Starting a high school D&D club can seem daunting, but I was a student who ran a high school D&D club with a teacher presiding over it. I learned many lessons, but this is for teachers who want to start a D&D club. I have a message for every teacher out there.
In high school D&D students can handle more than you think, and parents will be fine with almost any violence, just no sex or drugs, and remember that you are a teacher.
There is more than just this to keep in mind when starting a high school D&D club, but these are three things that most teachers have trouble with.
We will go over each detail and more for you. In addition to that, we can give some tips on how to start your very own D&D club and keep it running responsibly.
This is a common concern for most teachers. “How much violence can I have in my game? They are only students!”
Here is the truth of the matter.
Not only do high school kids play violent games, but they are also reading extremely violent material in school that is extremely gruesome.
If you do not believe me, think of Shakespeare. I know in hamlet they have some ridiculously gory scenes. I as a high school student read 1984 as a sophomore.
Do you know how screwed up the rat scene is in 1984? Do you!?!? I was inspired to give more graphic details as a high school dungeon master since there was absolutely nothing I could do to trump that.
Do you think literature is all that there is? Think about history. History is massively screwed up. There are far worse atrocities, racially based genocides, and religious wars that dehumanize people than anything that you can come up with.
In short, if you are worried about being too violent for students do not worry about this. What you teach in school is far worse than most of the things that you can come up with.
Parental concerns about violence
Here is the simple truth. Most parents will not be concerned about the violence that you can bring up if you mention what children are being educated on.
If there is still some backlash make sure that you address the parents concerns and do not go overboard.
Lastly, if you are really concerned about violence make it comical.
That does not mean that violence should be minimized and completely slapstick, but if you are uncomfortable describing a situation that involves gore make it funny.
In order to make violence funnier than gore is to focus on the proper details. We have an article on descriptors, but here is a good example of what to do.
“You swing at the goblin as a sudden realization hits it’s face. Going up against an adventurer in plate armor was a bad idea. Splat!”
This way you inform the players that the goblin or creature has died but draw the focus to a comedic aspect instead of a gruesome one.
There are some topics thought that are completely taboo in high school D&D and that should not be brought up. Here are a few of them.
Rape, sex, drugs, and torture.
These topics should not be allowed in your games for obvious reasons.
You must always remember that you are an educator if you are running a school D&D club and you must keep the club up to public standards.
You would not allow any scenario with rape, sex, drugs, or torture into your classroom so why would you allow it here?
If you do have any of those above items in your classroom they are used to educate young individuals and rarely talked about. They serve no purpose in a high school setting.
Do not allow any of these things in your game!
But how do you make sure that none of these taboo topics enter your games?
I have an article on how to run a session 0 but there are a few differences that you must remember as a high school teacher.
Session 0’s are meant to set precedents and take care of problems before they arise. This applies to all the taboo subjects.
Yes, you should address these taboo subjects and tell your students that these are off limits. This may pique the student’s curiosity about it but this is better than letting it happen in your games and having parents learn that rape, sex, torture, or drugs were allowed in a school club (even if only fictional). Parents won’t always know the difference.
Your first session 0 can last for 2-3 or even more sessions and we will talk about why in a second, but it is important that every new person get the same treatment for session 0.
This means that if a person walks into your club 5 weeks after the first start up date they need to get a session 0 as well.
I would also add that you should include what to do in your games. Not murder hoboing is a great start, and inclusive group dynamics is another great addition.
Many high schoolers will resort to murder hoboing right away and if you want a Diablo style game that is fine but if you do not want that type of game make it clear from the start.
As for inclusive group dynamics, make sure that anyone is welcome since playing with everyone and including new people is important. Encouraging clicks are not encouraged.
But why do session 0s take so long?
I would recommend that you read our article on choosing a class to help you out but character creation in a high school club is a lot of work.
If you hand a high school player a premade character they have to learn about the game as it is happening which isn’t the most fun. In addition to this, they will slow the game down and feel like they are a burden.
No one wants that to feel this way and unlike a normal group, these students are coming to try out the game. There is no strong commitment and therefore you do not want to make them feel as if the game isn’t worth their time.
If premade characters are not an option then you have to create characters for each person in your high school D&D club.
That is right. Each person needs to make their own character, learn the game a little bit while creating their character, and then gain an attachment to the character they have created.
Anyone who creates something is excited to see it used. This is key to making players in your club come back and get invested.
While you are creating characters you can give the students and idea on how the game is played. If for example you help them calculate what they would need to hit with a melee weapon the student now understands what to do in the future for new melee weapons.
The players now are not just able to calculate new weapons but see the improvements as their character’s progress. This can create a new level of satisfaction for the players.
Lastly, you can give them a purpose that they choose in order to make the character. Letting the students have this customization gives them control over what they want.
But why 2-3 sessions?
Session 0 length
Creating a new character is almost worthy of an entire session but when you only have 2 hours and you need to create/teach multiple people how to create a character, it will take a while.
Most students who are new are used to video games and understand customization to a point but don’t fully grasp what they can do in Dungeons and Dragons.
Students are also naturally inquisitive and want to understand the game that they are playing. This means that there will be a lot of questions. Many students when learning more about Dungeons and Dragons may even want to switch characters to fit their playstyle better.
Not only this, but you need to explain club rules, taboo subjects and why they are off limits, and what the dungeon master can do.
Teaching multiple people how to create characters with only a 2 hour session time, explaining the game, answering questions, limitations, AND possibly having people re-roll characters can take a long time.
That is why for your first group you might want to have 2-3 sessions be dedicated to session 0.
What if students take it too far?
If a student takes something too far and excludes another person by bullying, stealing from a character or just being a terrible person, in general, treat that student as you would in class.
The person in charge of the club is a teacher and this is a school-sanctioned event. Do not let this be a breeding ground for bad behavior and terrible subjects.
Many teachers want their clubs to be like a home game of Dungeons and Dragons. The truth is that you are playing with students. While having fun students need to behave respectfully.
I personally have seen what happens when the teacher running the club doesn’t exert proper authority and what happens when the teacher does exert proper authority.
If the teacher doesn’t keep everyone focused and lets slip sex talk or murder hoboism then it will run rampant.
If a teacher puts their foot down and stops these actions by heavily discouraging them and dealing with the student appropriately the bad behavior will most of the time stop.
Eventually, you will want your high school D&D club to run by itself. Do you want a personal game or a club that helps inspire the next generation?
If you want a personal game then you should play with other adults and do so, but if you want to inspire the next generation then let the students take the reigns.
Have your students watch how you act as a dungeon master and treat their observance like an internship.
Tell the students what you are doing and why. If you need to be quite write a note for the apprentice dungeon master or apprentice dungeon masters to convey secret information. (Like how you do not want to actually kill the players.)
Give them a few sessions where the apprentice dungeon masters view what you do, teach them how you are making decisions and why. Then ask them how each student would handle a difficult situation.
After 2-3 sessions of this where you tell each apprentice dungeon master how you crafted a story, why you made decisions, and a whole host of other factors you can set them up in their own games.
I highly recommend doing this as fast as possible and monitor the groups. Do not interact as a player if you can help it, and do not be a DM for a group while other students DM.
Here is why I say this.
Your Mat Mercer effect
Some people may know what the Mat Mercer effect is. For those of you who don’t, the Mat Mercer effect is where players have watched a very experienced and skilled dungeon master play Dungeons and Dragons with them or with others. The players then compare other dungeon masters to this very skilled and experienced dungeon master when they play.
This is essentially setting that new dungeon master up for failure. How many of us were as skilled as an expert when we started anything? The answer is that no one is that skilled right from the start.
I created this effect in high school.
I ran the dungeons and dragons club with teacher oversight. The teacher wasn’t as experienced of a dungeon master as I was and no one else had ever been a dungeon master.
I therefore starting being a forever DM.
At one point a person wanted to play as a dungeon master. At first, I was thrilled and asked to be a player.
This new dungeon master had played for a few months and thought he was ready to be a dungeon master. He wanted to start us off at an extremely high level. I think the level was around level 13 or so and I asked the others what class to play.
They told me to play a wizard.
If you want to see why the players wanted me to be a wizard check out the video below.
Don’t be that guy!
As you can see from the video above I was an evil person who was extremely good with wizards.
A new dungeon master wanted me to play a level 13 wizard for his first game. You can probably guess how well that turned out.
The new dungeon master’s game was completely broke and there was no way that he with his little amount of experience could stop me, a person who had been playing for years when I was in control of a 13th level wizard WITH some starter items of my choosing.
I single handedly destroyed his game.
After that sheer embarrassment, the dungeon master didn’t want to be a dungeon master again.
He did not want to deal with me as a player or play a game with people who would know that he was not as good of a dungeon master that I was.
Because of this, the club died after I graduated and not many new people came since we only had one game running.
I would therefore highly recommend to not be a player in a new dungeon master’s game and let the new players play with new dungeon masters. In addition to this, do not play with the new dungeon masters or you will destroy the game.
Players will know that you are more experienced and they will also lean on you to solve every problem.
Instead, what you should do is monitor the students and provide guidance on how to improve if you want your club to grow. The best way to do this is if you either work on something else in one location or peruse the room while games are going on.
This way you are there if there are any disputes, questions, or if a newer dungeon master does not know how to handle a situation.
How to set up the club
Each school has its own required rules to set up the D&D club. Usually, you need some interested students and dean or faculty approval. This should not be too hard, but the specifics are important.
Make your club be setup on a quarterly basis!
Try to have campaigns or sections of a campaign concluded by the end of each quarter. Some schools operate on semesters but I highly recommend that you base your club campaign schedule on quarters.
The reason for this is that students have other after-school activities. Some students may, for example, do debate and nothing else all year long. Some students may do a sport for a season or two and then come back to the table.
If you set up the game to be in a quarterly or seasonal timeframe it will be more welcoming to new players and a great opportunity to invite back older players. Not many players will come back if the game has changed a lot and the party is in the middle of a big boss fight.
At most a student will remember for possibly 2 weeks. This is a bit of conjecture but many students will have moved on. If you do not have an aqueduct place for returning or new players they will move on. Have an option open.
If you are blessed enough to have multiple groups you can have a new group pop up each season. Do not underestimate the importance of after-school activities.
As for a time, generally, pick Friday or if there is a better option pick that day.
Make the game around 2 hours (1 is too little and 4 is very long for a club) but if your game club can go a bit longer then you can do so, but past 3 hours or less than 2 hours is where time gets to become an issue.
What type of campaigns to run
I would recommend at first to run a very linear game instead of a sandbox game. Most students are used to video games or structure in their daily lives and entertainment. Give them a linear game to start out with.
If you cannot afford modules/adventures make sure that your game is linearly scripted for the new students to follow.
As for the style of a campaign, there are two that I would highly recommend for high school D&D.
I am not normally a fan of Adventurer’s League but for high school D&D Adventurer’s League is a great start.
Adventurer’s league will create a sense of structure and force players to use pre-made adventurers. This will teach players how to create and run a game for new players with some structure instead of starting from the ground up.
There may be some adventurer league ideas that you do not agree with. If so at least run a few adventures/modules. If you are able to do this you won’t have as much structure as you would in adventurer’s league but it is still a great framework for a dungeon master to work with.
The one main problem with this approach is that adventure modules cost money. If you cannot spend the money for an adventure module then make a linear game as described above.
These games are for ‘advanced’ students or students who want to play in a sandbox game.
Westmarch games are essentially where the players dictate where the game goes and tells the dungeon master what they are planning to do beforehand.
A difference between your games and Westmarch games is that you will have a scheduled day/time.
I would highly recommend these games for anyone wanting to become a dungeon master since this is the middle ground for players between player and dungeon master.
The players will dictate what to do, direct the plot, and have a complete sandbox adventure.
This type of game is not for everyone. Many people will prefer linear games to sandbox games and that is fine.
Use Westmarch games for advanced high school D&D players or prospect dungeon masters.
You do not need snacks for your high school D&D club but if you are having an extended session you can ask students to pitch in for snacks.
This is perfectly acceptable behavior and many students will generally pitch in to get pizza or some other snack.
I would not recommend doing this every session but if it is a special long session for 3 or more hours ask the students what they think before making them help pay for food.
If you are able to afford food for a special occasion this is great but do not feel too down if the students are not up for the idea.
The reality is that students will bring their own snacks and not want to pay all the time for food.
Expanding your group
Dungeons and Dragons may not be enough to bring in students. If this is so, warm people up by including board games into your club.
You can start with social games like the resistance which can hold many people. Have some other 4-6 player games that start to bring more of a fantasy vibe.
This way more people can enjoy nerdy activities and you are also slowly bringing people towards Dungeons and Dragons.
Board games are also a great way to let new players who feel out of place in ongoing Dungeons and Dragons games still be a part of the club.
One of the best things about adding board games to your high school D&D club is that you can play these boardgames!
This will give you something to do and people can have fun at the same time.
As for expanding your Dungeons and Dragons group, let others become dungeon masters and play their own games. Supervise as described earlier and your club should flourish.
I hope that I was able to help you create, manage, and start your local high school D&D club.
If this article was helpful to you I would love to hear what was most helpful and what you think should be included.
I hope that everyone is able to experience Dungeons and Dragons. This includes high schoolers.
I had a great time running a high school D&D club back in the day, but I made some mistakes. I hope that I helped you avoid some mistakes that were made back then and that you will make some amazing memories for your students.
If you are interested in learning about D&D for younger kids then read our article here.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!