Simplified Dungeons and Dragons for Kids
Ages 3-6, or until they decide they like to read rulebooks
Sometimes HWFO material is esoteric and uninteresting for the general reader base, so if tabletop roleplaying games don’t interest you, skip this article.
If you’re a player of tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, you might find this somewhat interesting. And if you’re a former D&D player and parent of young (age three to six) kids who probably can’t grok the full D&D ruleset, but you want to start them on the hobby early as a way to teach arithmetic, social skills, creativity, imagination, and problem solving skills, then this article is definitely for you. If you’re already extremely tuned in to D&D concepts and just want to skip to the system, scroll to the bottom of the article.
In Dungeons and Dragons, a game master creates an interactive story and the players each act out the words and actions of one character in the story, contributing to the story. It is a collaborative story telling game. Modern tabletop roleplaying games, of which D&D is the largest and most played, have relatively complicated rule sets for several reasons. One, their revenue stream is predicated on selling books full of rules. Two, the sorts of people who play these games tend to be systems optimizers, who enjoy tinkering within these rulesets to find saddle points in them to make their “player character” powerful. Neither of these two realities makes the game approachable for small kids, who neither have the capability or time to parse large rulebooks, nor have the propensity for deep systems analysis. If you’re going to teach these games to kids, you need a simplified system that cuts to the quick and gets you what you need to run the “collaborative story telling” game with the least amount of mathematical baggage necessary.
In Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, a player character attempts to “do a thing,” which might mean bash a monster or cast a spell or pick a lock or play a song on the lute, and the relative success in their attempt to do that thing is determined by rolling a twenty sided die and adding a series of modifiers. They add a modifier for their character’s strength, charisma, or such. They add a modifier for how proficient their character is at doing “the thing.” They may add other modifiers for things like magical gear. The result of the check is the die plus these modifiers, and if the result exceeds a target number the check succeeds.
In D&D, these modifiers are derived from other numbers. Character’s abilities are characterized by dividing them into six qualities:
Each of these abilities is on a natural scale of 3 to 18, the sum of the results of three six-sided dice, which creates a bell curve distribution like we might see in ordinary life.
Having an 18 Strength is rare, having a 10 or 11 is common. The modifier you add to your roll to bash the orc is not your strength score, it is derived from your strength score, by subtracting ten, dividing by two, and rounding down. A 17 strength yields a (17-10)/2=3.5 rounded to +3 on your die roll. Our first simplification will be to trash all this bell curve crap and just use the modifier as the score.
In Dungeons and Dragons there are different “classes,” which are like professions who are granted special unique abilities to each profession as they become more experienced. This isn’t necessary for kids – it’s mostly a tool for more mature players to use in optimization, so our second simplification will be to eliminate classes entirely.
When you survey the classes of Dungeons and Dragons you see certain archetypes arise, and they usually bundle two ability scores which are complimentary. Warrior classes tend to have high strength and constitution. Thinker classes such as magicians and priests tend to have high Intelligence, Wisdom, or both. Craftier classes tend to have high agility or charisma, which they use to sneak around, ambush, or beguile their opponents. These typical groupings lead us to our third simplification, we combine the six ability scores into three:
Body (a combination of Strength and Constitution)
Mind (a combination of Wisdom and Intelligence)
Craft (a combination of Dexterity and Charisma)
In Dungeons and Dragons, one of the benefits of gaining experience is at certain levels you gain a “proficiency bonus,” which is a flat addition to your die roll to “do the thing.” This proficiency bonus is granted to certain classes for things they’re good at, but since we’ve gotten rid of classes we don’t need that fine grain detail. The proficiency bonus is also derivative, going up by +1 for every four experience levels. We are going to eliminate this needlessly derivative number by simply using the “level” itself as the proficiency die bonus.
In Dungeons and Dragons, there are “hit points” which determine how much damage a character can sustain before going unconscious, and these “hit points” vary by class, and involve dice and the constitution modifier to determine. We are going to simplify this in our classless system by just gaining twelve hit points plus the Body bonus times four, per level. This may seem high, but you’ll see below that this scales properly because each level in the system represents four levels in regular Dungeons and Dragons.
Dungeons and Dragons has many different “races,” which in truth are much more akin to alien species than they are our current social concept of race. Include these as you see fit but in this simplified system all races are just cosmetic.
The “Campbell D&D For Kids” System
Starting PCs begin at Level 1 and get 4 points to allocate among the three remaining attributes. They go up a level after the conclusion of an important chapter in the story. When they go up, they gain one level and choose one attribute to increase. The maximum level of the game is 5.
Hit points = (3+Body) * 4 * Level
Melee attack rolls are (Body + Level), and melee weapons are classified as follows:
Small (1d4 + body damage)
Simple (1d6 + body damage)
Martial (1d8 + body damage)
Large (1d10 + body damage)
Ranged weapons are in similar categories but substitute Craft for Body as the attack and damage modifier.
Magic weapons add their bonus to the attack and damage rolls, and range from a bonus of 1 to 5.
Armor has a rating between 1 and 5, Shields grant an armor of 2, and a player’s “armor class,” which is the difficulty to hit them, is the (Armor Rating + 10 + Craft).
Players may cast spells from the player’s handbook (simplified as you see fit) of a spell level equal to their mind attribute minus their armor rating. They must learn any spell they know from a source, either a priest, spellbook, or similar. Give spells out sparingly and in such a way as to not unbalance the game, and magic weapons should be given out with power balance to the spell casters in mind.
All characters and monsters may move once and act once per combat round.
That’s it. That’s the whole system. You can tell an entire Dungeons and Dragons collaborative story with nothing more than this, and all your kid needs to know how to do is add. The power levels of these characters generally map over to similar power levels of a D&D character with a times four multiplier on level. Monsters from the monster manual, adjusted as you see fit, will work similarly at a times four conversion factor for challenge rating. Characters built in this system convert relatively well back to Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons by multiplying the character level by four, picking a class and race, and building that class out in the normal way. So, for instance, if your daughter is playing a level 2 character with a high Mind and Craft, and she has four spells she likes to use to manipulate crowds, her character easily maps over to an 8th level bard.
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