This week I returned to the school club as the Dungeon Master and offered a fresh new game of Dungeons & Dragons using the D&D Essentials Kit. Frankly, I had a really good time – probably the best game of the Fifth Edition I have ever had – and introduced five players to Phandalin. The best bit? Three of the players are D&D newbies.
The Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure from the D&D Essentials Kit is a cracking little mini-campaign. While it’s sold as an adventure, it’s really a series of short adventures all connected through a single focused sequence related to the arrival of a White Dragon to the region around Phandalin.
I am pretty sure that there are plenty of reviews elsewhere that you can go and read, so I’ll not get too deep into doing one of my own. Suffice it to say, as I mention in my podcast (Episode 520), I particularly enjoy the way in which the narrative of the adventure is spaced out through the use of a bulletin board in the town of Phandalin.
The adventure is a kind of map-based narrative blend that I have not really seen much since I was first introduced to Dragonlance (DL1 Dragons of Despair), way back in 1984. Unlike that classic module, this adventure has a much more free-wheeling style: there’s a nice hex-map to wander across, several locations to investigate, and a strong narrative goal to move towards… without the artificially pushy “cut-scenes” of the clunkier story-driven modules of earlier years. It’s a nice blend…so far.
In the first one-and-a-half-hour session, we arrived in Phandalin and the adventurers met one-another. They then checked out the Jobs Board and were presented with three possible Quests to tackle. They chose to visit the Dwarven Excavation Site, which has a 50gp reward on offer, and heading off into the hills southeast of Phandalin – about 15 miles journey.
Because we are light on time – and also because there are no rules for random encounters – I narrated a journey in about thre sentences and we got to the first location. It’s an eerie, quiet place for the adventurers to investigate with lots of interesting details and some fun NPCs which I chose to playact, funny voices and all. We laughed a lot. Mostly they laughed at me, capering around and pulling faces. It was a lot of fun. But I’ll not spoil the adventure here.
In short, they got into their first fight. Some sort of strange, yellow blob-like thing dangling from the ceilings. All good fun.
Why This Is Cool
For me, this is getting back to basics: introducing new and prospective players to a game of Dungeons & Dragons using a pre-written module and the rules-as-written. I have used some of the Patreon funds from the Roleplay Rescue podcast to buy in some useful tools too:
The reference cards proved a positive addition: I was able to SHOW images of the creatures while keeping the stats quick to hand for me as Dungeon Master; I gave the Cleric and Wizard the spell cards and let them choose which spells to memorise and cast; I gave the Berzerker Axe magic item card (from the quick on-the-fly one-shot demo I ran the week before) to the player who had stolen it from Firebeard’s Tomb. All good stuff.
In keeping with my philosophy in playing games with teens, which I have written about before, I was able to give everyone a set of dice. This helps them feel like they have joined the club in a way that’s hard to achieve any other way. I mean, seriously, having your own dice… that’s when you become a tabletop roleplayer, right?
The Starter Set is on standby. If anyone wants to become a Dungeon Master, I can give them the set and they can launch their own game. Interestingly, the girl who stole Firebeard’s Axe told me she’s reading “Ghosts of Saltmarsh” and might run it for some friends in a few weeks. How cool would that be?
What I (Re)Learned
Being a teacher and offering a school roleplaying club is a very big deal. It’s not too much effort for me. It’s not even too much cash (especially when you have the generous Patrons I am blessed with) to set up the basics. But the reward – in terms of smiling faces and inspired minds – is immediate and very exciting to reap.
I saw three young people get to their first game. They were laughing and smiling. They tell me they want to continue next week. The best bit was, by all accounts, the fight with “the scary weird monster blob thing”.
- Treat Teens Like Adults
- Give Them What They Need
- Introduce Roleplaying Before Rules
- D&D5e Makes A Good Start
- Be Generous
What a new player needs is dice, pencil, and a character sheet (or piece of paper). Give them those things. Dungeons & Dragons is accessible (free), easy-to-learn, and plays well. Also, the kids get to do what we enjoyed back in the day: going down the dungeons, killing the monsters, and looting the treasure. As far as I can tell, they’ll be happy doing that right up until they’re not.
When I start a new teen player in my group, I give them a set of dice. I give them a character sheet (preferably one-sided and minimalist). I lend them a pencil and eraser. I allow them access at the table to the rule books I own… or at least, I show them the books and tell them what they need to know. I just want to get them playing. I feel that the best way to learn is by playing: get down that dungeon, young adventurer.