'Dungeons & Dragons' Camps Prepare the Next Generation of Adventurers

Dungeons & Dragons is enjoying a new surge in popularity and many young players are learning about the game from a non-traditional source: summer camps.

As school gets underway this fall, kids are being asked what they did during their summer vacation. And while summer is a time for travel and adventures, some kids spent their summer slaying orcs and exploring fantastical settings, thanks to a new wave of Dungeons & Dragons focused camps.

While Dungeons & Dragons might not seem like something parents would want kids to spend their summer break doing, the game teaches plenty of useful skills and lessons applicable in the real world. "We're educating creatively on basic mathematics, improvisational skills, shared storytelling, and communication in group settings," explained Keegan Doyle, the organizer of a D&D "Boot Camp" that took place earlier this summer at Orc's Forge Games in Columbus, Ohio.

Doyle organized the week-long camp after running several other "Learn to Play" events at Orc's Forge. "We found though that there was an immense audience of kids who want to learn, have no place to do so comfortably, and are looking for communities to be a part of during the summer while school is out," Doyle explained. "There are thousands of sports camps out there who are more than happy to take kids who have no interest in what's being offered. As a young, energetic, plucky, kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, something like D&D Boot Camp would have rocked my world for the better."

While individual D&D camps vary based on the organizer and the age of the participants, most camps last about a week and only have enough spaces for a single party of adventurers. And while learning the rules is a big part of any Dungeons & Dragons camp, there's also an emphasis on team-building and contributing to a healthy table - skills that can be useful in everyday life. "The dynamic of a healthy D&D table is diverse in thought, is giving without hesitation, and promotes team-building," Doyle said.

Each camp is different, but the Boot Camp at Orc's Forge focused on more than just playing D&D as an adventurer. Although the players spent time learning the basic rules of the game and understanding how to build a character, they also spent time learning how to DM (each player got to spend time behind the DM's Screen) and learning about how D&D's Adventurer's League play worked. The DM and Adventurer's League lessons were especially important, as they equipped the players with more tools so they could play D&D after the camp ended.

I had the opportunity to visit the Orc's Forge camp and see Doyle and his team of adventurers in action. The party consisted of six players, all between the ages of 9 to 15, and most were dressed for the occasion. Several of the players wore capes and carried foam weaponry at the table. And while the table had the boundless energy you'd expect from a table of kids, Doyle (who has a background in education) kept the party mostly focused while answering all of their questions. Most importantly, the kids seemed to have as much fun as any other table of D&D players.

"Young adventurers are always ten steps ahead of you and are always brimming with incredible questions," Doyle said when asked about the biggest challenge he faced running his D&D camp. "It's a helpful skill to know when to indulge these distractions to allow creativity and understanding to flourish, and when to tantalize with a tactful teaser for the day's adventure to say, 'You'll know before the day is out.'"

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"It's always better to communicate through play and educate actively," Doyle continued. "Players of all ages typically pick up the rules best when given the freedom during an adventure to say, "I want to do 'x, y, and z', how can we make that happen?'"

Once Orc's Forge's D&D Boot Camp was over, participants left with a copy of the D&D's Player Handbook, a set of dice, a miniature, and some other basic D&D supplies. But more importantly, the players left with some memories of a fantastical world, and the tools needed to keep their passion going and perhaps share D&D with other potential young adventurers.