Lately, a few fine folks have asked me how The Hero Workshop began. Here's the story:
How it started
I started The Hero Workshop about three years ago, shortly after moving to Culver City with my family. One of the hardest things about the move was seeing the impact it had on my son - he was no longer able to hang out with his group of friends that he had had his entire life. He wanted to connect to other kids so badly that he would wait on our porch for a kid to walk by, then run out and introduce himself.
To make matters worse, about three weeks after school started he broke his arm and wouldn't be able to play during recess. So I was worried about his chances to make new friends in his new school.
I had the idea to set up a game of Dungeons and Dragons for him to invite some kids from his class to. I made little fliers explaining a little bit about the game and included my contact information for parents to reach me with, and sent Seattle (my son) to school with a handful of them to pass around.
The first flier:
The first session we ran had 5 kids show up. The next month we had 11 and I had to start a waiting list. The kids were having a great time and talking about it a lot at school. Their teacher overheard them talking about it and reached out to me to learn more. She actually joined a table that I had recently started running (I was also new to town and needed to make friends!), and she began incorporating some of the themes from the games into her lessons. Student engagement went up, and she mentioned that I should think about doing this as an after school program.
I took her advice and quickly had 15 heroes sign up for the class. The Hero Workshop was an afterschool class for a couple years, eventually expanding to two days a week. You can see some pictures from these days in our Gallery here on the site. The images with the green wall in the background are from the classroom. The image(s) where there's a hyper looking kid with a green cast are from our first games at home, that hyper kid being my son Seattle.
We were outgrowing the afterschool program, so I moved the entire operation to my address which includes an ADU that we could use as a game room (about two blocks from the school with no major streets to cross). I added another class - now three days a week. It wasn't until I accepted the position of CPO at a small game company that I started hiring help to run the classes, and as things grew I quickly saw the need to legitimize The Hero Workshop by filing as a non-profit corporation.
The pandemic hit, and it was a big shock to everyone I think - The Hero Workshop was no exception. We took a week to figure out how to run our games online. The kids were all using zoom for school already so we decided to set up all of our games over zoom. Our DM's were fantastic during this time, one of them moved all of his games to a virtual table top (VTT), while the rest of us shared our screen with a photoshop file showing the maps. It became kind of like a slow-motion video game where the cut-scenes are in your imagination.
What playing during the Pandemic looks like:
Our program exploded. Kids were looking for ways to connect now that they wouldn't be seeing their friends at school - or in person at all. Parents were looking for a couple hours to relax, get a good start on dinner, or give a sibling some much needed one on one. Within one month of the pandemic, we went from about 25 heroes in the program to nearly 50, and we were growing fairly steadily (until zoom fatigue set in during the new school year after about 6 months of quarantine!)
Now, we offer 14 classes per week, Summer Camps, Spring Break Camps, and Winter Break Camps. We are expanding into writing workshops, mini-figure painting workshops, Dungeon Master training and campaigns set in alternate settings such as World War II and Science Fiction. We currently have two employees and two volunteers with the organization, and we are interviewing for more Dungeon Masters as we keep an eye on the pandemic and eagerly await more in-person games.
I believe in the benefits of games like Dungeons and Dragons, and like many of my peers in the games industry I can draw a straight line between my first game that I played when I was 7 years old to a career in video game design. By their very nature, tabletop role playing games are social, require you to use math skills on a regular basis, encourage creative problem solving, ignite the imagination, and build friendships in a way that I don't think you can get by any other means.
I pride myself on making The Hero Workshop a positive experience for all involved. Our focus is and always will be delivering a fantastic adventure to each and every hero in our program every week. We also pride ourselves in paying a fair wage to our professional Dungeon Masters who put so much into every campaign that they run for our heroes. If you love Dungeons and Dragons, enjoy working with kids age 8-18 (and can manage the chaos of a full table of 8 heroes super excited about that nat 20 their hero just rolled!), and are looking for a great part time summer job - hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk. I'm sure I can find a class for you to run, either online or in-person.