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Alexandria Library’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign helps local children become adventuring heroes

Dungeons and Dragons at the Alexandria Library (photo via Alexandria Library/Facebook)

(Updated 8/24) A group of adventurers slowly entered a dimly lit tavern with a locked cage at the center of the room. The commoners of the town, including the party cleric’s brother, were locked in that cage.

As the group filed in, suddenly from out of the shadows, things began to crawl forward. As the group of children at the Alexandria Library listened eagerly to Dungeon Master Aly Ahn describe what was lurking in the shadows, one of them hopefully suggested “Kittens?”

The table erupted in laughter and Ahn said it was one of her favorite moments in an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons campaign occurring monthly at the Alexandria Library.

For those out of the loop, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a popular tabletop roleplaying game where a dungeon master weaves a narrative and a group of players embodies various fantasy archetypes on a quest.

Ahn, who is used to working with children in after-school programs, set up the Alexandria Library’s D&D campaigns. The program’s turned into such a success that Ahn said more volunteer dungeon masters are needed to keep up with the demand from local kids.

The campaigns have their roots in Ahn’s work in an after-school program during Covid.

“When students went back to school and it was still virtual, my program was able to accommodate children whose parents could have them at home for virtual schooling,” Ahn said. “When 2:30 comes around, the kids needed something to do. We were trying to be mindful of close contact and I thought: oh, I can teach them how to play Dungeons and Dragons.”

Ahn said her older brother tried to teach her the game when she was a child, but she really fell in love with the game when she started playing with friends in 2019. In early 2022, some of the quarantine campaigns fizzled out, and Ahn said she felt the itch to play again. She reached out to the library and started a campaign for local kids in June 2022.

The campaign was originally aimed at pre-teen players, but ended up mostly with players between eight and ten years old.

Ahn said running a D&D campaign for children is different than running a campaign for adults. She started off with modules written specifically for younger players and avoids saying things like a character or creature dies.

The campaign has been popular enough that Ahn’s enlisted the help of other volunteers to help run other campaigns to keep the group sizes more manageable. Fewer players per campaign means each player gets more time to shine.

“It’s difficult to keep them invested and [keep their attention],” Ahn said. “That’s why we’re constantly looking for new volunteers. This past weekend, we had 12 kids, which is a lot. There was only one time when I, by myself, had to run a 12-person table. Now with three [dungeon masters] we have four or five kids per table.”

Most of the adventures have been episodic “one-shots” but now that the players have a more firm grasp on the game, Ahn is starting to work in the backstories of the characters to build an overarching campaign to help the children practice roleplaying.

Ahn said one of the crowning moments of her work with the Alexandria Library Dungeons and Dragons campaign was when one of the players started to run their own game with their parents and some of the others in the group.

In general, Ahn said the game has been great for teaching children teamwork, outside-the-box problem-solving, and letting them take chances in a safe environment:

Liam O’Brien from Critical Role once said there was a moment in the [campaign] where it struck him that the [dungeon master] wasn’t there to be their enemy, he was there to turn them into heroes. That’s something that stuck with me. That’s something I can do with the kids as well. I want them to practice looking out for each other, working together as a team, and learning how they can contribute and how they can help others around them.

Ahn said Dungeons and Dragons, the current 5th edition in particular, is built so that no one player can do everything.

“Wizards can literally reshape history and can mold things the way they want things to be, but they can’t cast cure wounds — you’ll need a ranger or cleric or alchemist for that,” Ahn said. “It’s designed for teamwork. Kids will say ‘I’m a wizard, why can’t I do this?’ and it’s because one person can’t do everything.”

The next session is Saturday, Sept. 16, from 1-4 p.m. at the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library (717 Queen Street). Ahn said the campaign can use all the dungeon masters it can get and the best way for people to get involved is to reach out to their library’s volunteer coordinator.

Photo via Alexandria Library/Facebook

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