D&D Party, Kids’ Birthday Sub-type

My son’s school, Hunter College Elementary, recently had its annual fund-raising auction. My donation was as follows:

Item Name: Dungeons and Dragons Party
Estimated Value $: 200
Item Description: Enjoy an afternoon or evening of Dungeons and Dragons with experienced Dungeon Master, published D&D writer, and Hunter dad Tavis Allison! Play the modern version of this popular role playing game, or take a nostalgia trip and experience how it was in the days when Hunter fielded its own competitive D&D tournament team. This event will be fun for up to eight adults, kids (generally age 10+), or a mix of both. Tavis will contribute the essentials (dice, pencils, graph paper, and snacks), you’ll provide the time and place, and fun will be had by all.

(I was told about the Hunter D&D team by another parent who was a student there in the ’80s. If I ever learn more about it, I will be sure to post it here!)


Worst. Pinata. Ever.


I was inspired to do this auction by Tony Dowler, whom all non-evil creatures venerate for his awesome How to Host a Dungeon and Microdungeons. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but it was seeing a post from Tony at storygames that he had successfully auctioned off a similar party that gave me the confidence to make it happen.

If you’ve got a school / work / organizational auction, you should totally do the same! Creating public awareness of gaming and opportunities for people to play is important to the Mule, and I think this is a good way to do it because:

  1. – it establishes that a good D&D game is something that people value
  2. – you get to meet and play with the winning bidders, who are likely inexperienced and/or lapsed and thus present a good opportunity to show them how to progress further into RPGing
  3. – you and D&D get exposure from everyone who reads the catalog and might say “gee, I remember that” or “huh, that sounds interesting”

The suggested value should be calibrated to whatever people pay for birthday parties in your community. In Manhattan, $200 for maybe six hours of personalized entertainment services for eight kids is a freakin’ steal.

When I was talking about this at EN World in the context of professional GMing, people fixated on the line in the description about “published D&D writer” as an essential part of the pitch. I think that being published in the RPG field is easier to do than people think (submit something to Fight On!, for example) and anyway only useful in making a pitch to existing gamers. The people bidding at your auction are unlikely to be at that level; the main qualification for them is not “I want a bear who dances professionally” but “wow, I didn’t know there were still dancing bears!”

Note that the skills involved in writing for RPGs do not overlap perfectly with those involved in being a good GM, and IMO an amateur who spends 100% of their free time running games and being a player in multiple groups is likely to provide a more entertaining experience than a pro for whom some % of that time gets spent alone in front of the computer thinking about word count. What you’re certain to get from someone who’s published is the experience of having played with that person and seeing how their gaming relates to their writing. Which is totally awesome – I seek out such opportunities wherever I can – but appeals only to people who are already pretty hardcore. (Note that Dave Arneson used to donate game sessions to charity auctions at conventions; Spinachcat’s play report is from one such. Now that’s hardcore.)

The kinds of testimonials that you’d want for a general-audience or kid-specific pitch, like for an auction, don’t have to be so specialized:

  • I’ve been playing D&D and other RPGs for X years
  • I play X times a month with Y players (perhaps with a testimonial from some of them, or someone you can contact for a reference)
  • I run successful convention games, most recently at P and Q (perhaps with a testimonial from the con organizers that you show up on time, your events are full, and they get good feedback from your players)

I wouldn’t overdo it with these kind of credentials – basically the qualification you need to establish for a general audience is “I know how to play D&D and show people a good time”; you want to quickly establish your geek cred, without turning anyone off by getting into too much detail that only geeks care about like lists of every RPG you’ve ever played.

Some other kinds of credentials that’d be useful esp for working with kids:

  • Experience as a teacher, youth group leader, etc.
  • Testimonials from parents / other members of your target audience
  • Evidence of community involvement – active in the Scouts, a church, the PTA, whatever.

In the event, my D&D Party was won for more than the suggested bid by the parents of a fifth grader, who has a D&D club and is extremely psyched to do this as his 12th birthday party. More about this soon!

11 Responses to “D&D Party, Kids’ Birthday Sub-type”

  1. May 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Good on ya! Let us know how it goes. These outreach efforts are extremely important, and I wish I could be more helpful.

  2. May 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    That’s really an excellent idea. With my kids just about ready for school, I’ll certainly lookout for opportunities to do something similar with future fundraisers.

  3. May 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    More power to you! As you suggest I think that 1) $200 does seem like a steal for party entertainment and 2) “published author” isn’t a credential that’d matter to most folks.

    Also, does Tony D’s microdungeons.net have similar content to his page at http://blog.microdungeons.com/?

  4. May 10, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    This is a great idea. When I offered a D&D party for my school auction, I got great feedback. A lot of the other dads turned out to be D&D-ers from years back. Sadly, the person who won the auction never redeemed it, but maybe I’ll offer it again next year and see if it takes off.

  5. May 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Yes, I think that’s the correct link for Microdungeons – fixed above!

  6. May 10, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Think it’s a great idea, good on you for doing it. I’m commenting however because of your line about dancing bears which was hilarious.

    I want my dancing bears properly certified! haha

  7. May 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

    I think a vintage tee shirt with “Hunter D&D Team” on it would be rad.

  8. May 11, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Elena Kagan, the new Supreme Court nominee, is a Hunter College Campus Schools Elementary and High School graduate. Rumors that she learned her courtroom skills as a judge for the Hunter D&D team’s tournaments are currently unconfirmed.

    [Shippensburg Adventure Game Camp] looks like it had its own shirt. I cannot speak for Becky Thomas’s long-running [Roleplay Workshop], or this [D&D summer camp] that I just learned about while googling the other two.

  9. May 27, 2010 at 12:44 am

    The one thing I think the ‘published author’ credential does do is indicate that you’re not a weirdo because you’ve done something. There are lots of other ways to do that (“stockbroker by day, dungeon master by night” or whatever) but I think for some folks who remember certain stereotypes about RPGs having something might be helpful.

    Good work, Tavis! I may do this myself when my daughter gets a little older…

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Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2010

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