Wednesday, January 29, 2020/by Laura Remington/Go Back
Assalonian steel. Frostfire guild. Kal Torak. The Battle of Vulcan. In 2019, Camp Kabeyun was abuzz with new jargon, joining the traditional camp lexicons of sailors (mizzen, half-hitch) and archers (fletching, flu-flu). Kal Torak and those other intriguing new words came courtesy of Kabeyun’s newest activity: Dungeons & Dragons.
D&D is a role-playing game in which players develop characters who interact within an immersive, creative world imagined and masterminded by a Dungeon Master (DM). In 2019, Kabeyun added D&D to its list of a daily activities. Former camper and intern Connor Evans developed and led the activity in his first summer on staff. He estimates 75% of campers and a half-dozen counselors took part in D&D at least once and 35 – 40 people played regularly.
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Connor, who is majoring in Game Design at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, occasionally led D&D games as a camper, especially as an Owl and intern, eventually attracting up to 20 players for games in the dining hall. The connections campers made while playing intrigued director Ken Robbins, who learned more about D&D and decided the time was right to begin offering it as a regular camp activity. Ken and Connor recently spoke with Laura Remington about that decision and how it is playing out.
Laura: So, what’s the value of having D&D at Kabeyun?
Ken: It’s another avenue for campers to explore their creativity, their ability to collaborate, leadership tendencies, and problem-solving. D&D is a great example of guys applying creative problem-solving skills in a collaborative setting. What’s the difference between that and trying to sail a sailboat with a couple of other people or navigating on a hiking trip? It all fits into what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.
Connor: D&D is not just a game. It’s more of an experience. It helps shape creative minds. There are three pillars of any role-playing game. There is combat: you roll dice, you know what you're good and bad at. There's exploration, which is has to do with discovering the lore and history of a world. Then there's the big pillar of social interaction, which a lot of campers really loved! And remember, a lot of them can't get the experience [of playing D&D] at home.
Laura: Good point. Part of what makes camp special is things boys don’t get to do other places, like wake surfing or leatherworking. So I guess we can add D&D to that list.
Connor: Yeah. It's hard to find a D&D group [outside of camp]. A lot of people don't want to be the DM or they don't want to stick to a specific schedule. That’s really great about camp, that you have set times to play and a designated person – that’s me – who can DM and who enjoys it.
Ken: It’s especially valuable that it’s being done by someone who has experience with and has been trained to take advantage of learnable moments. Connor can help to make the connection between, for example, a conflict two guys are having over a decision that needs to be made within D&D and things going on the cabin. That’s art. That’s Kabeyun doing what we do best. Which is not teaching kids how to play D&D; that’s a byproduct of what we do.
Laura: Tell me more about that.
Ken: We’re trying to teach campers about citizenship and community and working together. Caring for one another. Compassion. Generosity. If they learn to play D&D along the way, great. And if D&D turns out to be the best tool for a subset of our campers to learn those skills, so much the better. We have that much better of an opportunity to meet our goal.
Laura: Very true. Connor, was it tricky not knowing who would show up on any given day? In most D&D games, the same small group gets together regularly and picks up the same story in a linear fashion, right?
Connor: Right. I had to take a new approach to the game, really. At the very beginning of [an activity period], each character would introduce themselves and I would set them free in this world. It’s hard to say “Oh, you four random people in this town, go do this mission," because that wouldn't make sense in the story. Sometimes I would create a random event, like a fire. In an emergency, people just try to survive, and they often find themselves merging into a group. By the end, they're working together.
Laura: How did it work out with kids of different ages?
Connor: Well, I had a few Owls who were under my wing helping me. They've been playing for a few years, so they got the gist of how to set things up. But we also had some younger kids who were really experienced at the game. So, they helped people even older than them, which was really cool.
Laura: That’s a great part of Kabeyun, that age doesn't matter so much as experience. You can be a leader and a teacher at any age.
Connor: It also can create a different kind of bond between campers and counselors, because we connect through this medium. Campers and staff are interacting through their characters, for better or for worse. Max [Serota] or Chuck [Draper] and a Lion or a Woodchuck, in the game, they're all on a level playing field. Counselor life is very different from camper life, but in D&D, the lives are almost identical.
Laura: This summer, a couple adults were concerned some campers were playing D&D too often. Did you see any drawbacks to having D&D as an activity a kid could choose almost every day?
Connor: Of course, there were a few kids who came as much as possible. It’s like any activity at Kabeyun. There always will be a kid who will go to four periods of sailing or pottery every single day and never want to do anything else.
Ken: Our program is such that it’s unlikely they could get to D&D four periods a day. There’s demand for it and we want to make sure everyone has equal access. Counselors will only bring a guy down for four periods a day of any activity if they’re being productive and doing something meaningful.
Connor: I think we might have had two or three of those kids for D&D, but a lot of people would show up maybe once or twice a week and they'd just come down to have fun. Some of the kids [who came every day] were my cabin, so I would encourage them to do other things, but they still said, "I really like this. This is really fun."
Laura: Was there anything about having D&D as a full-time activity that surprised you?
Connor: How much people liked it! How they were still engaged after doing it almost every day -- well, for some people. That was still interesting to them. Because for many people, you can only do so much D&D before you get tired of it. But some people at camp, they kept enjoying it, which is really awesome.
Ken: We knew it would be popular, no question. Connor’s a kid magnet and he’s running an activity that’s cool and interesting and has mystery to it. It seems like we’re still discovering the different ways D&D fits our program, and different ways it helps promote camp’s objectives. What Connor is doing is exciting, it’s great for camp, and it’s fun to watch. He’s coming back for 2020 so he’ll have the opportunity to take it that much further.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To read more about all of Kabeyun’s activity choices, click here.
You can learn more about Connor and our other outstanding staff members here.
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