On the official Dungeons & Dragons website, there’s part four of an ongoing "tutorial" series about teaching kids how to play D&D. This one’s called "D&D Kids: Punishment."

In it, the author — who is apparently a professional "teacher of RPGs" in Israel — talks about how to punish and humiliate children between the ages of 7 and 11 who don’t fit his idea of what a roleplaying game should be.

Suggested "verdicts" for these "crimes" (the terms are his, not mine) include public humiliation, loss of experience points, character death, and ostracization from the gaming group (called "exile" by the author).

He accomplishes this by applying labels to children, such as "The Astronaut" (for a child who is unable to quickly grasp the complex rules of D&D), "The Crybaby," "The Cheater," "The Serial Character Changer" (a kid who dares to "care more about experiencing different classes and races than about character development"), "The Hyperactive" (with a note to make sure that you can tell who is not just an "attention grabber" but "genuinely hyperactive" — do people even use these words about kids in this day and age? — who might "go bananas"), "The Joker" (who gets compared to Batman’s sociopathic foe for being silly at the game table), "The Chaotic-Stupid" (who deserves character death and return at lower level), and "The Antagonist" (who should just be banished for being a threat to the DM’s authority).

Now, there’s a long history of categorizing gamer types, not always in the most attractive way — I remember the old "Real Men / Roleplayers / Loonie / Munchkin" stuff that I first saw on USEnet in the 80s. Most of this stuff consists of stereotypes and insults coupled with "old school" "hardcore" "grognard"-style gaming advice. (You know, where Gary Gygax tells you that you must punish players who, I dunno, don’t recognize his initials in the map or something.)

Modern gaming has gotten away from the more destructive uses of these categories, and recent advice — such as that found in the 4th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 — focuses not so much on judging and condemning players, but recognizing that different play styles and play goals exist. The best advice sections give hints and tips on how to keep everyone happy within a campaign by understanding what your players are hoping to achieve and realizing that their desires are valid and reasonable.

This "D&D Kids: Punishment" article doesn’t do that. In a move that would be out of place in gaming if applied to adults — let alone children! — the author suggests stripping characters of experience points, levels, and characters for not playing Dungeons & Dragons as seriously as he thinks they should be playing it.

Rather than giving advice on what’s going on in a kid’s head when he or she engages in potentially disruptive behavior — and suggesting ways to work with whatever desires the child is expressing — the article focuses almost entirely on the idea that it’s the role of the adult Dungeon Master to inflict punishment on the children.

The first subheading of the article is "The Cracking of the Whip" — and the staff at the WotC website decided it was appropriate to illustrate this article — about kids! — with an angry demon wielding a flaming whip and a sword.

I object to this guy’s namecalling categorization of young children this way; I’m offended by multiple things throughout this very problematic article. I’m frankly shocked that Wizards of the Coast decided this was worth publishing, since it goes against their current DMing philosophies for playing with adults, let alone with children.

I know for certain that I would not want the author ever attempting to teach my nephews how to play Dungeons & Dragons.

Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice that he only refers — throughout the four parts of this "tutorial series" — to boy players and never girls. He talks in one part about when it’s appropriate or not to give slaves to childrens’ characters as loot/alternate rewards ("slavery is a touchy subject best avoided with younger gamers"), but he never addresses in any place how to deal with a group of mixed genders of children.

If, like me, you need to cleanse your palate after slogging through "D&D Kids: Punishment," check out this recent BoingBoing post by Enrique "NewbieDM" Bertran, "I turned my 4-year-old daughter into a Dungeons & Dragons geek." That’s the kind of introduction I hope more children have to this hobby.

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10 Responses to “How to punish children for playing D&D “wrong””

  1. thew says:

    I’m offended by your mischaracterization of the original article.

  2. Kynn says:

    @thew: Where do you feel I mischaracterized the article?

  3. Wes says:

    Man, I cannot stop laughing at your response to Uri’s article. You are fired from playing DnD. You can still play 3rd and 4th edition all you want, but you are hereby banned from playing actual DnD.

  4. Kynn says:

    @Wes: Oh noes.

  5. Reyemile says:

    Right from the beginning, you mischaracterized “The Astronaut:” The author specifies that this archetype is the player who makes the same mistake over and over again after it’s explained slowly and clearly–i.e. “for the fifth time, Elvish Accuracy isn’t an attack.” You state that he labels children who ‘can’t quickly grasp the complex rules of DnD’ which is false

    Further, he specifically advises against taking any actions against this guy. Your blog article says that he suggests “verdicts” which he “accomplishes…by” these labels, but your implication is as false as your actual content–in fact, he specifically advises AGAINST punishing “astronauts,” and a majority of the other labels that rankle you.

    I actually agree with some of your points. His “Chaotic Stupid” punishments are too harsh, for instance. Other points your raise are valid, although they aren’t so cut-and-dry: his use of “he” in this article could be seen to presume the DnD players are boys, but it also could be views as an assumption that PROBLEMATIC DnD players will be boys. But regardless of the legitimacy of your concerns, you undermine yourself by distorting Uri’s words from your first paragraph, and that makes it hard to take the rest of your points seriously.

  6. humanadverb says:

    LOL OMG ROFLMFAO!

    Oh, you want me to actually articulate a criticism of your post? Uh… *retreats*

    (Btw: Wes still rolls THAC0.)

  7. Kynn says:

    @Reyemile: The “elvish accuracy” example is clearly and quite obviously an example of a child who doesn’t understand the rules. I don’t know exactly what he was going at with “Astronaut” for that — probably “Space Cadet”? — but I stand by my assertion that this is a way to label the child as having a “problem,” without necessarily considering if maybe, just maybe, this guy with no training as a teacher and one year of experience in informal education might have taught the kid correctly how to play.

    If the kid isn’t understanding after the fifth time, it’s time to try something different. Only the most stubborn of “educators” would try to pin the blame on the kid at that point.

    The “he” vs. “he or she” is a pretty clear-cut example of this article not fitting the Wizards of the Coast writing style, which implies that the article was not particularly well-edited (and not well-vetted either) before seeing print.

  8. Mark says:

    I notice that there were also, after reading Uri’s article, several grammatical mistakes and spelling errors in it.

    But seriously, this is no way to talk about children, even in jest. I think that this type of article is no way to treat kids, and could almost be considered child abuse. I don’t know how they do things in Israel, but in America, that @!$# doesn’t fly…

  9. Uri’s article on the surface does totally smack of 1st Ed Gary Gygaxism, the GM is God etc, which does rub me the wrong way, but you have to admit you exaggerated his points. He doesn’t say to punish the “astronaut”, after all. Maybe he’s a bad teacher but safer to blame the byzantine rules of D&D – I’ve played for years with guys who never got straight which squares their reach weapon could hit – maybe they should play old-school red box, but then he wouldn’t get published on Wizard’s site.

    “Banishment from the realm” sounds harsh, but put another way, all he’s saying is “Don’t play with jerks.” If I’m playing with someone who wants something incompatible, either they have to go or I do.

    I suspect that Uri is playing with some kids who genuinely want to be there but a lot who don’t – “This D&D thing sounds cool, I’ll give it a try,” not knowing what it really is, or who are playing because their friends are playing, or who have to do some kind of elective activity and D&D sounds like the easiest way to coast … so Uri has to enact some draconian measures that you and I wouldn’t have to if we’re simply playing with our kids.

    As for the Crybaby and the Serial Character Changer, I totally agree with you. These are kids who want something different out of role-playing and D&D4 doesn’t give it to them. The crybaby should be playing Lady Blackbird, or Uri could hack the crap out of D&D to make sure the possibility of failure is only an illusion (how about, every time you whiff a roll or take damage you get fate points which you can later use to add to other rolls); the Serial Character Changer should be playing one-shots; or Uri should bring a crapload of pre-gens to the table, at various levels of experience, so the Serial Character Changer can try a new character every session *and* keep up with the rest of the party.

  10. Trake says:

    I’d hate to see how he’d treat little boys that wanted to role-play female characters.

    Or what dirty rotten name he’d assign to them.

    Maybe he’d bring out the My Little Ponies to use as their miniatures.