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D&D is a terrible beginners RPG

‘Roll initiative.’

‘Which dice?’

‘The d20. You roll d20 for everything except damage. Mostly.’

‘Where is it?’

‘It’s the biggest dice you have.’

‘No, where on the page?’

‘Under the Armor Class, at the top of the page.’

‘It’s not there on mine. I don’t have initiative as a skill.’

‘It’s not a skill.’

‘Well, I don’t have on my sheet.’

‘Give me your sheet.’ *looks at sheet* ‘Oh, you’re using a different sheet. It’s here.’ 

This is a pretty common interaction at the D&D club I run at my school. Vast amounts of time are chewed up with the same questions. D&D is a game that requires the players to know the rules connected to their character, which are numerous, in order for gameplay to flow smoothly. It is exceptionally difficult to run this game with the kids that come. I have found it increasingly difficult and more and more I work around rules or ignore them completely.

So, why bother with three hardbacks of rules anyway?

Excellent question.

Next year D&D will be the game that students can choose to run for their friends but no longer the introductory game used.

The following games are rules-light, simple to pick up and play, and set at more suitable price points for schools to adopt them. I have based this selection on complexity, familiarity, and accessibility.

Maze Rats by Questing Beast Games

This is the go-to for your ‘adventurer’s going on adventures for loot’ style of game that the younger kids love. It was written and designed by Ben Milton who is a teacher and has used this game for the exact purpose of introducing young people to tabletop games. Character creation is quick and simple. The game also just use d6s which cuts down the confusion that can come up at the table. It has a lot of player-driven choices, simple character creation, and a stack of d66 tables for the GM and players to roll on. These tables introduce students to the concept of adventure design by supplying themes, locations, descriptions and help fill their adventurers with content. If you were to pick one game to play with young people, I’d go with this.

Quest by The Adventure Guild

Quest takes the major elements of a roleplay-heavy game of D&D and strips it right back. It has classes but what your character looks and how they behave is completely up to the player. It uses a d20 and only a d20 which streams lines a lot of the combat. This is game is designed to sit down and start playing with your friends. There’s even a collaborative world-building section. My only nitpick with this game is that getting it in Australia is expensive, however, you can access the rules on their website and the PDF layout works really well on a large screen. Pick this game if you want the DND5E feel with a lot less bloat.

Mausritter by Losing Games

This game is simple to pick up and play and it gives the old school style gaming with a fun mousy-themed world. This is also available for free in the PDF version. It makes for a fun, light-hearted game (I mean you can make it darker if you want). It uses the Mark of the Odd engine focuses on fast and loose gameplay, lots of cool tables to roll, and exploring the mundane world from the perspective of a tiny mouse. When I run this with the kids at the club I will set our game at the school. I am very excited to see how they perceive the school when playing little micefolk. This is bound to be a winner with your anime kids, your younger kids, and those with big imaginations.

Lasers and Feelings by One.Seven Design

Easy setup, easy rules to teach, and easy to modify. It’s the only sci-fi-specific game on the list and they get to make a ship! This game is great for kids that are interested in starting to make their own games. There are tonnes of clones out there too which are well worth checking out and showing kids how diverse simple rule sets can be.

Year Zero Mini by 3 Skulls Publishing

This is essentially an SRD but it has enough to have students telling stories in any setting. This is a simplified version of the Year Zero Engine by Fria Ligan, much more streamlined. Essentially, if kids want to tell stories in any setting this is your go-to. They can easily come up with characters and use flavour instead of rules to make it fit their worlds. Have found this particularly handy for kids that want to play in their favourite games or comics.

These are the five I will be using this year. I know I’ll have a bit of pushback from the senior kids, but I think getting the newbies started with a more diverse range of games will be beneficial. I am hoping to demystify gamemastering and break down the barrier that stops people from trying it out. I also hope that some simpler games and games that have a lot of variants will encourage game design. But that will be later down the track.

I put a call out to the Twitterverse and got a lot of responses. Too many to add to this list however, I will create another post like this one to highlight some of the other gems. Because to check that tweet out though because there really were a heap of awesome suggestions.

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up on this post. I’ll do some reflection on which games worked and which didn’t.

Long days and pleasant nights.

5 thoughts on “D&D is a terrible beginners RPG”

  1. Love this, great choices! I'm familiar with most of these but really want to dig deeper into Maze Rats and Quest.

    My new go-to has been Labyrinth: The Adventure Game. It's a super simple d6 mechanic, and it's so easy to prep and run – comes with 100 "scenes" you roll to randomly find (so maybe you do 20-30 scenes total in one run through.) They are all one-off situations, so it's easy to put down and come back to later, and it really just gets people into the meat of it quickly. It's also not combat focused, the situations range from puzzles, roleplay encounters, events, weird locations, etc. it's really a great starter.

  2. I am loving Labyrinth with my 8 yr old and can't wait to introduce it to the larger group. I am struggling with the larger group (8-12 yr olds). Our first game was Magical Kitties Save the Day and t was a huge hit. After several sessions I wanted to do something else with animal characters that was a little more complicated and landed on Mouseguard. I love Mouseguard but the group is struggling. maybe too much reading and writing and rereading of the character sheets? Or my lack of clarity on some of the rules? Both?
    I would love to simplify Mouseguard, but I am am Noob GM. We are looking for animal characters, more problem solving than fighting, lots of in-game roles. Any suggestions? Maze Rats is certainly adaptable. Quest looks good but seems more fighting focused. I tried a Lasers and Feelings one shot and it was…..not very engaging. I really would like to make Mouseguard work. I think having that developed world with maps and rich characters is appealing top all of us.

  3. Into The Odd, not Mark of The Odd.

    John Harper did Blades In The Dark as well as Lazers and Feelings. There's a lot of Hacks for it.

    Grant Howitt on Itch does a lot of decent and PWYW one page RPGs.

    This is the Year 0 engine SRD.
    http://frank-mitchell.com/rpg/year-zero-engine-ogl/#foreword-by-frank-mitchell. I think the game you're recommending is a hack (which is fine!) But they are different things.

    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/product/274623. This is based of Vince Bakers Dogs In the Vineyard which is a classic moral storytelling RPG. You may find it in line with what you want and if you ask nicely they'll probably send you a free pdf for the school.

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January 2022
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