- Use a pre-made adjustment
- Simplifying rolls (or general randomization)
- Reduce the character sheet
- Handling spells, attacks, and items
- Tracking health and points
Use a pre-made adjustment
Before starting to homebrew adjustments, there are people who have already done it and published their work for you! You can try out some pre-made adjustments for a lot of popular TTRPG’s that are designed specifically for introducing kids to the rules in a more gradual way.
There are definitely others out there for D&D 5e and more, but here are two great examples that I’m familiar with and have personal confidence in (because I reviewed them – links below) to check out:
The Family Fantasy RPG series – they have a tiered system that allows you to introduce basic D&D 5e concepts as young as 3yo in tier 1 and then increase the complexity in tier 2 and tier 3 so they get used to 5e rules gradually.
DnD Adventure Club – this is D&D 5e but explained in a very short and comprehensive manner. So the tweak here isn’t as much to the rules but more to the explanation and rewriting a few things to make them easier to understand (i.e. simplifying the way a spell is written).
Simplifying rolls (or general randomization)
With a lot of games, you can explain the written instructions verbally and your child can absorb that even if they can’t read the rules. However, if your child’s counting and math skills don’t line up with the mechanics, that’s a bit harder to just explain since you’d also need to pre-practice all that math.
When my son was (and kind of still is) developing his counting skills, I tried out a lot of different modifications to help him still be able to play while maintaining the spirit of the game and mechanics:
Simplify the dice
If your child is only able to count up to 10, it is OK to swap the d20 for a d10 and reduce your DC so you can let your child count their own dice.
I’ve also done it where I swapped for a d4 and just had a pass/fail criteria instead of a DC (i.e. 1 = fail, 2 = pass but some complication, 3 = pass, 4 = pass and a bonus).
Both of these methods still keep with the theme of having randomization, and you can still have your child roll this way while the rest of the group sticks with the d20 and your regular DC, if you want.
Use something besides dice
I wrote an article a while back about dice alternatives that had a dual purpose – first to keep dice out of the hands of kids who put things in their mouths, and, second, to give some options for kids who can’t count yet.
There are several different methods to check out, but one that I really like using is the pass/fail tokens in a cup. If you want to keep all your probability ratios the same, you can put 20 pieces of paper with smiley or frowny faces on them (instead of numbers) in a cup for whatever ratio you want and have your kid pull one to determine their outcome. You kid can interpret immediately if it is a pass fail without numbers being a roadblock.
Have stats vs. DC with no dice rolls
If rolling dice and counting it up each time is getting frustrating for your child, you can also just fix their stats. If they have a +3 STR, you can add 10 every time (and maybe a bonus for good RP) without rolling to see if it beats the DC you set. This does take the randomization out of the things, but it could also be a good way to simplify for the first few games so you can introduce dice later.
Follow the story only
You can also ditch the numbers all together and just tell a story. On its own, this is maybe boardline a TTRPG (this is the category I would put my StoryGuider games into) depending on how you choose to define a game. However, this can work really well if your child needs to build confidence in RP and decision-making before you introduce mechanics OR if they are getting overwhelmed at a table with older kids or grown-ups and need a breather from the math for a bit.
Reduce the character sheet
The first time I saw a D&D character sheet, I got a little overwhelmed before I actually started to fill it out. The first few sessions, I also had a hard time finding where everything was. I was ~25 at the time… and an avid reader who handled engineering data for a living. So, I have to imagine character sheets could be intimidating to kids as well, especially if they are not a strong reader.
With my child, if we ever play a game where he is obviously not understanding or using the character sheets, I will make some modifications (a couple are below) and plan on eventually introducing full rules with some re-written character sheets:
Draw pictures for stats and skills
My kid can count and recognize numbers, but he can’t read yet, so the stat boxes don’t really mean much to him… unless I put a picture next to them. For strength, maybe it is a flexing arm, and, for dexterity, maybe it is a running stick figure. All you need is something simple to give meaning to what the number represents.
Here are some stat cards that I made when we played Dino Ninja:
Move blocks of text to a separate page
Some character sheets include a section for writing backstory details and information about special abilities. This is perfect for readers who do better with one page in front of them, but for people who tend to get overwhelmed by clutter on their sheet, you can just leave those boxes blank and fill them out on a separate sheet to help organize it. There were a few character sheets that my kid handled way better once the blocks of text were moved to a reference sheet instead.
Try alternative character sheets
There are also a ton of character sheets for popular games, like D&D and Pathfinder, that have been redesigned for players with dyslexia that incorporate some of the above elements and more. A quick google search shows lots of options that are definitely worth checking out.
Handling spells, attacks, and items
There can be a lot to track in TTRPG’s after a while, especially if you pick a spell-caster (which my kid always wants to because, well…. magic). With my 3yo, there’s no way I would expect him to remember a full spell list and what all of his items do, so I help him out. I either help him track or remind him of what he has OR I’ll give him some aides:
Notecards with pictures
Similar to using pre-made spell cards, I will draw a picture on a 3×5 card to represent the spell, item, or attack and then let him hold onto it. When he wants to use that thing, he just holds the card up and asks if he can do it. This way, he remembers what it does because of the picture but doesn’t have to worry about remembering the words. This is really good for kids who are still building a vocabulary and may have trouble remembering new words right away.
Here are a few – the pictures don’t have to be fancy or super well drawn, just something that will remind you child of the action, item, spell, etc.
If you look at the spell book for a lot of games, there’s a lot of rules about the spells. The text covers the components required, maybe some flavor about how it looks, the casting distance, the area of effect, etc. You can simplify the description for your kid (i.e. saying the light spell just makes a light about as strong as a flashlight) so they understand the basics OR you can track the details for them (i.e. if they cast a light spell, you tell them how far it extends on the map instead of trying to have them remember it all).
Use a reduced list of spells and items
Some games will give a lot of freedom with getting a ton of spells and loot, and I personally love this versatility for my regular games with my friends. It is a little too much for my kid to track on his own though, so I’ll give him a shorter list of spells and items (maybe 3-4 spells and 2-3 items) to keep track of. If it looks like he’s handling that OK, next time I add another spell or item to the list. This lets him have autonomy and choice without me needing to remind him of everything, and he also doesn’t get overwhelmed.
Tracking health and points
Some games have massive health or XP pools, which is great for hitting fine increments of damage and leveling, but if you kid can’t count past 14, they are going to have a hard time understanding how to take 25 damage from a 130 point health pool. For my kid, I simplified things in a few ways so he first could understand number tracking, then I started introducing counting that was at his level. It gave a more gradual progression and actually built understanding versus just getting him to use a mechanic based on what I told him or have me track it for him.
Use a tracker or checkbox
My very first tips and tricks article was actually about DIY trackers for kids, and this worked really well for building initial comprehension of tracking points when my son was really young (2 years old). Without using numbers, he could add/take away pieces until there weren’t any more, and then…. something happened. Kids get used to the idea and are more excited about learning to count in the next part because they know now it leads to… something happening.
Adjust the order of magnitude
Another modification that I made after we got past the initial tracking concept was adjusting the order of magnitude. Instead of tracking 70 health… you can track 7 health and reduce the damage amount by the same order. You don’t get fine tuned health tracking, but it is close enough to stay true to the spirit of the game while also letting your child participate. Once they learn to count higher and do more math, you can always increase it as they are ready.
Treat quantities as fixed amounts
My kid would get overwhelmed with:
- “roll to see if you succeed with this die”
- “OK, now roll to see how many points with these dice”
- “And you get a bonus one for the modifier”
- “OK, we add those and… put down 2 points “
So instead we have:
- “roll to see if you succeed”
- Great! Take 2 points!
I fixed the amount of health, points, etc to an average amount so it was just a little easier for him to follow, and we can add the dice rolls later when he’s able to handle a longer string of instructions and some math.
Lots of kids are ready to start TTRPG’s with the full, core rules set… but not all of them are. For young kids or kids who are still building math or reading skills, the mechanics can sometimes create more barriers than structure. We primarily want our kids to enjoy the game and come back for more, so making small tweaks here and there can really help them find that connection.
I hope this article gave you some ideas to try out and can help with introducing your favorite games to your kids when you want to give it a try (versus having to wait until they’re older).
And please!! If you have other suggestions or if you use any of these ideas, let me know in the comments! Sharing your knowledge helps other parents, teachers, caregivers, etc to see that other people are bringing these games to their kids and can help them gain some confidence to try it out.