D&D Summer School Course

Paul3

Explorer
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?
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
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.
 
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aco175

Explorer
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.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
[MENTION=27385]aco175[/MENTION] I think [MENTION=6798172]Paul3[/MENTION] 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.
 

Herosmith14

Villager
[MENTION=27385]aco175[/MENTION] I think [MENTION=6798172]Paul3[/MENTION] 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.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
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 [MENTION=6798172]Paul3[/MENTION]'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.
 

Paul3

Explorer
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.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
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...
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
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).
 

zedturtle

Explorer
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.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
Some good thoughts.
- Personally I would stick with 5E D&D using the Basic Rules. Everyone can get them. They game is accessible and well known.
- I would highlight the aspects of creative writing and creativity. Expect each person to create a 3 Room Dungeon (the predecessor to the five room dungeon philosophy.) You could also have each person create one or two other things, like; a background, an artifact item, spell, etc
- Start with PreGens, later on have each person create one or two characters.
- You can also do improv type exercises, where each student, or pairs of students, play out a 2 minute scene with each other or yourself.
- I would not bring in older/other people to DM. Let the kids do it themselves.
- Though I'm a supporter of DMing, I don't think I would require/expect each kid to DM. If only half the classes are "game" sessions, then that's only 10 hours of gaming over 5 sessions, probably enough for everyone to run a 3 Room Dungeon, but maybe not. Plus, the comfort/anxiety/willingness aspects for each student.
- Consider a projector and/or VTT for at least demo'ing parts of a game session. I think I would stay with just using it to demonstrate movement on a map and maybe to put up a PDF of a pre-gen to discuss/explain the character sheet. Even though I love VTT's (esp FG), don't add the complexity.
- Have some aspect of character creation where those with artistic talent can draw portraits, while others grab appropriate images from the internet.
- You can also mention and show some ways of creating maps with various freeware and mapping programs.
- Also, have or show how stand-up paper mini's can be used as well as perhaps some mini's (if you have some that might get lost).
- Show/discuss many of the various resources such as EnWorld, DMsGuild, DriveThru RPG, and other RPG genre's and such etc
- Finally, discuss the importance of supporting (financially) authors/publishers and not "sharing" (stealing), how if we enjoy something, we need to make it possible for other to afford to spend their time creating for it.
 

Paul3

Explorer
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.
It is an enrichment class....just for fun. While we do have some classes that are more academic/remedial in nature, the majority of our kids sign up because it is fun. I have run a board game "class" for about 5-6 years now. Basically, we just play games. Kids love it (and learn a lot about cooperation, critical thinking, etc. along the way.)
 

Paul3

Explorer
I am bumping this thread as we are entering year two as I would love to hear ideas. Once again, the big issues is the class size, which should be around 20. How do you keep everyone busy, especially if the teacher is DMing the other group and not circulating. These are 11-14 year olds and they do get sidetracked pretty quickly. Ideally, I would love to have the kids DM, but since we only have 20 total hours, what happened last summer is that as soon as I had some kids ready to take the reins, the class was basically over. Still, that remains the goal.

This year, I am going to split the group into two once again, taking each group for about an hour. I am looking for ways to occupy the kids who aren't playing, especially during those first couple days. Here are my thoughts.

1. While we are using simplified pre-gens, I have left everything regarding character backstories blank. On our first day, they will pick their archetype, but then have to develop the stories behind these archetypes. I may or may not use the flaws, bonds, ideals, etc. format.

2. Then, how do the characters fit together as a party? How did they meet? Why are they together? What things have happened to them leading up the start of our journey?

Any other ideas to kick things off? Remember, these need to be things they can do on their own, or in relatively unsupervised small groups.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
With a class that size?

First, I know it may sound a tad wargamey, but one solution would be to tailor your campaign scenarios and pre-gens to ones that can accommodate larger groups: caravan defense, a raid in enemy supply lines, etc.

Second, you could break the class up into teams of 4-5. Having done that, you could either:

1) run each group through the same simplified adventure, such as those that were available for The Fantasy Trip/In the Labyrinth.

2) have each team run a character by committee.

Third, as a variant on the 1st variant of the second option, you could have one team act as your co-DMs helping you run a simple adventure for the other groups. Then, after 1-2 sessions, that team gets to play as players while a different team becomes your assistants, rotating through each group in succession. Everyone gets to play on each side of the screen.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
With that age group I would tend to try and leverage things they already know a lot about, in this case video games. Simple scenarios and ideas about interactions and skills should already be familiar to them, you just need to plug into that schema and transfer that knowledge over to the tabletop. Obviously rpgs are different, but when searching for explanatory gusto I'd probably use video game and maybe movie examples. I'd also probably look for visual examples. Movies and games provide a rich resource for showing how a rpg scenario might look as it played out. Visuals are a strong teaching tool

Teaching anything to kids that age I usually take a part-part-whole approach. I'd start with some scenario level stuff, designed to highlight each of the three main pillars of D&D - combat, exploration, and social interaction.

Done in groups of four they'd work like mini modules, and they should ideally be plug and play for all four participants. Each would have a simple problem to solve, a small map, and just enough detail and role playing info to roll things along. I would also probably tailor each to index player cooperation - give each player a skill or whatever that will be key to solving the problem.

I'm just spitballing here, but it's an interesting idea. I'm moving back to teaching at a middle school next year and was thinking about running a D&D club so it's been on my mind. I'll probably post more later, but right now I have to go prep for my grade five savages.
 

Paul3

Explorer
Thanks for the responses. I may have already said this, but the tough part is that I only have 10 day (20 hours) total to work with. That is why it is hard to use the kids as DMs (barring past experience). You need at least some experience getting a feel for the game before turning them loose on their own, especially since we are talking about 5th-8th graders. With 20 kids, it makes it tough to get them enough playtime before they have enough sense of the game to turn them loose.

As of now, I think I am going to start by putting them in 3 groups and then have them play 40 minutes "mini-sessions" while the other two groups watch, at least for a few days. I would love to hear recommendations for which published adventure to use. It needs to be sandboxy enough to turn loose 3 separate groups who obviously are going to head in many different directions. Still, I would like an overreaching plot that all groups are working towards but has a chance to be more or less resolved after those 20 hours (probably 7 hours per group). This obviously isn't enough time to take on an entire book, but which book has an introduction/beginning that could serve as a nice abbreviated plot. I am thinking Phandelver, but am open to ideas. I was hoping Waterdeep would have been a good fit, but I am worried that it is too investigative for kids who are just beginning and think I will need to hook them with more outright action before getting them comfortable enough to roleplay.

Once I get all groups into the game, I can give them more tasks to do while they are not playing....design a monster...design an encounter...make a map...design an NPC...etc.
 

Rellott

Explorer
D&D Summer School Course

As a school teacher, I’m not confident letting them simply observe is the best thing. That creates down time for them to lose interest and find other things (disruptive and/or destructive) things to do.
I would suggest giving them jobs, like looking up rules (getting them familiar with the book, using indexes and ToCs) retrieving wayward dice, assisting a player who has a different class than the one they used so they can be exposed to the breadth of options (or a similar one if you want to let them become “experts”), or even assisting you with the monsters/NPCs.

As for adventures... Not sure. I like Hidden Halls or Hazakor as a nice starter adventure for younger kids, but it’s not terribly sandboxy.

Waterdeep’s chapter 1 is pretty nice and not too investigative, but also not terribly sandboxy. Kobold Press just released their Margreve book that has a pretty interesting (if creepy) level 1 sandboxy adventure titled Hollow.
You could also use some of the material from Princes of the Apocalypse, which is pretty sandboxy at lower levels.
 
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MockingBird

Explorer
I havent read every post so I apologize if my post is redundant. I agree with using the basic rules. Print out copies if you can. I'm leaning more toward pregens to simplify things. I dont think the majority of the kids will care but you will have some who are truly interested in customizing their own character. I would also bring in some helpers like you suggested with the high school kids who are familiar and good with kids.

I would go a modular route. Introduce a story seed and allow the kids to add to it in a improv type brainstorming process then explain how they just participated in one of the concepts of RPGs.

I would probably set up an encounter session to teach the basics of turn order and combat. Encourage the kids to describe their actions.

I would then introduce puzzles in the same modular manner as you did with combats, then roleplaying scenarios.

After all that I would round it out with a complete one shot that melds all the concepts you taught them. Something that would only take a few sessions and allowed each character class to shine.

Good luck and keep us updated. I hope it goes really well for you and the kids!
 

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