Librarians Report

Librarians report: Dungeons and Dragons in the Library

For the last year, I have been running a once a week game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), at the Aberdeen Branch of the Harford County Public Library, in Maryland. The program has consistently been my most popular, pulling roughly 15-20 teens every week, some from as far as 30 minutes away.

Not only has D&D been really well received, it hits numerous tick boxes libraries strive for in their programming. D&D is an outlet for creativity, encourages social interaction between people of diverse backgrounds, and fosters reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. In this article, I will briefly describe why I wanted to try D&D in the library, how it has gone, and how anyone interested can give it a try. For my program, I have worked primarily with teens, but this is an opportunity many adults would enjoy as well.

Why D&D?
I have been an avid fan of D&D for most of my life, and play frequently in my free time. Once I started working as a librarian, I noticed how seamlessly the game integrates concepts important to libraries.

Dungeons and Dragons is a pen and paper RPG. A single player plays as the Dungeon Master, creating a world that the players interact with. Players act as a group adventurers working together to complete quests, slay monsters, and achieve their own personal goals. The game uses a series of dice to help simulate how successful characters and monsters are at achieving their various goals. The game doesn’t require anything other than a few books, paper and pencils, and some dice.

The vast majority of the game takes place in the collective imaginations of the players. The Dungeon Master uses evocative descriptions to make the game come alive; and players then decide their characters’ actions, creating an exciting and limitless narrative experience. The rules of the game provide a frame work for what characters can and cannot achieve, and how difficult actions are. Before, during, and after play, players will frequently reference rulebooks to check how abilities and spells work, in order to figure out the best ways to overcome challenges created by the Dungeon Master.

I am hoping this description makes it obvious why this game is perfect for library programming; it has social interaction, imaginative play, and reading comprehension.

How the program has gone
When I started D&D programming at the library, it initially started slow, with 3-4 teens playing. I had a tough time telling if they were truly enjoying playing, or if they were merely humoring me. After about three weeks, the program still hadn’t gained much momentum, so I decided to go back to playing Super Smash Brothers during my teen program. Immediately, all four of my teen regulars asked why we weren’t playing D&D, and what would happen to their characters. They wanted to keep playing.

This got me pretty excited, so I decided even if I only drew these same four teens every week, if they were having fun, then it was worth it. After about two more weeks of playing, two new teens showed up, saying they heard we were playing D&D, and that they wanted to give it a try.

Since then the program has really gained momentum. I have roughly 15 teen regulars that show up every week, with 6-8 that play but are less frequent attendees. Our group grew so large that we split into two groups, one which is entirely teen run, and the other I still run. We are even contemplating creating a third group.

I have noticed several benefits from this program. I see teens from diverse backgrounds interacting regularly thru D&D, both before, during, and after the program. While I am not certain, I do not think many of these teens knew each other before playing D&D and now they hang out once and twice a week, talking about school, D&D, and their hobbies.

A large portion of my players has also bought dice and rulebooks of their own, taking pride in reading thru spells and abilities in their own time. They spend quite a bit of time digging thru these books to come up with fresh ideas to slay monsters. Teens that haven’t bought books of their own frequently request and check out HCPL’s circulating D&D books. I see groups of them collaborating in the teen section in preparation for the day’s session. This has been amazing to see, many of my players told me they do not frequently read, and yet they are going out of their way to dig through a several hundred page rulebook.

I have also used our D&D sessions as a chance to recommend many fantasy and science fiction books that I think players will enjoy.

How can you get started?
Right, so after all this, you are probably (hopefully?) wondering how you can start a D&D program of your own, in the most time and cost efficient way.

For those of you brand new to D&D, I would recommend purchasing the D&D Starter Set for 5th Edition, the most recent, and in my opinion best edition to play. This starter set is $20, it contains a full set of dice, a starter version of the rules, several pre-made characters for players to play, and a great prewritten adventure for new Dungeon Masters to use, which will walk you thru how to play the game. This little box contains at least 20 hours of play in it, perhaps more, and it is all you need to get started. If you have a local game store in your area, maybe they will even consider donating the item to your library, it’s always worth asking.

If you are looking for expanded content, or content for more veteran players, all you need to purchase in addition to dice, is the Players Handbook and the Monsters Manual, these two books will give you limitless content, and give you’re the complete rules to play the game. The Dungeon Masters Guide if the final book of these core rulebooks, but you can probably skip it until you get a feel for the program.







In addition to these two books, I would strongly recommend purchasing a pre-made adventure, as this makes your job as the librarian much easier; rather than creating encounters, cities, and people to populate these areas from scratch, you can just read what professional adventure writers have created. I would personally recommend Tales from Yawning Portal, these are a series of dungeons that are loosely interconnected, rather than a large adventure, spanning continents, so it will be easier for a new Dungeon Masters to manage. It also means that players can come and go easier during the adventure, without creating problems for the group.

Time is almost always a factor when we try to allocate our few precious slots of planning and programming time. You do not need to run a game every week to have success, you could also try running it once a month, having two sessions spread out over two weeks, or even a longer one-day session. If you want to schedule a D&D program, but can’t manage to schedule a staff member to run it, stop by the local game store, see if there is someone that the game store owner can recommend to you to potentially come and volunteer to run the game, Wizards of the Coast (the company that makes D&D) also has a volunteer organization called the Adventurers League found here .

Hopefully, this article has gotten you interested in Dungeons and Dragons and perhaps instilled some tips to let you run your own library D&D programs, I have found it to be an extremely enjoyable program to run, and one that participants talk about and look forward to.

This article has been written by Jake Hutton. Jake is a teen library associate with the Harford County Public Library. He is an avid gamer and loves bringing his hobby into the library to help engage with customers.


  1. How has the gender diversity been at your program?

    How hard is it to run the starting adventure if you are short a person or have one too many?

    1. Great question Noah! Gender diversity has not been ideal, we have had 1-2 regular female participants, with the rest male. My teen programs in general tend to skew very heavy male (odd for libraries I know). The 2 females that did play really enjoyed it.

      Dealing with fluctuating player sizes can be a challenge with this style of program. My group tends to bounce between 3 all the way up to 10 players. The sweet spot is 4-6. If less teens show up I tend to subtract 1-2 monsters from the plan, while if more show up I add a few. When in doubt I error on the side of too easy (unlike in my personal games when I prefer to give my adult players a harder challenge).

      This does mean some of the narrative is lost, and I have often had a person show up for one session and not come again, or show up weeks later. I tend to roll with it and work them back into the adventure. A lot of player characters are found tied up in monster lairs, wandering down the same road the party is on, or were sleeping the whole time in the back of the party’s wagon :).


  2. I have watched first hand how popular this program has become. I have a granddaughter with Autism and she has attended the program many times with her Mom. She was welcomed into the group and had lots of fun. Jake does a fantastic job.

  3. Did you put out any interest indicators to the local schools to attract more kids? I am also thinking of setting up a similar program at my library where I intern. I was thinking of having a looser organization set up where kids can come in and try their hand at DMing so that eventually the older volunteers can step off and the library can just be a place for kids to hold their sessions. I also don’t want to have an imbalance of really experienced players discouraging newer kids (a problem I have had in personal campaigns). Have you had any situations like that?

  4. How long were your game sessions, usually? Was it difficult to find staff to run the game? I know that you included the suggestion to ask the friendly local gaming store if they could recommend someone to volunteer to run game.

    Also, have you tried making adventures that were inspired by history?

    1. For me, sessions typically run about 3 hours or so. As for staff, I do it myself, but I’m sure that reaching out across the staff, perhaps even to pages, you’re likely to find someone willing to step up!
      And there are lots of great modules for history-inspired adventures – check out Colonial Gothic (US Colonial History), Deadlands: Reloaded (Wild West) or Cthulhu Invictus (ancient Roman horror). There’s something for everyone!

    1. If you’re referring to the specific library mentioned in the article, then yes, they still have the ongoing program.

      If you’re referring to the concept of libraries still having Dungeons & Dragons programs, then absolutely yes!

  5. Thank you for writing this! I really enjoyed the article. I wish I had access to programs like this as a kid. In the article you talk about getting started on the cheap, I couldn’t agree more. One thing I’ve used with my younger players is the D&D Beyond app. It has the basic rules available for free for players and some DM stuff as well. It is a good tool for people who can’t make the commitment to the rule books. With that said, we have a strong “no technology at the table” policy in my group. Smart phones are put away unless doing an activity like leveling up where it is heads down doing stats & selections.

    Also, I’d encourage you to examine crafting as an extension activity of your D&D group. This has been a huge self-esteem tool for my younger players as they are building the world from card board & foam as well as painting their minis. I have one player who loves tech and so he designs and 3d prints his own miniatures. Tons of potential to take the game from the table to the maker space and learn even more skills!

    Thank you for posting this!

    1. Hi,

      It’s nice to see that this article is still getting some attention :). I have since left the branch I was running this program at, when I left we were going strong with roughly 20 teens every week showing for the program, 2 groups were teen run, and 1 I ran.

      Even without me, the group has maintained momentum, continuing to draw new teens, which is really neat to hear, but also speaks to the value of the program.

      The idea of building on the concepts to turn it into a maker space, or craft program is really neat! I would think even a basic how to make a great world map on graph paper session would be well received. I’m trying to create another D&D group at my new library, and I will have to keep these side activities in mind :).

  6. How did you market your program? Did you market it outside of the library? Social media? Local comicbook/gaming stores? I’m really interested in starting a D&D group, but want to market it to get teens into the library that may not know about the programs we provide.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen,

      Sorry for the incredibly delayed response, this article is a few years old now and I just forget to check it.

      Marketing was a struggle at first, I did have flyers displayed in the branch, but at least for the D&D described in this article, the best marketing was the teens themselves. They would have fun, tell friends, bring friends in, and so on, until the group became huge! I also mentioned it regularly during outreach to high schools. I didn’t get great return on advertising in local game stores, but there was only one near that branch, and it was primarily a card game store.

      At my current branch (in a different county) I am running a slightly different D&D program for adults and teens. I started with in branch advertising, and then collected emails to send reminders about upcoming programs. The program has really exploded with about 12-20 attendees to each session.

  7. This is brilliant. I am a MLIS student who is looking to do a mock program. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about how this would resonate with pre-teens? Looking really at ages 9-12. Did you have any younger patrons who were interested? Also, did you DM?

    1. Hello, sorry for the delayed response :).

      The program definitely has appeal to pre-teens. In my group, generally about half were ages 11-13, the program I ran this as part of, weekly Teen Time, allowed 11-18-year-olds, so it cut off at 11. That said I do think some 9 and 10-year-olds would also enjoy it, but I think the complexity of the game would require a patient and experienced DM to teach them to ropes.

      One of the coolest parts about this program was seeing the blend of ages, genders, backgrounds, and races of teens all working together and hanging out and becoming friends. One of my more devoted players was actually an 11-year-old homeschooled pre-teen, who drove from the next county over to come and play every week!

      I did DM in my program. I honestly think having staff DM is essential to running an effective and long-lasting D&D program. DMing is a lot of work and can be challenging when welcoming everyone in the intended age brackets to the game, so I think having a staff member who the library knows will be welcoming, patient, and always available for the program is a must. As my program grew I did have some volunteer DMs come in and run games at the same time as mine, which was great to get the groups to more manageable sizes, but I made sure my group was always running to be welcoming to new people, or allow others to play if their DM was a no show.

      I hope that helps :)!

  8. I am interested in starting a D&D program at my library. I was wondering how you are keeping up with the program now with libraries being closed due to covid-19. Has it stopped for the time being or have adapted your sessions to be virtual? I am just trying to get some ideas on how I may be able to start a remote program for the time being.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      My Library Program games are on hold due to Covid-19. However, Roll20 is a site I have been using in my personal game that I think has a lot of potential for remote programming. The site is free too which is nice.

      It is a little intimidating to use at first, and the tutorial is the only sort of helpful. If you are interested in trying this I found a number of videos on youtube I found much more helpful. I liked this one

      Roll20, once you get used to the site is awesome!

  9. Hi Jake!
    I’ve attended many of your gaming presentations at the MLA/DLA conference. I have a question about patron rules of conduct for use during the D&D library-run game. Do you have such a document you could share? Or suggestions on what it should include?
    Thank you!

  10. Hi Jake, I’m hoping to cite this article in a book I’m writing for libraries and TTRPGs, is there an email I can contact you on? Thanks so much! – Lucas Maxwell

    1. Hi Lucas, sorry for not catching this sooner. I have since switched systems, so I don’t have access to the email this is tied to anymore. ”

      Feel free to email me at

      Looking forward to hearing more about your book!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.