I ran a game for my kids and wife last night. I started running Dungeons & Dragons for them about two years ago. I started them a couple of years earlier on a great game, specifically for gaming parents to share with their kids, called RPGKids (available at drivethrurpg). But when the eldest hit 11 and the youngest 10, I decided that it was time to transition them to the game that I cut my teeth on: D&D.

I never got into 4th edition. I’m not here to judge one edition over another, but I wasn’t a fan and I already invested a LOT into earlier editions, so I’ll leave it at that. I was running a 3.5 game at the time, and felt that it was a little too complex for “just starting out,” so I decided the run good old red-box Basic. Between the first and second sessions, however, the 5th Edition Starter Set came out, the basic rules were posted to the Wizards of the Coast website, and the game was switched over to 5th… which really is a great edition for younger players.

Of course, none of that is really important to the subject of this post, it’s mainly background, but it does demonstrate that I felt like I was moving the girls to a new “tier” or role-playing… stepping away from the A-B-C quests of their infancy and opening up a new world of infinite choices and adventure opportunities. They were both in double digits now, and a magical switch had been flipped inside of them. They would be self-motivated and their new characters would have goals and desires of their own. In other words… I was naïve and (for me) strangely-optimistic.

Here’s the thing though, and my advice to gaming parents trying to get their kids into the hobby: you evolved as a role-player; you’re just too old to remember it. When I started the campaign for the girls, I had five separate plot threads interwoven into a tapestry of adventures just waiting to draw the players in, and my plan was to grow the plots of the threads that grabbed their interest. But here’s the burn: they weren’t ready for the sandbox method. They needed the adventure hook to be fed to them.

For the first few adventures, I tried to drops hints. The main adventure was always right in front of them, but there were always threads hinting at where they could go next. But those threads weren’t followed… at the beginning of the next adventure, the druid, ranger, and elf fighter would be sitting at their stone circle waiting for the next cry for help. Admittedly, my wife could have helped lead them down those threads, but we had sort of agreed that we’d let the kids make the choices, because the game was for them.

So a couple of months ago, I stole some NPCs and the core storyline from “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” and introduced them to an NPC that would pull them into the plot. It worked wonders… the long-form adventure is keeping them on track and interested. I ran the game for them last night and got the first hint that their evolution as players had begun. My oldest daughter asked for more non-combat encounters… more opportunities to role play and “talk.” That’s a good sign, but I also have to maintain the balance with my younger daughter, who is still in the “see monster, kill monster” phase. I’m sure I’ll talk about that balance in a later post.

So, in a nutshell, I recommend keeping things simple and straightforward for your kids… or even for adult gamers that are just getting into the game. Remember that you probably started the same way, it’s just been a while. I learned this lesson the hard way, but I’ve also seen my kids begin to grow as gamers, and that’s easily worth the mistakes that I made starting out. Of course, my kids don’t realize that I feel like I made any mistakes… so I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about it.