Greatest Hits 2010: Confessions of a D&D Camp Councilor

by Bauxtehude (Liam Gallagher) on December 20, 2010

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2010. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Ahhhh! The off season. It has been months since I hung up the dice bag and folded up my poster maps, but when the boys at Dungeon’s Master asked me to reflect on my time as a D&D camp councillor I couldn’t resist.

The most important lesson I learned playing D&D with kids was that no matter where you go, people are people. When I started up the Shattered Sea there was a 20 year spread between my oldest and youngest player but I thought nothing of it because I could remember a time when I was still in high school, and I could relate to working 9 to 5 jobs to help provide for someone I cared about. When I got to D&D camp I didn’t know how things were going to go. In talking to my coworkers I was told some of the age old ticks to fill for time and how to prepare quick and dirty campaigns. I needed to run a new story-arc every week and at some point they expected the well to run dry. Instead of doing as suggested, I realized that children have no mercy and if I was going to make it through each day I really had to run my best stuff.

What ended up happening was that the kids at my table went through the same growing pains of picking up my style of DMing and each kid’s playing style that my own adult players did. I encountered the same gamut of interests I found at home. There were kids who where there to just have fun, there were kids who knew the rules inside out on day one, as well as kids who wanted to kill the big bad guy just like in every movie they have ever seen. As I spun my tales at the table the kids of course would never pick up on the sources I was pulling from simply because they had spent fewer years on this earth than I had. At the end of the day I couldn’t get away with bad writing at camp anymore than I could at my home game. I saw the same social problems in my campers that I had seen in people of all ages all my life. I will admit that they kids did have an extraordinary penchant for cheating, something I won’t try to account for.

Bring your A-Ggme DMs, no mater what game you run and no matter who it’s for because every time you roll dice it’s a chance to improve your self as a DM. Moreover it’s a chance for you to better understand the people around you, because at the end of the day, people are people no matter where you go. As you read the account try to place the players at your own table in the seats that my campers took at mine. I think you wont find the exercise too much of a stretch. R.I.P. Stealth Phoenix, I’ll never forget you.

From July 12, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Greatest Hits 2010: Confessions of a D&D Camp Councilor

I have a great job, I’m a councilor 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 councilor 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 councilors 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. councilors 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 councilor. 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? Find out in More Confessions of a D&D Camp Councilor and in D&D Camp and the Tomb of Horrors.

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1 Acheron December 21, 2010 at 12:33 am

Jajajajaja man the natural happiness and way they do things, is so increidible… Never occured to me the ‘play with kids’ experience, brave man you are, What do you think is the most needed cuality for playing with kids? Patience? and dam lots of cheating but what I can get out of my head is the names… of the reasons why they did stuff… to protect her pet…. Lol awesome… definetly will look foward for that experience when i am a more experienced DM.

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