Hello Travelers, Heroes’ Hall is in full swing. I have affectionately been calling it the Heroes’ Hall Hydra - as one person decides it isn’t for them, two take their place! With three weeks under our belts, we have filled nine tables of players, about 66 kids. Eight of the tables are run by middle schoolers, as is our mission, and one is run by an adult volunteer. We are so excited to be playing together after a long hiatus. It feels like coming home.
This year we have been very cognizant of getting new players playing, asap. We want them to be tasting the magic of collective storytelling before they get bogged down with feats, XP, armor classes or anything that feels potentially gate keepy. In the previous article in this series, Lesson 1 : SKillin’ It, I outlined how we run our first meeting, teaching skills checks and running scenarios. This year we had about a dozen students who had played before that they could go create new characters on DnDBeyond, while we taught basics about character building and general game concepts to the rest of students.
After reflecting on the first session, the student DMs really wanted to jump right into running adventures at tables at meeting #2. I am 100% all for this. If the first barrier to entry is a slow wind up to actually playing, a second barrier to entry to this hobby is the sheer amount of functional knowledge it feels like you need to begin. Unlike sports or art, it often doesn’t feel like you can just pick up the equipment and start messing around. But we want to make sure everyone feels welcome, no matter what their knowledge level, so let's go for it. Let’s get those beautiful math rocks clacking, people!
I cannot stress enough how much I love Monique Franszen’s The Laureate Trials on DM’s Guild as a first adventure for new players, and new DMs. The entire first section is just ability checks, with a lot of humor, so it builds confidence, storytelling, teamwork and often, PvP shenanigans. It is just fun! Then next is a puzzle. So we don’t get into combat and all the new learning that needs to happen to understand it until we have the confidence and brain space to learn these new rules. But when we do, the combat is fun and unpredictable as well!
However, this article is called, “It’s all about your character,” and I wanted report back on how we speedran getting 50 someodd newbie players into characters they wanted in less than 30 minutes.
As always, whenever doing anything, it is really important to keep the overarching goals in mind. Mine are always to include as many people as possible, keep it fun, and make people feel like they want to be there. For the majority of new players, there are way too many options in character creation. When you are still learning which die is which, it is a lot to ask to also get into the nitty gritty of spell choice. It is a distraction from the fun of playing, and it makes people feel overwhelmed.
Some kids will choose to keep their randomly assigned character sheets from Session One. It is always so fun to see them become so attached to an autogenerated character they just met. It is good scaffolding for students who are just learning to use their brain in this narrative way and a testament to how creative they are, to find a way to love a random character and connect with them in one session. Other kids want more control over the character they play. So we go back to our favorite website friend, Fastcharacter.com.
Anyone who wants a character fills out a quick form that looks like this.
This is all the information I need to create a character on Fastcharacter.com. If you check it out, there are a lot of options, but at the simplest, you can just choose name, race, class, background and level and it will generate you a decent character sheet that you can use to play. Instead of listing backgrounds (believe it or not, not many 5th graders know what acolytes and charlatans are without a definition) I have them tell me a tiny bit about the character, and choose a background that makes sense for what they are talking about. There are often a lot of nobles, gladiators and criminal backgrounds. What does that say about middle school brains?
Is this system perfect? Probably not, but it works really well for us. It allows choice, is very easy for me to implement on a large scale, is not overwhelming, and quickly gets kids playing, the ultimate goal! If someone becomes more interested in the details of character creation, we can always guide them towards more in depth methods. But today, we have places to be. We are falling into pits of crabs, vomiting slugs, and being terrible teammates. Let’s go play together!
If you’d like to know more about Heroes’ Hall and how it is run, check out https://www.culliopescauldron.com/heroes-hall or shoot me a tweet @Culliope or @CauldronofCulli.
You can also find me on a panel at PAX Unplugged in Early Dec!