Starting a Dungeons and Dragons Group in the School Library
I want to start this post by saying, I’m not the expert when it comes to starting a Dungeon and Dragon club, far from it, actually. The expert would be Lucas Maxwell. He blogs about Dungeons and Dragons, has a podcast and is even writing a book about it. So why then, you might ask, would someone who is not Lucas Maxwell want to share her tips about how to start a D&D club? Because maybe you, like me, want to start just such a group but, like me, are not a D&D expert or maybe, also like me, have never even played D&D. This post is for all the complete and utter beginners (we need a word for someone is less experienced than a beginner, perhaps a prebeginner?), who have maybe heard of D&D but have no idea what a DM is or how to even actually play but want to start a D&D group in their school library anyway.
What is Dungeons and Dragons
Okay, people who actually know what Dungeons and Dragons is might cringe at my description, but here is what I know about Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a role-play game where players create a character (there are guides on how to do this) and together, the group then goes on a fantasy quest, led by the Dungeon Master (DM – another player who controls the story). What does it look like? A group of people sitting around a table. One might have a book and protective screen in front of them (DM), others might have a set of dice in front of them and some might have a laptop. The dice are key, as rolling decides the fates of actions, but you can also play online with digital dice. The only things required to play are the rulebook (that guides the DM through the game), character sheets for each player and dice. These can all be digital or physical. As the group plays, there is lots of discussion, decision making, laughter and a lot of fun.
Why D&D in a school library?
I’ve honestly never seen something improve the storytelling and literacy skills, the ability to construct and deconstruct plots, to critique characters and storylines, like I have witnessed with D&D players. I had a book club for a number of years in a school library. I’d meet weekly with this group of students from when they were in year 6 to when I left the school when they were finishing year 9. They were keen readers, read a variety of genres but did enjoy fantasy, were aspiring writers, a great bunch. A mix of genders but strong numbers of males. When they were in year 8, a teacher introduced them to D&D and they formed a group. As they learnt to play and we continued to meet for book club, I watched in awe as their ability to talk about and dissect the novels they were reading increased. They became a lot more critical of storylines and characters, and their writing improved significantly. Maybe this is all a coincidence, but I saw this all happening alongside their playing D&D and believe I can credit the game for some of their development. And why not? When playing D&D, the players create their own characters, construct complex stories and maintain it all entirely in their heads, continuing this on from lunch break to lunch break over a span of weeks to months. I saw those who stepped up to DM particularly improve in their writing and storytelling. My readers became D&D players and became even better readers.
Getting a D&D group started in a school library
Here’s what you need to know to get a D&D group started in a school library without knowing much about D&D or being a player yourself.
Find the right crowd
D&D is actually really popular. It’s something most people have at least heard of, or have heard it referenced in movies or books. Stranger Things has made it rather well known recently. It’s a game people have been playing for decades. Or well, some people have been playing. Not me. I’ve never learned. I’d like to, I find I just don’t have the time. I didn’t want that to stop me creating a group, so I found people who do play. Start the conversation with kids, ask them “Do you play D&D?”, mention that you want to start a D&D group. I did that and got a really great response, even before actually committing to anything. I found a few students who had been playing and lots more who wanted to learn. I did the same with teachers. I even mentioned it to a group of preservice teachers and had one respond enthusiastically and who helped me get our group up and running. Massive credit to him for all the work he put in creating resources for the group and encouraging their enthusiasm. I also found 3 other teachers who were keen players and I asked them to be my knowledge sources for the group.
Buying the basics
You can find lots of resources online, including the character creation templates and digital dice. But I love the physical resources. It doesn’t take many things to get a group started
- A D&D Essentials Kit. This includes a rulebook and guide for how to create characters, a few character templates, a DM screen, a set of dice and an adventure, which includes the playing instructions, character cards and maps. It’s basically everything the group will need to get started. It can also be shared. So I have just one for my two D&D groups who play on different afternoons.
- A few sets of dice. These are special sets of dice that contain dice with four, six, eight, ten, twelve and twenty sides.
- Handbooks. I also bought one copy each of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual. These we catalogued and the students can borrow them.
I purchased the Essentials Kit and basic dice from EB Games and the handbooks online in a box set. Total set up cost was less than $200.
The first gathering
Once word spread that the Library was starting a D&D group, it wasn’t long before we had a big group interested. We started by running a few information sessions at lunchtime for people to come along if they were interested. I took their names and I asked if they were beginners or had played before. The preservice teacher helped to run these sessions and give the students a bit of an overview of what D&D is. It was great to have someone know what they were talking about, so do find that knowledge source in your own school. I bet you have a few teachers who play.
We then had the students start to create their characters. The first time characters are made takes a long time. It’s fun, as they roll the dice to decide their character’s traits. I asked the teachers I knew who played to drop by for these sessions to help the students. These sessions were held over a few lunchtimes.
Because I had a super keen and extremely helpful preservice teacher, he then took the lead in running a few sessions for the students to try out their characters. He created maps and a huge range of resources. Again, we ran these at lunchtime. But, if you – like me – have no way of doing that, this is the time to hand over to the students.
Our school is big on student leadership and I think the D&D groups are the perfect way for students to step up and lead. Our experienced players were asked to become Dungeon Masters and at one of our lunchtime gatherings, I asked the group to divide into playing groups (around 5 people). They organised this themselves and each group then decided on an afternoon that would suit them to meet to play. I am really hands off with the D&D groups. It’s up to the groups to organise their meetings and membership. The resources are kept in a spot in the Library that they can access.
The group started to create a Discord server to communicate. I wasn’t sure if this would fit school policy, since I was technically creating the groups and it was school based, so I created them a Teams page (we are a Microsoft Teams school, you could do the same with any learning management system) for the group to share resources, chat and coordinate their meetings). It also helped me to track our member numbers.
From there, the groups are completely self sufficient. They know they are welcome to use the Library space for their after school gatherings. They know where the handbooks, dice and games are. Once the groups have worked through the first adventure, I’ll ask them which adventure pack they want me to purchase next (it’s the basic storyline, rules and setting details).
Aside from an initial email and social media post, I haven’t had to do too much promotion to spread the word. I’ve found lots of students come up to me and say they’ve heard of the D&D group and could they join. It’s the conversations with students that really work. I have also mentioned D&D to my new year 6 cohort and know I have another group who are ready to join when they move into Year 6. I have also had the group approved for the official extra-curricular groups list, so that means it will appear in the handbook and we can ask for a small budget if needed.
I love how easy it was to create a D&D group. Obviously, if you are an expert or have the skills you can take the groups so much further than I ever could, but I love that anyone can create a D&D group. It is not time-consuming or costly, which is awesome. It promotes literacy. One of the best outcomes was a teacher hearing about the group and asking if it’s something we can do for their English fantasy unit. I’ll need to up-skill a little, but it’s great to see it flow into the curriculum.
More information from the expert
So, that’s how to get a D&D group started if you are a complete novice, like me. But, you can obviously do so, so, so much more. For that, you’ll need the advice of an expert like Lucas Maxwell. Fortunately for us, he has a heap of resources, including a new book called Let’s Roll publishing early 2023, a podcast called the Portable Magic Dispenser which has specific D&D episodes called You Should Have Been A Meat Shield: A Dungeons and Dragons Podcast, and writes regularly for Book Riot and his own blog on the Glenthorne High School Library website, not to mention his helpful Tweets as @lucasjmaxwell