As part of any story planning project, creating rich characters is hugely important.
I was finding that the students needed a bit more direction when creating characters and so, once again, I turned to D&D.
I designed a simple character sheet for my Year 4 class (8 and 9 year olds) to fill in. To help them think about their character I added lots of questions relating to the appearance, personality and back story. I even included some classic attributes such as Strong, Agile or Intelligent to help the students think about what their character’s skills.
The children loved creating their characters. Here are a few example of their work:
The children created some really interesting characters and seemed much more inspired by having these questions to guide them.
To follow this up, we’ll be getting the children to create 3D models of their characters using hero forge – https://www.heroforge.com/
Hero forge is a great resource for the students to visualise their characters and to help them come up with descriptions of how their character looks and what they wear. Just be mindful of all the weapons that can be added to the model if you are working with younger students.
Here is an example of a very quickly created character. The character poses can be changed and the model can be rotated to see it from different angles.
As part of the NOW PLAY THIS festival, I attended my second ever LARP experience. LARP stands for Live Action Role Play and is all about having an immersive experience of the game. My previous exploration of Live Action Role Play had been a traditional fantasy LARP. I was dressed up as an Orc and was being chased around the woods by adventurer players wielding big foam swords. I had a great time and as much as I’d like to try fantasy LARP again some day, I haven’t rushed back.
However, my second go at LARP was a very different and far more inspiring experience. It was called the Summit for Intergalactic Knowledge (or S.I.K for short). The game was run through Zoom by its designers: Alen Ksoll, Margherita Huntley and Natalia Skoczylas. Whilst playing, I felt incredibly inspired by the educational impact that this game could have and I immediately started thinking about how it could be adapted for use in schools.
The idea of S.I.K was that aliens from across many galaxies were meeting to discuss how they could help humans deviate from their destructive path. Many topics were discussed but ultimately this was an attempt at taking a removed look at how to fix some of the many human caused problems on Earth.
Here is some more information from the creators of S.I.K:
Summit for Intergalactic Knowledge is a digital LARP (Live-Action Role Play), a non-competitive game and an experimental educational tool for co-creating and playing in a speculative fiction world. It allows us to embody different non-human agents, form interspecies relations, learn from each other and re-shape how we think of ourselves as beings.
The game seeks to problematise human exceptionalism and speculate about alternative positions from which we can question, destabilise, and decenter humans. Through the ability to inhabit and experience those other than ourselves, we can start addressing the challenges of the anthropocentric climate crisis, which privileges human and culture over non-humans and nature.
Through our characters engaging in different creative exercises, we will explore various forms of non-extractive relationships and ways of being and relating to each other otherwise.
I played as Sploose, an ambassador of Splootopia and messenger for the Great Woobleflarb, a giant gelatinous cube of impressive knowledge and wisdom.
Here I am in my cobbled together costume with Woobleflarb close behind me enjoying the heat of the sixteen suns of Splootopia:
The game lasted around 3 hours and started with an alien mediation and a finger/tendril/tentacle wave before each alien had a chance to introduce themselves, their planet and their culture.
After the introductions, we had time to ask each other questions about the information we’d shared. This led to lots of great discussion centred on sustainability, consumption and risk to other living beings.
After this discussion, we had a small art project. We looked at the Pioneer Plaques that were sent into space by humans as a message for other life forms. We thought about receiving this message and how we would respond. The aliens created their own artworks to send as a message back to the humans – some individually, some collaboratively.
Here is one collaborative example, expressing connectivity:
The aliens were then invited to take part in a collective writing task. We could only use popular culture quotes to communicate with the humans and so answered questions using Spice Girls lyrics and quotes from A Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
There was then a collective read through of our messages to Earth. This was a surreal but powerful experience as a group of 12 relative strangers read out these quotes and lyrics together in disjointed harmony.
After our messages had been sent we all took part in a landing ritual involving pouring wax through a key hole into a bowl of cold water. Each alien then interpreted the cooled, dry shapes of the wax as a message about the Summit or of what the future may hold.
The Summit came to an end.
We had a post game chat after everyone had cleaned off their face paint and popped off their cybernetic enhancements. This is where the ideas for use in an education setting really started to come together.
Many schools are looking at exploring the climate crisis in a way that doesn’t put the weight of the world on the children’s shoulders. It is a difficult and anxiety causing topic but through meaningful play, it can be approached in a freer way. By taking on the role of aliens, we removed ourselves (for a few hours) from the guilt of our role in the climate crisis. We discussed solutions rather than problems and felt free to question new ways forward. The creative elements, such as the performance, art and writing collaborations, added further exploration to the topic that I know many young learners would engage with deeply. Schools are striving to look at new and engaging ways to approach climate change. There are achievements such as the Eco School green award that schools are striving to receive: https://www.eco-schools.org.uk/
Using a LARP experience such as S.I.K would immerse learners in deep discussions about saving the planet whilst enjoying a day dressed up as an alien. The whole school could get involved with cross Key stage interactions. Even the school dinners could be served up as space food.
I had started to picture the whole day in my head and I am hoping to work with the S.I.K game designers to bring the game to my school soon. I’m incredibly exited about the potential impact that LARP events such as this could have in an education setting.
Woobleflarb is most impressed.
You can find out more about S.I.K here: https://schoolincommon.nu/sik They are hoping to run more games in the future and Sploose is very much looking forward to attending the Summit for Intergalactic Knowledge again soon.
After playing our simplified RPG, The Dice Game, in class for a few months, the children wanted to know more about RPGs. I talked to them about Dungeons & Dragons and how that game works a little bit differently. I showed them the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide but the book they were most interested in was, of course, the Monster Manual…
This book is full of strange creatures. Some of them they recognised from films they had watched, such as the Hobbit and Harry Potter. They noticed that each monster had their own stats and special abilities too.
We decided to have a go at creating some of our own monsters to go in the monster manual. Here are some of our favourites:
Your kids could even battle these monsters in the class RPG. It’s a great way to show them that their creations can be brought to life with imagination.
In our English lessons, we went on to describe the abilities and weaknesses of these monsters. The children were very enthusiastic about describing the powers of their monsters and how they could be defeated. This could be developed into a whole story that the children could write.
I will definitely be running this lesson again with my new class and we will develop the ideas even further.
The School Trip (renamed to The Dice Game by the kids) is a super simple D6 RPG that I created to tell imaginative stories with my class. It started with them travelling to a fantasy world called Animora and we then travelled to several other worlds based on class books we were reading. These book worlds included Percy Jackson and The Borrowers. The idea of The School Trip is like most RPGs) to encourage imagination, teamwork and collaboration within the class.
Here is a very basic rule set that you might want to try out.
A session of The Dice Game runs with the Teacher playing the Narrator who helps move the story forward and gives ideas to those children who aren’t sure what to do on their turn. They will set up the situation and ask the children individually what they would like to do. I worked my way through the register to ensure every child got a go. The child then tells the Narrator what they’d like to do and the Narrator gives the child a die roll goal. The child succeeds or fails the roll and the Narrator explains what happens (always try to fail forward) and then it is the next child’s turn. The game can run over days, weeks or even months.
Here is an example turn: The Narrator tells the class that they are being chased through an ancient forest by ferocious, green goblins. The Narrator looks at the register and sees that it is Miia’s turn next and so asks Miia what she’d like to do… Miia isn’t sure and so the Narrator offers some options: “You could try and climb up one of the trees to hide from the goblins, you could try and talk to the goblins to see what they want or you could try to attack the goblins and scare them off. What would you like to do?” Miia decides to talk to the Goblins. The Narrator asks what Miia will say to them?
“Why are you chasing us?” Miia shouts. “You stole our Gem of Wondrous Wonderment!” the Narrator cries in a goblin voice. “No we didn’t, we’ve never heard of your silly gem!” Miia replies defensively. The Narrator asks Miia to make a roll to convince the Goblins that they didn’t steal the Gem. “Roll to see if the Goblins believe you. You’ll need to roll a 3 or more as you sounded very convincing.” Miia comes up to the front of class to roll the giant 6 sided dice on the interactive white board.
She rolls a 6 and the class all cheers. The Narrator smiles. “Wow, that’s the best roll you can get! The Goblins completely believe you. In fact they ask for your help – Oh no! Well if you don’t have it, who stole it from us? Could you help us find it? We’ll give you a reward if you do!”
The teacher thinks it is now a good time to move on to the next kid’s turn. “Well done Miia, you stopped the Goblin’s attacking the class. Tanvir, it is now your turn. Will you help the Goblins?”
This is how the game generally plays out. Try to keep the story moving forward and have a general outline of where the game is heading. Be prepared for the children to take the game on some very exciting tangents too. I usually ran the game for about 30 mins at the end of each day where we would usually have story time. The children really looked forward to these sessions and would ask when the next session would be.
Here is some advice on how to make the games even more enjoyable for you and your class:
Find the fun of exploration. Each trip should be an adventure, there is a moment of imaginative transition from a real life situation into a sprawling fantasy land or an epic historical landscape.
If you are teaching your class about the Greeks, Romans or Egyptians, start them in the British museum. It’s a location some of your students may have visited in real life. You could even visit the museum through google earth to show them around. Use every resource you can to help build the students knowledge of the world they are about to play in. Have physical objects linked to the topic or text of choice to help children build their connection to the world as much as possible.
The joy of the dice
Like most roleplaying games, TST uses a D6. Most importantly it needs to be BIG. The dice roll is to be shared as a group, celebrating and enjoying each roll of the die together. You could have a giant spongey D6 to roll across the classroom floor or show an interactive rollable dice on your classroom whiteboard if you have one. Google dice roller works really well as it actually rolls the dice so that there is a moment of suspense before the result is shown:.
Whenever it is a student’s turn they tell the class and you the teacher what they’d like to do. The teacher decides how difficult the task is, some things are easy peasy actions such as picking up a cake, where as other actions may be almost impossible such as throwing the moon at someone!
An average task such as jumping over a gap or climbing up a rickety ladder would need a roll of a 3+
Finding a hidden object would be a 4+
Jumping down from a treehouse without hurting yourself would be a 5+
Throwing a melon out of a bus window so that it hits a flying dragon on it’s bottom would be a 6+
Woeful 1 and Super 6 Whenever a 1 is rolled on the dice, something terrible (but silly) has happened, this should be a banana skin moment. They’ve slipped up and caused a chain or unfortunate events like knocking things over or accidently insulting the goblin they are talking to. It’s a failure but keep it light and silly so that the child doesn’t feel too bad and they get a giggle out of it instead.
A 6 however means something incredible has happened. They have achieved an almost impossible task! The class are encouraged to cheer every time a 6 is rolled.
Make it a quest Keep it fun, keep it epic, show them incredible things they wouldn’t usually see and let them interact with these worlds as much as possible.
Give them a goal, something that they can do to save the day or help characters and historical figures from their favourite stories and eras.
Rules of the world Try to set the rules of the world or time period they are visiting. They won’t be able to change history but they can certainly mess with it a bit. Also, unless they are given magical items or special powers they can only do what they could normally do. Most children can’t fly or fire laser beams from their nostrils…
Let them be themselves In a big game with 15+ students, I find it is often easier for both the teacher and the students if the children play themselves (or exaggerated versions of themselves). This saves you and the other student players from having to remember a whole lot of new names and helps keep the flow of the game whilst immersing the students themselves in the worlds they will explore on their school trip.
Lunch money When a student does something brilliantly imaginative or comes up with a unexpected solution to a challenge or just acts admirable during the game, you can reward them with lunch money. When they spend this lunch money, it gives them a re-roll of the die. They can spend this on their own roll or ‘buy some-one else’s lunch’ so that they can re-roll their die instead.
Remember, they’re the goodies Kids like to push the story in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Remind the students that they are the goodies, the heroes and heroines of the story and should act as such. Reward the brave and clever students who are actively trying to save the day, give them lunch money, give them in game rewards such as cool stuff and helpful contacts. Try not to put down the students who want to be a bit bad, they can enjoy being a little bit mischievous but they should not act evil or malicious. Remind these children about the collaborative nature of the game and give them a helpful nudge in the correct moral direction. Hopefully they will pick up on the rewards the other children are receiving for their chivalry and they will soon follow. If a kid wants to buy a nine headed hydra from the mythological pet store and use it to destroy Athens, give them a baby hydra that is always hungry and loves cuddles. They’ll have got half way to their goal but realise their new pet is incapable of the destruction they hoped. Maybe it could help them with something else instead. Hydras are very good at playing ‘I spy’.
Watching the show Some students might not want to play, or they might pass each turn. That’s fine, some children just enjoy watching the show. Let them have a free pass to jump back in when they’d like. They can raise their hand and be added back onto the register tracker.
Hopefully, these tips help you to run your own games. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Here is a smiple RPG I wrote for the 200 word RPG challenge. It is a simple system that encourages imaginative mischief and is suitable for children to run themselves. Here are the rules in full:
You are kids in a primary school. You are trying to cause as much mischief throughout the day as possible without the teachers spotting you.
One person plays the Teacher and gives the kids 5 ‘lessons’ to play out. Each kid can try and cause one bit of mischief per lesson.
These lessons are:
Whenever a kid wants to cause mischief, they describe the mischief in detail and then they play rock, paper, scissors with the Teacher. If they win, they have not been caught and gain 2 mischief points. If they lose, they have been caught and gain only 1 mischief point – they also get a strike! If ever they have 3 strikes they must see the head teacher / principle to get disciplined. Play this scene out, telling the child off for their specific misdemeanours before they return to class.
Additional mischief points can be awarded by the Teacher for inventive ways of causing mischief.
The child with the most mischief points at the end of the school day is the ‘Biggest Miscreant’ and wins the respect / ire of the other kids. Blow raspberries accordingly.
Let me know how your games go. Have fun misbehaving!
“You are all sitting on a coach, going on a school trip. You have your packed lunches with you. You look out the windows and see that the roads are very busy today. The heavy rain taps on the coach windows and the radio is playing an Ed Sheeran song. Where are you going on this trip?” I ask Emily. “To the Science Museum!” shouts Emily improvising on the spot. “The coach driver turns to you all.” I put on a gruff cockney accent. “I’m afraid we have to take a different route, the road ahead is blocked with traffic.”
The class are attentive, they want to know what will happen next. They are a little bit confused that they are being told a story that isn’t from a book. A story that they all get to be in.
“The coach drives in to a dark tunnel, everything goes completely black. Suddenly colourful crackles of lightning appear at the end of the tunnel. A portal made of swirling purples and greens fills the tunnel ahead. What do you do?”
The question confuses them. They get to decide where this story can go.
Millie tries to get the coach driver to stop the vehicle but he gives a menacing smile. The class quickly realise that the coach driver is not quite what he appears and Isaac sees that the driver is actually wearing a mask. “I’m going to pull his mask off!” shouts Isaac. “As you pull away the plastic mask, you see the scaly face of a lizard man hidden beneath. He hisses at you and pushes his foot down on the accelerator. The bus speeds through the portal and you all feel like you are falling through the air. Every colour fills the space around you and suddenly the coach crashes upside down into a strange orange coloured tree. The sky glows purple, the ground below is red. This is a strange world. Who was wearing their seatbelt?” I grin.
A few children don’t put their hand up. This is where I introduce them to Health Points. On the Interactive White Board there is a giant 6 sided dice. I click the mouse and it spins around in a rolling animation before showing the face with 2 pips on it. “If you didn’t buckle up then you take 2 damage! Always wear a seat belt kids!”
The class start to realise this is a game as well as a story. They are fascinated with the giant dice that helps determine their fates. I tell them that they can heal health points by eating items from their packed lunch. A drink gets you 3 HP back, a sandwich has 2 slices of bread so you get 2HP back and you have 1 bag of crisps that can heal you 1 HP. A few of the children who didn’t have their seatbelts on, gobble up their sandwiches and are back to full health.
“The upside down coach rocks back and forward in the tree… Olivia, what would you like to do?” I begin to work my way down the register asking each child what they do now they have found themselves in this strange new world. “I want to look around for a first aid kit, teachers always bring first aid kits on a school trip.” “Roll the dice.” I reply. Olivia gets up from the carpet and pokes the dice on the board. It rolls around on the screen and lands on a 4. “Well done, you find a small first aid kit with bandages and plasters. You can use it to heal 10 HP for two different people.” “Awesome!” Olivia yells. After the other children look around the coach. Isabella looks out the coach window to see if she can see anything or anyone. “You see the portal shrink and close. There is no way home! Between the trees, you see strange shapes heading towards you. It looks like there are more lizard people coming to find you.” “Oh no!” yells Liam, getting caught up in the moment. “And that is where we will have to stop for today…” I say. The children can’t believe it. Some refuse to accept that we’ve finished and try to tell me the action they want to take. “Tomorrow.” I reply. “Do you promise?” Aiden asks. “I promise.”
This was the beginning of our first adventure. I soon realised the impact this form of storytelling had on the class. The students would talk about the sessions together at lunch times and come up to me to tell me what they were going to do on their next turn. There was a real buzz and a sense of collaboration that was wonderful to see.
To find out more about how I ran these sessions, check out The Dice Game Rules post on the articles page.
I’ve been using RPGs in the classroom for some time now and have begun to share my experiences with other teachers in the school. To deflect the innevitable “But isn’t it just a game?” comments, I had prepared this handy skills met through RPGs document. I thought I’d share it here for other teachers to use and add to.
I am teaching in the U.K and we work from the national curriculum. Most of the spoken language skills are met through playing social RPGs. I have listed the skills below and have commented on how these are met by roleplaying:
Pupils should be taught to
Listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers.
As your collaborative stories unfold, the children will be engrossed by the story. They will listen for the clues you give them or to the Non-Playable Characters you introduce them to (silly voices are encouraged). They will talk with each other about their plans, not just in the game but in the playground too, this shared experience will spill out from the classroom and become a topic of conversation for all the children involved in the adventure. There is a dialogue happening both in and out of the game.
Ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge.
The investigative elements of RPGs are all about questioning. The pupils ask so many questions whilst in character as they try to find out more information about the world they are exploring. By linking your RPG worlds to the texts you are reading in class (and the rules and characters of their world), you are also building on their comprehension of the text.
Use relevant strategies to build their vocabulary.
By linking your games to a class text you can introduce book specific vocabulary in an engaging and contextual way. Students may find words dificult to understand when reading them in the text but if they have already encountered these words used in your game they will have a pre-knowledge of these words when they come to read them in the text.
You can also ask students to describe their actions in detailed ways, by sharing their own extended vocabulary your students will share and learn new words from their peers.
Articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions.
RPGs allow you to present your players with difficult decisions and to justify their decisions when they make them. By asking them why they chose to do something or about how their character feels about a situation you are getting your students to think not only from their perspective but from the perspective of their character.
Give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings.
RPGs give you an opportunity to model imaginative, descriptive language. Students can describe their characters feelings in different situations as well as how their characters look. As the storyteller or Games Master you will be describing what the players see and this lets you really go into detailed descriptions of locations and characters. These desriptions could also link to the class texts.
Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas.
A large part of playing in an RPG is problem solving. Your students will have to work togeher to overcome the problems you put in front of them. They will have to discuss their ideas with each other about the best ways to approach the challenges you present to them within the game. Allow them time to discuss strategies so that they can decide on the best course of action for their characaters. Let them talk through each problem you present them with.
Speak audibly and fluentlywith an increasing command of Standard English.
When playing in a large group, it is important to allow each player to have their turn and to be heard. The students will want to get their ideas and plans across to you and the rest of the class. This promotes audibility and fluency. By roleplaying through the world of your class texts this will also give children more experince of the vocabularly of the text, this really helps with the fluency of their reading. Roleplaying often helps to build on the confidence of each student. In my experience, they will feel empowered to use their voice and this helps them to speak loudly and proudly about their ideas.
Participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates.
Improvisation can be a difficult skill to teach in the classroom, but RPGs put the spotlight on this skill. The students will have a much better understanding of how to improvise from playing the game. The best moments from our class games have come from the improvisation of the students. Often, this will be in social encounters that their characters will experience. Playing in an RPG is a performance. Whilst not a theatre show, each of your students will have a moment in the spotlight to shine. Roleplaying itself is a skill in the national curriculum!
Gain, maintain and monitor the interest of the listener(s).
I have noticed that some children find it much easier to converse in character than they do in real life. I have had in-character conversations with students who often find it difficult to communicate in their day to day life, however they have held eye contact and been much more responsive to questions and answers of the characters they meet in the game. Students can feel a sense of safety when pretending, they are acting as someone else and find a comfort in pretending to be more confident than they perhaps feel usually. This may not be the case for all of your students but even if it gives just one student an opportunity to hold a conversation more easily than they are used to then I believe this is a very positive experience for them. Holding that eye contact, knowing that they will be listened to and that the charater they are talking to might have something important to say helps them build on the conversational skills they may not feel as comfortable to practise as themselves. For the more confident students, they have an opportunity to speak more publicly in front of their peers and hold the attention of their classmates.
Consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others + Maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments.
Again, by presenting your students with difficult decisions to make in the game you open up a forum for them to discuss strategies to overcome these problems. By letting whichever student player is next in the turn order make the decision of how their character will deal with the challenge you can also give them the opportunity to listen to the viewpoints of others on why their decision may work or may not. They can consider these contributions whilst still having control of their character’s decision.
Select and use appropriate registersfor effective communication.
This skill is met on a daily basis but can be reinforced in game by encouraging players to roleplay how they would talk to the other characters they would meet in the world. If they are trying to break up an argument between two characters, then how would they talk to them. What would be the appropriate register to calm the situation down? This will let them really think about how our voices can have an impact in real life situations and this is a skill that can be carried over from the game.
As I’ve outlined here, all of the U.K National Curriculum standards for Spoken Language skills are met through roleplaying in your class. This can help give the required ‘academic value’ to these sessions in your class if you are attempting to pitch running RPG sessions with your students. By linking your sessions to a class text you are really helping with the comprehension and vocabulary linked to the text, whilst by running your own sessions you are still providing excellent roleplaying and problem solving opportunities.