Hi, and welcome back to the MadisonPL blog. We were gone for a while, but we’re back now and with a whole new attitude. My name is Joe P and I’m here to tell you all about my experiences with the tweens, teens, and young adults here at the library.
Today marks the first session of Experience Points, a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) club for teenagers. In recent years, D&D has exploded in popularity thanks to the publisher’s revised marketing strategy, a higher focus on player experience, and the rise of live play streaming on websites like YouTube and Twitch. For the last two years or so, I’ve been running a D&D club for middle school aged kids called Adventurers’ League (AL) and with those kids growing older and the overall interest of D&D increasing, we figured it was time to start a group for the teenagers.
As you saw in the previous paragraph, today was the first session for Experience Points (ExP) – in the world of tabletop RPGs, we refer to this session as “Session 0.” This session doesn’t involve embarking on a quest or slaying nefarious monsters. Instead, we created our characters and talked about what we expect from our upcoming season of playing.
Today’s group consisted of 4 players and me:
- Brielle – a former AL player looking to move onto the next level of play
- Kamron – one of the library’s regular teenagers who has played various times but rarely gets the chance to play consistently
- Max – a fresh face to the regular library crowd who enthusiastically wants to embrace nerdom
- Gracie – Max’s friend of equal enthusiasm and creativity
- And then of course there’s me in the role of Dungeon Master (DM)
We used dndbeyond.com to create our characters for the upcoming gaming season – this allows us to store our character information online for ease of access. The library had purchased digital copies of all of the sourcebooks (the books for D&D that contain the how-tos and how-cans) on dndbeyond and to be honest, this turned out to be a fantastic decision because group character creation normally is kind of a pain, especially for kids who have never played. I plugged my laptop into the big TV in the MacKenzie Room (you can request to reserve meeting spaces, btw) and went through each step of character creation with each teen, starting from the least experienced to the most experienced.
First up was Gracie. Being the least experienced, this allowed me to explain each individual bit of character creation so that the other players could understand what was going on also (or serve as a refresher course). For her race (or species), Gracie picked Tiefling. These folk are descended from humans but somewhere in their bloodline, an outside influence was introduced and this blood from the outsider eventually manifested in these humans as horns, oddly colored skin, and a tail along with a few other traits. I then explained the different classes she could play – classes are the meat and potatoes of a character, detailing what types of unique abilities a character can perform. Gracie picked the Rogue class (a personal favorite of mine) granting her proficiency in acrobatics, deception, insight, perception; access to a special language code that only thieves and rogues know, and the ability to Sneak Attack targets when caught unawares. Next up, we determined her background, or what her character was before becoming an adventurer. Gracie chose Urchin – an orphan who grew up on the streets of the city.
Using race, class, and background, we determined that her character – now known as Constance – had a rough upbringing but was taught how to survive in such a harsh world.
Next up was Max who chose to become an Eladrin Cleric of Trickery. Eladrin are cousins of elves with a closer connection to their fey ancestry. They’re known to be quite manic in personality on an almost daily basis. Also they can teleport on a whim 30 feet. So. That’s cool. As a Cleric of Trickery, a divine being has granted Max’s character with spells allowing her to cause a little bit of mischief to those around her. Sure clerics are usually seen as healers, but not here. For her background, Max decided on the Haunted One meaning something in her past caused a great trauma and now she hunts those that caused it. This character has been named S’yit.
Brielle, being somewhat familiar with the game, decided on the Tabaxi race – tall, lithe humanoid catfolk. Moving away from her past as physical fighters, Brielle picked the Sorcerer class granting her access to small-ish selection of spells of potentially great power. As a Sorcerer, these spellcasting abilities come from within or in this case, her bloodline. Brielle’s character’s family harnesses the power of storms to cast their spells. And finally, she picked criminal as her character’s background, explaining that she may have at one point committed a dastardly crime which she is trying to escape from. She has yet to name her character.
Kamron’s character – known as Yorg – is a blue Dragonborn Cleric of Life. Dragonborn are humanoid dragons with a connection to an element, in this case, blue Dragonborn harness the power of lightning. As a Cleric of Life, the gods have granted Yorg a selection of spells and abilities allowing him to protect and heal his allies. Perhaps this has to do with his background of Folk Hero, beloved by all those in his hometown.
The reason I had the teens make their characters together was so that they could come up with ideas on how the adventuring party know each other.
SOME DETAIL ON THE WORLD
I intend on running our gaming season from the book Ghosts of Saltmarsh (you can put a copy of this book on hold by clicking here) which is set in the D&D campaign world of Greyhawk – one of the oldest settings available to the game. Here’s the details that I gave to the kids. I’m gonna italicize it to make it look all fancy and epic despite my casual tone.
Oerth is a world of kingdoms and magic. Empires rise and fall leaving behind ruins and treasures to be found by countless adventurers. One of the regions of Oerth is known as Flaeness where sits an old kingdom known as Keoland. Once upon a time, the powers that be decided it was a fantastic idea to expand northward. With all the focus on the northern end of the kingdom, the towns to the south became neglected. One such town was Saltmarsh which sits on the shores of the Azure Sea. It soon became a backwater and was prone to attacks from the pirate coalition to the south known as the Sea Princes. Eventually, the kingdoms to the north had had enough of Keoland’s shenanigans and pushed the nation back and realizing that they were now fighting on two fronts, the Kingdom of Keoland formed treaties with the other kingdoms and raised a navy to fight off the pirates on their southern shores. King Kimbertos Skotti then noticed little Saltmarsh and realized that it would make a great major seaport for trading on the Azure Sea. He sent his people down to hire dwarves to prospect the surrounding hills and create new businesses in Saltmarsh. Of course, the people who had already been living in Saltmarsh weren’t too keen on these new developments. Having lived through multiple pirate attacks, they believed they could handle life as is and have become used to how things are. These people consider themselves the Traditionalists while those with faith in the kingdom refer to themselves as Loyalists.
It was at this point I defined the term “gentrification” to the kids. See? D&D is more than just a game, it’s a vocab/social-sci lesson too!
Here’s a map of the area (note, it is oriented so that north is pointing to the left – there’s actually some cartography reason for this, but I don’t know it. I’ll update you when I do some research):
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Using the knowledge from their character creation and the history of the world, I then tasked the kids with coming up with how they all met. Here’s how it goes:
Brielle’s nameless character was once in prison where she met her criminal contact, an older criminal named Joe. Upon escaping from prison, Joe told her to seek out Constance. Constance was taught how to live on the dangerous streets by Joe – with lessons in pickpocketing and how to defend oneself. As you can see, this party is a bit morally ambiguous already. Constance had already been a companion and friend of S’yit from a previous encounter in their lives. Constance had once attempted to steal from S’yit and the much more experience eladrin took pity on the young tiefling and hopes to keep any more trauma from happening to either of them. This group, informed by Joe, seeks to travel to Saltmarsh to start a new life. Joe called in a favor to his friend Yorg to protect the party and keep them out of trouble.
And just like that, we have story!
Giving the kids the chance to come up with their own ideas is what this whole program is all about. I want them to feel free to create and invent freely and share these things with other people. Sure this sounds super cheesy, but I mean it. D&D means a lot to me as a person and I want everyone to know what it feels like.
I then explained what tone I am intending to shoot for this gaming season. My games are known to end up a bit goofy, but I want these guys to really get into character and take things semi more seriously with more of a focus in character development and acting. We’ll see how this develops and I’ll keep everyone informed here on this blog. I can’t wait to see what these kids come up with. I wonder if the kids will let post their art of their characters.
Thanks for reading!
Experience Points meets on 1st and 3rd Wednesdays, 3 to 5:30 p.m. New players are welcome and experienced players are welcome to form their own groups to play independently in the session space. Talk to Joe, that’s me, for more info.