D&D Summer School Course
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  1. #1
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    D&D Summer School Course

    Just got approval to run a 2 week RPG/D&D summer school course for middle school kids.

    Would love to hear ideas on course title, description, etc. I want something that will grab kids who have never played, but also smart about those parents that still harbor the old stereotypes of the game (yes, I grew up in the 80's and these things die hard).

    Largest issue may be that I will have up to 20 kids so it will be a challenge to occupy them. Ideally, they would design and run their own games, but not sure that 10 days/20 hours is enough time for that, so I am bantering ideas about in terms of course organization. How often do I run a group (Adventure League?)? What are other activities they can work on during their off days? Character creation? (Or do I stick with pre-gens to save time?) Group adventure design? Campaign settings? Do I find other DMs (high school kids?) to bring in?

    As I said, I would love to hear ideas from the community at large?
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    I actually did a presentation about the value of RPGs in psych grad school. My suggestion would be to start with very simple rules. Especially if you only have 2 weeks, and I assume you want each kid to rotate turns at the DM in their group (I might also randomize the groups on a regular basis, reasoning below), you need something that can be picked up quickly and complexity added into it. My suggestion would be either One Line RPG or Dungeon World. Both are ultra simple rulesets. An additional benefit to using these rules sets is that it creates separation from the Dungeons & Dragons name, which some parents may be uncomfortable with.

    As for the title of the course, think about the benefits of youth engaging in RPGs. It builds social skills, cooperation, creative problem-solving, learning to manage interpersonal conflict through game play, managing frustration and failure through the safety of a game world... the list goes on. And that doesn't even begin to touch the potential therapeutic aspects such as empowerment, healing through reimagining of one's personal narrative, creating opportunities for youth to use their characters to try new ways of interacting with peers or experiencing the world, managing anxiety, and catharsis through psychodrama (which lets be honest, is easily accomplished through RPGs).

    If you focus on the strength-building aspects through the tool of RPGs, that will go far to get kids that know what an RPG is to get excited, help parents understand the benefits, and give kids that don't know what an RPG is some idea of the purpose of the class or what they can get out of it.

    As for the structure of the class, I would recommend the first class introduce the idea of the RPG. Maybe find some youtube clips that highlights some aspects of the game in general. Then I would set it up with exercises that are based around storytelling, improv, going with the flow, and spontaneity. For example, use story dice and go around the room and take turns telling a running story. Each kid needs to continue the story in some connected fashion, while rolling one or two story dice and incorporating them into the part of the story they create. This will help them get their creative juices flowing, help them understand the importance of remaining connected to the group story of the game, and provide a basis for fundamental skills required for playing the game. Finally, before starting the game, lay out clear ground rules to help them structure how to approach potential arguments or conflicts (such as making sure everyone is having fun, statements needed to prevent the DM for going on a power trip and making the games fair, but more concrete. Probably no more than 5 ground rules).

    Then, I would recommend that you split the groups up into groups of 4 (chosen randomly) and randomly assign one as the DM. Each group would talk about the type of story they want to play in. And let them have a try at it, moving between each group to observe how they are doing and step in to assist when needed. Then at the end of the class, make time for groups to share their stories and the cool things that happened in their games. Also ask them to share what was hard or conflicts they had, and how they dealt with them. I think it's important to randomize how the groups are formed and who is the DM to make sure 1) everyone gets a chance to DM and 2) everyone has an opportunity to interact with peers they might not otherwise.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by Hawk Diesel; Thursday, 22nd February, 2018 at 08:35 AM.
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    My son's middle school started a gaming group this year and they play 3.5. I think it is more from the DM having those books more than it was easier to learn or play. He is really enjoying it and Im glad to see other schools doing this.

    An easy thing to play is the LMoP- Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure. It is designed to introduce new players to 5e and lots of people endorse it. You can also use it for Adventures League play as well. You can also play the League adventures as a good option. Most are designed to be only 2 hours or the 4 hours ones can be broken into 2 parts. It will also let different people be able to play with each other since League play lets random people play together. This will let the groups you have swap between modules and let some kids not feel bad if they show only sometimes.

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    @aco175 I think @Paul3 is talking about an actual class rather than an extracurricular or after school group. I think if that were the case it would be a lot easier to run a more complex ruleset like 5e, since you would likely not have as many kids or need as much structure. But if its an actual class, it needs to have some structure, skill building, or other academic value through engagement in playing an RPG, rather than for the enjoyment or sake of playing.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Hawk Diesel View Post
    @aco175 I think @Paul3 is talking about an actual class rather than an extracurricular or after school group. I think if that were the case it would be a lot easier to run a more complex ruleset like 5e, since you would likely not have as many kids or need as much structure. But if its an actual class, it needs to have some structure, skill building, or other academic value through engagement in playing an RPG, rather than for the enjoyment or sake of playing.
    I'll admit, I'm new to DND as of 5e, but from what I know of past editions, and other systems, 5e is pretty darn simple.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herosmith14 View Post
    I'll admit, I'm new to DND as of 5e, but from what I know of past editions, and other systems, 5e is pretty darn simple.
    Sure, but then it really depends on @Paul3's goal is for the class. Given that it is only 10 days of instruction, is the goal to teach 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, or to use RPGs as a tool to build other skills? If the class lasted longer or had few students, 5th edition would seem more doable. But also, if the class does well, it might lead to a bigger course to build off of the last. As an introduction to RPGs for 8th graders, do you want them mired down in rules, or getting to the group interactions and story-telling as soon as possible?

    To me, especially since it is a smaller summer school course, it might be better to start as small as possible and focus on the fundamentals of RPGs. Then, if it proves to be a success, it could spawn more advanced and longer classes built around RPGs as a vehicle for educational goals and development.

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    I have a group of kids that play at lunch, and that is more of a typical group. This would be a class so I would tend to side more with providing a broader based experience.

    I was thinking of taking the first week and letting them dabble in a variety of aspects. Maybe group kids together in groups of 5 to create one mini-adventure. I was thinking of having them collaborate in cooperative groups...maybe have one map maker, one who creates NPCs, one who builds a set-piece encounter, one who builds the background, etc. Meanwhile I run very short (2 hour) type mini-adventures (1 group per day) just to give them a feel for what it might look like. (Remember I have 20 kids so I need to keep them busy).

    Then, in the second week, I would like them take their creations out for a spin, with all of the kids either running or playing each other's creations. I appreciate the thoughts and ideas. It is good to get the brain churning on what the class might look like beyond the simple after school group.
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    Is the goal of the course to learn D&D, or to learn other things* through D&D?

    I've considered running a creative writing course based on D&D. For example, students could keep a journal, in either 1st or 3rd person, of the adventures. Depending on how long the course is, and how advanced their understanding of the game is, this could morph into writing adventures.

    *I would not recommend physics...

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    I actually took 2 days to teach 4 of my 9th grade English classes to play D&D. I used the pre-gens from Lost Mines and made the class split into 5 or 6 groups. Then I gave each group a character and asked them to read/study it, paying attention to the written information mostly. They had to understand that they, as a group, would be trying to think and make decisions like their character. They also needed to create a name.

    As groups did this, I went around the room and explained some of the things the individual characters could do, explaining spells to clerics and wizards and movement, attacks and other powers.

    Then after about 20 min, I asked each group to name and introduce their character to the others.

    After that, I told them how, I'd describe a situation then ask each character group to decide what their character would do. I told them, I'd use dice to determine the outcome when the outcome was questionable. I rolled dice to simplify and speed up play.

    I launched them into a homebrew scenario and let them play for 30 min and then we continued the next day for the entire period. Keeping turns per group helped keep it organized and allowed shy kids to participate in their groups. More outgoing kids spoke for their groups.

    Throughout the 2 days I only explained rules on a need to know basis and tried to keep the experience based more in narrative, storytelling, character development and decision-making. It worked out pretty well. A number of the students wanted to play more and learn more. (And this was with randomly placed students in a general 9th grade English class).
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    I'd like to know a lot more about the prospective students and expected classroom structure... is this a class for credit? If so, for what?

    Or is this a class for keeping the kids busy over the summer?

    Or is it a class that only those kids who are interested in RPGs will sign up for?

    What are the expectations? For example, if it was something that was an elective selection (meaning only kids who want to be there are there) then I could see a goal of "By the end of the two week course, students will have a fundamental understanding of the Fifth Edition rules. They will learn by a combination of academic review, classroom participation and small group activities."

    For such a group, you'll want to ask who has played before, who has watched Critical Role before, and who signed up for on a whim. You'll almost want to have three weeks of material, just in case everyone has played before.

    But if there will be folks who are not interested in the material, or only interested in it in the sense that it checks a box on a graduation form somewhere then you're going to want to structure things much more so that low-engagement students will not frustrate or cause discipline problems for more highly engaged kids.

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