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More than just fun and games at HAK Club

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Jennifer Taylor is using fantasy games to help students in Hagerstown level up in real life.

Taylor is the “Gaming Librarian” at Hagerstown Public Library. Her job is to oversee the library’s board game collection and oversee a number of tabletop game-related programs.

Taylor sponsors the Heroic Adventure Kids (HAK) Club for elementary- and middle school-aged kids at the library.

The kids in Taylor’s club came up with the name. “HAK” sounds like “hack,” something a Barbarian Mountain Dwarf might do during one of the weekly Dungeons & Dragons game sessions at the Hagerstown library.

The HAK Club was originally formed by a group of four students from Hagerstown Elementary School in January 2017. The kids were in fourth and fifth grades at the time.

They were all participating in a roleplaying game Taylor was trying out for the school.

Taylor had been working with the school system to make gaming an available resource for the local students. 

Before starting the HAK Club, Taylor had tried to get some roleplaying game groups started at a high school level. She found kids have a lot on their plate by the time they get to high school.

“While they might be interested in trying something new, if they weren’t already hooked into the hobby and their available time was limited, it wasn’t going to be a priority for them,” she said. “So I thought that teaching younger kids, elementary age kids, to enjoy it might make it more likely to be a priority and interest for them going forward.”

At the same time, the school’s community engagement specialist was researching the benefits roleplaying games might have on students, both academically and socially.

“We played a game designed to teach young children roleplaying fantasy games, called Hero Kids,” Taylor said. “When we finished the game story that was run for them, all four kids (and their parents) strongly wanted to continue to meet and play, they wanted to make a game club.” 

Taylor said the response to HAK Club has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from the kids and parents of those who actively join the group.

“The kids look forward to the games, the local elementary school teachers have heard many positive comments from the kids who participate in the games,” she said.

The HAK Club started as a summer program that meet just once a month while school was out. Then it became once a week.

As they got more comfortable with tabletop roleplaying, the HAK Club found the original Hero Kids game system a little stifling. Taylor said the pre-fabricated system didn’t allow the kids to bring a lot of creativity and individualization to their characters or the story.

About a year ago, they switched over to playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), 5th Edition.

“Playing D&D is a little more involved than the system we were originally using,” Taylor said. “We ended up getting another volunteer, who happens to be my husband, filling the role of Game Master (GM).” 

While Taylor’s husband runs that actual game, she is free to help the kids learn the rules and make sure they understand what is going on inside the game.

The program became so popular this last summer, Taylor expanded it to HAK Club Level 1 for fifth and sixth graders and HAK Club Level 2 for seventh and eighth graders.

Lvl 1 meets from 3:30-5 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the library.

The focus of the Lvl 1 program is to teach the kids the basics of cooperative storytelling.

“They are playing together and the goal is to solve the puzzles, meet the challenges and save the day as a group,” Taylor said. “They learn to be as excited for another person’s character getting to do something as they are for their own character doing something.”

Lvl 1 gives the young players the chance to learn the basics of the D&D game system and how to read their character sheet. Taylor explained that the D&D character sheets have different elements, so the kids are learning which dice to roll and how everything works together during the game.

“The basics come down to math skills, storytelling and social skills,” Taylor said.

The Lvl 2 club meets from 3:30-5 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month.

Lvl 2 is an advanced group for seventh and eighth graders to learn beyond the basics. In this group, the players take the fundamentals they learned, create their own unique characters and tell their own stories.

The kids in HAK Club Lvl 2 are now the same age Taylor was when she started playing Dungeons & Dragons as a Hagerstown Jr. Sr. High School student.

“I was taught to play by my dad and it became a family activity that we would do once a week with my younger siblings and sometimes my mom. My dad picked up the hobby playing RPGs when he was in the US Navy,” Taylor said. “In the years since, I’ve played a wide variety of different RPGs, probably a number too great to list off.”

Taylor’s husband is also into gaming, and they have many friends who play.

“Gaming is a big part of my life and any opportunity to share that with other people is great for me,” Taylor said. 

To learn more about the HAK Clubs at Hagerstown Public Library, email Jennifer Taylor at jtaylor@hagerstownlibrary.org, stop by the library at 10 W. College St. or call 765-489-5632.