More Confessions of a D&D Camp Counselor: Year II

by Bauxtehude (Liam Gallagher) on August 15, 2011

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.

Thank You

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.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phantasmavore August 15, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wow, this post (and the rest of the posts in this series) are just too awesome for words.

I’ve been approached regarding DMing by an educator friend of mine who teaches high school English as a Second Language and wants to try and incorporate a role playing game into the classroom activities as it engages listening, speaking and reading skills. I had thought of using D&D 4e, but was also considering using the Mouse Guard RPG that’s about to be re-released in a few months due to worries about more traditional fantasy violence and gender interests, but I guess elves, dwarves, mice – its all pretty much the same in the end if they all have weapons of some sort.

At any rate, your posts are inspiring and I’m sure I’ll be able to figure something out.

2 Rabbit is wise August 15, 2011 at 5:27 pm

burn everything… haha too classic. I know some may find that disturbing but alot of kids dont fully realize what death is and just like when you lob fake handgrenades at your buddies in the backyard fake killing the poor shopkeeper is kinda funny… the pants thing was hilarious, and the shoot people in the eye thing was a little disconcerting… by the way this is the first positive thing I’ve heard about essentials

3 Brian August 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

Did the town guards have nothing to say about this wanton destruction ;)

4 Durn August 17, 2011 at 1:59 am

Great posts. Thanks for writing about D&D Camp. As an educator and an Encounters DM I’ve been thinking about some of these issues myself. It’s not surprising that young boys’ imaginations lead to total mayhem (ours did, and it is more or less the mode of the whole game), but there is a thought isn’t there that perhaps as responsible adults we should use this opportunity to direct those imaginations in more thoughtful, constructive ways. I wouldn’t advocate outlawing the burning of taverns, but I wonder if you will think on ways to promote a different moral experience when planning next year’s Camp.

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