The Top 3

Reasons for Using TTRPGs in the Classroom,
plus one more!

I am writing a series of short journal entries – snippets of a larger story – and aligning them with k12 education, in general, and #stem education specifically. As humans, we are storytellers. Some of us like telling stories; others like listening to them. We read books, watch movies, go to the theatre, and interact with others in role-playing games. It is this last item on the list that I will focus on today.

Adventures in the Classroom: Creating role-playing games based on traditional stories for the high school curriculum.

“…the backstory is the entry point for students to become involved in the lesson”

In a thesis detailing the value of using tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) in the classroom, Zalka (2012) posits that there are some fundamental parameters to TTRPGs that can have a tremendous positive impact on young learners. These elements include:

  1. The story’s background.
  2. The story’s parameters.
  3. The story’s translation into exposition.
  4. The story’s need for collaboration amongst the players.
Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay

In this article, I will address each of these points in turn.

Traditionally, and regardless of genre, TTRPG modules (published, pre-written adventures) have some type of backstory. Although the actual value of the background story is often debated within the gaming community, the value of these backstories may be self-evident for the classroom. I say this because it is the story that brings the players to the table, both literally and figuratively. In the sense of the TTRPG, the players come together to engage in a quest, run a mission, or complete an objective. The player characters (the characters that the players assume within the scope of the adventure) start the adventure from the perspective of the backstory. To put this into perspective, the backstory is the entry point for students to become involved in the lesson. For the teacher, the lesson, then, becomes embedded within the adventure story.

Photo by Gabriel McCallin on Unsplash

Embark on the Adventure

“Students need to collaborate, cooperate, and utilize their own abilities to solve problems to succeed within the parameters of the game.”

Second, once the background is established, the players embark on the adventure. However, unlike stories in books, movies, and television shows, the parameters of the adventure story are not pre-written. For the player or game master reading this, yes – the adventure contains the elements that create the story. That means the story has some predetermined plot points, a group of antagonists, a central theme, and a climax. However, for many adventure modules, there is no set path that the players (or the player characters) must follow. Basically, there is no pre-written script.

Before moving on, we need to go back to the second point and add one more element – stories also have protagonists. The protagonists in the adventure story are the player’s characters, or – in actuality – the player characters. Each player, based on their character’s traits and abilities, interacts with the setting and other characters as they deem appropriate. This means that the story is written by the players. They manage the story, the interactions, and the success of the game based on what they do. The story is created by the people playing the game. In the classroom, this is the real learning experience. Students need to collaborate, cooperate, and utilize their own abilities to solve problems to succeed within the parameters of the game.

The Story Builds the Main Idea of the Lessons

“…players must use their imagination and their own collaborative skills to make the story come to life!”

Third, the adventure story builds the main idea of the lesson. Since this is a classroom learning experience, the story and the lesson are entwined, and they should both have a positive impact on the learner. Gameplay in TTRPGs have a general set of rules or guidelines that focus on moving the game along, moving the narrative along, and promoting a fun experience for all players. The game master (GM) and the players “flesh-out” the story in real time. That is, even though the adventure contains characters, a location, and certain expected (and required) encounters to facilitate the plot, how the player characters interact with all of that cannot be foreseen or planned. Additionally, for the story to play out, and for everyone to have fun in the activity, all players should be engaged in the story, have a thorough understanding of own character, and be willing to participate with the other players. Because players do not have any foreknowledge of the plot points, players must use their imagination and their own collaborative skills to make the story come to life! This, in essence, is what “role playing” is all about.

Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay

In this sense, roleplaying is playing or acting out a character’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors within the boundaries of the game. This is immersive game play, and the role-playing game requires this of the players. Given a character’s background, how will that effect the decisions the character makes with each obstacle, circumstance, and encounter? What strengths does the character have to aid the group? What motivation does the character have to help the group? As you can see, there are several aspects of the game that truly inspire imagination and a deeper understanding of how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact the lives of the characters in the story.

Image by Majabel Creaciones from Pixabay
Image by Majabel Creaciones from Pixabay

The Players Must Work Together

“The true essence of being successful within the game is the same as being successful in life.”

That brings me to the fourth point. The true essence of being successful within the game is the same as being successful in life. The players must work together to complete the tasks within the game, thus completing the overall mission. Collaboration, not competition, amongst the players makes for a successful playing experience.

What can teachers do? When TTRPGs are used within the structure of the learning environment, teachers can integrate the “game” experience into all sorts of lessons ranging from history to science to math. What part of history do you need to teach? What roles could your students play? What about science? What scientist would you like to interview? Could you learn math by engaging with non-player characters in the role-playing game by buying and selling equipment, buying food and weapons for a journey, and counting up all the gold you accumulated in your adventures? Of course, you can!

As we have seen, role-playing games have a place in the classroom, both onsite and online. We just need to have a plan for implementation. According to Zalka (2012), the question really is: How can traditional stories be transformed into tabletop role-playing games to create effective classroom activities? The answer lies in your imagination!

References

Zalka, C.V. (2012). Adventures in the Classroom: Creating role-playing games based on traditional stories for the high school curriculum. Retrieved from https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2662&context=etd

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