I’ve created a concise, but detailed how-to on running Dungeons and Dragons. I have tailored this specifically for library programmers that might not know where to begin. Dungeons and Dragons has had a resurgence of popularity with the release of D&D 5e. Since its release, my teens had wanted to play D&D, but I didn’t know where to start or how to run a game. On my own time, I learned how to play, played in a few games, and have run a couple sessions of D&D on my own. Hopefully this guide will help you understand D&D, how to run it, and what you can expect.
This program may appear later in the YALSA Program HQ website. For now, you can save this post for your future reference.
Participants will group together into groups of 5-7. One person in each group will be the Dungeon Master (hereon referred to as the DM), and the rest of the members of the group are the players. Together, the members of each group will role play, puzzle solve, and build a story together using Dungeons and Dragons 5e.
This program can be held as many times as you would like. The size of the program can also vary depending on how many of the participants are willing to be the DM. We hope that these programs have teens willing to volunteer to be the DM. If none, the largest size I would recommend is 6 per library staff.
- How to work together to solve a problem and make joint decisions. Working together cooperatively to solve problems build a foundation for them to work with other people in teams.
- Learn how to collaboratively create a story and tell it. Creating and telling stories allows the teens to explore their creativity and overcome the shyness that comes with expressing themselves. This will help them be more assertive when speaking with others.
- Learn to work with other people by engaging them and being present.
To start with D&D, the first prep is always the longest. Expect to front load a lot of information and, depending on your preference and budget, there is a front loaded cost to running these games as explained later. Following the first program, the rest of the sessions become easier and easier to prepare for once you have become used to the rules and story telling on the fly. There is a chance your teens may already play D&D, and I would advise you to speak with them and collaborate with them as you prepare to run this program at your own library. Encourage the teens to become DMs themselves!
What you will need:
- Read up on the Basic Rules for both Players and Dungeon Masters here. You can totally run a game of your own imagination just by following the free Basic Rules. If you find yourself wanting more or have the room in your budget, consider ordering the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. These are optional purchases and somewhat costly, but they more than make up their cost in how many times you will find yourself using these invaluable resources. If it is possible, consider adding these items to your circulating collection, or even better, your professional collection.
- Get an assortment of polyhedral dice. These dice are used to determine success rates or the outcome of events. They are commonly used in role playing, puzzle solving, and combat. You do not need too many dice, having at least one of every kind of dice (starting from 20 sides down to 3 sides) should be good enough. I recommend buying large assortments as it makes rolling go more quickly if all the teens have their own set during the game. You will also find that some teens will buy their own or bring their own.
- During the first session, you will have the option to have the teens create their own characters using character sheets (download link) OR you can have them play pre-created characters. For first timers, I would suggest using characters from this website or the pre-made characters in the starter kit.
- Finally you will want a notebook or loose paper and something to hide that paper behind, such as a Dungeon Master’s Screen or even a large open binder. This is to hide your notes and rolls from the teens so that there is an element of surprise.
Your options in running your own game:
- You can spend any amount of time creating your own original game. For the most part, you want to have a few story hooks, such as: the city is being attacked by orcs, the mansion in the bad side of town is haunted, or even a princess has been kidnapped by a dragon. You can be as detailed or as loose as you want, the important thing is to create a situation where the players have a goal to accomplish.
- You can purchase the D&D Starter Kit for fairly cheap, and it will contain a physical print out of the rules for players and DMs, along with dice, pre-made characters, printed maps, and nifty miniatures and tokens. If you have some money to put into this, I would recommend you put it here.
- You can download official Wizards of the Coast adventure league campaigns for cheap! These are meant to run for several sessions. There are several that you can choose to run. I suggest trying these before hand so that you can get a feel for how they are written and what might be expected to happen as you play.
- You can spend money on campaign books. These books expand on the adventure league campaigns and can last for months or even over a year depending on your players and how often you meet.
Running the game:
- Start by creating/distributing characters to the players, handing out any pencils to people who didn’t bring any, and putting the dice at the center of the table.
- Have the players introduce their characters. You can have them speak in character, talk about their character, and/or do ice-breakers such as “Tell me what Grom the Dragonslayer likes to do in his free time?”
- Set the scene for the game. Describe the town, the situation, or an event that will engage your players to explore and quest in the world.
- Find good stopping points about 10-15 minutes before your program is over. I like to use heightened climax scenes or cliff hanger moments to entice the teens to come back next month.
- Wrap-up your program however you feel, whether you give an ending scene, talk about when the game will next take place, or ask how the players how they felt about the game.
You can easily run a single game (referred to as a one shot) of D&D rather than run a series of games. This is based on your and your teens’ preferences. I would always allot for at least 2 or 2.5 hours of play time. Here are a summary of upfront costs depending on your budget. Dice are included in most listings, because you should own at least 1 set!
- Basic rules
- Character sheets &pencils
- Starter Kit
- Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and/or Monster Manual
- Character sheets & pencils
- Printed out Adventure League sessions from here or as listed in the supplements.
You can always become more invested and purchase the campaign books: Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, and/or Out of the Abyss. These are optional, but have a ton of helpful information and ways to extend your game past a few months. The cost for each of these books is around $20 to $30.
Finally, here are some tips and optional things that I couldn’t fit elsewhere in the instructions:
- You do not need miniatures, figures, or tokens. You can do combat without visuals. Pros to this is that it is cheap, cons is that it may be hard for the teens to get into combat.
- You can use white boards, paper, and dice to represent maps, battlefields, and characters.
- Be ready for your teens to drop your story hook, and want to do random things. Maybe they don’t care about the kidnapped princess and instead want to go exploring a nearby cave or they decided they would rather start up a business in the town. Be ready for them to do almost anything but what you planned!
- I recommend using note cards to keep track of monster stats and player stats. This way you are not always referencing a book or PDF, and can instead rely or reference information on the go.
Evaluation is done via asking the teens their opinion. I do this by sending out a monthly e-mail about D&D to my teens while also asking for their input.
My questions for them:
- How do you feel about the length of the event? Too long or too short?
- What did your group do that you enjoyed? What did they do that you didn’t enjoy?
- What was your favorite part in the story?
To give you an overview of comments I received:
- I think the program should be an hour longer. (We now play for 4 hours)
- Sometimes the room can be very noisy, and I find it hard to hear. (Consider your space and how you can use it. We have made D&D an after hours program so that we can use the entire building.)
- I would like to change groups because I want more story than combat.
- I just like fighting things.
- Can you teach me how to be a DM? (DMing is something you just have to do. There is no training for it. Encourage them to just jump in! If they are still nervous, direct them to the Dungeon Master’s Guide or the DM’s Basic Rules for more information.)
- I wish we could play D&D more than once a month.
Talk with your local gaming/comic book stores, gaming groups, and your teens to see what kind of collaboration you can come up with. If you are lucky, a local store might sponsor your library program.