I recently ran into a situation at the gaming table that for some reason absolutely perplexed me. It all started when I volunteered to run a game for my family, who wanted to understand what Dungeons & Dragons was all about. The catch here is simple, they are in no way what most would consider gamers, all of them were 50+ and had never touched a tabletop roleplaying game or video game prior to the experience, so I believed I had my work cut out for me. I learned some interesting things, and finally came to the realization it was no different than any other group I had run 5E D&D for in my life. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: the DnD Grandma illustrates how you’re never too old to try new things!]
5E D&D approach for senior gamers
I have seen many bright-eyed new players turned away from 5E D&D due to the complexity of character creation, so I put a lot of thought into the best way to overcome that first. With any player I believe it’s important to give them as much choice as possible, but I wanted to avoid drowning their enthusiasm in a sea of decisions. I asked other Dungeon Masters how they would handle the situation and they all insisted the best thing to do was keep it simple. I created one-page character creation menus that started with the four basic Tolkien races — human, elf, dwarf and halfling.
Next, I added a list of classes with a brief explanation of what each one was thematically. I showed them these menus and instructed them to pick one of each. Finally, I talked to them about their characters’ past and picked a background for each one that was closest to what they described. Once we had the class, race and background combos ready I quickly created the characters for them with optimal ability scores. I created simple character sheets using a template I found online, and highlighted the important parts (AC, HP, proficient skills, and attacks) with various colored highlighters.
Character creation tips
- Don’t overload them with numbers and formulas
- Use fantasy or sci-fi tropes they are familiar with
- Let them be as creative or as simple as they like
- Use simple character sheets, employ color as needed
This was really the toughest part. I normally get a lot of feedback from my players before I plan a campaign. I really want to know what their style of play is, and what they’ve enjoyed about other games they’ve played. Bewildered by this lack of gaming experience in the group, I surveyed my network of DMs and was instructed to find out what fantasy or sci-fi books and media they enjoy normally and base it off that.
One of the players wanted a lighthearted story so I wrote a short adventure with a twist. The local baron needed someone to rescue his son who had been kidnapped by bandits. The twist — his son had run away intentionally to join a circus of friendly monsters. This created a bit of a moral quandary at the end as the son did not want to return with them but could not offer them the same amount of money as the baron’s reward.
Campaign preparation tips
- Find out what kind of books and movies they enjoy
- Keep it lighthearted and simple — not everyone likes horror or complex mysteries
- Use recognizable D&D tropes to create surprises. Chances are a new player won’t recognize them, or they will be vindicated by guessing the twist before the end
Running the game
I set out to run the game “rules light” focusing more on roleplay and action while handwaving minor rules. Instead of explaining all the numbers I just kept it descriptive and moved the game along. The funniest thing is, for all the concern I had about them being older gamers they played the game just like any other group of players I have DMed for.
When confronted by ruffians in the local inn one of them immediately asked the others, “OK I have one question — are we evil?” Later in the session they spent close to 20 minutes discussing how to proceed investigating the “bandits’ camp” which strangely looked much more like a circus with colorful tents and decorations. At one point they even decided to split the party to investigate!
Tips for running the session
- Play rules light with new players, let them be creative and lean into unusual solutions
- Be descriptive with locations, people and creatures. Don’t drown them in exposition but describe what things look, sound, feel, smell and taste like rather than simply saying what they are
- Use classic D&D tropes. Starting in a tavern to go fight goblins or explore a wizard’s tower might seem cliché but its tried and true and it works
The biggest insight for me at the end of all this was that senior gamers played just like any other 5E D&D party would likely play. If another DM asked me now how to run a game for senior citizens, the best advice I could give them is treat them just like any other new players! I mean they are human after all. How different can they be? Keep it rules-light, personalize the game to their unique interests, and focus on descriptive storytelling! Make interesting non-player characters and locations, use colorful descriptions and bring the world to life. Overall, my senior group had a great time and it was certainly a very memorable experience for me.
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