Interview with Navaar, host of Secret Nerd Podcast about starting kids on tabletop RPGs
Note: this is a transcripted interview, edited for ease of reading.
- Your TTRPG experience
- About Secret Nerd Podcast
- What are your concerns about starting TTRPG’s with kids?
- What would make starting TTRPG’s with kids easier?
- Questions from Navaar:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Navaar, and I am a father to three wonderful children. They’re all still toddlers right now, so it’s pretty wild. For fun, and hopefully in the future for more than fun, I run a podcast where I get to meet different people. I think that having kids really influences how I look at the world and the content that I like to provide to other folks, so I’m super excited to talk about the two things that I love: TTRPG’s and kids!
Can you tell us about your experiences playing tabletop RPGs?
The first time I ever played was, I want to say, 2009? I was vaguely aware of what TTRPG’s were, really only D&D. I had a friend who’s dad has the red box, but we never go to play it, but then D&D was made into video games, like Baulder’s Gate, so I was aware of the brand.
Then, in 2009, I was in college. My best friend and I had another roommate, and he would just take off on a Saturday for a few hours, and we never knew where he was going. One day he was like, “I’m playing D&D, here’s the books”. We were super excited – he knew that I was a nerd, always reading fantasy fiction and stuff. We got to create characters, but then I moved shortly after that, and I didn’t get to play again until 2019, I think.
So, it was a long absence, and then once I got back into it and had a group, I was like… I’m never stopping this again. It’s super addictive, and once people give it a chance, it really is just like… why was I having any other hobby?!
D&D 5e was what I got back into. I really wanted to play 3.5e because that’s where I started, and I remember loving 3.5e, but 5e was what everyone played. D&D Beyond made it really easy, and then last year, for Christmas, I got Pathfinder 2e, and I haven’t looked back.
I love Pathfinder 2e more, but I will play 5e still, and I want to try more PbtA games, like Masks. There’s a ton now because there’s so many wonderful creators out there constantly making games.
Can you tell us about your podcast?
My podcast is called Secret Nerd Podcast. I made it in that vein of having a roommate who snuck off to play D&D and not say anything about it. There’s even things in my own life that I love deeply, but in a normal conversation with a stranger, I wouldn’t bring it up. Not necessarily that I’m ashamed, but you get conditioned growing up.
It’s probably easier now, but definitely growing up, being a nerd was not a cool thing to be, so you would get picked on for that. You just kind of learned to not talk about it.
Even interviewing people on my show, I hear about situations where they’ve been hanging out with this person for forever and find out they both play D&D separately and could have just had this conversation.
So, on Secret Nerd Podcast, I bring on guests every week, and we talk about how they got into nerd stuff and about how their life and environment may have affected that. It could be having parents and people around you that weren’t going to nurture those things OR vice versa, having folks in your life who were like, “Read these fantasy books! Play these games!” Maybe your dad was the first one to get you to play D&D when you were 6 years old.
It’s about having that variety of experiences so that way people can look at the podcast and see a catalog of people who are very different and very diverse, but maybe someone in this group is like me. They have experiences that I can share and I can relate to this! Or it can introduce people to new games or hopefully introduce people to the idea that having a diverse table is a good thing.
My show is very diverse and very inclusive. I’ve had folks across the spectrum in any way you can think of, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to have people come on and share what they’re willing to share.
I have my own perspective from what I grew up with, which was being a black man growing up in a place where there weren’t very many other black people. There was dealing with a lot of trauma and bigotry from the people around me. While that is something that a lot of people have delt with, there are are a lot of people that I have on who are trans or queer or hispanic, etc – there are so many people out there who have gone through different things. Some of them went through it smoothly, and others did not. It’s good to see that variety of experience – it helps open people’s eyes that it is a different experience for everyone.
I just enjoy the idea of getting to know folks 1-1, which is easier for me, as an introvert, and I think the listeners of the show really enjoy that because they’re getting to meet other people in the community through me and understand the stories they share.
What are your concerns about starting tabletop RPGs with kids? You’ve been getting ready for this, correct?
Navaar: Basically since they were born, for sure!
For me, what I struggle with is… I think I could make the mechanics easy enough for them to play, but I think approaching the idea of getting them to focus on the game (like I said, they’re all toddlers)… I struggle with that because I am a very logical person.
If it wasn’t my own kids, prior to having children, I had such a hard time relating to kids. Obviously that doesn’t work, so, as a parent, you learn to change that perspective and approach your kids to find a way that works. However, there’s always going to be that part of my brain that’s like, these are the rules, so what rules are we good with? What rules are we not? How do we deal with combating monsters and making that OK?
Steph: I was kind of the same way! I’m an engineer and got the engineer’s brain… Here’s the math and the system. It took me a while to adjust to having a kid. Starting the games actually really helped. It was just interactive storytime – no rules, just telling a story back and forth. Then, we slowly started adding in… here’s a die, and when you roll it, magical things happen. It definitely took a while to get kiddo used to randomization.
It is also kind of hard knowing the mechanics and what it’s supposed to be and having to break that barrier to play with kids. It took me probably months to really get past that, so I TOTALLY get you. Very valid point of view, and I get where you’re coming from.
Navaar: Yeah, my kids are very good at make-believe. We “LARP” for all intents and purposes. They play like they’re in school for circle time and pretend to come in for recess and washing hands. They understand that and have good imaginations, and I can tell stories to them about fighting a dragon, and they get into it.
Definitely being part of the TTRPG world now, I see a lot of posts of people playing with their kid, but I ask myself if they really understood or if it is like when those parents say their kid said this really long sentence in an adult voice, but then you hear their kid and can’t understand them at all.
Steph: Yeah, like, trying to figure out where the liberties are with the interpretation?
Navaar: I think it’s one of those things where you’re constantly wrapping your brain about how it actually works. I like what you said though about introducing elements of imaginative play to a situation.
Steph: I totally get it. It took a lot of building up to it, like… months. He was 2.5, so it took a few months of practice to get kiddo there. We got there, but it definitely took some practice. So, I definitely understand questioning if it is something to just jump right into.
Do you have any ideas for what would make it easier for you to try bringing tabletop RPGs to your kids? Or what age do you think you’d start them?
Navaar: I could see maybe 5 years old understanding enough to sit down long enough to wait their turn, roll the dice, and even if you’re helping them with the dice, to understand what’s a hit and what’s a miss.
I think too, that having a system that is base level, like making D&D into a 1-page RPG or playing a 1-page RPG, that would help a lot. Keep it to a single die. Instead of having hit points and rolling for damage, you get three successful attacks and then that monster is defeated and turns to glitter or resurrects itself in a different plane, so there’s no death.
Steph: I get that! My kid wanted to have a dance battle one time instead of sword fighting, so just… whoever got tired first fell asleep, and we’re just going to roll for dance moves! There’s some non-violent ways to handle it, like you said, with poofing to another plane, or maybe they get sleepy.
Navaar: Yeah, and I think that there’s enough good media for children that has fantasy violence that’s not graphically done. So, as they get older and into that stuff, you can roll it in. Even now, with three toddlers, hitting can be a problem as they learn their own tempers and boundaries, so I don’t want to encourage it any more than they already are by just being around each other.
Steph: Do you have any questions for me?
Navaar: I think… Are there any game systems that you’ve found that have worked? Or have you just mostly homebrewed easier D&D rules?
Steph: I’ve actually done a few things. I made a system called StoryGuider that’s entirely story based. There’s no dice, and all the challenges are along the lines of, “choose between going to Star Island or Moon Island”. Then, depending on where you go, there’s a different set of events. It also has coloring pages to keep kids busy.
There’s also the Family Fantasy RPG games. They actually parsed down D&D mechanics to a kid’s level, and I played that one with my son.
Starsworn was another one that came out recently, and it was really easy for my kid to pick up. It also teaches you how to play and you progress, and it has a podcast partnering with it (Stories Podcast) for some bonus screen-free time.
Magical Kitties Save the Day is another fun one, maybe if they are a tiny bit older.
The ones on the site are all ones I’ve done with my three year old, so they’re for really little kids OR I modified them to my kid’s level and will talk about the modifications that I made. Kiddo can’t read, so I’ll make flashcards with pictures. Like, healing has a bandaid.
There’s ways to make it work – it took a lot of trial and error.
We’re actually also on Inspirisles right now, and I’m using it to teach him the sign language alphabet.
Navaar: Is that the one from Hatchling? That’s awesome, I got to play a game with him, that’s awesome.
Steph: That one’s cool. He really likes the stories with it, and most of them have a good non-violent option or I’ll steer it a bit.
I would say too, because you touched on it, for any person who has young children, babies, infants, or early toddlers, sign language is such a helpful and easy tool for them to learn. My oldest is three and a half, and she probably knows 15 or more words in sign language, and it really helps. It was more useful when she was younger, but because kids just a lot of times are non-verbal, just because they’re crying or they haven’t learned enough words to just say it, it really helps! I love the idea of Inspirisles and teaching people sign language. Anytime you encounter somebody who actually needs it, it really helps and means a lot to them! Even this vague semblance of communication and that you’re trying means a lot.
Navaar: One other question I have, what inspired you to do this blog?
Steph: In January 2021, I actually quit my job. I was an engineer, and so was my husband. We were both trying to work 60 hours a week, from home, with a toddler, during COVID, and it just wasn’t working out that whole first year.
Going from that job to stay at home parent stuff… I got cabin fever, and the engineer brain clicked over and was like, “I need a project.”
It took a while, but I started seeing people with a four year old playing D&D, so I wanted to try it with my kid. I started looking up information about it and noticed that there were a lot of people giving advice, a lot of people saying they couldn’t find good advice, a lot of people with really cool games, and a lot of people saying they couldn’t find any games for kids. There was something, some connection piece missing.
One night, I just couldn’t sleep and hatched this massive plan where it all clicked that I was going to make a hub! I just started pulling information together, asked some questions, asked for game recs… it’s been my “me time” project, and I feel like I’m having some impact.
I’m sure you understand the feeling of having an impact with your podcast as well. Is that why you started yours?
Navaar: Similarly, the last day of 2020 was when I quit my job. I was an operations manager for a business working a 60hr week. I was not available for my kids, which was something that I was not OK with and that my wife was not OK with. I didn’t want my kids to get older and be affected by it, so I spent three months basically unemployed as I waited for my new job to come up and go through that whole process. I think I caught up on the entire second campaign of Critical Role, which really messed up my spotify wrapped! I was like, this is something… and as I had time while finding my new job, I had time to do a project! And I needed to. My brain needed something.
Now, I’m so excited to be able to share it with my kids because they really are so huge for me. It’s cool that there’s this resource for people to have the same journey you had but have it a little easier because someone put it together for them.
Steph: Well, I’m happy to help, and thank you! I had a great time chatting!
Navaar: Thanks for having me on!
THANK YOU for the awesome interview!
And you can find Navaar’s podcast here! Just as a heads up, Navaar’s podcast is a great listen for grown ups to learn about different experiences within nerd-dom, however, please use discretion with kids since it is a podcast intended for grown ups. Updating and reviewing my posts a year later, since interviewing Navaar, I’ve been listening to his podcast regularly, and it is awesome – I highly recommend to check it out!
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