Escapist > Projects > Young Person's Adventure League > How to Role-Play with Young People

An Escapist project of introducing young people
to the exciting world of adventure games

Site Guide

Factually Answered Queries - questions and answers

The Adventurer's Atlas - a list of suggested games for young people

The Dromedary's Dispatch - News and updates on the YPAL and adventure games

The Navigator's Notebook - play reports and reviews of adventure games

The Tinkerer's Toolbox - tips, tricks, and helpful hints



You can find a lot of good advice when it comes to playing adventure games with young people - so much good advice, in fact, that it can be difficult to keep track of it all. To that end, I have collected what I feel is a set of the best tips of all, that will apply in most circumstances. Some of these are tips that come directly from my own experiences, while others are suggestions that I have picked up over the years during many discussions on the subject.

If you have a bit of advice that you feel should be included on this list, feel free to send it to me at , and I will put it up for consideration.

This list is also available as a PDF for you to print out and keep handy while you're playing an RPG with young people. Click here to view or download it.

Carry the weight of the rules for them: As far as the rules of the game go, only tell them what they need to know to play the game. If you like, you can also tell them things that they specifically ask to know. Giving them the very basics of the rules allows them to play the game and enjoy it; giving them any extras that they ask for helps sate their curiosity. Use simple character sheets (create your own if you have to) that put all of their stats, skills, and abilities in an easy-to-read format. Don't bog them down with extra unnecessary rules. It's boring.

Narrow the players' choices when there seem to be too many: Most new players, and especially younger players, can be overwhelmed with all of the options available to them when playing an adventure game. Sometimes it helps to narrow their choices down to help them decide. You can even leave it open-ended so that they still have an opportunity to come up with something on their own. "Which do you want Annelise to do - look in the closet, examine the books on the shelves, search the desk for clues, or something else?" Over time, you'll find that you will be doing this less and less, as the players become better at taking the initiative and making their own decisions.

Give jobs - but only if the players want them: "Hire" a party journalist to write journal entries on the details of the adventure, a party artist who draws pictures of the people, places, and creatures that they encounter, a party mapper who tracks their progress across the land, and so on. Offer these jobs, but don't force them on anyone if there are no takers, and give them the opportunity to change their minds, if they want to.

Turn the violence down: Let the monsters run away or surrender sometimes, maybe even most of the time. Creatures like goblins and kobolds are pretty cowardly, anyway, and most of the rest would rather live to fight another day, if the cause is not very urgent. If a monster is "killed," rather than describing a grisly demise, just say that it has been knocked down and isn't moving. Discourage any sort of action from a player that would be too violent.

Get mental - Use puzzles and other activities: Challenge the minds of your players with mental activities in their adventures. Design an adventure where the players must solve a real puzzle, like a sliding picture puzzle, in order to unlock a door or get past a Sphinx. Or make a jigsaw puzzle out of a picture or map and hand pieces to the players when they accomplish certain goals, then let them try to put the pieces together in the proper order (you can make your own, or purchase blank puzzles from art supply stores or online at the Oriental Trading Company). Have them play a game of checkers with a hill giant, or chess with a dragon, or mancala with an Amazon queen, with the fate of their quest lying in the outcome of the game. You can find lots of ideas for this by simply browsing around in a discount toy store.

Get visual - Use props and other visual aids: Print out character pictures for players to color while they play. (You can find tons of them for fantasy-styled RPGs on the official D&D website). Make simple props to use during the game, like a torch made from a paper towel tube and some crepe paper, or a toy or handmade sculpture to represent a statue or idol. Plastic gemstones and pirate coins, available at many gift or costume stores (or the OTC again!), are a LOT of fun. Dollar stores and discount toy stores can yield many props, and possibly even inexpensive plastic miniatures to use (ninja, dinosaurs, knights, and much more!).

Get physical (but keep it safe and civil): When the weather permits, consider hosting your adventure game in the good old outdoors. If and when the players become restless from sitting still for too long, allow them to replace die rolls with feats of acrobatics. "Your rogue can dodge the poison arrow trap if you can give me three cartwheels without falling." Don't do this for combat, however, unless you have plenty of foam swords and shields on hand (but by that point, you're really playing a different game). Most of all, always remember to keep it safe for everyone.

Get dramatic and literary: Use different voices for all of your characters. Make dramatic gestures and sound effects (or play them on your computer). Use vividly colorful adverbs and adjectives. Practice your metaphors and similes. Stock up on alliterations and onomatopoeias. (If you don't remember what these things are, LOOK THEM UP!) If, on occasion, your players ask you “What does THAT word mean?,” then you can be certain that you’re doing it right.

Send in some help: Sometimes players just need a nudge in the right direction. If your players often find themselves stuck for hints on what to do next in their adventures, consider creating a non-player character that helps them out from time to time. It could be an animal that seems to turn up whenever a clue is right under their noses, or a bumbling companion who always seems to lean on the exact wall sconce trigger that opens the door to the secret passage. One word of warning: don't overuse this particular tool, or your players will come to rely on it too much.

Give everyone some spotlight: Nothing is worse than sitting around and watching everyone else have fun. (Well, perhaps there are a FEW things that are worse, like having to spend the night in a pup tent with a camel who is afraid of the dark...) Make sure that all players get involved in the action, and if anyone is left out for too long, draw them into the story with a sudden plot twist. Maybe Jimmy's character just happens to catch the satchel of rare gems that the other adventures have been trying to wrest away from a bandit, which suddenly makes him the center of everyone's attention. You don't even have to be subtle about it - there's no harm whatsoever in letting the players know that you're doing what you can to get them all involved.


...back to the Tinkerer's Toolbox


Young Person's Adventure League - Main - FAQ - Atlas - News - Notebook - Toolbox