Dungeons & Dragons & Libraries (Part I: Starting a D&D Club)

Preparing for the long journey ahead…
A few months ago, my interest in Dungeons & Dragons was reawakened. It had been roughly fifteen years since my last foray with the classic tabletop roleplaying game. Since that time, the game has evolved drastically; rules have been revised, new monsters have been added, and new playable classes have been created, just to name a few changes. Now in its 5th Edition (“5e” for short), D&D is more popular than ever before.

I figured, “what better time than now to dive back in to the game?” So, I grabbed myself a copy of the latest rulebook (the 5e Player’s Handbook) and got to work studying the game’s current mechanics and brushing up on it’s vast body of lore. Once I felt confident with the basic rules, I put down the Player’s Handbook and picked up the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide. The guide is completely supplemental and not necessary for playing D&D, however it does offer greater detail on some of the gameplay mechanics, legends and folklore, as well as numerous tips and tricks for creating a fantasy world.

Why does this interest me? As anyone who’s ever played D&D before knows, Dungeon Masters (or DMs) are in great demand. DMs are in charge of not only creating the story in which the other players play their respective roles, but crafting a cohesive world for them to live, believable people and monsters for them to interact with, engaging quests and mysteries, and everything in-between. Needless to say, it’s a lot of work; more work than most people interested in D&D are willing to invest. With this in mind, I know the responsibility of DMing will inevitably fall to me, the librarian in charge of the program.

The adventure begins!
I wrote a blurb for the Dungeons & Dragons Club to be included in the next newsletter. My plan was to run an unregistered, two-and-a-half hour session once a month in which I’d spend the first hour explaining the basics of D&D and helping each patron create their own character. After which, we’d sit down and actually play the game for the remainder of the time. I had the library purchase a copy of the 5e Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide as well as a dozen and a half sets of dice and a DM screen (basically a wall to prevent the players from seeing what the DM is scheming). All in all, the supplies came to about $90 (books $65, supplies $25). The books were cataloged and put into circulation, so they actually came out of the funding for the Adult Nonfiction collection (700s) rather than our programming budget.

Come the day of our first session, I was confident I had prepared for everything. I had my dice, my character sheets, my screen, pencils, paper, the requisite rulebooks, I even had a computer setup with links to several D&D online resources. As I was setting up the program in one of our meeting rooms, a co-worker informed me that there were already 20 people waiting outside. I was shocked. I was expecting less than half that number.

The first thing I noticed about the group was that it was evenly split in age. Half were between the ages of 11 and 16, the other half between the ages of 20 and 40. I asked the group if anyone knew how to play D&D already, hoping to winnow the number of patrons in which I would have to explain the rules. Only two replied that they did. Damn. Most of the “adult group” (as I will now call them) said they had played a previous edition, but not for many, many years. Most of the “teen group” had heard of D&D through Stranger Things or heard it mentioned as an influence for their favorite movie (Lord of the Rings), book (Game of Thrones) or video games (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, World of Warcraft, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild).

I tried my best to explain the basics of D&D: you say what you want your character to do, roll a twenty-sided die (d20), find the corresponding skill, and add its score to your roll. The higher your total, the better the odds of successfully performing the action. That’s basically it in a nutshell. For the players at least, the rest is just straight-up, old-fashioned improv. With that, we started making characters. Luckily every patrons was steeped in fantasy lore from the various media mentioned above and had a fairly clear idea in mind of what type of hero they wanted to roleplay. I gave a brief overview to everyone of how to calculate all of the scores on their character sheet before answering individual questions.

The next hour was absolute madness as I jumped from player-to-player advising them on how they should craft their characters and explaining what specific parts of their character sheet meant. Most of the mayhem was due to the fact that we only had 4 copies of the Player’s Handbook between the 20+ of us. It took just over an hour for every patron to complete their character.

Forming a Party.
I’ve found the ideal group size for playing Dungeons & Dragons is 3-5 players (not including the DM). If you go over this number, you risk two things: one, the game grinding to a painfully slow pace during combat, which is a turn-based; and two, a lack of cohesion amongst the players resulting in less fun for everyone, especially the DM. With this is mind, ideally I would like to split the club into 4 or 5 groups. The problem is I don’t have 4 or 5 DMs.

Fortunately, one patron brought the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit with him that included a pre-written adventure. After some convincing, the patron agreed to be a DM. So, we split the group into two groups: I took the “adult group,” the patron with the Starter Kit took the “teen group.” For the remainder of the program (roughly an hour), we played our respective adventures, taking time to explain the ins-and-outs of D&D as we went along.

When it came time to end the program, everyone was very excited and engaged in their stories. I sensed they were a bit disappointed that they did not get to actually play the game longer. I apologized and explained that starting next meeting, the club would consist entirely of play time.

Much work was needed to be done.

Advice for running a D&D Club:

  • Make D&D a registered program! I was completely blindsided by the popularity of the program. Don’t let it happen to you.
  • Split the D&D Club into separate Adult and Teen programs. D&D involves a lot of roleplaying. It can be very difficult and uncomfortable to roleplay with those much younger or older than yourself.
  • Jump right in to playing. If I had to do it again, I would not have the patrons make their own characters day one. The stats on their character sheet are simply too arbitrary. I suggest having a few pre-made character sheets available for patrons so they can simply pick one and jump into playing right away. After some gameplay experience, creating a character will be a much simpler matter. There are a number of pre-made character sheets available to download from the D&D website.
  • Have multiple Player’s Handbooks. Get your hands on as many copies as possible. Have the library buy a copy, ILL a copy (or several), ask patrons to bring their own if they have one, buy one for yourself if necessary. They are necessary for creating characters and resolving rule disputes.
  • Be prepared to DM. You will undoubtedly be playing the role of DM, at least at first. If you’re fortunate enough to have an experienced DM attend your program, that’s fantastic, but don’t count on them. DMing can be exhausting and they may not want to do it. Or they may leave on vacation. Have something in your back pocket if this happens!

See Part II of this series for some free, online resources that will help lighten the load of running your D&D Club.