Are you… afraid of the dark? (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 17)

Are you... afraid of the dark_ (2)

Summer means adventure, woohoo! Some people travel around the world, others stay home and spend time with friends. Both options are brilliant, especially when you are able to to travel without leaving your room – simply engage your friends in a session of a Role Playing Game and travel around the world… and beyond. Sometimes, however, you’re stuck alone in a place you’re not really happy with – and then you may also enjoy an RPG session just by yourself.

Here I am, writing about the awesomeness of Role-Playing Games as a perfect tool for boosting communication and relationships in the classroom. However, today I want to tempt you with an adventure you take on your own. Alone.

Alone against the dark…

Alone Against The Dark is an adventure for one player, set in the autumn of 1931, in the Lovecraftian universe of the Cthulhu Mythos (although you won’t be meeting the Great Cthulhu Himself, as the greatest mystery of the Call of Cthulhu is the fact that you basically don’t meet Cthulhu). Your friend goes missing and your goal is to solve his disappearance and ultimately to save the world from the calamity. Your journey will take you from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica.

You will start your adventure as Louis Grunewald, a quiet linguistics professor from the Miskatonic University. You will fight the forces of darkness before time runs out — but in case Professor Grunewald is eliminated for some reason (in CoC it means a character either goes completely mad, or simply dies), you can successively assume an identity of a new investigator.

There are four ready-made investigators, enabling you to take on various roles as circumstances change in your search for the truth: Louis Grunewald, Lydia Lau, a story-seeking reporter for the New York Sun, Devon Wilson, a sailor on leave from the US Navy, and Ernest Holt, a wealthy industrialist.

I spent most of my 9-hour long train journey playing the game – I personalised the characters, prepared some sheets of paper and a pencil (making notes turns out to be crucial when trying to save the world!) and I must tell you that I think I need to follow the adventure again, only this time make different choices. My professor was lucky enough to survive for quite a long time, but well, there are things in this world elderly scholars may have troubles with… like falling down from an impressive height, physical assault or, well, supernatural creatures.

I find this adventure just brilliant for all of you who have already read about Role-Playing Games, but struggle with gathering the party before venturing forth. You can play the game in your own tempo and discover the magic of RPG by yourself. The universe of HPL and his Cthulhu Mythos are quite enjoyable for EFL teachers – imagine you wear a fashionable dress, switch on jazz music and with a cheeky smile face the unspeakable evil.

You can get the adventure in English here, only remember you might need a copy of a Keeper Rulebook (you may buy it here) to understand the rules. If you’re Polish, your life is easier, because you may get the adventure here in Polish, and instead of buying the whole rulebook, you can get a short starter.

You may think it’s a deal, but trust me, once you set on a trail of the Old Ones, you’ll spend your money on Keeper Rulebook and other adventures.

You should also buy a set of dice, but hey, you can download a free app like RPG Simple Dice.

Good luck, dear friend, and enjoy your adventure…

Costello, Matthew and Mason, Mike

Alone Against the Dark/ Samotnie przeciwko ciemności: zniweczenie triumfu lodu

Chaosium, 2018/ PL version Black Monk

ISBN: 978-156882-453-6

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Roll your summertime with kids! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 16)

Roll your summertime with kids!

Last time when I wrote about Role-Playing Games, I wrote about a great game for children, Bumbleberry Forest. I focused on more educational aspects of this system, so today I want to give you some reasons why playing RPGs with children may be a great idea for everyone involved – especially now, with summer break approaching.

Family Time

If you’re Polish you may visit a group on FB called “Mamo tato zagrajmy w RPG”, for parents playing RPGs with their offspring – you will learn far more on the subject there. It’s a lovely group full of genuinely nice and supportive people, and if you can’t speak Polish, you may try using English – they’re all quite familiar with it.

You will learn how great RPGs may be when it comes to building and maintaining relationships – not only between parents and children, but also between siblings, which may be a solution to constant quarrels. After all, having arguments with your ally is different than telling off an annoying younger brother, isn’t it?

If you’re a parent, do consider RPGs as an idea for family fun during rainy summer days, long trips or simply long and lazy afternoons!

Friendship (is magic)

One of the universal truths of the world is simple: you must gather your party before venturing forthAt the risk of repeating myself I say – nothing builds friendships better than a common quest, a party of people you have fun with and, naturally, challenges which make you rely on your teammates. RPGs have it all – and more. Players will soon share their little jokes, will refer to previous adventures and build a real team, ideally with no peer pressure, only mutual understanding.

RPGs are a great way to make children build healthy relationships, trust others and get self-confident. Naturally, we talk about kids here, so they need to be supervised, however, building of team spirit is easier than in sports: in sports there’s usually someone better and someone worse, and in RPG, in an imaginary world, we are all who we want to be.

And even when we fail, it’s because of the silly dice!

Never stop learning questing!

We all know about natural childlike curiosity – children ask questions and are interested in everything until they go to school. Fortunately, it isn’t a case with RPGs, where the heroes never just learn – they embark on a quest to gain the knowledge! And the knowledge isn’t easy to get, oh no! There be dragons, and monsters and all beasties possible guarding this powerful treasure.

And the treasure itself may be a magical phrase in English that make people do something for you (pretty please), a recipe for favourite cookies (something that needs to be immediately tested!), a mathematical formula that will reveal a path to wisdom required to understand a spell… Once you do this little mindshift and show knowledge as what it really is – priceless treasure, your kids will stay curious at least a while longer.

Self-development

A friend of mine works as a teacher assistant for the kids with SEN. She’s an avid RPG player and decided to introduce a simple adventure to her small group of kids. She was eager to try, but she was also slightly worried about one of the kids who’s autistic and not yet ready to communicate. To her surprise, he started not only to answer her encouraging conversation starters, but he also started to initiate the conversations himself! For him, small talk itself is a waste of time, but he realises the importance of small talk in the context of obtaining the information to complete the adventure, his mission.

In her absolutely brilliant book „Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal says that scientific research corroborates the theory that games provide more than just sheer enjoyment – they provide models of better selves. What is more, she says, while we play, we focus on the game, giving it so-called flow of attention, a state of being fully absorbed and engaged, the state of total immersion in the game. It helps people literally feel better, make one’s brain relax and achieve the same results as training of mindfulness.

I don’t want you to encourage children to play games to become better selves, but think of it as added value – all you do is have fun with kids, and at the same time they grow, develop their soft skills, build relationships, learn how to deal with challenges and how to cope with failure…

Not bad for a game, is it?

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 15)

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest!

It’s time for the next Role-Playing Teaching article! We’re done with theory. Today, I have a really nice post for all of you who want to try Role-Playing Games with their nearest and dearest. Bumbleberry Forest, a mini RPG game created by Kamila Zalewska-Firus, is a perfect start to the world of RPGs, designed to be family entertainment – starting from three year old children!

Imagine a relatively safe world of wood sprites or pixies (it’s not totally safe, there has to be some space for adventures, after all). Main characters are pixies, living in a small village deep in the heart of the woods, far from humans (they are huge and scary creatures!) and enjoying their everyday life. Helpful and friendly, they happily help one another by foraging for herbs (you need to be careful as there is a family of foxes nearby!), exploring the unknown (e.g. wreck of a car, maybe there is something pixies may find useful) or helping a baby bird get to its nest (and trees are really high for such a small folk as pixies).

The main idea is that the role of the Game Master is taken by an adult (parent or teacher) and the children are meant to assume the roles of pixies. Characters are created by rolling casual six-sided dice and when they’re ready, GM generates a quest for them, starting with simple ones and moving on to more dangerous adventures.

You can get the ebook here (it’s a pay what you want option, so you can get it even for 1$). You will find here detailed description of the Bumbleberry Forest and its inhabitants, character descriptions along with a nice character sheet, quest generators and a simple adventure.

I find Bumbleberry Forest simply adorable, not only for kids. If you ever experienced the feeling of homesickness thinking of the Tolkien’s Shire, it may be a good place for you to visit. It’s a simple and yet entertaining way to take your family on a nice adventure. Family… or students! At the cost of repeating myself I’ll say that Role-Playing Games are a great teaching tool.

Naturally, with toddlers (Bumbleberry Forest is designed for children aged 3+) you won’t be able to play the whole game in English. So, how can you incorporate EFL into the quests?

Who are you, stranger?

There’s someone new in a village! A strange pixie from another forest who speaks a foreign language. Maybe he’s trying to learn something about your village, maybe she’s lost – anyway, they cannot communicate in your native tongue. Our players’ pixies will need to  understand the stranger who will speak English, of course. Game Master will need to remember to use simple words and a lot of body language, but this kind of encounter may be really educational – maybe local pixies will ask a stranger to join their village for good?

The quest for magic words

You may organise all your quests as means to find magic words that will be simple words in English – just add a little magic to them! The first magic word may be *please* – it makes everyone you ask for help be more willing to comply. The next ones may include *thank you* (make others more appreciative), *sorry* (others don’t get angry at you), and so on. You will probably experience kids trying to use those magic words in everyday life to coax something, but that’s great, since that’s the main purpose of communication, right? You may create nice cards with the words children find on their quests, it will be really motivational!

If you want to pass the test…

…you need to roll the dice. But, if you want to incorporate English, you may add some linguistic challenges, like “you need to pass the test and tell me three colours in English” or “remember that if you want to talk to an animal (which is easy for pixies), you need to call it by its English name”. Such trivial ideas may be a source of repetition, fun and – first and foremost – creating positive background for vocabulary revision.

I will elaborate the topic of RPGs, EFL and kids soon, but for now I hope you’ll find my ideas helpful and get yourself a copy of the Bumbleberry Forest – take your kids on an adventure and you may discover a new world of fun, education and building positive relationships.

Enjoy!

How do you even play RPGs? (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 14)

How do you even play RPGs_

Recently I’ve finished a really interesting course (Teacher Trainer Academy) and I got really valuable feedback – coming from the teachers who were indeed interested in Role-Playing Games but simply didn’t know how to play. Now, during short workshops I struggle with presenting the indubitable merits of using them in the classroom and engaging people into short scenes – but how much can one share in half an hour?

I am currently planning my very first full-time workshops on RPGs with awesome materials, ideas and stuff, but before I start (and I’m a master procrastinator, I’m afraid) I want to share some places you may visit to see RPG sessions. Mind, those are just for fun, with no educational factor included (not intentionally, I mean). For those, we will have to wait for my workshops, I guess…

Below you will find five places you may take a look at to see what RPGs are about – the first sessions, how the adventure develops, the whole team-building experience, rolls, successes and fails – along with the most important factor: fun!

Critical Role (D&D)

Critical Role is a weekly livestreamed Dungeons & Dragons game. Each week, Matthew Mercer, the Dungeon Master, leads his friends (also fellow voice actors!) on epic adventures. You may want to start here, as Critical Role is one of the most popular and professional places to get familiar with RPGs.

Yogscasts High Rollers D&D Aerois Campaign (D&D)

The typical D&D campaign with elves, warlocks, paladins… and starships, because why not. You can watch the campaign live every Sunday, 5pm GMT/BST, on the Yogscast and HighRollersDnD Twitch channels since July 1, 2018, but you may just as well get familiar with their first sessions.

Dungeons & Dragons on Twitch

If you want to discover the magic of classical Dungeon & Dragons, you can visit their Twitch channel and watch a random session or two. Some of them are professional, others are adorably home-made, but if you browse through them, you will see why RPGs are so popular.

Geek and Sundry – Relics and Rarities (D&D)

D&D again (no wonder, it’s the most popular system over the pond), but this time this is probably the most professional recording ever. You can watch the first episode here, and subscribe to their Twitch channel to watch the sessions live. You may join the observers to follow a crew of bold players on a quest to stop an unholy prophecy from coming to fruition.

Baniak Baniaka – Warhammer (PL)

If you’re Polish, you might try Baniak Baniaka, a channel created by Michał Bańka, probably the most popular Game Master in Poland. Michał gamemasters various systems, but Warhammer is the oldest one. Personally, I played a session gamemastered by Michał (Warhammer of course) and it was pretty much fun – not educational, mind, but still fun. You may notice there aren’t many women playing there, but it doesn’t mean women don’t play RPGs!

Graj Kolektyw – various (PL)

A bunch of Polish RPG enthusiasts play games and promote various systems. You may visit their page here – again, it’s in Polish only to learn more about their ideas, but it’s nice to follow their adventures – they are enjoyable and pretty much show what RPGs are about.

To Ja Go Tnę – various (PL)

A channel on YouTube by fans for fans – various Game Masters and systems, always fun. If I were to recommend a particular session, it would be “Cienie Wolności” not only because it’s a Call of Cthulhu session… but mainly, aye 😉

I hope you’ll like the idea of an RPG session – mind I wouldn’t dream of encouraging you to watch whole campaigns… unless you feel like it, of course. Just take a peek and see how it rolls – a lot of talking, an occasional roll of the dice, some experience points to see the character growing… and on we go.

Until my workshops, at least 🙂

Adult students, let’s roll! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 13)

Adult students, let's roll

I started playing RPGs when I was 15, so writing a post on why RPGs are awesome for teenagers would be an easy choice, but since games come so natural to younger learners, I want to share some aspects of RPGs that are really beneficial for adult learners of English.

Taking off the pressure of being correct.

One of my favourite activities with adult students who are hesitant about speaking is to pretend to make mistakes in their native tongue and asking them what they would do if a foreigner asked them something in broken language. They invariably answer they would try to understand them nonetheless and that’s how I try to make them see that people will try to understand their English even when their language is somewhat faulty. Then I ask them to communicate in the native language and make as many mistakes as they can. They usually have a lot of fun and feel much more at ease afterwards.

This is exactly the case with RPGs. By assuming a role it’s easier for adults to make mistakes – after all it’s not real them who say something incorrectly, it’s just a character. By distancing themselves from the role, they are more open, courageous and eager to communicate, even at the cost of making a mistake.

Making friends.

It’s not easy to make new friends once you’re an adult – workmates, children, everyday duties and responsibilities take so much time one doesn’t really have time for friendship. But trust me on this, you can meet new people and make actual friendships. Playing RPGs means making decisions, doing things together, working on plans and experiencing adventures – and it may sound funny, but our brains don’t really see the difference between imaginary experiences and the real ones. That means we start to feel the sense of belonging with our “team”, common responsibility for decisions (the good, the bad and the silly ones).

What does it have to do with your classroom? Have you ever worked with a bunch of friends? The relationship between your students – and you, of course – gets stronger and you become far more supportive. People feel more comfortable and we all know learning in a comfortable environment in a company of friends sounds like a real adventure!

Mindshift.

When it comes to adventures, RPGs are a real gift to your brain. It will happily play along being deceived, being offered a quest of fun, not a mundane duty of learning. Think of a brain of an adult person, tired of dull routine – and suddenly facing new challenges! And even better – those challenges are still an element of the game, so potential failure will not result in stress.

In her book “Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal presents the results of the research which clearly shows that people playing games are more daring, ready for a challenge and less prone to stress. By playing RPGs our students not only practise English, but also develop their mind.

Regaining childlike curiosity.

How come children are so thrilled when it comes to learning new things and yet we lose this natural curiosity once we start formal education? Our brains too soon get used to the familiar and boring ways of school subjects, tests, exams, papers etc.

No wonder learning quickly loses its charm and becomes yet another duty, but with RPGs we may conceal the educational goal behind the pretence of fun and playing games. It makes our brains catch its second wind and actually start enjoying learning, as it comes in a form of entertainment, not another dreary lesson.

Uncovering new areas to study.

Playing RPGs makes your brain wake up – and wake up hungry for new knowledge. You won’t even realise when your students will start looking for new words and idioms to improve their communication – after all everyone wants their voice to be heard in the game!

More than that, if you decide to pick a system set in a somewhat realistic world, your students will suddenly try to scavenge for information they would normally be quite uninterested in. I remember when I started reading on various things I wanted to learn just to make my character more realistic and credible.

Means of escape.

This might be a bit tricky, just like with computer games. On one hand, RPGs may be a lovely way to relax a little bit and learn something new. On the other hand, one needs to be aware of the potential danger of escapism – and it’s ever so easy to run into the imaginary world!

Nonetheless, it’s a great fun and adventure for an adult learner to experience something unusual, take a bunch of new-made friends and go on an adventure… and learn a language, communicate, still grow and regain this childlike attitude to new things.

So let’s add some RPG into our classes!

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 12: This is for the Players)

 

Role-Playing Teaching (4)

It’s been a year since I started writing about RPGs and ways they could be used in the classroom. My blog is written primarily for the teachers, especially the EFL ones, but today I won’t write for the teachers, but for the RPGs players, as I think they deserve some explanations without the didactic background which is quite obvious for the teachers, but not so much for the rest of the world.

I spent last weekend attending one of my favourite fantasy fans’ conventions ever, Imladris. I participated in a discussion panel “Let’s Talk About RPGs” and was busted as a Person With an Idea – hence my post, where I’ll try to explain why exactly RPGs in a classroom rock, why EFL teachers are ready-made Game Masters and why using RPGs for teaching won’t make them dull.

Educational values

I know there are teachers who introduce RPGs sessions as extra-curricular activities, and I know there are schools that teach the language by playing RPGs – I’ve even heard of teachers who think of creating their own system designed to teach English. I want to incorporate RPGs in the classroom and that’s why I need to show how RPGs may support learning. And when it comes to learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) role-plays are natural elements of the classes.

Think of all the “act out the dialogue, you’re A and your classmate is B” – this is something you may work on and create a pretty neat exercise, just imagine that person A is James Bond and B is Marie Curie. See? Just a little bit of role assignment could create a far more interesting and creative dialogue, offering the opportunities for a way more engaging communication.

Moreover, it’s easier to communicate when you impersonate somebody else. You get more open, more creative and instead of thinking about which personal information you want to hide, you may go with the flow and use more complex structures and words.

And RPGs are so much more that this! Team building, making friends, making common background, learning how to make friends and deal with conflicts – it’s all there, RPGs have it all to improve not only learning the language, but also improving communication. Here all the shy 15 year old kids may experiment with various registers and learn the fun way all those things they really shouldn’t say.

Fun

RPGs are primarily source of fun. Believe me or not, a lot of teachers want to make their classes fun – but sometimes it’s quite difficult, as nobody teaches young teachers how to do it. We are taught how to plan our classes, how to follow the coursebooks and how to explain grammar – rookie teachers may lack a lot of practical knowledge, distance and chill. Imagine that after years of classes full of “your students have to respect you!” and “no respect, no teaching” you’re faced with a group of kids…. and don’t know how to start. Now, RPGs may bring a lot of fun, both for the students and for the teachers.

Why is fun important? Because we learn better and faster, when we connect education with fun. Jane McGonigal presented an awesome TED speech and wrote a great book (“Superbetter“) proving that playing games may save the world, least make education fun.

Ready-made Game Masters

I’ve been a teacher and a Game Master and I must admit both roles are only too similar. Group management, encouragement and support, creativity and planning – it’s all there, ready to put in another use.

I’m not encouraging teachers to get their copy of D&D and start an epic campaign in the classroom of 25 students. No, it’s okay if we start with small steps – some communication exercises (including character building and game mechanics, why not?), some problem-solving activities. Everything in moderation, and to be honest, there is so much goodness in RPGs that we can use and adjust many ideas in various situations.

Aren’t games only for fun?

This was a very interesting viewpoint I’ve heard – RPGs are made to be fun, and using it in a school environment will make it by default boring. The classic tale – when a teacher tells you something is awesome, a rebellious student will immediately hate it.

The thing about RPGs is that people are born ready to play games. We do this as we grow, we emulate others, we experiment and ultimately learn to have fun. Naturally, everything should be taken in moderation, including RPGs – but looking at gaming industry and various uses of games like “Snow World” we can easily observe that this part of our humanity that loves games is being finally noticed.

No, I don’t believe education may make RPGs boring. On the contrary, I believe RPGs may make education more interesting.

All we need to do is try.