I have a great job, I’m a counselor at D&D camp, which is to say that I have the best job ever. I don’t mean to gloat, but my time as a D&D counselor has been incredibly enjoyable and I’m sure if you read along you’ll share in the fun of the last week.
Before camp began, I spent a week learning about how to spot child abuse (very important!) and care for kids. Before I met the kids I went over to the camp director’s house in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Myself and the other counselors met up and we played some D&D; I taught the old schoolers how to play 4e, while the director of the camp gave me a refresher on how to play 3.5e. After four hours of being paid to play D&D and think up campaign ideas it was time to get ready for the first day of camp.
The first morning was spent creating characters. I quickly remembered that for children D&D is a very different game. If you’ve been reading Dungeon’s Master for any period of time or been listening to my actual play podcast you’ll know that I play with some of the most hopeless min/maxers in the universe and so it was refreshing to play with 10-year-olds. Some kids had a better idea of how to play than others and some of them really built their characters from the heart. One character, named Stealth Phoenix (who has a stealth score of -2), wanted to “be a dragon who dual wields flails.” Ok kid you’ve got it, you’re a Fighter, for so many reasons.
After staring at the PHB for about 15 seconds he declared “The words are too confusing!” so I just described the powers to him, ala “…with a sweep of your flail you tangle your enemy’s ankles with a rusty chain and pull their legs out from under them and strike them and they crash to the ground!” Every time his eyes lit up and he started acting out power rangers moves I wrote the attack down on his character sheet. I know that developing a mathematically perfect character and seeing it work as planned is satisfying, but I guarantee that this kid has more fun than you, you min/maxer you.
We broke for lunch and after a rousing game of Sphere of Annihilation (dodge ball) the adventure was underway. The first encounter ended up being a very in-depth social one and I was very impressed by my campers. An enemy adventuring party was threatening them and the tensions were high. Rosie, the party’s Rouge wanted to ambush them later to protect her pet camel, Spit, from combat, and as such convinced Super Jake the Wizard to be peaceful. Super Jake was created by someone who rolled up Wizard because he wanted to blow up everything in sight. So rather than being arrested for fighting in town they made their way to the bar and pretended to drink for 20 minutes, and then after they grew bored of describing the silly things that (apparently) drunk people do, it was back on the road to fulfill their quest.
Day two arrived and already. The Hunters (which was the name of their adventuring company) were starting to show some signs of teamwork. They saw the enemy party walking down the Old Silver Road, a dusty back woods trail, and created an extremely elaborate ambush. In the time span of 5 minutes they wanted to dig a 20-foot deep pit trap filled with giant spikes, that when triggered would cause the near by trees to collapse into the pit which they would then light on fire.
The party wanted to use Stealth Phoenix’s horse as bait for the ambush, at which time he informed us that his character had fused himself to his horse by way of powerful fire magic; he presented us with a huge sized figure he had sculpted out of clay the night before. After some debate we agreed that he could be a half-man/half-horse fire creature, provided that it gave him no mechanical benefits and that he was still a medium sized creature. They eventually defeated Skrall, the Dragonborn Sorceress. A cheer went out and it was time to loot, and argue for 15 minutes over who got the +1 magic dagger.
As the week progressed and the party’s characters better emerged, the plot line I had written became submerged. Instead of having kids ask leading questions about the next leg of the journey I started getting questions like “Can we fight Orcus?” and “Can I have a +1,000 sword?”. It’s hard to keep kids on track but every DM has to know his limitations and give way to the will of the players. As much as I am supposed to be the DM, exploring the depths of the mines was not as interesting a plot-line as seeing if Spit the camel is faster than Stealth Phoenix’s horse, which is also named Stealth Phoenix. At the end of the race track they found a dragon’s lair because they wanted to fight a dragon, and though it might seem unlikely, within the dragon’s hoard were two +2 flails of haste.
“+2 Flail of Haste?” you say. Don’t bother looking it up it’s not a “real” item. You know what these kids haven’t unlearned that a lot of the people I play D&D with have? Unless you’ve resigned to play a by-the-book kind of game with lots of rules and number crunching you don’t even need your rule books. You could do well to get rid of your character sheet as well. Instead of picking powers from the books, my kids made them up, and none of them cared about game balance. So what if the Rogue has a power where she blinds her enemies with the blood of someone she just beheaded with a dagger? The kids are more concerned about how awesome the things that happen are then the mechanical justification for their use.
Let’s not look back on our youth foolishly and claim that those days were better just because we were younger. Kids cheat, pretty much constantly. Most of the kids that I was DMing for were only in favour of the rules so long as they let them fly around with a magical lightning sword, they rest of the rules, like the rules for drowning, they didn’t like as much. One reason why the “rulebooks in the fireplace” style of DMing works so much better with these kids is that you have to cheat like crazy just to counteract their cheating, or else become the dice police, which is no fun at all.
On the final day of camp I held an all out no holds barred battle arena. The kids pitted their wits against each other in mortal combat, to the winner went the chance to face my character in a one-on-one duel. With level 5 characters they competed in games of capture the flag, king of the hill, team death match and a special elimination round against level 33 Orcus, where they gained points for each round of combat they survived. It was all very light hearted and a good time was had by all, what with people half my age screaming “CRIT!” in my ear, and with bonus points given out to those who would describe their attacks in as great detail as possible. In the end the Paladin named General Specific came out on top by a single point and it was time for head-to-head combat.
I bragged about how unbeatable my character was for the whole week and so the kids were really excited to see how things would unfold. Whenever we played kids vs. counselors capture the flag the kids would go ape with excitement, but I wasn’t really prepared for what I would experience. In the end the battle lasted three rounds, as my Dwarven dual-wielding axe Ranger (yeah you know the one) laid waste to the Paladin, but a grand time was had by all. And so, the campers begin their conspiring to build characters that can beat me for next week’s arena.
That was week one as a D&D counselor. I learned a lot about DMing and playing D&D from the kids that I spent the week with, and so you can understand why I’m looking forward to the next eight weeks of my full time employment. If you’re interested in hearing more about my experiences at D&D camp or would like to read more of the insights I gained from playing with kids, leave your comments below.
Dungeons & Dragons Camp runs from July 5 – September 3, 2010 at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre.
What happens next?
- More Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor
- D&D Camp and the Tomb of Horrors
- Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II – Finding the Ideal DMs
- More Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II
- Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II – Best Bits