EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to our new series, Offbeat Hobbies in Huntsville! We want to feature kids and organizations that participate in activities beyond the ball and ballet shoes. Every month you’ll find out more about each activity and how your kid can get involved locally if their interest is sparked!
One of the first times I can remember being told I was “too young” to do something was when 8 year-old me wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons with my older cousins. Flipping through the book and listening to them work through a dungeon and fighting monsters made it seem so cool. So when I got older I played not only D&D, but several other role-playing games for years, even revisiting it as an adult.
I was delighted to see D&D is still going strong. In the past you had to find like-minded friends, and a particular patient and hardworking one to run the game. Now there are several options for wannabe players to find a local group!
For the uninitiated, can you describe what Role-playing games are?
Kerry: At their root, role playing games are collaborative storytelling. They are games of the imagination in which a group of players take on the role of iconic heroes describing their actions and reactions to the scenarios and challenges set before them by the Dungeon / Game Master. Game stories can be one-shot adventures that are completed in one session, multi-session adventures that can be completed after a few sessions, and finally the ongoing campaign, which has no direct end and takes the characters through an epic tale. For example, a one-shot would be like one chapter of a Harry Potter book, while a multi-session adventure might be one Harry Potter novel, and the ongoing campaign would be equivalent to the accumulated adventures of the Harry Potter series.
Drew: Role-playing games are exactly that: they are games where players take on the role of different (usually uniquely created) characters, and through the game they tell a cooperative story. It could be a story of redemption, saving royalty, self-discovery, or any number of other things. The most important part of any role playing game, is that the players and the Game Master (or GM) have fun together!
What is your role as a Dungeon Master?
Drew: A Dungeon Master has many roles and responsibilities. DMs (Dungeon Masters) have to know or create their world and all of its inhabitants (including, but not limited to, monsters, royals, rivals, dieties, magic, etc.). They embody every person, place, or thing that the players interact with, and they tell the overall story of what is happening. I like to think that a DM needs to spend time proactively making the game before it ever starts, and after the game starts, a GM must reactively make the game based on the player’s decisions and actions.
Kerry: The way I approach my role as the DM is as a story teller. I try to create a compelling plot, complete with story hooks, obstacles, and challenges to keep my players involved. Additionally, I keep track of the rules and have the final say in how the actions of the players unfold in the narrative. I portray many “roles” as they have conversations, disputes, and interactions with the various NPC’s that populate their world. If you have ever played Zelda or World of Warcraft, then basically I play the quest givers, shop owners, and otherwise everyone that they interact with. This includes the creatures and obstacles that they must overcome.
What is a typical Dungeons & Dragons play session like?
Kerry: I start all my sessions with a recap of the past game and setting the current scene for the players by describing what the characters, see, hear and otherwise sense about their location. Once we are immersed into the scene, I go around the table asking what each player would like for their character to do. As the players confront the various challenges and conflicts encountered, we roll dice to determine the success or failure of their actions. The success of all these actions would be determined by dice rolls. If they fail, then we play out that outcome and they adjust their actions accordingly. Play progresses like this throughout the session. Finally, I like to end my session on an upbeat cliff hanger, leaving the players eager for the next session.
Drew: During our weekly “class”, it lasts about an hour and is mostly looking at a map of the dungeon and letting the kids interact with different characters, monsters, and each other. At least once per session, I try to let them have a combat scenario that takes about 10 to 15 minutes (because of the simple system I created for the class!). But for older groups, a session will consist of jumping right into the story where it was last left off. I try not to let combat take over the whole session (because that’s really only exciting for one person at a time), and let role-play and conversation decide where and how the night goes. It all really depends on the system and the story that is currently being told.
What are the benefits that you observe kids have when playing D&D?
Drew: Kids get so many benefits out of role playing games. I have seen math skills and creativity blossom during character creation and during the game! Oftentimes I watch as people who struggle to communicate or connect with others come to life when they embody their characters. It helps to bring them out of their shells and find ways to connect with their peers. There have also been studies done that show that roleplaying games can help those who have been through emotional trauma to deal with it through the games. “
Kerry: The short answer: teamwork, imagination building, arithmetic, problem solving, and the testing of actions and the consequences associated with them, and most importantly fun. BTW, I see this with adults in just the same manner. In today’s culture of digital consumption, it’s nice to be unplugged and experience 3 to 4 hours of social interaction.
Describe a challenging, creative scenario you threw at your players and how did they react to solve the challenge you presented to them?
Kerry: I like to use story tropes from movies and books as inspiration for my sessions. One such scenario was the classic run-away train. The players were in the back car of a train meeting a contact who would soon be the victim of an assassination attempt, by way of crashing the train filled with explosives into the train station. They players decide how to save the NPC and whether they would try to stop the train filled with citizens from crashing and exploding. Over the course of the session, they had to make their way through the various train cars filled with obstacles and ultimately climb under the engine to repair the brakes which had been disconnected. It required not only quick decisions and skills checks (dice rolls), but also a little luck. I kept everyone on a timer, giving them only a few seconds to determine their actions each turn, in order to play up the urgency of the situation. It was lots of fun.
Drew: One of my favorite moments from this past week is from a game that I am co-running with my friend Karl for our co-workers at HSV STEAMworks. In the scenario, the 6 players were split into 3 random groups of 2. Each group was separated and given a description of two buttons before them that gave them a choice of TRUST or FORSAKE. They were told that they were choosing whether to trust or forsake one other group, and were shown an illusion of their “rival” group, which was actually just a random image of other people that had nothing to do with their choice. If ALL groups chose TRUST, the good outcome would happen- they would not be injured, but not particularly set free. If all groups chose FORSAKE, a bad option would happen (a battle) but it would not be the worst outcome. If a group chose to TRUST, but their rival group chose to FORSAKE… The rival group would be instantly set free, but the trusting group would have the worst outcome… an incredibly hard and intense battle. Each group hotly debated the different options, and in the end one group chose to trust, another group chose to forsake, and the third group…. flipped a coin.
Finally, what’s your favorite character class/race & monster?
Drew: This is a tough question! I would say that my favorite race to play as is the Kobold, a creature who is usually considered a monster because of their mob mentality and violent nature when they are in large groups, but are pretty cowardly when alone. But they make great adventurers! My favorite class to play as is warlock. I love their mix of spellcasting and eldritch flavoring! My favorite monster is the Beholder, a giant flying eyeball. I know it’s kind of an ugly one, but you know what they say… Beauty is in the eye of…
Kerry: To be honest I like them all. That’s why I like to be the Dungeon Master. It allows me to put together any combination of my favorite things and to try out new ideas. I tend to enjoy antagonists that are sly and sneaky about their actions. But it’s always fun to drop that big powerful dragon on the group once in a while.
Where Kids Can Play Dungeons & Dragons in Huntsville
Huntsville Steam Works at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment
Address: 2211 Seminole Dr SW, Huntsville, AL 35805
Your Friendly DM: Drew Carlton
– Drew is hosting a D&D Camp at Huntsville STEAM Works this summer that’s open to kids ages 10 and up.
Haven Comics in Madison
Address: 1871 Slaughter Rd R, Madison, AL 35758
Your Friendly DM: Kerry Brooks
– Kerry has created a Dungeons & Dragons Facebook Group for any kids (& their parents) interested in learning more. He hopes to have enough to start a summer campaign that teaches kids how to run their own games.
You can also set up a home game yourself! Rulebooks and source materials are available at any local comics/gaming shop and online! Got a younger kids who is interested in D&D? Cut their teeth on games like Munchkin and 5 Minute Dungeon to get them started.
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Sam Chow was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. A 5th grade field trip to Space Camp started his lifelong love of technology and engineering. He juggled working in Huntsville while studying for his engineering degree at Mississippi State and moved here full-time in 2001. He and his lovely wife Connie were married in 2006 and currently have a five year old and a two year old, a dog, and a cat. In his spare time he enjoys training and watching mixed martial arts, watching old foreign films, reading, and video gaming.