About two summers ago, I was working for the Boy Scouts as part of a small program. It was called roaming adventure camp, and the concept was simple. We would travel around our area and deliver a sort of day program for kids not yet old enough to actually join scouts. The idea sounded good on paper, but in practice, things turned out poorly.
For one thing, no lodging or transportation was provided for us, so the counselors all had to spend about an hour in the morning driving to the location, then drive home at the end of the day. And because we were hosting the camp on public property, we could not leave anything set up, so we had to tear down the whole camp and pack everything into a tiny trailer at the end of every day, only to set it up again the next morning. We also had the absolute minimum number of people we needed to run the camp, which meant we were all overworked. This would not have been too bad, except that of the few counselors, only about four of us actually did any work, the others just slacked off all day. One person actually drove home in the middle of the camp and did not come back until the next day. Eventually, the slackers were laid off, but rather than cut programs out, those of us who remained just had to take on additional responsibilities. For example, I was initially hired as the ‘outdoor skills’ counselor, but by the end of the camp, I was also in charge of ‘reading,’ ‘STEM,’ and co counselor of ‘games.’ Neither I nor anyone else received any extra pay for this extra responsibility.
Finally, there were only four of us left. Our superiors had finally realized that morale was pretty near the breaking point, so to try and encourage us to stay, we had lodging provided at a nearby scouting reservation for a week. We had all gotten to know one another pretty well by this point, and we had discovered that there was a sizeable interest in trying to start a game of D&D 5e. I played the game a lot with my friends, one of the other counselors had played some but not much, one of them had never played but wanted to try it, and the final counselor had no interest in playing but decided to join the game for lack of anything better to do.
So we started a D&D campaign. I was the DM. The other counselor who had played was a dragonborn paladin, the one who wanted to play was an elven fighter, and the counselor with no interest was a half elf rogue. Initially, my idea was that the players would start in a small village that was unknowingly under siege by a powerful black dragon and it’s minions. The players would start off by clearing out small nests of humanoids, before realizing that something bigger was going on and taking more direct action against the dragon. But then, the elven fighter asked something.
He had watched a lot of Critical Role, and he really wanted to write a backstory. His idea was that his character was a prince who had been exiled from his homeland by his evil uncle, and he had taken up adventuring as a way to gather allies and resources to take back his birthright. Not the most original backstory, but hey, it was his first game. At first I thought that this seemed like far too lofty a goal. After all, the players would be starting from level one, and conquering nations is not something level one characters do. I was also concerned that the other players might be upset if the story focused too much on one character.
I mentioned the idea to them. They absolutely loved it. So I reworked the whole campaign. The players started at a higher level, the dragon was downgraded from endgame boss to minor mook, and the elven lands were fleshed out.
The players had a blast with their characters. The paladin started off being obsessed with combat, but gradually grew to enjoy roleplaying more as the elven fighter solved several problems with diplomacy. The highlight of this came when the party met a hag who enjoyed playing pranks on the villagers and placing the blame on others, to watch them all go after each other like reality tv. The paladin was determined to end her, but the fighter managed to win her over to their side as an ally for the coming war. The rogue, who had originally had no interest in D&D, got majorly into the game. Upon discovering that he could use sleight of hand checks to pick pockets, he began a practice of picking the pocket of every single creature he came across. Even in the middle of combat, he would run around robbing the enemies blind, like any respectable rogue should.
Eventually, the players slew the dragon, took it’s hoard, and raised an army of mercenaries. The rest of the campaign focused on them leading sieges, ambushing armies, and waging total war against the fighter’s evil uncle. It was a great game, and a much needed diversion from our terrible job. By the end of the summer, the fighter and the thief’s players declared that they were going to try and find groups around their homes. They were some of the best players I’ve ever had at my table.
Side note: Our bosses actually did realize the level of stress we were under. About a week after the program had ended, never to be done again, I received a package in the mail from them. It was a black t shirt. On the front was the name of the camp, and four stick figures with the names of me and the other counselors who had lasted the whole summer. On the back were the words, ‘only the strong survive,’ and a crossed out stick figure for every counselor who had been fired. Still my favorite bonus from any job.