Bringing Home Educational Roleplaying Games

by | Aug 6, 2020

Hey, EPIC!

In my last post, I shared the educational benefits of roleplaying games, but many parents and educators who have never experienced these sorts of games in their personal lives worry they’re inaccessible due to a massive barrier to entry: rules.

Many folks are too intimidated by the intricacies and complexities of RPGS to even know where to start. The Players Handbook for Dungeons and Dragons is a whopping 320 pages, and that’s just for players. Would-be DMs also have the Dungeon Master’s Guide to contend with, which clocks in at another 320 pages. To the uninitiated, this will seem insurmountable, and they may reasonably wonder who the heck would want to play a game with 640 pages of rules. The truth is that most folks who play these games do not know the rules cover to cover. Some may have never read one of these books at all and have instead learned by playing with knowledgeable friends.

Does this mean these kinds of complex games are an inherently “bad” fit for kids? Far from it! Depending on the age and interests of the student, having an intricate gamified progression system provides incredible incentive to be invested in the activity.

Does this mean you cannot run a game without having a friend to teach you? Also a no! There are a plethora of more pared-down game systems that you can play. Today I am going to talk about running a roleplaying game using a simplified rules system that promotes creative problem solving. I hope this will empower you to feel ready to engage kids in some adventurous social-emotional learning. By the time you’re done reading this blog post, you’ll have everything you need to get playing!

The 4-Step RPG!

1. Supplies

Raid your monopoly set for two six-sided dice, grab some pieces of paper and something to write with, and you have got everything you need to play!

2. Characters

For your first session, help your players come up with fun and unique character concepts. To do so, follow these steps:

Character Description: Have each of your players describe the character they would like to play. Guide them through a series of leading questions (How does your character look? Do they have any unique powers or abilities? How would your character react if a stranger shoved them?). Write down everything they say

A. Strengths and Weaknesses: Have your player(s) write down or help them write the following:

  • One thing their character is THE BEST at.
  • Three things their character is TALENTED at.
  • One thing their character is TERRIBLE at.

When having your players write down their strengths, encourage them to have complementary skillsets rather than the same ones.

B. Have them list four items that their character has in their possession. This is mainly just to save you the agony of a character claiming to have a magically specific problem-solving item. You can tell an interesting story with consequences and teachable moments, but you don’t need their character to do that.

C. Ask each player what kinds of stories they like and write down their answers to use for later inspiration. 

3. Create a Story

Between the time your first session ends and your next session begins, take time to create a story arc for your player(s) to go through. Heavily draw inspiration from the cast of characters your players have chosen and described. Identify themes and tropes they will find fun and engaging. Make sure each character’s unique powers will get the chance to shine. I strongly recommend you start with a small story before going into anything exceptionally elaborate if you’re just starting out! Included at least one embedded learning goal for each of your players.

Be prepared to improvise if they go entirely off script. Compliment players who solve problems in unexpected and realistic ways

4. Play the Game

Begin the game by describing a scene. Ask a player what they want to do that requires some degree of expertise or difficulty. Rhwn ask them to roll a six-sided die. Use the following success and failure chart to describe the result:

Result Best Talented Terrible Everything else
Failure 1 1-2 1-5 1-3
Success 2-6 4-6 6 4-6

Be sure to provide a rich description of each role’s result. Have the characters in your story who aren’t controlled by players react realistically to the player’s actions. The beauty of this system is that the consequences for failure are entirely up to you, so your players need not suffer morbid consequences that would be inappropriate for a children’s game. When speaking to the players in the game, refer to them using their characters’ names to increase immersion. Lastly, make sure each player gets a turn to act. Call in shy players by giving them specific prompts for their character and remind overly talkative players that it’s important that everyone gets a chance to contribute to this interesting story.

And that’s your game! I will end with an example of mid-session play so that you can better conceptualize the pattern of play. Good luck!

Game Master: Your spaceship arrives on the desolate planet Kryonox. You have information that your crew’s greatest rival, Commander Zylon, has set up a secret base in this quadrant, but all you can see for miles are icy peaks cascading into frigid, brackish water. Space Ranger Rhythm, what do you do?

Rhythm (Player 1): I’d like to get a better look at the peaks.

Game Master: Roll a die.

Rhythm (Player 1):  Shoot, I got a one.

Game Master: Bummer. Rhythm isn’t able to discern anything interesting about the peaks. Ice Queen, how do you want to approach the situation?

Ice Queen (Player 2): I use my command over ice to sense if there are tunnels in the ice!

Game Master: That’s something you’re talented at! Go ahead and make a roll. 

Ice Queen (Player 2):  Three!

Game Master: Pressing your hands to the snowy tundra, you use your deep connection to the Ice Ancients to better understand the form of the peaks, and, just as you suspected, there’s a vast network of tunnels carved into the ice. The nearest tunnel entrance is underneath the brackish water.


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