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D&D children’s books teach ABCs and 123s through the world of role-playing

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An interview with the creators of the books ‘for tiny adventurers’

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A page from The ABCs of D&D Wizards of the Coast

Two new books from Dungeons and Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast are aimed at “tiny adventurers” rather than veteran role-players. The ABCs of D&D and The 123s of D&D are adorable children’s books that, as the titles would suggest, teach letters and numbers through the world of D&D.

In both The ABCs of D&D and The 123s of D&D, a spunky party of young D&D players makes its way through the alphabet and numbers 1-10 while explaining key aspects of the role-playing game. The 123s of D&D even includes a bestiary introducing favorite D&D creatures, all written in cute couplets that, fair warning, will probably get stuck in your head after a few reads.

Polygon spoke to writer Ivan Van Norman and illustrator Caleb Cleveland to find out how the books came about.

From brainstorming to crowdfunding

According to Van Norman, the idea was originally conceived as a brainstorming exercise for a Geek and Sundry video series he produced. At the time he had kids on the brain, saying, “I was expecting my kid [...] and had VERY little luck in finding nerdy baby books which explored my favorite hobby (RPGs).”

The idea for a kid’s book exploring the world of RPGs was born.

“D is for Dragon” illustration from Caleb Cleveland’s Inktober challenge
One of Caleb Cleveland’s Inktober illustrations
Caleb Cleveland

Around the same time, Cleveland was participating in Inktober, a yearly challenge for artists to draw something new every day during the month of October. Thinking about how to bridge his interests with those of his two “precocious and imaginative” daughters, he had the idea to draw “an alphabetical arrangement of familiar monsters” as a childhood companion. The drawings were a hit in the RPG corners of social media, and a few months later, Van Norman reached out to ask if he’d be interested in illustrating a children’s book. In February of 2016 the ABCs of RPGs launched on Kickstarter.

After the success of the Kickstarter campaign, Van Norman and Cleveland had already begun work on a follow-up, The 123s of RPGs, when Van Norman pitched the project to Wizards of the Coast. The books were tweaked to reference D&D mechanics and monsters, and eventually published in November of 2018.

Learning the fundamentals

A page from The 123s of D&D Wizards of the Coast

The aim of these books is not only to teach the fundamentals of language and math, but the fundamentals of roleplaying as well. I asked Cleveland and Van Norman how they’re introducing RPGs to their children — besides reading them The ABCs of D&D, of course. While both men didn’t start playing D&D until college, they’re getting their own kids started early.

Cleveland’s daughters have dipped their toes into role-playing with storytelling games like No Thank You, Evil!.

“They’re on the cusp of realizing that you can not only play characters that are miniature versions of yourself, but also ones that are nothing like you!” he says.

Van Norman’s 3-year-old son, Phoenix, is a little too young to fill out a character sheet, but he’s already starting to learn collaborative storytelling. Van Norman makes up choose-your-own-adventures for Phoenix and “his dragon friend” Draco after reading him bedtime stories.

“For example: One Day, Phoenix and Draco were flying around his lair by Misti Mountain when they suddenly saw a bright blue lake just north of his lair titled Blue Lagoon; it looked perfect for a picnic. But just earlier, they talked about playing Hide and Seek inside of the Spooky Marshland. ‘Where would you like to take Draco?’”

When I posed a question asking what children (and the rest of us) stand to learn from roleplaying, Cleveland exclaimed, “Where do I begin?!” Both he and Van Norman find the skills that games like D&D nurture — teamwork, communication, creative problem solving, improvisation — to be enormously useful for players of all ages.

The ABCs of D&D and The 123s of D&D are available for purchase now, just in time for the holiday shopping season, and they’re currently on sale at Amazon for $10.52 each. They make great gifts for nerdy parents, imaginative kids and role-players of all ages.

As to what the future holds for our party of tiny adventurers, we can expect more soon. According to Cleveland, “You haven’t seen that last of these little ragamuffins.”