Note: this is a transcribed interview, edited for ease of reading
- Starting D&D with kids at 2 years old
- D&D with kids and adults
- Zoom D&D during pandemic
- Playing with a kid DM
- Education and D&D
- Non-violent conflict resolution
- Writing a D&D book as father and son
- Advice for parents, teachers, and caregivers
Can you tell us about yourself? And how did you start playing TTRPG’s?
My name is Daniel, I’ve been playing Dugneons and Dragons since I was an eight year old kid. My brother was 13 and he kind of started playing with some kids in the neighborhood and got the redbox box basic edition, this was back in the mid 80’s, so 1984, and I saw the box cover and loved it.
He would always go off to play, he would never play at our house, so I never got the chance to see him play, but he’d come back and tell me the stories of what he did. So when he started buying some of the first edition books, I just kind of sat there and read them. He never even read through some of the books – he played and learned the rules through the game, and I sat reading the books, and I just fell in love with playing the game.
The first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was my favorite book. There were little cartoons in the book; I’m not sure why they had them, but I loved the cartoons as a kid. I loved the pictures, and I loved the rules. I probably read through that thing 5 or 6 times as a kid. It created such an open adventure of what could be possible.
Finally, I made my first character, and he decided to run me through a few adventures, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I played with him for a time and then anyone I could find in middle school and junior high that would play with me, I’d play.
And my wife, she didn’t play at all, but eventually she decided she enjoyed it, and we’ve created games and played ever since.
I have a four year old son, and he absolutely adores the game.
When did your son, the wyrmling, start playing? How did he start?
When he was two, I said, let’s create a Dungeons and Dragons character. He’d been listening to us play, and my wife and I… when we play it’s very casual. We don’t set up the table and the screen and start playing. We pick up where we last left off in the story. And we might play for 10 minutes some time or we might sit down and play for a couple hours, but it was never so formal, and since he’d heard this, we thought, well, let’s sit down and make him a character.
He got really excited. He wanted to make a knight – he really loved knights. We had recently gone to the Renaissance Faire. He made a knight and named him Sir Tyson, and he loved rolling the stats up for him and then I just started telling him stories about Sir Tyson. And Sir Tyson has a squire named Gruff… and he loved Gruff more than Sir Tyson.
I just started telling him these stories about this elven villain who was trying to steal Sir Tyson’s sword. Then he would ask me to tell him Sir Tyson stories all the time, and after maybe 3-4 months of telling him these stories, I started asking him, “What do you think Sir Tyson would do?” or it actually became, “What would Gruff do?”. Gruff was an 8 year old boy in the game, we would ask what he would do. We would morph the story from there. During story time or bathtime, he would always ask to play Dungeons and Dragons.
Soon, I started asking him for some rolls. He couldn’t really read the dice at the time; sometimes he could tell me the number depending on how ambitious he was feeling. I would tell him if it was a success or failure, and we started slowly incorporating the rules from there.
We slowly add the rules; he doesn’t know them all yet because he’s four, but at this point he’s got a great grasp of what’s possible, and if he doesn’t know if there’s a rule about it, he’ll ask, “Is this a possibility? Can we do this?”
Does he play in your “grown up” D&D games?
When he was about three, so this was at the beginning of the pandemic, I had decided to start a D&D game with my good friends from Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up. We were going to do it over zoom with it getting better – we had tried doing it in the past and it had never worked really well. We started a campaign, and he sat in my lap the first game and listened and watched, and then the second game, he wanted to play.
So, we created an NPC for him to play out. It was a little pixie, a pixie paladin, and we figured a pixie would be great for a three year old because he could be chaotic, he could be crazy and do whatever he wanted to do, and it wouldn’t really affect the game. And he became a staple from then on; it wasn’t like he came and went like a recurring NPC, like I expected, but he was in that campaign, he was playing, he was interacting with my friends, and they had fun.
The zoom/skype meeting game sounds like a great way to maintain social interaction during the pandemic!
We’re kind of the Dungeons and Dragons people who play in our home, and my wife and son and I were pretty closed down, so this actually expanded our social interaction. I hadn’t really spent much time with those friends in decades, but this brought us closer together. We have a weekly game now, and I can’t really complain about the new social interaction.
For my son, it’s great. He gets to interact with some adults, and at this point, we’ve moved on to a second campaign, and he loves it. He’s an integral part of the campaign, and his character is essential.
Sometimes he doesn’t always stick with everything, sometimes he’ll get bored and will wrestle or will want to go play with blocks. He’s always listening, but he acts out sometimes because he’s a kid, but he has fun doing it. And my friends are all great about it. They’re all parents too and know that when he acts out he’s just being a kid, and they tolerate it well.
When we play in the basement, he has all his toys around him and we’ve done some outside, and he can go run around and let off some energy.
Your son DM’s now too, correct?
Yes, he does. So, when we were playing the game with my friends, we were still continuing the game with Sir Tyson and Gruff’s story, and then he said he wanted to DM. He wanted to be in charge.
So, I didn’t even make a character, he just gave me a character. He named him Redcoat (he had been studying the Revolutionary War). It’s been about a year now – he started out just telling stories, and I didn’t really consider it DM’ing then, and then at one point, he just loved Redcoat so much he wanted to play a game.
So, Redcoat and George Washington, who was my son’s NPC, needed my help to clean zombies out of Mt. Vernon. That was our first adventure! So, we fought zombies and there was a lich… I didn’t really have any stats for my character, and we didn’t really care, we just fought this lich on the shore of the Potomac, and it was just great to see my kid come up with it all. He studies and loves history.
Just the other day, my wife bought a program for teaching sing-song Latin to kids. We had just gone to ancient Rome in the game, and now we’re back in ancient Rome in the game because he wants to speak Latin. He knows a few words: hello, goodbye, house. It’s really incorporating the game into his education.
It’s so much fun to see what he is learning and studying or watching. It’s been wonderful how it expands his education that way.
Incorporating educational aspects probably really locks that knowledge in; he’s never going to forget this, is he?
For us, he had just started studying the Revolutionary War, so all these characters from the Revolutionary War keep showing up in the game.
Benedict Arnold showed up, but he became a vampire, so we changed his name to Venedict Arnold. He’s betrayed us several times, but he’s come back now as a friend.
He’s included other characters from the revolutionary war time, we’ve got King George and Queen Charlotte. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Queen Charlotte was before we started playing this game, so then I’m on wikipedia trying to find out who she is so I can help him with historical aspects of it. It’s 1776, and I’m constantly trying to stay one step ahead of him with what’s happening during that time frame so I can bring things to the game that he can learn about.
And your son introduces a lot of non-violent conflict resolution into his stories?
It’s great, he gives me the option, you can either fight or you can try to make friends. So I say, “Well, he looks pretty tough, so let’s try to make friends.”
Then he says, “So, what do you want to do to make friends?”.
I’ve tried different techniques, and the one that always seems to work is chocolate cake. I didn’t know skeletons and undead loved cake so much, but they definitely do. He looks at it kind of like he thinks, “would I like that? What would I do?”
It’s all from his perspective, and it’s a joy to see that peaceful solution.
He’s a four year old boy, and he’s got a lot of aggression sometimes… and he can let out that aggression, so I like to see that peaceful solution be an option. I think it’s helped him with coping with other things, like when he’s mad at us about something. It becomes what can we do to resolve this situation? I can see the same wheels turning as what he does in his D&D game, and it’s great and very beneficial with developing his social interactions with us or his friends.
Now, you are also writing a book with him?
Yeah, he started giving advice to me on how to be a DM. It’s a lot of fun. Maybe three or four months ago I put the first one out on twitter, and it’s advice for dungeon masters and advice for players. It was so sweet and so cute when he was like, “I think you should tell people to do this!”
And the advice started out pretty simple. I was looking back through them the other day. He’s had six lists of advice now that he’s given out. They started out like the dungeon master should roll low numbers and know what the monsters are, but now it’s so much more advanced. You can see that progression over just a few months.
We’re compiling all that advice, and there’s just so many plot hooks and creatures he’s created. I realized there was enough for a book and asked him, and he was like, “YES! Let’s do it!”
We’re starting to create Red Wyrmling’s Guide to Everything. So far, we have six different planes – he loves to create planar travel. We’ve got probably 50 magic items, spells, NPC’s, plot hooks. Basically, it is a source book that the creative mind of a four year old makes.
None of the ideas are mine, they’re all going to be his ideas, and I’m just kind of editing them and putting them into a format that’s typical to D&D. I’m trying to keep his voice in there because they’re his ideas. I’m not an author by any means, so as an engineer, I’m not a wordsmith. I’m trying to keep it as basic as I can and to what he wants to say. After that, he goes over to make sure it says what he wants.
He’s drawing maps, pictures of his monsters and NPCs, and we’ll include his pictures and maybe I’ll include some type of artwork on top of that. We’re still in that compilation phase and we’ll see how far this goes.
It’s for me and him. I want him to look back when he’s an adult and see this book he made when he was four years old..
What advice do you want to give for parents, teachers, caregivers, etc who are considering introducing TTRPG’s to their kids?
The consideration should be short, you should just jump right into it! Anyone who has an educational role with children should be using them.
For teachers, it’s such a goldmine for teachers if they have a place in their curriculum where they can use it. For our son, he’s being homeschooled, and we’ve been using them from the beginning. And it’s just so much fun. When he can make it a game, turn history into a game, or think about putting something in the game, it’s so much more enjoyable. He gets so excited about it thinking, “I can make Redcoat go through this type of history event.”
I’ll be very honest, we’ve been able to cover some very tough topics for a four year old through D&D. There’s some very controversial and historical topics that are a dark stain on America that we’ve covered. Everything from slavery and sexism to opression – he’s actually discussed them because of the game and what was going on in 1776 in our fake world that we created. I’ve watched him approach those problems with, “Well, what should we do about it?”
It’s been such an educational benefit, and if your kids are young, you don’t have to learn all the rules. I love StoryGuider because you can just take your kid through a story; you don’t have to learn a million rules to do this, and it’s just guiding them through a story.
I think that any parent should get involved. I’ve had a lot of parents ask me how to get their two year old or four year old involved in this, or how to get their eight year old playing D&D, and it’s all about the stories. It’s about using the stories to get them excited about what you’re doing. Add rules slowly in, and as you add those rules, it becomes a game.
Thank you for the interview Redwyrm!!