‘All ages need imagination’: Dungeons & Dragons group in Sunderland offers community for teens

Miniature dragons on a Dungeons & Dragons board at Dungeon Delvers in Sunderland.

Miniature dragons on a Dungeons & Dragons board at Dungeon Delvers in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk describing a Dungeons & Dragons action at North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens center in Sunderland.

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk describing a Dungeons & Dragons action at North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens center in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk, left, moving a miniature on the table.

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk, left, moving a miniature on the table. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk moving a miniature on the table.

Dungeon Master Emme Geryk moving a miniature on the table. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Miniatures are moved on a Dungeons & Dragons board.

Miniatures are moved on a Dungeons & Dragons board. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

A meeting of Dungeon Delvers at the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens center in Sunderland.

A meeting of Dungeon Delvers at the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens center in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Aaron Damon-Rush, right, founder of Dungeon Delvers.

Aaron Damon-Rush, right, founder of Dungeon Delvers. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-28-2024 12:56 PM

Modified: 06-28-2024 4:05 PM


What began as a basic security contract for a new forest resort at the Wavering Woods soon turned into a nightmare, as the team hired for the job soon found itself at odds with the mystical creatures of the woods, who had grown incensed at the resort owner’s decision to chop down a magical tree.

Soon, the party of strangers and friends were fighting all manner of creatures, playing as several different fantasy races, and rolling dice as part of their week-long Dungeons & Dragons campaign organized by Dungeon Delvers, a growing, locally-run business seeking to introduce the game to kids in a social environment.

Founded in 2023 by Aaron Damon-Rush, Dungeon Delvers is almost a “summer camp” of sorts for kids aged 10 to 15, but trades out the traditional camping activities for roleplaying, adventuring and battling monsters at the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens center in Sunderland.

Damon-Rush, 24, was initially running D&D games through his employment at several stores in Northampton and started Dungeon Delvers following a one-off session at the A2Z Science and Learning Toy Store.

“We pulled it together in a few months last year,” Damon-Rush said of the inaugural Dungeon Delvers session in 2023. This year’s session sold out in the first month and he said it’s been a great success, with a lot of feedback from parents thanking him for getting kids away from screens and finding a social outlet that stimulates their imagination.

“That’s what I hear most from parents,” Damon-Rush added.

D&D, created in the mid-1970s, is a tabletop roleplaying game where players create a character — humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes and dragonborn to name a few — and choose a combat specialization class before embarking on an adventure with friends. These custom characters also have specific stats that play into dice rolls, which are the driving force for the results of many actions taken, whether it’s a swing of a sword at an enemy or convincing a non-player character to help the party out.

Over the course of five days, Dungeon Delvers brings kids together for a week-long D&D adventure with perhaps the biggest obstacle taken care of: no prior experience or equipment — miniatures, character sheets, etc. — are needed.

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The second-most challenging aspect of running a D&D game — finding a dungeon master, who serves as the narrator of the adventure and takes care of non-player characters — is also removed, as Damon-Rush, Emme Geryk and Juli Colon steward the adventures, which they have created based off the game’s fifth edition ruleset.

“My favorite thing is seeing them grow as a team over the week … it’s really fun,” Geryk said, adding the best part of D&D is the creativity that comes from getting into the character you create. “All ages need imagination.”

Like many hobbies, D&D saw a huge boost during the pandemic as people sought out social activities that could be done from their bedroom and several of the kids at Dungeon Delvers were no different.

Finn McCubbin, 13, was playing Orion, a human who specialized as an artificer artillerist, giving him access to a variety of creative weapons to blast monsters away. He said he found the game through YouTube videos during the pandemic and decided to give it a chance.

“Combat and roleplaying can take hours, but it can feel like it only took 10 minutes,” McCubbin said, adding that at its core, D&D is a free activity and easily adaptable if you’re willing to put in the effort. “I feel the biggest roadblock for D&D is it’s improv.”

Zaley Lechner, 14, was taking on the week’s adventure as Era, a changeling (a humanoid creature than can shift its form) warlock, as she enjoys casting spells and has never tried the warlock class before. 

“I started two years ago,” Lechner said, adding that she loves the “crazy amount of freedom you can have in it, and the character creation.”

Damon-Rush earned a degree in game design in college – a self-admitted niche field – and he’s hoping to continue tapping into the Pioneer Valley’s D&D community.

“I made myself a job in the field,” he said, adding it’s a “regular creative outlet” for both himself and the players.

Although Dungeon Delvers’ main session is over for the summer, there is still an open slot left for their Dungeon Master Academy series, which kicks off July 8. This new program is geared toward teaching kids how to serve as a dungeon master and brings game design, creative writing and improvisational theater together to teach players how to create adventures and run games.

For more information about Dungeon Delvers, visit its website at Dungeondelversma.com.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.