Little Monsters – Playing D&D in School

So, as you may know my day job is teaching. I’ve currently got a class of twenty-two children aged either seven or eight who are well used to their teacher wandering in with large boxes tucked under his arm, piles of cards from various TCGs piled up on the desk. We’ve played variants of Diamant and Hey! That’s My Fish! in our maths lessons. I love the idea of bringing gaming into the classroom – the children are really receptive because it’s not really something they do at home. It’s a bit weird to me because when I was little, I was crazy about playing board games. Nowadays the kids I teach are much more well versed in playing video games – not a bad thing in my opinion (after all, I do co-present Joypod) but why not mix it up a little?

I was thinking of a lighter lesson to end what was a pretty tough week for the class. They’d been working hard for their end-of-year tests and deserved to do something that they would (hopefully) enjoy. I recalled a recent episode of the D&D Podcast from Wizards of the Coast where they mentioned an adventure designed specifically for children, Heroes of Hesiod written by Susan Morris. A bit of digging revealed that it had actually been released for free through the WotC site, and with a little adaptation and preparation I had something a bit different to your average lesson on my hands…

The kids came in from break, taking their seats to find the classroom in darkness. Projected on my interactive whiteboard was a looped woodland scene with not much happening. It was time to get a bit theatrical – when you’re a teacher, you learn pretty early on that there’s no point in worrying about making a fool of yourself. I welcomed them (in character!) and gave them a brief rundown of what would happen. They would be split into five random groups (decided by rolling d20, of course!) with each of them taking responsibility for a character in the adventure. This was quickly organised and a leader for each team was selected. This would be the only person that I (as DM) would really interact with – all decisions, however, had to be made democratically by the groups.

Heroes of Hesiod runs a simplified version of the D&D ruleset, meaning that explanation can be kept to a minimum . The children were given a quick rundown of how to attack along with movement options and special abilities. Finally, handfuls of six-sided dice were handed out – with a few practice rolls, of course. I was amazed that so many of them had never actually rolled a dice before. After retrieving a few that rolled behind cupboards and under tables, we were ready to begin.

The screen shifted to a digital version of the map provided on the Heroes of Hesiod PDF – a simple grid dotted with a few barrels and bushes but (most importantly) caged beasts. These were the monsters that the children’s characters – which are children themselves – needed to get the better of. The story goes that every year children from the village are selected  to meet with Loomis the Trainer (me!), a local who helps them take on four enemies to prove their worth. If they succeed, they will be allowed to help defend the village from future attacks. Failure to do so… well, let’s just say that not all the children come back.

They had a great time, really throwing themselves into the experience. Monsters were set upon and roundly despatched, and all the participants were declared true heroes. Even a little modification I made to challenge them a bit more went down well. Their wizard character –  Betilivatis – now had a ranged attack which caused damage to anyone surrounding the targeted space meaning that others often took a hit. Every time this happened there were howls of “Why did you do that?!” – pleasingly there was nothing malicious at all, just lots of fun had by all. Another character even got knocked out, but thankfully their helpful DM was on hand with a revival potion hidden in a nearby bush. The adventure actually ended up running over two lessons, but this was entirely down to me putting more description and detail in there to give the class as immersive an experience I could. Using the whiteboard was a great resource as well, as I could quickly flip from the map to show the children the latest monster they were facing. I started out using the cutesy interpretations provided, but did slip in a few of the original versions from the Monster Manual. Might as well start them early, hey?

I must admit to an ulterior motive behind running a mini D&D campaign in the literacy lesson. We didn’t do it just for fun – it was also used as an exercise in preparation for writing. The children were set a task that afternoon to write whatever they wanted about that morning’s adventure and the work they came up with was brilliant. From original short stories based around the characters to descriptions of the monsters they faced (both in the game they had played and brand new ones they had made up), the writing that was inspired by the game was some of the best they had produced so far this year. There were news reports, Wanted posters… I was even presented with a basic RPG ruleset developed by a very creative pair. Frankly I was very impressed, and I shall certainly be repeating the exercise in future – the world of D&D gave them a platform to create something interesting  in their imaginations, and they totally ran away with it.

With luck, I’ll be speaking with Heroes of Hesiod creator Susan Morris in an upcoming episode of The Little Metal Dog Show. In the meantime, if you’d like to check out her excellent adventure you can grab the PDF right here – it’s a great way of introducing kids to the world of gaming. If you’ve tried it out, let me know how it went – email me at littlemetaldog@gmail.com – Cheers!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Little Monsters – Playing D&D in School

  1. This was WONDERFUL to read! I hope it inspires more teachers to engage their students through games. 🙂

  2. The G

    I’d love to have had such an experience when I was in school. The closest we got was an old Pc learning game called “The Crystal Rainforrest”. For kids and adults alike you write better about something you like and enjoy so to set the scene to completely would not only have been a great deal of fun but also beneficial to the creative process. There is also the added bonus that maybe some will want to play again and explore other games later.

    Shocked to hear some had never rolled a dice. Every 5 year old have played snakes and ladders haven’t they?

    Sounds like you made alot of children’s day and you got to be DM. I hope i large hat and cape was involved.

  3. This is a pretty great story. I’m also a teacher, and I had some fun sneaking a bit of D&D into a Grade 9 and a Grade 11 classroom. The students rolled up characters and then did a writing assignment to describe them, but of course I didn’t spring the fact that they were playing D&D on them until the end. Hah, that was a pretty hilarious moment.
    It’s fun to imagine playing with a group of kids that are still young enough to appreciate the fantastic nature of the game. Very inspiring.

  4. Pingback: Tabletop Roleplaying Games: Why you don’t even need a basement to play them. | The Fringe Scholars

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