Ask a Gamer: Little British Barbarians

It was a Sunday afternoon slot of Dungeons and Dragons at GenCon 2014. My table was populated by the standard array of gamer archetypes. Then, the marshal sat two unique players at my table. The first new player was your stereotypical petite English wife, very refined, proper with stiff posture. She was accompanied by her eight year old daughter, who looked and sounded like she’d been plucked right out of Mary Poppins.

We began by introducing our characters. We got to the little girl, and she said, “I’m a fierce barbarian who carries an ax passed down to me by my father.”
The mother said, “Tell them about the notches.”
The little girl said, “Oh yes, there’s a notch on the handle for every head I’ve cut off with my mighty blade.”
Coming out of the mouth of a cute little girl. I don’t think any of the other players cared at this point about the session… at least not as seriously. We just wanted to be entertained by this little girl playing a crude barbarian. She did not disappoint.

My nephews cut their teeth on Star Wars Saga. They were in a chase scene, riding tauntauns pursued by hailfire droids. They hugged the sides of the cavern and slowed down so the massive hailfire was between them. “We ignite our lightsabers and extend them so the droid cuts itself to pieces every time the wheel spins,” the oldest nephew announced. This plan was so amazing I can’t believe they didn’t use it in the Clone Wars cartoon.

I run a Patreon game of the One Ring. In the beginning, we had some vacant seats, and I let a couple of the supporters bring their sons to the gaming table. One of the boys played the treasure hunter Hobbit Donidas Brandybuck. Several session into the campaign, the group found themselves stumbling through the darkness of the Marsh Dwellers’ lair. Driven by a lust for treasure, Donidas left the others behind and wandered until he found an artifact lying in darkness. Upon joining the rest of the Company on the surface, Donidas identified the artifact as a very valuable belt of Dwarven make. He gave it to the dwarf in the party, saying it came from his people and should belong to him. All the players were shocked, not expecting this kind of generosity from the player nor the character. It captured that moment in the books where Gandalf remarks how extraordinary Hobbits truly are.

What I’ve learned from years of gaming with kids is that they will out-roleplay and out-storytell the adults. They will have amazing ideas. They will know what their characters’ abilities are and have uses for those abilities that are not described in the Players Handbook.

These kids need to be rewarded for their ingenuity. By providing them with a Bennie (Savage Worlds), Plot Point (Cortex) or Inspiration (Dungeons and Dragons), you encourage the kids to keep doing the things you want to see more of. It even tells the adults at the table that if they want Bennies, Plot Points or Inspiration, they have to match the quality of roleplaying set by the kids.

Now, kids have short attention spans and lots of energy. They bound from the table and get distracted with television or video games on their tablets. They sometimes forget about the team aspect of roleplaying and want all the attention to be on them. They should be the only ones rolling the dice and playing the game. Or, they choose to kill all the NPCs, even the butler and maid who greet them at the door. They have no patience for investigation sequences and want every scene to be a chance for them to wield their weapons.

I’d be lying if I said I never had the same issues with adults at my tables. With adults, you can set rules like no playing video games at the table, and players must stay at the table, even when they aren’t the center of attention.

As DM, it’s your job to kindly let the “I want to do it all” player be reminded this is collaborative storytelling, and everyone on the team gets an opportunity to share the spotlight.

As DM, you are not a parent. You are not expected to sacrifice the communal experience to handle disruptions from the children at the table. That’s why you should insist every preteen be accompanied by an older sibling or parent. Before beginning, let that guardian know you’re happy to have the young gamer join you, but the guardian needs to take care of any special needs. For instance, if the young gamer chooses to wander away from the table during combat, the game won’t be put on hold while he’s called back.

When my nephew wanted to slay the seamstress instead of asking her questions about the crime the party was investigating, the older nephew laid down the law and made it clear that was a bad strategy, and the others in the party weren’t going to stand for it. Reluctantly, the younger gamer went along with his brothers.

When my younger nephew later got disruptive, loudly and repeatedly mocking his brothers when they made bad rolls, I calmly told him that if he wasn’t going to be a good sport, we’d end the game early. He didn’t want the game to end and adjusted his attitude.

When I’m at a convention and see a young player sit down at my table, I’m excited by the challenge of facing fresh perspectives, a natural sense of roleplaying and enthusiasm that’s hard to match. However, the best of those experiences take place with the younger gamer being accompanied by a parent or older sibling, who helps the young gamer out when needed, preventing me from unequally dividing my attention amongst the players.

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Garrett Crowe is the host-producer of Threat Detected Podcast and Threats From Gallifrey Podcast ( He's a published gaming writer and is working on a book for Achtung! Cthulhu.

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