Master of the Universe | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

It turns out that being a Dungeon Master is a lot like being a librarian. You don’t need to know the answers to every question, only how to find those answers. I was incredibly hesitant at first, but after watching our Dungeon Master in action (and a few helpful YouTube videos), I felt confident that I was up to the task.

One of the most successful library programs I’ve ever run was a monthly game. I had been toying with the idea for a while when a friend and patron mentioned that she had seen that our library already hosted after school Magic the Gathering. She mentioned her boyfriend was an excellent Dungeon Master, the person who tells the story and guides the players through the world, and had been looking for an excuse to run a game for a while.

I was sold immediately. I was vaguely familiar with the rules of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) but hadn’t had time to commit to learning them in depth, and I was intimidated by what I saw as a steep learning curve before I could run a game. To have someone else come in and jump that hurdle for me seemed like a quick and easy solution. This solution lasted three months.

Dungeon Master Tom Heisler guides a group of Dungeons & Dragons players (left);
related items (right) are now part of the collection

Think big

I was working in a town with a population of 2,000, and if ten people came to a program, it was a runaway hit. My initial mistake was basing assumed attendance off of previous programs. I was right, or so I thought, when three people showed up the first time who had never played before. They chose premade characters and jumped into play. The next time, there were eight. The time after that, there were 16.

D&D is a game best played with a maximum of eight people at the table. Because the players take turns describing their action and fighting in battle, having more than eight players makes it almost impossible to get anything done. We didn’t want to turn people away, but we had to find a way to make it more manageable. Having players sign up ahead of time is one way to deal with the situation.

Eventually our Dungeon Master’s schedule changed, and it seemed that the only solution was going to be becoming a Dungeon Master myself.

Mastering the game

It turns out that being a Dungeon Master is a lot like being a librarian. You don’t need to know the answers to every question, only how to find those answers. I was incredibly hesitant at first, but after watching our Dungeon Master in action (and a few helpful YouTube videos), I felt confident that I was up to the task.

Luckily, Wizards of the Coast, the game’s publisher, provides volumes of tutorials and books of prewritten stories, known as campaigns. I didn’t have to make anything up from scratch. The main website ( also provides premade characters, so beginners can start without going through the lengthy process of character creation.

My players were forgiving of any mistakes I made and had a ton of fun. They were even impressed that it was my first time DMing a game. The program kept growing, and the library saw a lot of new patrons. Because we added the game ­titles—The Player’s Handbook, The Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual—into our collection, the new patrons got library cards and began checking them out. Our circulation climbed!

Preparing for the quest

The game I ran for my players was D&D Fifth Edition, which puts less emphasis on the rules and the numbers than the fourth edition. It tries to bring out the fun of the game in the storytelling and roleplaying aspects, therefore making for a great starting point. The players need a set of seven dice: one four-sided, one six-sided, one eight-sided, two ten-sided, one 12-sided, and one 20-sided. A local game shop was happy to donate sets to the library and also advertised our game nights, which was a great draw.

We used miniature figures to represent the players, nonplayer characters (NPCs), and their enemies. Figures aren’t necessary for a successful game but are good for beginners who may have a hard time visualizing the world or for gamers used to video games in which the world is laid out before them. The game store also donated maps, which helped in battle to visualize where players were in relation to what they were fighting. Some Dungeon Masters also like to create atmosphere with elements such as music and lighting.

D&D can be a valuable addition to any public library’s programming. It engages a different population than may normally come into the library and is a perfect opportunity for more outreach with the community, including local businesses. This program, though it can be overwhelming at first, is easy to implement and pays off in spades. When I left that library, the game was going strong with plenty of regular players showing up. It was a bit unwieldy at times, but it was always entertaining. The games typically ran for two hours, fueled by pizza from a local shop that was generously provided by our Friends group.

I loved my experience, and I strongly advocate for any librarians who think their community may enjoy something like this to try it out. You just may be the next Dungeon Master.

Kathryn Kania works as a Teen Librarian at the Pelham Public Library, NH. She loves swing dancing, video games, and fall in New England

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Patrick Provant

What I am curious about is how you managed this regarding continuity. With a 2-hour time limit, it seems to me that you would have trouble finishing an adventure in one session. Did your players commit to a series of sessions, did you get everyone 'back to town' at the end of every session, or did you opt to not worry and catch newbies up if they joined you on week 3? Very glad to hear this was successful!

Posted : Jul 11, 2018 04:25

Jim Newburg

i, being a retired reference Librarian, have said the same thing that Kathryn said in her article that a reference librarian knows where to find the answer.but not necessarily knows the answer. It warmed this old heart to read this statement! Jim Newburg Florham Park, NJ o7932

Posted : Jul 10, 2018 06:01

Steven Smith

its really intersting work.

Posted : Jul 13, 2018 05:01



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