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The Pre-Teen Party: Visiting a Homeschooled Home-brew D&D Group

They met as strangers, and they're learning to play as friends.

It’s a typical Wednesday morning at the Austin Public Library’s central branch.

Later in the day, you could expect several hundred people to bustle in and out of the 200,000 square-foot complex, but in the mornings, things are much more relaxed. One or two people might be using the computers, and a few more are lounging around with a good book.

And a small group of kids on the sixth floor opens up a crate of Dungeons & Dragons materials and begins the next chapter of their weekly campaign.

Wait. Shouldn’t these kids be in school? Well, technically – they are. They're among the thousands of students in the greater Austin area who are homeschooled.

"This is very very fun," says 12-year-old Sam. "On Wednesdays we have our PE program happening after this. Our Wednesdays are packed."

"A lot of people think homeschooling means you're just home and doing absolutely nothing," says 11-year-old Mia. "But in reality, if you want to learn something, you just ask to learn something or do something or go to the library or have fun."

It's that premise of "just ask" that led to the creation of this D&D group two years ago, according to the group's co-founder, Max, 10.

"One of our members had a thing set up with his dad, called a Game Day," he says. "But then we all started playing D&D, and after three or four weeks we asked the librarians if we could start a group, and they were enthusiastic about it."

WEB EXTRA: The kids describe their characters

Just like the characters in the opening session of a new game, most of these kids met each other for the first time by answering an ad for the group.

"My mom's always on the library page and she found the group," Mia tells us. "So I joined one time and it was like, 'Whoa, I love this, this is rad.'"

And, like a well-rounded party, each member brings their own strengths and backgrounds to the table.

Tasi, 11, tells us she's the more reserved "thinker" of the group. Max speaks highly of Mia's voice work, which she learned in an improv class.

The group's DM is 14-year-old Joseph. He is on the autism spectrum, and says running this game has helped him learn how to pick up on facial and vocal cues and to better empathize and connect with the others.

And like many DM's, one game just isn't enough. "I use this as a testing ground for ideas for my main group on Sunday," Joseph says.

The club’s been around for about two years now, and in that time, the kids have made due with a basic supply kit provided by the library - a player’s handbook and a monster manual. By and large, the club brings in their own supplements and expansions.

"I actually am called a rules laywer in a lot of games because I know the rules really well," says Joseph.

Despite being the "rules lawyer," Joseph finds himself using D&D Beyond for a lot of this game's adventures. On the plus side, it infuses the library game with more adventures and confrontations - but not all the kids are subscribers, and they sometimes find themselves scrambling through the printed material they have on hand, trying to keep up.

Luckily, this seems to be the only real hurdle for the homeschool club, which finds itself learning more about each other with each session.

"This is like a second home to me," Mia says. "I've always struggled with being home and never going anywhere else, but now that I'm going to this group, I always get to hang out with my friends."

"If you're working well with your group and playing well with your group, [you're] playing like a family," Max adds. "Sometimes you grow with that bond the more you play."

As we reported in December, the Austin Public Library is trying to expand their TTRPG collection. The first step is trying to pool all existing content into one collection.

“We have the core books in the teen collection. Strahd is in the teen collection but Volo’s Guide is in the adult section for some reason," explained Jace Furches.

D20NN spoke with a staff member at D&D Beyond, who tells us they do have the capability of implementing access to the full digital catalogue to the library system. We passed that information on to the library. APL's Heath Rezabek also told us that the library system's purchasing committee is bringing what he calls "an infusion" of D&D materials to the youth section.

That is no doubt exciting news for the homeschool club - a bunch of intelligent, enthusiastic, and adventurous kids who are making the TTRPG community proud.

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