Teaching D&D to a Seven-Year Old
My wife Sally and Hannah, my older daughter, went on a Girl Scout outing the afternoon after Hannah, Emma, and I made our characters, leaving me and Emma the next afternoon. This was Sunday, and there wasn’t much of a football slate scheduled, so I decided that the time had come to start really teaching Emma to play D&D.
We sat down at lunch, and I went through the idea of Skill mechanics with her, and this immediately led to an impromptu Skills Challenge. I established Emma’s character in a dark and spooky forest, and I said that she’d been traveling with a trading caravan that had been attacked by goblins. She wandered until she came upon a fortress on the edge of a deeper section of the woods—the Blackraven Monastery. At this point, Emma didn’t know that the place was a monastery, so we played through her encounter with the monastery’s gate guard, and when she failed a Bluff check to convince the guy that she was a princess and that he ought to give her a place to sleep and a hot meal—all her idea, by the way—I had him take her to the monastery’s father abbot. She then succeeded in her next Bluff check, and soon she had the father abbot believing that she was a princess and that his gate guard was a fool for not recognizing it immediately. I then had the father abbot assign his chief priest, Melora Moonstone, to show Emma’s character to her quarters, and…
Suddenly I could see that Emma was getting bored. We talked about it, and she said, yeah, the storytelling part of D&D was okay, but she’d rather play one of the board games. Fortunately, by that time we’d finished lunch. So after I cleaned up the kitchen, we busted out the box for The Legend of Drizzt, and soon Emma started digging through the figurines looking for the one that looked the most like Elaina Emboo.
As it happens, Emma wanted to play the board game, but she wanted to play it using her character, Elaina Emboo.
Elaina and Melora vs. The Goblin Horde
We sat down to our first combat encounter, and what I quickly realized is that seven-year-olds are visual creatures. The problem with our lunch encounter was that it didn’t involve any toys. So we set up an impromptu forest on our dining room table, using Mommy’s flowers, a pair of small decorative gourds, and the salt and pepper shakers as our trees. I established that trees provide partial cover and concealment, and that if you were behind a tree, you could make a Stealth check, and then I grabbed a ruler and said that one inch on the ruler equaled five feet of gaming space on our “board”. I then grabbed some of the goblins and whatnot out of the Legend of Drizzt box, and we were off.
The nice thing about D&D Next is that the combat encounters are quick and painless. I’ll be the first to admit that D&D’s Fourth Edition was a better, more complete fantasy combat simulator, but the downside of that was you just couldn’t have a throw-away encounter. Every encounter in 4e is like a set-piece battle that lasts at least an hour of real time, so if you’re gonna take the time to do one, you may as well do one that has some bite to it. For a seven-year-old, however, time and patience are finite qualities, and movement—in the game, in the story, etc—is an utter necessity. It’s tempting as well to say that the fact that D&D Next has fewer character choices in combat also helps younger players, but the fact is that that’s not always true. In Emma’s case, especially, that wasn’t true. Her Illusionist had three or maybe even four At-Will spells, a Signature spell, and what amounted to two Daily spells, and I think she managed to use every one of them at some point in our play that afternoon.
Regardless, what happened was that I decided to play Sally’s character Melora for that first combat, and as she and Elaina set out from the Blackraven Monastery that afternoon, they quickly encountered more of the goblins that had ambushed Elaina’s caravan on the road at the game’s outset. Elaina and Melora made quick work of that first goblin patrol—three goblins vs. two Player-Characters, and here let me admit that the combat scaled beautifully with just two PCs against 30 XP worth of monsters—and then they tracked the goblins’ trail back to their lair.
At the lair’s entrance, I established a pair of goblins guarding the mouth of the cave, and then I set a Dire Wolf back behind the cave entrance, hidden from the heroes as they approached. Emma suggested using Stealth on the way up to goblin’s lair, and so I let her discover the goblins before they discovered her. Then she suggested using her illusionary magic to disguise herself and Melora as goblins from another tribe, and since her character is an Illusionist (and in possession of a Disguise kit), I decided to let her try this with a simple Bluff check. Of course, the Bluff failed, and soon we were back into combat.
This combat showed us pretty much everything. Emma opened it with Burning Hands, which killed one goblin and wounded the other as well as the Dire Wolf. Then the Wolf attacked and savaged Emma’s character, reducing her to exactly zero hit points and knocking her temporarily unconscious. Melora then healed Elaina with her one Daily spell, Cure Light Wounds, and used Command—no action needed in D&D Next—to make the Dire Wolf “Sit!” for a round. That gave Elaina time to get to her feet and Melora time to kill the one remaining goblin with her mace. After that, I think Elaina killed the Dire Wolf with a Ray of Frost, but I’m not really sure. Regardless, our heroes triumphed, but not without having to use some substantial resources to overcome their foes.
By this time we’d been playing for about an hour—half an hour over lunch using the “storytelling” part of the game and half an hour using miniatures on our dining room table. I was ready to wrap things up, but I wanted to do it with a bang. So I had Elaina and Melora wander back into the goblin cave, and there they encountered the Goblin Chief and his three heartiest lieutenants.
Elaina opened combat by casting a Minor Illusion, creating a phantasmal troll that fooled two of the four goblins into wasting their initial attacks. Then Melora killed one with a Lance of Faith, and in short order, we were triumphant. I had Elaina pick up the goblin leader’s crown, making it the magical Black Crown of Command (homebrewed artifact, grants +2 to Bluff and Persuade checks), and voila! We were done with our first play session.
Needless to say, a good time was had by all.