Should Brats Get XP Penalties? The Controversial Article About D&D and Kids

Today, an article by Uri Kurlianchik was posted to the official D&D Tutorials Archive. Titled “D&D Kids: Punishment,” the article has ignited a fierce controversy among D&D players and parents for suggesting that in-game punishments are necessary for dealing with unruly children.

First, it must be pointed out that Kurlianchik speaks from extensive experience running D&D groups for young children. He has also pointed out that much of what he says is meant with tongue in cheek. And really, I have to commend anyone who has the patience to even try to play D&D with little kids, much less make a habit of it.

If you don;t want to read his entire article, here are a few choice excerpts:

Some kids don’t come to play, but rather to socialize. Some kids do want to play, but their heads are up in the clouds. Some, like Batman’s Joker, are a force of pure chaos. As a DM, it’s your duty to deal with them lest they deal with you (and your game!).

Without a very good reason, don’t remove more than 50 XP at once—you want to warn the players, not cripple their characters. Severe transgressions, such as reading your DM notes, damage to people and property, or highly inappropriate remarks should be punished harshly.

On the subject of true troublemakers, we can learn much from The Boondock Saints, namely “destroy that which is evil so that which is good may flourish.” Some kids have real issues and need help, but not at the expense of those kids who came to play and have fun.

It must be said that I’ve encountered most of the troublemaker archetypes listed in the article in adult gaming groups (crybabies tend to sulk more than cry, but they’re there — watching a grown man throw a tantrum when he loses a game of Magic is pretty sad). In any case, forums and Twitter erupted with people indigant over the proposed harsh treatment of mere children. Me? I can’t argue with a thing Uri says. But he responded to his critics himself in a forum post, saying, “Perhaps in the utopias in which my critics live, all people are perfect and the need for discipline, grades and rules has been abolished, but here, on planet Earth, this is not the case. People do misbehave and measures must be taken to protect those who behave well from those who behave poorly.”

16 Responses to Should Brats Get XP Penalties? The Controversial Article About D&D and Kids

  1. I reward players for extra effort– for doing extra-curricular character building or for being the “MVP” or whatever– so how is denying XP any different?

  2. See, I was one of said people who was annoyed and upset on twitter about it. The reason is that I didn’t read the tongue in cheek bit. The other thing is that if you did that with grown ups, they would mutiny and get pissed off. Kids aren’t any different, they just feel that they don’t have the same power when it comes to dealing with grown-ups.

    That’s why I was upset by the whole thing. You want good behaviour, you reward it. If you punish people, and the whole article was called punishment, then they get resentful.

    I mean, if that happened to you how would you feel?

    I also have extensive experience running RPGs, Boardgames and other stuff with kids, including my own in that. It’s why I looked at it the whole article with more than a bit of contempt.

  3. I just read his article and it was spot on. I didn’t read the prequel, so I don’t know what situation prevails for the groups that he’s playing with, troubled youths etc. but if its a volunteer program where all the kids volunteer to play, then they (whether they know it or not) have formed a social contract amongst themselves, to play the game. bad behavior has to be corrected, not endured.

    I agree that there are other methods that can work, but the over reliance on positive reinforcement to the exclusion of all forms of punishment is simply foolish. It also fails to consider what the purpose of the correction is: Have you taken on the daunting challenge of making an antagonist into a good role-player, no matter what? Or are you offering the fun of a game of D&D to a group of kids, in which one or two are actively and intentionally disruptive to the detriment or even destruction of the whole game.

    I contend that any D&D group has to be the latter, unless the group is specifically created to bring the disruptive player into the fold as a valuable contributing member, which must be rare to the point of non-existence. A disruptive player has a duty to the other players to not be unduly disruptive and as the adult, the DM has a duty to the other players to ensure that the disruptive one does not unduly disrupt the game. Prolonged waiting periods to positively reinforce the rare nuggets of ‘good’ behavior while taking no other action as many detractors argue (without thinking out the consequences for others it appears) is a failure of that duty. The proper and effective solution is the application of progressive discipline, which includes punishment. “Ask ya, Tell ya, Help ya.”

  4. He does mention that there’s a second part to the article dealing with positive rewards. Also, not to stereotype, but one might surmise from Uri’s name and the fact that “game translator” is listed in his bio that English is not his first language. That’s not to say his English isn’t impeccable, but humor can be hard to get across textually at the best of times, and even the most practices non-native speaker of a language can have trouble hitting the nuances. Plus, it seems like he has a pretty dry sense of humor. Combine that and I think a lot of people didn’t “get it.”

    But, I agree with Ryk and don’t feel any need to be an apologist for the article. If kids don’t experience consequences for bad behavior, they grow up to be assholes.

  5. Because goodness knows we’ve all done so wonderfully?

    I would have to disagree strongly with the whole, it’s spot on. Having done this again, and again, and again with ‘at risk kids’ I would say that it’s really a pile of crap. If you’re there to be there with the kids and help them tell a story then the rules don’t really matter. However, when the opening paragraph ends with this line:

    “As a DM, it’s your duty to deal with them lest they deal with you (and your game!).”

    I immediately thought this guy would be the last person I would want as a DM, let alone one for my kid. If you’re there to get a new generation hooked on gaming, then it’s sure as hell isn’t about you and your game. It felt more like the person was hell bent on teaching “the rules” and “D&D” rather than having a good time with the kids.

    If you tell an interesting story, then they’re engaged and they’re in. If you’re interested in the rules they’ll get bored and try to entertain themselves. Kids roleplay all the time, they don’t need some old dude telling them how to do it.

  6. Interesting article. That said, whatever happened to “If you don’t behave, you don’t get to do “X”?”

    First: They’re children. Everything I’ve ever read is that you never “negotiate” bad behavior with children. They play right… they get to play, they behave badly, they don’t get to play. This should be no different at the gaming table as it would be at home, school or play, IMHO.

    Second: Child, Adult, Uplifted Animal, Horned Automaton… whatever. If you do something above-and-beyond standard play, I’ll reward you. If you’re disruptive, I’ll ask you to leave my gaming table. Act like a spoiled, entitled, little brat and I won’t ask you back.

    (As a disclaimer, I don’t personally have children. I do have two toddler nephews that I regularly have. Mommy and Daddy negotiate all the time and the boys are usually off the chain. It only took a couple of times for Uncle Kenn to turn the car around and go back to the house, for the Demonic Duo to realize “Uh-Oh… this is not Mom and Dad we’re dealing with.” Now, they’re mostly good boys, and when there’s a behavior incident, they understand the consequences of said actions. They will be learning to game in a few years, if Uncle Kenn has anything to say about it. 8D )

  7. I guess you could argue that his tone is a little…brusque? I don’t know. You’re talking to someone who, generally speaking, seriously dislikes all children, so maybe I’m not the most objective judge.

  8. Wait, so I might be the only person here commenting who has kids (I have one, my partner has two) and I’m against the article? Interesting, no?

    Anyway, the key thing is that my experience is far different then this guy’s. If you’re there playing a game in a school, then there’s a good chance it’s the place you’re doing it as kids will sign up for anything to really get out of a class room if it’s the standard classroom. So they might not care at all what you’re doing, you’re just an out and if you’re doing things in that space then you should probably be aware of that. Hell, it’s one of the reasons why we homeschool.

    I do things with homeschoolers, who are far more used to getting their own way in what they want to do in regards to learning, and with library programs because RPGs promote things like literacy and storytelling. I don’t have those problems because I’m either asked by the homeschoolers because this is something that they want to do, or I’m doing things in a place where the kids are actively seeking me out.

    You don’t treat kids as something you have to endure or keep in line. You treat them like people who just haven’t done all the stupid crap you’ve done in your life to know better. You give them the space to make mistakes and you’re there to set the limits on places you know are dangerous. If you feel you have to do that during what is a game then we’re going to have a disagreement.

  9. I don’t like how the article seemed to want to pigeonhole “disruptive” kids into categories with a set crime and punishment. How do you know the antagonist won’t respond to being taken aside and talked to unless you try? Just kicking someone out of the group because they show signs of antagonistic behavior is ignorant and not likely to help anyone.

    Here’s a hot tip: DMing for kids is hard. Playing a lot of different games with kids can be hard. What this article seems to promote is laying the hammer down to make things easier for you quickly without regard for the individual involved. As we learned from “The Search for Spock,” the needs of the one sometimes outweigh the needs of the many. I’d rate the chance as “pretty good” that this disruptive individual didn’t come to you with the lone goal of messing with your game and making sure everyone has an awful time. Who knows? Maybe his paladin is just an asshole. Throwing him out of the party for licking the wizard’s cheek won’t teach you anything about it.

    So what if he wants to play a yuan-ti? Let him. There’s no rules for it. So? Use another race and flavor it up. I like to give Ryk a hard time saying “Being a DM is about saying ‘Yes’ to things.” Obviously that’s not always true, but I’d argue it is more true for DMing for kids. He’s chaotic stupid? OK. He’ll find out there’s consequences for his actions. Remember when I said that DMing for kids is hard?

    If our disrupter is grabbing character sheets from the other player or throwing dice across the room, you can still talk. “Hey, I think some of the others are having a difficult time getting into the game since you chewed on their character sheets.”

    Instead of crime=punishment like the article suggests, I think you seriously need to treat situations based on the situation, not on a set of guidelines. There is no Code of Hammurabi for D&D Kids. And there shouldn’t be.

  10. Also, I had originally started a post about how I like beer brats, but cheddar brats are good, too, so I wouldn’t punish anyone for bringing either. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling like I had something to add to the conversation.

  11. It seems to me that the critics of the article are speaking on some unwarranted assumptions. First that punishment is inherently inappropriate. Second, that the author is somehow aggrandizing ‘his’ game at the expense of his players. There is no evidence in the article that such is the case. That is literally prejudice, judging based on preconceived notions without taking into account the facts of the case at hand.

    His article suggests that he is playing with groups of around 10 kids at a time. 10 players is a handful no matter what age they are. having someone who is willfully disruptive in the group only makes it more of a challenge, perhaps to the point of impossibility. That seems to be what he is driving at here. Most of his recommend responses to these various challenging behaviors are to roll with it and offer in-game consequences to in-game faux-pas. Like for instance chaotic stupid. The chaotic stupid character reaps his reward of destruction alone. The rest of the players don’t. That’s the point, don’t punish the rest of the group for the actions of an individual,, even if its logical consequence in the game would call for party destruction.

    That is what Uri is driving at. When one out of ten is detracting from the game for the other nine, how do you eliminate that detraction or at least minimize it enough to make it manageable. And keep in mind that based on his recommendation to print out the feat tables, apparently his players have no copies of the books themselves and are relying heavily on DM interaction to create and level up their characters. Which i think illuminates the difficulty of having a player try to make a new character every session.

    @jonathan, you are not the only one responding who has children or who has worked with or attempted to play organized games with children ‘at risk’ or otherwise.

  12. It seems to me that the critics of the article are speaking on some unwarranted assumptions. First that punishment is inherently inappropriate. Second, that the author is somehow aggrandizing ‘his’ game at the expense of his players. There is no evidence in the article that such is the case. That is literally prejudice, judging based on preconceived notions without taking into account the facts of the case at hand.

    Yeah. No one said that punishment is inherently inappropriate. I said that in a game if you have to punish someone, then it’s no longer a game.

    Also, the words that are on the page are all we have to go on. You can’t be prejudiced when you have nothing to pre-judge on. However, when someone starts their article with:

    “As a DM, it’s your duty to deal with them lest they deal with you (and your game!)”

    My reaction, as a grown up, would be to not play in that game. Because that’s privileging the game over the people playing it.

    His article suggests that he is playing with groups of around 10 kids at a time. 10 players is a handful no matter what age they are. having someone who is willfully disruptive in the group only makes it more of a challenge, perhaps to the point of impossibility.

    That’s the fault of the system he’s working in, not the kids. Seriously, 10 people in a game would lead to at least 5 very bored people most of the time. These 5 bored people are going to be drawing, sending sms on their phones, making jokes that are inappropriate and pulling attention to them rather than the action on the table.

    Like for instance chaotic stupid. The chaotic stupid character reaps his reward of destruction alone.

    If someone had the temerity to call my kid that, I would have to have words with them. The most kind would probably be, “Where the hell do you get off calling any kid that.”

    The rest of the players don’t. That’s the point, don’t punish the rest of the group for the actions of an individual, even if its logical consequence in the game would call for party destruction.

    That is what Uri is driving at. When one out of ten is detracting from the game for the other nine, how do you eliminate that detraction or at least minimize it enough to make it manageable. And keep in mind that based on his recommendation to print out the feat tables, apparently his players have no copies of the books themselves and are relying heavily on DM interaction to create and level up their characters. Which i think illuminates the difficulty of having a player try to make a new character every session.

    All that says to me, is get a better system.

    @jonathan, you are not the only one responding who has children or who has worked with or attempted to play organized games with children ‘at risk’ or otherwise.

    Didn’t say I was. I said might be. Again, my experience is so radically different than this that it makes me question the author, not the children that this person is dealing with. I can only question the author, I can’t question the children because that’s who I have access to.

  13. @Jonathan, it appears that you have either missed or ignored the point of the original article and my own comments. I don’t know how to explain any better the concept that he is trying to deal with.

    He is running a gaming GROUP. Not a tutoring session for one child. The whole point of the article how is to keep the GROUP operating by minimizing or eliminating the disruptive or even abusive behavior of some individuals. Your arguments by contrast take the position of defending the troublemaker to the bitter end, no matter the detriment to the group.

    By the way you do have access to the children in the most important aspect for this discussion: their conduct. Granted, its through the author’s viewpoint, but the examples he gave are actual examples, not hyperbole. If a child is shrieking at you that you cant control him after you’ve told him to stop trying to tear tiles off a wall, he’s GOT TO GO. However much patience you have to deal with that type of behavior, you are wrong to do so because you have the rest of the group to consider. Taking the time to deal with that behavior (assuming arguendo that it can actually be dealt with) is time away from the rest of the group who actually wants to play. That is what’s unfair.

    If that has not been your experience, then your anecdotal evidence does not address the points he has raised. Mine on the other hand supports it. Thus his article is spot on.

  14. I have learned two very important things from this:

    1. If you want to generate controversy, talk about how people should or shouldn’t treat/raise children.

    2. Never, ever get in a rhetorical argument with a lawyer. It’s like playing hide and seek with a ninja — he’s just better at it.

    :-)

  15. Personally, I like the shock collar idea.

    I think the two sides are arguing over semantics. From what I was reading it just looked like a lot of issue being taken with the wording of the article. The author worded some things in a way that made them seem more harsh than he probably meant them. Like the, “…deal with them lest they deal with you (and your game!).” bit. Or, “destroy that which is evil…”, etc. Probably just meant if you don’t nip the bad behavior in the bud, then the misbehaving kids will simply ignore you, and continue to ruin the game. I think both sides can agree on that.

    And the examples of different types of kids he gave were just that; examples. He wasn’t saying that ALL kids will fit one of the archetypes he listed. He even said, “While the below archetypes are gross generalizations, they might help you to identify and solve the problem in some cases.” We’re not exactly dealing with absolutes here.

    Further, when he talks about severe punishment and/or removing kids from the game, he’s probably referring to instances like this:
    “Of course, I’m not talking here about minor disturbances. You can’t expect 9-year olds to have the Queen’s manners… not to mention, I’m sure even the Queen sometimes interrupts her DM in the heat of combat. I’m talking about true troublemakers. I’m talking about the kids who harass or bully others, who disrupt the campaign, who treat the game like their sister’s Barbie doll, who ruin the mood with juvenile pranks or scream obscenities, who listen to music or play loud games on their iPhones, who spew blatant racism or hate speech that makes others uncomfortable, and who consciously challenge your authority for the heck of it and go berserk when replied in kind.”

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