Designing a D&D Campaign for Middle Schoolers Afterschool: Episode 1

Designing a D&D Campaign for a Middle School afterschool program.

Greetings, and welcome back to Modern Papyrus! Today I’ll start looking at a new series of designing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for a group of middle schoolers that fits into a shortened time period after school. This has it’s own challenges and restrictions that require some suitable tweaks to the standard D&D Campaign. So let’s take a look!

First, to clarify (because I know some of these middle schoolers may try to read this – there are limited, if ANY spoilers here for that campaign – go back and do your work!

Second, let’s talk about the structure and design of a standard D&D campaign vs a middle-school-aged one. First, I’ll be operating in a limited time frame after school hours, which means I only have, at max, about an hour and twenty minutes (at best) per session, perhaps twice a week. This amount of time necessitates limiting a lot of the ‘side interactions’ to some other, faster, format. It also has to teach skills to new players, while also sating the more-in-depth know-how of the more veteran players (Not something I was truly expecting, but considering the students who asked me to start a club, understandable).

As far as materials, I’ve got everything I need, from minis to boards to character sheets, dice and tokens, etc. I’ve also got the rough beginnings of a story, especially courtesy of the Angry GM, who has an excellent series on designing a campaign from the ground up. But to modify it for middle aged students in a school environment, that required additional effort.

First: The Set Up – a session zero is already planned out (sans the date). To make life easier for both myself and the students, I’ve limited character options and will be pre-generating about a dozen potential level 1 characters. This both gives me control over the processes (and provides some limits) while also ensuring that my veterans aren’t going too far off the deep end for my newbies to comprehend. While some people might cry ‘you’re infringing on their player rights’ I declare that nonsense. We don’t have the time for that, and reducing character options speeds up my ability to interact with them.

I’m also considering using a reduced character sheet – but I hope that with the session zero and pre-generating characters that we may be able to get away with using the standard sheet.

Second: The world – I’m limiting the world for this year’s campaign to a single province in a greater world. No earth shattering stories outside the province, no greater existential threats, just the everyday struggles of people trying to survive. This will create a more ‘episodic’ campaign structure, which works for a short afterschool program where you may have absent students any day, or scheduling conflicts. Originally, I’m going to start with a small group – only six students – but I’ll also try and have two ‘ringers’ – students who are willing to come in and play at short notice to both keep the group at a reasonable size but also who can help out in a pinch for tougher fights. This also provides support in case a student is busy with a different after school activity for a short period of time (say athletics or drama).

All this brings us to our third section – Story . As I mentioned, the story will focus on smaller adventures set within a larger province. I anticipate a healthy mix of action/adventure and role-playing discussion, but I also expect that teaching these students how to get into character may be difficult for them. Obviously, this goes back to the session zero and helping set expectations, but also in designing an environment where the players feel at ease in being someone different than themselves. The first few episodes will function more as a tutorial, and I’m tempted to actually have the complete new players come for two sessions before the veteran players in order to build confidence in the system. I’m not running The Lost Mines of Phandalin, as my veterans have done that several ties, but I will be adapting some of the story elements and encounters from it, and from other stories / adventures I’ve both played and designed. So a home brew with established elements to provided stability and consistency. That being said, I do think that TLMoP could and would absolutely work (or one of D&D’s multiple other introduction campaigns), but I wanted to provide a bit more interest for a group that will included several veteran players.

So there you have it, the start of a middle-school aged Dungeons and Dragon’s campaign for an after-school program! Check in soon for more information and to explore the map and world that is the Duchy of Redbridge – our amazing location. Here’s a sneak peek of the map below.

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Is there interest in turning this into another DM module? If so, let me know in the comments below and I can make it happen! While you’re here, check out my other DM’s Guild products here!

Author: Daniel Ottalini

Author of the Award-Winning Steam Empire Chronicles Series

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