Game Design Like a Boy Scout: Week 5 - Dungeons & Dragons

After several weeks of demonstrating the different types of games to our Boy Scout troop, it was time to play the most challenging game of all: dungeon mastering a 25-person Dungeons & Dragons group.

After several weeks of demonstrating the different types of games to our Boy Scout troop, it was time to play the most challenging game of all: dungeon mastering a 25-person Dungeons & Dragons group.

Here's the other articles in this series:

DMing for a Crowd​

Dungeons & Dragons was popular with the Scouts, as indicated by the results of the first survey we conducted to determine their interests. It tied with a video game (1-2-Switch) as the game they most wanted to learn about, which is no small achievement when video games continue to be tremendously popular. In fact, one Scout begged to just jump right to the D&D game. I held off, because we all had concerns about my ability to explain a game in a half hour to a group that large.

My original plan was to divide the players into groups; in essence, a miniature convention. The problem was that the DMs would have to be briefed ahead of the workshop, and there just wasn't enough time and resources to set up a mini-convention. My second plan was to use an electronic tool of some sort to run the entire game, with each player going once around the room -- but with over 20 Scouts, that risked not every player getting a chance to use their turn.

I narrowed my goals to just two: demonstrate how D&D was a fun game to play and give everyone the chance to roll dice at least once. With those goals in mind, I changed the setup considerably.

Handling the Chaos​

I learned from the previous sessions that teams worked well. I created 25 different character sheets, building on Digital Dungeon Master's efforts. I wrote the scenario myself, which was about an army of knights attacking a haunted mansion. The mansion was guarded by undead and pumpkin-monsters, so it was the knights' job to hack their way through the graveyard to get to the mansion's back entrance. I also created table tents so I could easily identify each knight by color and order (i.e., Red Archer, Blue Knight, etc.).

To help engage the players, I 3D-printed 25 miniatures and painted them, color-coding each miniature to match each character's appearance. The characters were divided into two teams, seated at to sets of tables on either side of a projector with me standing next to it in the middle. I chose a captain at each table (the players with the most D&D experience) who had characters with special abilities that differed from the two orders of knights.

The two orders included the Knights of Arros (archers) and the Knights of Agmar (sword-and-board). Most of the Knights of Arros were rangers or rogues, and most of the Knights of Agmar were fighters or paladin. All were 4th level. The two orders had a code of ethics that matched the BSA Outdoor Code (Arros) and Scout Law (Agmar). The Arros archers went first in combat, followed by the Agmar knights who charged into the fray, led by their captains. I created small shields to hand out to each Scout that could bestow advantage on another character -- in teams (Arros/Agmar knights each had a color, so they could help each other) and by table (each captain had shields to give out as they saw fit to their table team).

I learned the hard way from the Jenga game that anything that can become a projectile WILL become a projectile, so I hedged my bets by purchasing two sets of plush dice. I didn't realize until after ordering the polyhedral foam dice that they didn't come with six-sideds, so I bought those too.

That left the presentation, which was a PowerPoint I created that showed a picture of each monster, the number appearing, their hit points, armor class, and attack bonus. As the players defeated the monsters, the hearts disappeared until there were none left, and then the players moved on to the next slide where a new monster appeared. Given our time constraints, there was very little opportunity for actual role-playing -- I did plan to let the captains engage with the NPC giving them their quest.

To get the Scouts hyped about the game, I inserted multimedia into the presentation. We kicked off with the D&D Beyond trailer and then set up the premise. The first wave was undead skeletons who were raised by a necromancer to defend the manor. I used this video by FXGuru to lend some urgency to the scene. That battle was followed by pumpkin monsters. I spliced together video from a Monsters vs. Aliens episode, with the final boss a combination of the remaining pumpkin monsters to create a behemoth and (hopefully, exciting) battle.

We had our dice, we had our multimedia, we had our players. Could I really pull this off?

No Plan Survives Contact..​

We set up the tables, seats, projector, and screen. Then each Scout picked their character sheet, miniature, and sat next to their partner. Table captains were chosen and got their own character sheets. We set up their table tents so that I could easily identify them. I then encouraged them to write their characters' names on the sheets to create a more personal connection.

I started the presentation...and realized my first mistake almost immediately -- I'd forgotten to bring dice for myself! That wasn't too much of a problem though, because we had bigger issues, which was that despite two sets of foam dice, it wasn't enough dice for 12+ Scouts on each side. In my head, they would focus on who was rolling the red 20-sided, but in reality they just got distracted.

After the cartoon got them excited about the game, we proceeded to the "boxed text" section of the workshop where I explained a little about D&D, identified the different dice, described the two knightly orders, and set up the premise of the adventure. The four captains had a chance to ask one question each of the good-aligned wizard who gave them the quest -- they didn't have questions of any substance -- and we started the adventure proper with a skeleton battle.

Despite my quick primer on rolling damage dice, it became clear that just rolling a 20-sided was more than enough distraction. If a player hit, we skipped the damage dice and just removed one of the ten skeletons. We proceeded down both rows of players so that by the end of the first round, they had wiped the skeletons out. We moved on to the pumpkin monsters, which had more hit points but were fewer in number.

This wasn't quite as fun, because each player didn't get a "kill" in. My voice quickly became hoarse from shouting over the noise. Any pretense of teamwork and sharing of advantage was lost in the heat of play -- most players were just trying to keep the dice from rolling off the table -- so I quickly moved through the smaller monsters to the big pumpkin behemoth as the final boss. Every player got to roll at least three times, and the boss was defeated. Not quite as triumphantly as I liked (there was no "death" animation) but the knights hacked their way through the pumpkin-choked graveyard so that other heroes could make their way to the manor proper. We saved that for a future adventure.

The Aftermath​

I concluded the session with information on how to keep playing for Scouts who were interested. One Scout used his camera to take a snapshot of that screen (I gave printouts as well), a good sign. I also raffled one copy of my book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, to the Scouts who participated most -- they had a roll off with a D20 to determine who got it.

At the end of the session, I let every Scout keep their miniature (which is why I 3D printed them). Some Scouts were more interested in the game than others, so there were extra miniatures to go around, which turned a bit chaotic when some Scouts tried to grab all of the remaining miniatures. In keeping with my original plan to make it a tactical game on a battle map, I also brought 3D-printed versions of the monsters with me. One of the Scouts begged me to keep one of the monsters, so I let him.

My eleven-year-old son, who has been playing some form of D&D with me since he was four, wasn't too impressed. He felt the overall game session was too chaotic and the conclusion not particularly satisfying. I heard later from parents that the other Scouts were extremely excited and wouldn't stop talking about the game, so it seems we at least managed to whip up some excitement over the basic concepts of D&D for those new to the game.

If I were to do it again, I would buy four giant soft 20-sided dice for each table and skip the damage all together -- a hit would take out a monster. In fact, I'd probably create a small fence for each die so the players could just roll it on the floor. I would definitely create encounters with more "one hit" monsters, so that every player felt like they achieved something. And I would create a more stirring finale so that the players felt like they truly accomplished something great. But with just a half hour and 25 Scouts, we worked within the constraints of the environment.

Overall, I thought it was a great learning experience and taught the Scouts about an entirely different type of game from what they might be used to. The next few sessions would be about intellectual property, tweaking rules, and how to playtest a game. I looked forward to giving my voice a rest.

If you're interested in running this workshop yourself, I put all the resources I used on my Patreon.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


First Post
This is so awesome! I'm not gonna lie... I'm a wee bit envious of those scouts. I would have probably had a lot more fun in Boy Scouts if D&D were involved (not to say I didn't have fun, but it would have been MORE fun :) ).

I was a scout in the mid to late 80s and it was how I was introduced to D&D. All we did at scout camp was play capture the flag or D&D. Usually 5 or so players and everyone else watching. Of course back then it was theater of the mind and we played on a picnic bench in the woods huddled around a lantern. Good times.

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