This year at Dungeons & Dragons Camp we took a new approach to running the games. All the DMs agreed to set their campaigns in the same setting. By doing this we hoped to create a common experience that all of the kids could share in. In retrospect, I have to admit that I was extremely naive, or at the very least idealistic.
Burn Baby Burn!
What I envisioned was a common campaign setting generating stories of how each party solved the same problems in their own way. The kids certainly overcame problems but not in the way I imagined. Where I’d thought they’d meet and interact with common NPCs they instead opted to kill them over and over again, week after week.
At literally every opportunity Humphrey the Gnome shop keeper was piked, stabbed or set on fire for refusing to turn over his goods. This same shop keeper was murdered every week by every table for nothing more than a handful of gold.
Humphrey’s treatment wasn’t special in anyway though. Most of the city of Glider Down (where they adventure was taking place) ended up in ashes. Where plot hooks, vignettes and lore once stood proud, only ash remained at the end of each week.
But the kids had fun doing it and they learned a thing or two while they were looking for the matches. While some people are born role-players and embrace if from the very outset, most kids haven’t have had much exposure to things like group storytelling, drama games, or theatrical training.
You have to start them small. You can get kids that are extremely reluctant role-players involved in combat fairly easily by prompting them to describe their attacks, especially critical bits and killing blows. It actually took very little encouragement to have these players go from spouting lines like “My guy attacks the Orc” to “I cut off the Orc’s head ” which then becomes “I rush forward with my axe held high, and sever the green head from the Orc’s filthy body!”
Once they buy into the idea that descriptions are fun, things often go a little overboard. One camper played a Rouge who had a knack for cutting people’s pants off, while another camper played an archer Ranger with an unsettling interest for shooting people in the eye (which I politely discouraged).
What Are Morals?
Another element that was introduced anew for many campers was the idea of characters having unique moral positions. When you’re Master Chief from Halo your modus operandi is fairly straight forward – within the parameters that the game sets, you unload magazines of ammo into aliens and win the mission. The notion that the campers are the author of their next choice is new to most of them. Empowered with an unbridled sense of free will and the ability to do whatever they could imagine, things often got a little crazy and completely out of hand in a hurry. Typically it played out in this order: 1) Get drunk at tavern, 2) Start fight in tavern, 3) Rob tavern, 4) Burn down tavern.
After the players felt the primal satisfaction of watching something burn to the ground and all the fires were eventually extinguished, the level 1 party looked out upon the world and asked “What’s next?”. Next was advancement. The players started forging identities for their character; identities that stray slightly (at first) from the central theme of destroy everything in your path.
The Essentials of D&D Camp
This year I made the executive decision to switch the camp over to D&D Essentials rather than use the core PHB series. This was one of the best decisions I made all year. With a limited budget and throngs of brand new players to teach each week, I can certainly say that the Essentials line (a triumvirate of the rules compendium, the monster vault and heroes of the forgotten lands) helped my campers spend more time playing D&D and spend less time being befuddled when building characters and learning rules.
The kids that learned quickly or spent more than a few weeks at camp did become interested in what the Players Handbooks might contain as they saw older kids making Warlocks and Bards. I must admit that the Essentials line was successful in its stated aim; draw more players into the game and make things easier. Essentials, I’ve got your back.
I need to thank the Dungeon’s Master team and the members of their weekly gaming group for their donation of dice sets to D&D Camp which greatly eased the pain of sharing dice at a table of preteens.
- Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor
- 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
- Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II – Best Bits