What the heck is a topiary beast?

This is one of a number of things I have found myself asking this week. It turns out it’s an animal shaped piece of topiary which can move, attack and potentially kill you. Luckily it’s in a game rather than the local park.

The game in question is D&D (Dungeons and Dragons), a group storytelling game. The game is played through a mix of storytelling and dice rolls. A DM (Dungeon Master) tells the story while those playing pretend to be a particular character and work together to make decisions, solve puzzles and complete quests, rolling dice to decide how successful they are in these enterprises. It’s an excellent game, ticks off loads of Curriculum for Excellence outcomes and played around the world but for many reasons but I’ve never played.

It’s not some weird midlife crisis that has made me think now is the time to learn but rather necessity. This year I was asked to host a D&D club in the library (it has been something I’d been toying with setting up for a few years but never actually done anything about). Excitingly about fourteen pupils want to play but since a game usually has only 6 or so players we are short a DM, so I have stepped into the breech.

Although new to D&D I am not new to some of the ideas. I’ve been a fan of the card game Munchkin for a long time and as a fan of fantasy and choose your own adventures over the years there are a number of familiar ideas. Where I am on a steep learning curve is the terminology and technical aspects to game play. There is a lot more maths in this game than I would like.

The game has a series of books to support play (the main ones being the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook and Monster Mannual) but while these are full of information they are very text heavy and I have found them useful if I know what I want to learn but hard to get into as a starting point. Luckily I have a variety of people to aid me in my quest and none of them as asking me to defeat an Owlbear or pay them a pile of gold peices before they will share their knowledge. I have two S6 pupils teaching me, the other DM (who is a pupil) plus my librarian chum Frances who has been running her school library D&D club for 17 years but does live rather far away. Plus of course the wealth of material online (see bottom for other places I’ve found useful).

Even with all this support it is a massive task to be knowledgeable enough to run a game I’ve never played. Fortunately the seven pupils who will be playing with me are only a few weeks into playing themselves and are still learning.

I’ve decided to blog my adventures here, reflect on my performance as a DM, ponder where I could improve and note information or sources I’ve found useful. The aim being partly a personal record but also as a resource I can come back to or share with others.

Starting Points:

If you don’t even know what D&D is then you can get a pretty good idea from watching Stranger Things (though it isn’t going to help you actually DM a game).

You are going to have to buy some dice if you are actually going to play. Not least since even how you read the dice can be hard to understand if you haven’t seen them before. There is a Starter Set for D&D that’s a good jumping off point and it includes the five most common dice plus a basic how to guide, pre-made characters  and a story to play. (You can also just buy the dice online – the bunch I got from amazon the other day averaged out that each set only cost £1:15.)

Like many things D&D has a vocabulary and style of writing the information unique to it so I have found making my own notes to be really useful. You can also google the terms by simply adding ‘D&D’ to your mysterious term.

It doesn’t always work though I spent most of a morning confused by the phrase ‘they will find it guarded by 1d4 topiary beasts’. I knew the word in bold was the monster and that was the keyword I’d look up online or in the Monster Manual. I also knew a d4 is a pyramid shaped dice and that 1d4 means you roll one of them. What I had failed to understand was that that number rolled represented the number of topiary beasts the players would be fighting (I had assumed it was one monster and the dice roll indicated difficulty or something). It’s for little bits like that that I have found the pupils invaluable. I have a list of questions and when I see them we go through it and I’ve found it incredibly helpful.

Frances has a really great blog full of information and advice for running D&D in a school library. It’s a really practical resource.

Detentions and Dragons is a podcast aimed at teachers wanting to run D&D in the classroom for after school. It’s an enjoyable listen and full of useful advice.

Dungeon Diaries is a short comic by mrjamesgifford it’s a enjoyable and more visual way of seeing the game play. It’s also written from a learning to play angle.

Wizards of the Coast who created D&D are the source for all thing official and their website has lots of information including basic guides but I have found that borrowing or buying the three key texts is the only choice for being the DM. (Curiously this is blocked in school).

The pupils also recommended Critical Role this is a group of voice actors who play D&D. I didn’t find this that helpful at this stage. Each episode is long (like hours long) which is similar to friends playing the game but I only have an hour to play in school so it doesn’t help show what my session would be like. Plus while watching (or listening) to them play is enjoyable story wise I found it wasn’t helpful for picking up the basics of how-to. The players are all high level and experienced which means that they don’t spend time showing what dice they are rolling or what bit on a character sheet they are adding to the number they rolled – which is very much the level I am at. I can see why it would be pleasurable for more experienced players or as a way to attract new audiences to the game as but it’s not a helpful starting point. It’s also a bit intimidating for a total novice – the DM is really good.

NB: D&D has been around for a long time now so multiple editions exist and each has changed how the game is played a bit. I am learning the 5th edition (5e) so everything I use will be using that version of the game.

Daddy’s Panfakes

200g (1 1/2 cups) gluten free self raising flour.
100g (1/2 cup) sugar.
1 level tablespoon of arrowroot.
Splash of oil.
Oatly to mix. 

For chocolate Pancakes use Chocolate Oatly.

Mix dry ingredients then add oil and enough oatly to make a batter. Cook in oiled frying pan on medium heat until bubbles form and batter looks like its about to set. Flip and cook on other side until golden brown. Place cooked pancakes in clean tea towel on a plate to keep warm. Once cooled pop in sealed container and eat within 24hours.

Banana Cake

Here is Thorfinn’s favourite banana loaf recipe, he loves it so much he tries to fit a whole slice in his mouth at once.

Mummy’s Banana Loaf

Makes 1 Loaf (Dairy-free, egg-free, soya-free, wheat-free, barley-free)


  • 285g/10oz Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain White Flour
  • 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 225g/8oz Caster Sugar (granulated works fine as well)
  • 1/4tsp Xanthan Gum
  • 110g/4oz Dairy Free Margarine (I use Vitalite )
  • egg replacement equivalent to 2 eggs (I use ‘Orgran No Egg’ ).
  • 4 mashed overripe bananas (you can do it with ripe but you need to do a lot more mashing)


  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Line a loaf tin with a silicone wrapper (or grease it).
  • Mix dry ingredients together
  • Mix in Dairy Free Margarine – you can cream sugar and margarine together separately but I find it doesn’t make any difference.
  • Add egg replacement equivalent to 2 eggs.
  • Add 4 mashed overripe bananas.
  • Mix it all together (if it does need more liquid you can add Oatly or another milk replacement but I find its OK without).
  • Pour into lined loaf tin and bake for an hour or until golden brown and cooked through.
  • Remove from from tin and cool on rack.
  • Nom!

Make your own badges

This is a really simple way to make your own badges for your camp blanket.

You will need:
T-shirt transfer paper
Computer and printer
Old white T-Shirt
Thread and needle

1. Choose the image you’d like to use from the computer and make up a page of them. Remember to reverse any image with letters or if direction matters. You can make the image any shape or size you want but remember the badge will be slightly larger in size.

2. Print your page of images onto the T-shirt transfer paper (follow any instructions given on the product).

3. Trim round the transfer paper (being careful to leave a border round your image).

4. Using an iron transfer the image onto an old white t-shirt (again follow instructions on your transfer paper).

5. Now trim around your image and select the felt you want to use. Cut out two pieces both larger than your printed design and one slightly larger than the other. I used two complimentary colours of felt.

6. Stitch on the printed design onto the first of your felt pieces, leaving a border of a 1/8″ or more between the edge and your stitching.

7. Trim round that leaving a thin 1/8″ or more border of felt. Place onto the second colour of felt and stitch that in place. I decided to hide the second set of stitches by gently turning up the printed piece and stitching underneath.

8. Trim round the outer layer of felt and you are done. All ready for it to be stitched onto your camp blanket.

Best of all you can do this with any image and because it’s transferred onto t-shirt fabric it won’t fray. So what badges will you make?

London Challenge Fun – For the Adults

So I’ve done lots for the kids but it’s a holiday for us as well so I decided to make Clair a challenge just for her. I started with an Altoids tin and made a label for the top (with the help of the Keep Calm-o-matic).

Next I filled it with a range of things.

  • googly eyes
  • photo challenge zine
  • paracetamol
  • Freddo bar (chocolate)
  • Scotch tape pop-up tape refill
  • Hair bands
  • Mini Sharpie
  • Lip Balm
  • Mini frog
  • Magnetic letter d (or p)
  • Plasters
  • Stamps
  • Where’s Wally?
  • Moustaches

The mini moustaches were attached to matchsticks (you can get lots of printable photo props online). Wally came from a gift tag and I glued it to a matchstick as well.

The main thing is the photo challenge. 3 days and 30 photos to take. Only two rules – a photo for each challenge and they should be taken between us meeting up and us returning to our own homes.
It was done as a mini-zine and you can get a how-to and template over on Tangled Crafts.

So what does she earn for achieving this challenge? Why a unique badge hand-crafted by yours truly.

London Challenge Fun -Part 4

Pax Lodge is one of the four World Centres for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Girls from all over the world visit the centre (it’s a big thing in International Guiding) and Clair and I went last year and had a great time, so visiting it with the girls was a large part of why we are going to London.

I’ve booked us a tour and pinning ceremony (where the girls will get a special Pax Lodge pin) but I wanted to make sure they got as much out of it and got as involved with it as possible so I made us a wee challenge (or two).

First up I went through the Girlguiding Goes Tartan badge from the World Conference that we didn’t get round to earning last year and made sure we managed that in our challenges.

I made another wee booklet of challenges for the girsl to complete:

1. Make a swap for the swap box.
Using the stuff provided make a swap for the box. Add your name and unit number to back. Poke the safety pin through the corner. (I pre-cut the self adhesive foam into the Scottish icons from the Tratan pack – they cna make Nessie and Highland Cow).

2. Pin a badge on the World Map.
Pax Lodge has a world map in the dining room that is used to keep a record of the guests who visit during the year. (I packed some of the old Scottish neckie badges for that).

3. Solve the World Flag jigsaw
The flag has a golden trefoil on a blue background. A white blaze in the lower right-hand corner represents worldwide peace, which all Guides and Girl Scouts work for in their families, communities and the wider world. This is crowned by three golden blocks symbolising the threefold Promise. (Printed an image of this from online and cut it up)

4. The flags hanging outside Pax Lodge are the flags of the countries the girls and leaders currently staying there come from. How many different flags are there? Draw some of them (I gave them four boxes to fill in)

5. Draw a peg doll a uniform from another country. (Pax Lodge has a display of these so hopefully that will inspire them).

6. Mark on the map the countries you spot (colour in map provided plus a photocopy from an atlas of a World map)

7. Play World Badge beetle
The World Badge has a golden yellow trefoil on a bright blue background which represents the sun shining over the children of the world.
_ The three leaves represent the threefold Promise.
_ The flame represents the love of humanity.
_ The two stars represent the Promise and the Law.
_ The vein pointing upwards represents the compass needle pointing the way.
_ The outer circle represents our worldwide organisation.
Each person passes the dice around the circle, taking turns to throw it. As soon as someone throws a six, they can colour the blue background circle. Continue to take turns to throw the dice, trying to colour all the pieces. 1 – the needle 2 – a star 3 – the flame 4 – a leaf of the trefoil 5 – the outer ring 6 – the blue background circle
(Printed off colour-in version of the World Badge so we can colour them in (rather than collect the pieces as you would normally) and packed a dice!)

Bonus Badge – Brazil
Girls aged between 6 and 8 are called Cirandas.
Guiding with Jewels has a Brazil uniform colour in sheet
I got some blank masks from the crafty stash to take with us so they could make a mask for Carnival and took some Brazil music for them to make up a cranival dance to.
A picture from the movie Rio to colour-in of a carnival dancer from Free Kids Coloring Pages
Plus I packed some balloons so we can try and play Pateca.
Apparently it’s a Brazilian game, traditionally played with sand filled bag, but we will played this with a balloon. Players stand in a circle and start volleying the balloon about. Say a letter when you hit the ball (A…B…C…) trying to get to Z. Players may not touch the ball twice in a row. If the ball hits the ground or touches the ceiling, start over.
(I don’t know which of my Guiding resources I found this in though so alas can’t give credit – apologies).