Camping and D&D: Actual Play

In the last article I explained how I (over)prepared for a week-long adventure with my Boy Scout troop. Now it was time to play. Things didn't work out the way I anticipated.

In the last article I explained how I (over)prepared for a week-long adventure with my Boy Scout troop. Now it was time to play. Things didn't work out the way I anticipated.


The Camp​

One of the hardest parts of a week-long camp is that for new scouts, this may be the first time they've ever been away from their parents for that long. The very first day of camp is the toughest. Older scouts have each other for company but new scouts are just beginning to bond. My goal was to run a game that first day, to help them get to know me and each other. Being at the camp the full week definitely helps create a routine, including when to slot in a quick game of Dungeons & Dragons.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn't able to arrive until two days after camp started. But then I faced a new problem: it was raining like cats and dogs.

The Players​

I have a tendency to develop massive backstories for my adventures, but my son's advice was to immediately jump into a dungeon crawl. So that's what I did: the heroes were hired mercenaries tasked with cleaning out a town infested with monsters.

I invited all the new scouts to play and, not counting my son (who at this point, has been playing some variant of D&D since he was four-years-old), we ended up with four very enthusiastic players, five in total. Despite the average age of my players being 12, two of them were very familiar with D&D. They had fun coming up with a variety of ridiculous names for their characters, picking out miniatures, and choosing dice. Two were new to the game entirely but excited to play.

Our party consisted of all first-level characters: an elven moon druid, a human life cleric, a halfling fighter, an elven rogue, a halfling ranger, and an elven evoker.

The Game​

The center of camp has a covered table large enough to play any tabletop game, so I spread the map out there. There was no way to ignore the storm outside, so I incorporated it into the game. Since the PCs were in a waterlogged town anyway, the pouring rain only added to the ambiance. It also changed the game significantly, as I hadn't originally conceived of the adventure taking place in a storm.

The first encounter that attracted the PCs to the center of town was a giant statue. It was carved in the likeness of some forgotten saint, with a bowl held up to the sky. The scene as I envisioned it was that the statue, encrusted with mud and grime, was half-submerged in the muck and if the PCs worked together to clean the statue and set it upright, they would get a boon. But now that it was raining, the scenario changed significantly: the statue was actively sinking before their very eyes.

The PCs focused on removing the stone bowl from the statue even as it was sinking. This turned into a life-and-death struggle for the rogue, who ended up getting stuck in the muck and had to be pulled out at the last second. Not much came of their struggles: they didn't try to do anything with the bowl, but I figured it might come up later. It did teach the new players how skill checks work, so it was a great exercise to get them comfortable with rolling dice and basic math calculations for success.

The PCs then turned their sights on an abandoned windmill, where they could hear odd squeaking noises, like rusty hinges. The winds were so powerful that they were whipping the windmill into action, so the PCs decided to investigate. They immediately went into the flooding basement because, "there's always monsters in the basement!"

My two D&D-savvy players knew to check everything in a room. Their reaction to a creepy wooden statue next to some hinged wooden shelving? Set it on fire.

A life-and-death struggle erupted between the five characters and the gargoyle. The flaming gargoyle ended up grappling with the ranger, setting him on fire too. The rogue fired an arrow into the gargoyle's head, and the fighter used a hammer to pound the arrow like a wedge, splitting the wooden gargoyle in half.

It turned out the "shelving" were its detachable wings. They found some treasure beneath the pair of wings in the corner. Which begged the question: if one of these things put its wings on, could it fly? Squeaking above seemed to indicate there were more.

Creeping upstairs, the sound was deafening as the windmill was churning faster with the storm (in real life, the storm was raging around us). The wizard caught a glimpse of a shape outside the window and, in response, the rogue decided to tie a rope to some furniture and climb down the side to see what it was. Yes, in the middle of a storm.

Dangling from the rope with his companions holding him aloft, the rogue caught a glimpse of another gargoyle (with wings) flapping around outside on the other side of the spinning windmill's blades. He tried to fire his bow at it (in the storm!) but had little effect, and then decided to leap from the windmill onto the thing's back. Timing his jump between windmill turns, he managed to land on top of the gargoyle and engaged in a mid-air struggle.

Meanwhile, the PCs not occupied with keeping the rogue alive thought that they should stop the windmill from turning, so they jammed some of the dead gargoyle's wings into the mechanism. The windmill shuddered and, already in disrepair, the vanes broke off.

This yanked the rope connecting the rogue to the windmill downward to the ground. He turned and, kicking himself off the gargoyle, let the windmill vanes smash into the gargoyle as it rolled off to crash into another building. The rogue, covered in muck but victorious, was quite proud of his achievements. Best of all, it had stopped raining in the game and in real life. We stopped the session there.

What Happened Next​

I wrote an entire mini-campaign for the PCs to explore the town and the land underneath it. The windmill battle was epic (exacerbated in part by the utter recklessness of the PCs), but all told the game consists of just two encounters. Later that day, the rogue's player asked me when we would be able to play again. I consider that the highest compliment. We didn't get any further...

Because in real life, the tropical storm forced us to evacuate camp. I never did get to run a full game for scouts, but I'm well-prepared for next year!

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


my son started camp this week, but I cannot go, but would have liked to start a game with the newer scouts as well. Last time I tried was back in high school and the DM set up some things and I was going to assist. The new players ended up attacking each other before they got out of the tavern and never made it to the dungeon.

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