This is an interview with Megan Hardy, the highest reviewed gamemaster on Outschool. We talked about running games for kids, the challenges of online play, and how to use the Outschool platform. Megan has so much real experience of running games for kids from all over the United States and was so inviting for a chat about what she does. Enjoy the conversation.
Sam Doebler: You’ve been teaching on Outschool since 2016 and have over 1100 reviews in nearly 600 classes completed. How did this all get started?
Megan Hardy: I had been a stay-at-home mom for a very long time. My husband had been downsized and we were trying to figure out how to get back on our feet. My kids had taken some Outschool classes, so I thought, “Well, I could possibly do that.” So I applied. It was just going to be a very temporary thing until we got our footing but then it took off. And it became the regular thing to the point where my husband was able to go back to school. So that’s where we are now.
SD: How did you build your Outschool presence starting back in 2016? Were there any communities or peers that you found helpful as you got your footing?
MH: I got really lucky. If you’ve ever heard of Nerdarchy, I posted a little bit and mentioned briefly that I teach D&D to kids. And they contacted me. And Dave, from Nerdarchy, did a live interview with me and then I wrote for them for a little bit. They gave me an amazing amount of exposure and they are such a supportive group. They tend to prop a lot of people that are just starting off, whether it’s like what I do, or new games or other things in the industry.
SD: A lot of people have been interested in running games online because of the COVID pandemic. So kids aside, what tools or practices do you use to make running D&D 5th edition online as smooth as possible?
MH: It’s a combination of different online tools I use. Outchool goes through Zoom and I use Roll20 for map hosting. I don’t require the students to be on Roll20, because I have just found that some kids struggle with it. Also, I really use D&D Beyond a lot for creating characters. Their creation tool is really easy for kids to use and they typically figure this stuff out way faster than adults. If they want to, I just sometimes provide character sheets on my own to them, just PDFs. Some kids are much more tech savvy than others but I don’t ever want to get to the point where just because you don’t understand the medium then you can’t play the game.
SD: Do you roll the dice for them?
MH: No. A lot of it is the honor system. I start to get a feeling when things aren’t quite right, like “I can’t believe I rolled a natural 20 again!” Then I might start to say, “you know, just let me just roll.” But typically, I do honor system rolling. Once again, it’s what kids love. They like to have control of that. The more you let them have control of what they’re doing, the more fun they’re having. Plus, it’s become just very common knowledge that I am a cursed dice roller and they don’t want me doing it for them.
SD: How about practices? Is there anything that helps speed things up for you? What do you do differently from running at a table?
MH: One thing that Zoom has that I really love is a chat feature, especially with kids who like to talk things out a lot, you could spend an hour doing every minute role-play with them. Telling them to take it to the chat usually helps a whole lot. So they’re doing all the role-play, like you would do it at a live table, but they’re doing it in chat.
Also, with kids, sometimes telling them to do a “pre-roll” can be really good. There’s a lot of math involved and having those rolls done ahead of time, sometimes helps them just a little bit move faster. Rolling your next attack and damage helps with that. For an 11 year old, their turn could take twice as long as an adult doing the same thing. Trying to figure out how to move those little subtle things along to go faster for you helps a lot. I would never ask an adult to do that, or even my teenagers, but younger children need that little extra. If they feel really stressed in the moment, they can sometimes freeze up. So they feel like they can work on it outside of their turn.
SD: You make you make your own adventures, right? Things like the Sleepy Hollow adventure (referenced in the image above) and others?
MH: I do that for about half of them. I do run standard, published campaigns, but I also do a lot of my own. I really enjoy homebrew. The Sleepy Hollow one is because I love Halloween and wanted a spooky themed thing and that has turned into one of my favorites. Even when I do modules, I know to homebrew a lot on top of that.
SD: So how do you make it for kids? What considerations do you take for content and types of encounters and such?
MH: Like with adults, you want a good mix of combat and roleplay. Understand too that kids are going to be 10 times nicer to any animal they see. So if you’re wanting a compassion-based encounter, give them that. One encounter I often use involves a giant spider, and 95% of the time kids try to tame that thing, or make a friend out of it. If you have a group that’s edging a little bit too much towards fighting everything, putting animals in front of them is a great way to curb that. On the flip side, kids tend to be more aggressive, like in villages and stuff. So I tend to do more like a few villages here and there, but be really careful of those things. I also use very clear-cut villains and heroes. Younger kids need a little bit more direction.
The other thing is that younger players embrace chaos. I have one game where there’s a portal that they have to close that goes into the Nine Hells. But I swear and every time I’ve run it, they jump into the portal because they want to see what’s going to happen. So you think you have a natural stopping point for things and now you’re spending nine weeks in a furnace, because that is where they decided to go. So you just have to be very much more adaptable and make swift changes.
SD: With your classes being on Outschool, is there an educational component in your games?
MH: RPGs are a great way to bridge the gap in learning if you can get a subject matter, and put it in a D&D context. The trick to using D&D as a teaching tool is to not make them think they’re being taught anything, meaning that they’re so focused on the game, they’re not realizing they’re absorbing actual knowledge of such. The minute they start to think that you’re lecturing them, that takes the fun out of it.
SD: How important is the name recognition for the D&D brand for your classes?
MH: Pretty important in the sense that kids are searching it out. Fifth Edition D&D is more popular than it’s ever been. Kids are really into it. They’re looking for whoever can provide the experience that fits their niche best. And in all honesty I like it that there are several teachers doing this now because there are plenty of students to go around. One DM being good for one player isn’t going to be the ideal DM for another player.
I have an anime-themed D&D class that draws people in. Some people even try it out just for the anime element. It’s like combining the two genres with a “geek bridge,” so to speak, and builds that connection. And that connection could be just about anything. I had one student who was really into cooking. And so I worked with him to help find out how you could build a D&D chef-based character, and then he shared it with the entire party. They even ended up opening a cafe and it became part of their thing. So anything you can do to incorporate a student’s interests is really cool. For a lot of these kids, this is their main social outlet, especially in the past year or so. So when they can start sharing these other things about themselves in the game for a group they’ve been playing with for a while, it can be really fun and enjoyable to watch on my own. So I tend to accommodate it.
SD: Any advice for parents or game masters running games of their own for kids?
MH: Patience is key. Don’t get married to your material. I know, we as “game planners” can be like, “I can’t wait for the session where they’re going to meet this person and have that adventure.” But with kids that’s going to go out the window really fast or has the potential to. That’s advice I give for almost any DM, especially with kids. Just remember: you’re their guide. That’s the way I look at it.
SD: Awesome. Well, thank you, Megan. Thanks for being so open to do an interview.
MH: No problem! I love being able to share this whenever I can. Thank you very much for reaching out!
And thank you, dear reader, for reading.
I hope to do more interviews like this one as it was a lot of fun to do. If you would like to vote on who in the world I contact next, for RPGs or anything else, head over to the Patreon and become a member there. Peace!