Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II – Finding the Ideal DMs

by Bauxtehude (Liam Gallagher) on July 27, 2011

For the second year in a row I find myself fortunate enough to have one of the best summer jobs in the world – I’m a D&D camp counselor. That’s right; I get paid to play D&D every day!

This year I’ve moved up in the world of D&D; I am now the director of D&D camp. I’m the DM’s DM so to speak. Upon leveling up to my new position as D&D camp director my first task was to hire three DMs to help me shoulder the enormous task of running D&D camp. I began setting out the criteria by which to judge the ideal candidates vying for jobs as DMs for D&D camp.

1) They have to be good with kids.

Honestly, as sweet as it is to work as a DM for the summer, the position is 2 parts glorified baby sitter and 1 part DM. When problems arise the parents are not there to mediate. A counselor has to manage their table so that issues are avoided and problems are solved the first time. They have to expect the unexpected, everything from illness or injury, to kids that are brown nosers, to kids that are just plain mean to one another. The counselor has to deal with all of it. If it goes wrong the counselor has to fix it immediately. By the end of the day, every day, it’s our job to ensure that all the kids enjoyed themselves.

And though the tone is dark, a counselor needs to be trained in first aid and in identifying signs of child abuse. These skills address the low events in life that we all hope will never happen but unfortunately do. A counselor could be in the position to save a life.

2) Know the rules of D&D and when to break them.

I begin by admitting that most kids don’t actual like playing D&D. They like the idea of playing D&D and one day want to play the real thing, but my 9 year-old campers won’t actually have the where withal to play D&D with the full rules set for a while yet. Allow me to illustrate the point with an example of the kind of thing that counselors hear during play.

Camper: I want to attack the Orc with my sword!

DM: First of all you’re a Wizard and secondly you’re too far away.

Camper: OK, I run then attack! I rolled a 15! Do I hit?

DM: Well, your speed is only 6 so you can’t reach the Orc unless you take two move actions.

Camper: OK, I do that!

DM: Now you can’t attack because you spent your standard action to move.

Camper: My what?

DM: Each turn you get a…

And so on. Meanwhile five other 9-15 year-olds are bored out of their minds and are getting into mischief. This won’t do! A good D&D camp counselor must apply house rules liberally in order to do what’s best for their group.

So instead of D&D we played a pared down role-playing game that is very similar – we call it Dungeons & Dargons. The running joke at D&D camp is that you can’t say “Dragon” because it’s a trade mark owned by Wizards of the Coast and we don’t have permission. The key is to pare down the rules to the point where they are getting a gaming experience they enjoy that is as Dungeons & Dragons like as possible.

We may play Dungeons & Dargons instead of Dungeons & Dragons, but counselors still need a great handle on the actual rules as written. After all, you need to know the rules if you intend to break them.

DMs need to make many selections and omissions of the rules in order to make play run smoothly. They need to understand why rules are in place to understand the impact they have on D&D as a mechanical system. Some things, like most of the conditions, will need to be cut out. Rules that are designed to limit power gaming (which aren’t very meaningful when your players are 9) can be ignored. In some groups you may have to willfully ignore speed scores and attack ranges. The idea is to trim down the rule-set to something more intuitive, though no one set of alterations will be sufficient. Some kids will know the rules better than others. A good DM should be teaching the rules over time, so the D&D camp counselor has to be adaptive and flexible.

3) Physical fitness and generally good health

Plain and simple, a counselor needs to be able to keep up with the kids while doing non D&D activities like dodge ball, capture the flag, soccer and tag. My kids enjoy these games more when the counselors participate. When the counselors are directly involved in the activities it creates a better mutual understanding. This helps prevent behavior problems and puts counselors in a better position to deal with them if they occur.

Counselors in good health have more energy, suffer fewer injuries, require fewer sick days and will be able to spring back from these set backs as quick as the kids will.

4) Cooperation and social skills

D&D counselors must work in concert with a staff of hundreds as each week over 1,200 kids attend camps of various descriptions, from skateboard camp, to baking camp, to sailing camp. In addition to interacting with the campers and the staff of each unique camp, a counselor will need to interact with the parents of these campers.

These out of game points, about health and the like, have been stressed because D&D camp has a goal – to teach campers that they can enjoy playing D&D for the rest of their childhood and their adult life as part of a balanced lifestyle. D&D campers are at an impressionable age and the counselors are role models. Many of these kids were subjected to bullying because they have a interest in D&D. As a counselors we find ourselves in a unique position to disprove all the misconceptions about D&D and the people who play the game. We can set a new tone. So we keep in shape, pack healthy lunches, wear sunscreen, drink a lot of water, speak respectfully to others and have fun. It’s going to be another great summer at D&D camp.

Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master in August when we share more adventures from D&D camp.

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1 Dungeon Maestro July 27, 2011 at 10:11 am

If I didn’t have a regular 9-5 job. I’d be all over it. Sounds like a great time.

2 Blinkey July 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

I loved the previous series of articles. I still laugh when I think sbout them. Can’t wait for the next set!

Best of luck running a smooth camp this summer!

3 iserith July 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

Hats off to you for keeping the game alive by indoctrinat… uh… teaching the young people about the fun and benefits of D&D. If I didn’t live in South America and the laughter of children didn’t cut through me like a dentist’s drill, I’d be more than happy to help. Also, I like booze with my D&D and that probably wouldn’t be putting my best foot forward when DM Iserith starts talking trash after a TPK and hitting on all the single moms before throwing up on some kid’s Trapper Keeper.

I should probably give up the sauce for that very reason, but nobody likes a quitter.

4 Rabbit is wise July 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

iserith stole my thunder…
Think of it as “discipling”, and that makes you feel better about the whole thing… Im currently brib… coer… brainwa… helping my son to experience the addiction that is D&D.
he goes around explaining to people that he’s my acolyte

5 Captain DM July 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I loved this series of articles last year (the first one was my favorite!) and it really gets me thinking about how I can try and incorporate D&D into my own lessons. I work as an ESL teacher in Korea, and I have a decent amount of extra time to do something useful with the kids. My main focus is elementary school students, so they’re all 9-12 years old. I’m working on a system that gives students attack/defense bonuses when they correctly spell or pronounce vocabulary.

D&D summer camp sounds like a great idea! It’s always nice to hear about children finding engaging activities that are healthy for them (in this case, their imaginations). Good luck with the camp, and keep the updates coming! I love’em!

6 Matt Gallinger August 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

What a great gig to have. Do you work with numerous different summer camp programs by bringing in D&D games once or twice a week or is it a camp actually focused on D&D and/or role playing in general? I DM for our local FLGS for Encounters and have been teaching my 10 year old daughter and some of her friends to play, but have trying to figure out how to get more kids involved in a more formal way… most can’t make Encounters on a school night. Any detail you can share about the program would be appreciated. And keep up the good work of teaching the next generation of gamers!

7 Pockets December 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm

hey guys my name is alan i am very intersted in this camp. i would love to know more about it. i mostly want to know when it is, where its located and i want to know if i can be one of the Dungeon Masters for the camp. If you have my E-mail please inform me with the information please and get back to me. thank you

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