The GM’s Corner: Lessons Relearned Gaming with Kids

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to play with not one, but two different groups of kids at the game table and it proved to be quite interesting. This is a bit of a break from the articles I’ve been writing lately, but I think it’s important.

Group #1

5e-starter-set-coverThe first group played through the D&D 5e Starter Set adventure – the Mines of Phandelver. Yes, I know it’s not a Moebius Adventures product, but it offers a great introduction to roleplaying for new folks with a little bit of everything from problem solving to combat, so I like it in that respect. And though I’ve come to embrace the simplicity of Mazes & Perils, there’s a certain name recognition with D&D and streamlined approach with 5e that makes it easy for folks to pick up. (We’re going to work on that for M&P too.)

Just so you have some context, we had two 10 year old boys and their 40-something dad (friends of ours) and my two daughters ages 11 and 15. Five players plus me as GM. I played a fighter NPC to help out since we had two mages, two thieves, and a cleric in the party. So we had six characters total. Once we got over a few technical humps like learning where to look for certain things on the character sheet and the concepts of initiative, basic combat, and Perception checks, we were off to the races.

What I found really amusing was the balance between good and selfish/chaotic among them. There were only two PCs that were “good” and the other PCs were “chaotic/neutral.” That led to some interesting decisions.

At one point the party had to decide whether they would go after their boss, seemingly kidnapped by goblins, or drive their supply-laden cart into town so they could collect their payment and then figure out where to go from there. They were attacked and scared off the goblins (a well played Intimidation attempt) and kept going initially towards town. They had to camp for the night and were attacked, but managed to capture a goblin and interrogate him. He was helpful with all sorts of details (he didn’t want to die) and eventually led them in the morning to the mouth of their hideout.

scientistwithbeakerOnce at the cave, the party struggled with letting him go as they had agreed. He might turn on them and warn the others. Eventually they followed through and he skittered off. They then headed into the cave and battled the goblins, but avoided fighting their boss – a hobgoblin. That didn’t stop them from trying to rob them of a few things and rescuing their boss’s partner and friend who was a prisoner…

The moral questions that kept cropping up were what surprised me I guess. The kids were ok with potentially abandoning their boss to his fate and killing their attackers, even after making a deal with a prisoner. My friend (the other dad) was definitely the voice of reason among them, which was perfect. And this is one of those things I don’t think other parents see as a benefit of this sort of role-playing.

D&D and other RPGs offer an amazing laboratory and testing ground for kids to apply the lessons of morality and ethics that we teach them every day as parents and role models. Do they “do the right thing”? Or do they test the boundaries of the freedom in a fictional world? And what are the consequences of those actions?

It’s a perfect place to offer a safe environment and guide folks to better decision-making. I know that as a socially awkward 12 year old kid, gaming helped me out in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And I’m still learning those lessons again 30+ years later.

That brings me to group #2.

Group #2

The second group is one I’ve been playing some form of D&D with once or twice a year for several years now. My best friend from college and his family joins my family and we go a bit crazy. With everybody in attendance, we’ve had 10-12 players around the table at times. It gets more than a little insane.

1ewo0tThis time we were down a few folks, so we were down to 8 players. A bit less chaotic, or so I thought. And with this group, I had two surprises – which really shouldn’t have caught me off guard at all but did anyway.

The first surprise was the role-playing of being a bit boozy. Two of the characters in a previous adventure had enjoyed a tavern in the town of Nifton’s Inlet and got more than a little tipsy. I had no clue that that particular experience would color their activities the next time those characters hit a village.

And, funny enough, that village has no tavern. In fact, I hadn’t even pondered the absence of alcohol because it was a smaller settlement and they really didn’t drink much except at celebrations.

Turns out the player decided that the character had a flask of vodka in its possession.

That gave me a moment’s pause, but again – role-playing offers an interesting, safe place to explore some options so… ok. I let it go and let it play out.

The second surprise was an incident with a player who was upset about people not listening to him. I think he’s used to being a center of attention and the less people listened, the more he acted out a bit. He’s a kid – I have kids too – and I certainly get it. And I was willing to let it go until he decided to try and attack another PC because he wasn’t getting his way.

Now, I’m good with a lot of things, but PC on PC violence is not among them. There are places where it’s appropriate with adults and story. But I wasn’t going to let it fly with kids. It’s a bad precedent. And my response was “are you sure you want to do that? because if you do, we’re done for the night.” And he didn’t know how to respond.

He quickly backtracked saying he was joking. I said I wasn’t. Thankfully we chatted further and resolved it without further incident. We played for another 45 minutes or so, got to a logical stopping point, and called it a night.

It’s the first time he and I have gone toe to toe and I think he was surprised he riled me up. I hope the lesson sticks and we don’t butt heads again, but again – playing with kids you never know what you’re going to come up against.

I learned other things that night as well, but they’ll find their way into the revamped The Snake’s Heart adventure. 🙂


Whether I play with kids or adults, I’m constantly learning things about human behavior. We are all complex creatures and when you get several of us in a room, things sometimes come up. And we’ll see how it goes when I run a holiday game at my FLGS with a mix of kids and adults in a few weeks. 🙂

So let me leave you with this question… what is the most surprising thing that you have had to deal with at the game table with kids? What did you learn and how did you deal with it? I’m definitely curious how often this comes up at other tables.

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