions if you want something a little less intense).
If your kids love Superman, try a superhero setting. If they love Star Wars, try science fiction, or even a specifically Star Wars game. If they don’t have a particular preference, try letting them watch some standard “intro-to-the-genre” stuff and seeing what catches their interest. Don’t force it!
Recommended TTRPGs for Kids
Hero Kids is probably the most popular TTRPG written specifically for kids. Not only is it award-winning, but there are plenty of available supplements, settings, and styles that you can overlay with whatever your family is interested in!
The rules are written to be simple, using only d6, and each module is intended to last between 30 and 60 minutes to account for childlike attention spans. However, it isn’t free.
You can buy various books and supplements here: Hero Kids and Supplements
TOON isn’t strictly meant for kids, but the nature of the game makes it fairly well-suited. You (and your kids) play as old-school cartoon characters, with all the associated tropes. This means that what violence there is, isn’t permanent. Everything is goofy and madcap, and there’s absolutely no serious consequences.
It’s a good game for high-energy, outgoing kids. If your kids are particularly young, it may be best to simplify the rules a bit, though.
You can buy TOON (and a game module Tooniversal Tour Guide) here: Toon and Supplements
Tales of Equestria
If your kids are already interested in My Little Pony, Tales of Equestria is a perfect starting point for tabletop gaming. You and your kids can play as ponies in the titular setting, going on adventures that teach the meaning of friendship and kindness (etcetera, etcetera).
It’s low-stakes, relatively non-violent, and you can finally find a use for all of those MLP OCs that your kids might have backlogged in their coloring books. And if you’re not familiar enough with the show to write your own adventure, there are plenty of pre-written ones available!
You can buy the books on Amazon, or here: My Little Pony: Tales of Equestria
Amazing Tales is similar to Hero Kids in that it’s suitable for a number of genres, with rules written specifically for kids to wrap their heads around. But it’s a little bit broader in its application – the core rules include multiple genres and locations, rather than having to buy them as supplements.
it runs with a single d6, but allows for other dice as well, to get your kids gradually used to more complex rolling systems. And, if your kids have special needs, or if you’re looking to use tabletop gaming as a homeschool supplement, the publishers have resources available to help!
You can buy the game, and read extra resources here: Amazing Tales
Bubblegumshoe is the teen version of Gumshoe, a detective noir TTRPG. You play as teen detectives, solving such mysteries as “who sabotaged the pep rally?”. The rules are pared down from the main game, making a much smoother, easier to learn system.
It may seem a little odd to have younger kids playing as teenagers, but a lot of kids’ media focuses on the teen years long before they’ve reached it. It allows kids to feel like they’re playing “grownup” characters, without them actually having to confront fully adult themes. And there are plenty of “kid sleuth” books to get them interested in reading through the game – Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, the Magic Tree House books, and plenty more!
You can buy Bubblegumshoe here: Bubblegumshoe
Plenty of kids are heavily into Pokémon. It’s almost a staple of childhood, from the cartoons, to the videogames, to the cards. While there isn’t an official tabletop RPG for Pokémon, there are a number of fan-made games. Most are meant for adults and are fairly complicated. Luckily, Pokerole is meant to be played by fans of any age. Best of all – it’s free!
The rules are simple, and there are plenty of tables and resources available to help you and your kids keep track of things. But chances are that your kids are already fairly familiar with the fighting systems of Pokémon – they may find it even easier to learn than you!
You can download Pokerole for free here: Pokemon the Roleplaying Game