Last Friday marked the final session of my D&D social skills group for this school year. After each year, I try to reflect a bit on what I've learned, how I've expanded my skill set, and what I could be doing better.
This year, things got off to a rocky start, but I wasn't actually involved- I was off at my honeymoon, and apparently things were a bit chaotic. However, things got settled quickly, and I decided to do something different. Every year, we've had some cataclysmic threat to the world that the kids have to fix, usually ending in some epic showdown or surreal experience. This year, I had just read the Lord of the Rings, and the attention to scale, travel, and time fascinated me, so I focused a lot more of the game on time spent in a caravan, then exploring a city, and eventually being gifted a deed to a crumbling castle that they had to reclaim, restore, and staff.
I also introduced a city full of monsters, which was a lot of fun. It was a safe haven for lycanthropes, but soon word got out that any good aligned monsters would be welcome here. Naturally, the stock market d-bag character tried to destroy it (There's your social justice commentary there), but he was eventually defeated, and the final quarter was all about castle management.
On the final session, I spent a while talking with the kids about what they liked and didn't like. They missed the big existential threats, but really, really liked the castle management stuff. That's great to know- I enjoyed it too. I also did a map making exercise where the kids got to add locations and location rumors on the map, and they loved that, as it gave them extra agency.
The castle management aspect was really popular too- I would have the kids choose on activity per day- interact with a NPC, do something with the castle, or work on skill development, and interestingly enough, they heavily gravitated towards getting to know the castle staff. After that, they would come together to receive the days news, then come to a consensus on news- should they send the guard out to investigate rumors of an Owlbear nest, or keep the guards close to the castle? Should they admit an order of Paladins to be stationed at their castle? Should they open their doors as a free hospital, as requested by an order of clerics who have offered to help with this cause? These questions created lively debate and consensus building, which was really cool to see.
I did a lot more tactical combat this year as well, and that really paid off. The kids had become really adept at communicating about what they were doing, and the synergy that the kids built, very intentionally setting up attacks for each other to build off of, was awesome. Lots of high fives and huge grins.
Finally, I barely used Geiger. Geiger is a mad scientist wizard with godlike powers who is loosely based off Rick from Rick and Morty. He used to be a main character in the world, and the problem was that he began to be a Deus Ex Machina. This time around, he could be felt in every session, with 'Geiger Tech' being a constant problem- his unattended experiments were constantly becoming unstable and threatening to explode into wild magic meltdowns, and his technology was frequently being discovered and used for evil purposes- the primary antagonist of the final quarter was an assassin who had discovered one of his labs and was using his alchemical experiments to create uber-Wyverns that were being sicced on the party at every opportunity. The kids told me they missed the goofiness of Geiger, but liked that while he barely showed up, his presence was felt everywhere, which added a sense of just how much of a destabilizing force he was.
Finally, on a more personal note, I had a kid graduate. I've worked with this kid for three or four years, and when he came to us, he had a lot of disruptive issues. However, he fell in love with our game, and we taught him some tips on managing them. At first, he would just leave the room, and come back after 5 minutes. Later, we noticed him using the skills we taught him at the table, and jumping back in. Now, I don't see any trace of that, and he's become a leader of the group, a role model for the younger kids, and someone who takes new players under his wing to teach them. This kid has also been one of my most enthusiastic fans, and is completely engrossed with the story we've crafted together. He had a big arc last year, with a massive reveal that had been almost two years in the making, and we've had a wonderful time telling stories and growing together. Saying goodbye to him was really hard, but eventually it becomes time for a student to move on, and that's that.
I taught science for a short while, and it was always sad saying goodbye to the students you had come to know. For some reason, this one hit me really hard. Perhaps it's that I knew him for several years, and that the D&D group is a lot smaller and more focused. But he helped me be the amazing social skills coach I am now, and I know I helped him grow a lot as a person through this game. And for that, I'll always be grateful.
Anyway, this is another year of running social skills groups under my belt. Here's to many more.