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Mentoring younger players

My friend is running a Dungeons & Dragons game for his kids and a gaggle of others, ages 11 through 13. For many of them, it’s their first role-playing game. He tapped me to play along, to help teach the game from the player side of the screen — and just help wrangle 7 (!) tweens. I agreed, of course. I want these kids to fall in love with role-playing like I did. I want them excited for each session, and to imagine running their own games. So I put a lot of work into mentoring them.

I am not a teacher, by the way. I have some experience teaching martial arts, but that’s a whole different thing. I’m not an expert on mentoring kids this age — or any age — but I do a few things that I don’t necessarily do when I’m gaming with experienced players and adults.

Since I have a character in the game, I made him to help the other PCs more than to do things himself. He’s a paladin with the Oath of Glory, specifically for Inspiring Smite, which lets me give the other characters temporary hit points. I took the Protection fighting style so that I could keep them safe. I took Inspiring Leader to make sure that they always have temp hit points when I can’t pull off an Inspiring Smite. Every ability and feat is designed to support them, to help them play their character to the best of their ability, and to keep their characters on their feet. I’m here to support them, and I’m glad to do it.

So far, the only time any of the kids’ characters got knocked down was at first level, when we’re all made of wet cardboard anyway. Since leveling up, I’m the only character to get knocked out, which is exactly what I want. I want to keep the characters on their feet and the players playing.

But it’s about more than mechanically building a support character; and the best support may vary. A bard might be a better class for this, for instance. It’s about modeling behavior. By using my feat to do something for the team, by protecting them at the cost of my own hit points. By giving them a boost instead of taking the lead, I try to demonstrate good teamwork.

In the beginning, most of the kids were more excited to throw a spell at the enemy than to spend their turn healing or helping. But just a couple of months in, everyone buys a drink for the healer after battle, and characters are running around the map to give their friends flanking advantage. I certainly can’t claim all of the credit for that, but every game session, I try to model helping the group over just personal success.

On the role-playing end, I based my character on Ted Lasso. If you haven’t seen the show, he’s an American football coach hired to lead a British football team. He knows nothing at all about soccer, but excellent at bringing the best out of people. His successes aren’t tactical brilliance, but inspirational ones. So my paladin is Coach Cade Cloudcleaver, who used to teach young paladins and clerics their weapon and armor proficiencies at the temple. Now drawn into adventure, he’s still a coach.

I had the kids pick a team name. We have huddles before a battle, or when we’re deciding what to do with a prisoner or a problem. Before a fight, I ask everyone what they want to do in the battle, and help them come up with a plan in which they can use their special abilities — and feel special. And when our plan inevitably falls apart in combat, I do what I can to help them all pull off their moves.

Rather than a party of eight, we’re a team of seven with a coach. My Inspiring Leader speeches are pep talks. My last one was about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day that ended in a dad joke. I even wrote and read an actual speech — about a minute long, not the 10 minutes actually required by the feat — to single out each character in turn and praising them for their unique contributions. Even the kids who are sort of wallflowers. If nothing else, their characters have powerful magic or special skills that I want to help them enjoy.

I can’t speak to real coaching or teaching, but I try to make each of the kids feel special, like their character is important to the team, and do everything that I can as a player to help them be successful. If you’re gaming with younger players or new ones, you can do worse than backing them up and helping them take the spotlight.



Table-top gaming advice, how-to, and more from the RPGuides, Aron Christensen & Erica Lindquist. Updates every Wednesday.

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