Ogres, gnolls and goblins

Dungeons & Dragons clubs gain popularity in Warren County schools

Naomi Scott (left) reaches for her dice as Abby Schick (right) rolls to see if her character successfully hits a goblin during Dungeons & Dragons club Friday afternoon at Beaty-Warren Middle School.

On its way back from harrowing encounters with ogres and gnolls as well as a pack of goblins in the castle basement, the intrepid band from Beaty-Warren Middle School ran into a group of hungry orcs and a woman traveling with a chicken with a growth problem.

Students in the Dungeons & Dragons club are expected to stay in character and face down whatever challenges come their way.

A group of goblins running up the stairs to attack?

Stay and fight, or run for you life?

Maybe throw a dead goblin in among them. Didn’t work? Have a heavily-armored dwarf take a flying leap into them.

The sentry finds orcs while everyone else is sleeping? Don’t bother waking your friends, attack.

Send some heavies out to see if the ogres are still outside the magical barrier? No, one stealthy character will do.

Even something as simple as dividing up the loot. The group has a number of characters who look out for themselves — sometimes at the expense of the others.

When she started the group in December, Beaty reading teacher Jill Sumner hoped a few students would be interested and sign up. She was overwhelmed at the response.

“More than 60 students wanted to join,” she said.

There is now a Friday after-school group with 14 members and a Saturday afternoon group of nine.

She estimates that she will have introduced Dungeons & Dragons to 100 students by the end of the school year.

The interest level was so high Sumner branched out and now holds after school groups at Eisenhower Middle High School and Youngsville Elementary Middle School, “with Sheffield Area Middle High School and Tidioute Community Charter School soon to follow.”

Some of the groups are part of the Warren County School District’s 21st Century Community Learning Center Afterschool Program which is fully funded with a grant by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The group received significant support — hundreds of dollars of gear — from an online gaming support organization called @Gear_4_Gamers, Sumner said. In addition to starter sets, books, dice, and other materials, the group sent dozens of miniatures — more of a distraction than a gaming aid on Friday — to Beaty.

There were six boys and four girls in the group on Friday. Even with several people missing, the group was loud and easily side-tracked. There were side discussions, some of them social and outside of the game. There were disagreements about who would do what, but there was some consensus-building.

The characters included Kaden Kelly-Pojar’s insecure cleric and Devin Colosimo’s overzealous warrior.

Abby Schick’s mage wanted to practice her ventriloquism. If the ogres had still been hanging around outside the castle, she may have gotten the chance.

After days in the wild, many of the characters were ready to advance to level 2. Maci Winicki’s was not one of them. Her character, unfortunately, died. No problem, she simply created a new one, re-rolled her attributes, and got back to adventuring.

Sumner uses examples from the Lord of the Rings movies to help give the students images of their characters, armor, weapons, and enemies. Some of the players enjoy electronic and online role-playing games — Skyrim and Episode – Choose Your Story — among them.

The players had different reasons for why they joined the group, but generally they were interested in the fantasy adventure genre.

“I like to play role-play games,” Brianna Brooks said. “You get to pick how you want your story to go.”

“I’ve never played something like this before,” Winicki said. She chose to play an elf. “It’s one of the mythical races that I really like.”

“I am interested in it,” Nick Brooks said. “I was introduced to it by my father and wanted to continue playing.”

The shift to more direct interaction is part of the goal of having tabletop role playing groups.

“This is all about helping kids connect with each other in the real world,” according to Adam Scott of @Dungeons_Dragons_Club and @Gear_4_Gamers. “The internet is a wonderful place but students need to engage with one another face-to-face.”

“Gaming builds strong friendships, creates a sense of community, and helps kids to not only practice and improve their basic math skills, but also cultivates their imaginations and self-confidence,” Sumner said.

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