Stop Teaching The Rules

One of the recurring lessons that I have experienced – and also heard from several others who work with children – is to stop pushing the kids to learn the rules. Being an experienced adult gamer operating under the standard assumptions within the roleplaying game world, I forget this and need regular reminders.

This week I was back at the table with students. They quite enjoyed having the D&D character sheet in front of them but they were way more interested in the background notes and descriptive stuff on the back of the pre-gens than they were in the numbers. In fact, the sheets from the Starter Set are too busy for most 11-year-olds who haven’t read the rules – which is 4/5 students (80%).

While playing, I started to fall into the trap: “Make a Perception check” or “Roll to attack”. Bafflement, delay, “what do I do again?”

Here’s the trick: pick up a d20 and ask them to roll the die. Read it yourself, interpret it descriptively, describe, and move on. “You are looking around, up in the trees to see whether any creatures are lurking? Cool. Roll this die (handing over a d20).”

Focus on asking them not only what they want to do, but how they are doing it: “I hit the monster with my sword,” says the player; “Are you swinging or stabbing?” What we do and how we do it matters. For a young new player, the description is where the game is at.

Be gritty, gory, and detailed with the results. Focus on the interesting, messy outcomes. Show them, through description, what happens. Or, if they are up for it, ask them: “Your sword slices into the Goblin. Do you want to describe the details?” I find kids love to join in. Their stuff is way better than my stuff.

Don’t worry about teaching the rules. Kids who want to learn them can go read the book for themselves. The rest of them just want to go on a great imaginative journey.

Game on!


  1. I’d like to get myself back into the habit of describing what I want to do, how I’m doing it, why etc … rather than I attack the X with my Y.
    You’ve been good with prompts to this, but especially in a play test game, it’s all to easy to think about rules and probability.

    Liked by 1 person

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