Tag Archives: teaching with role-playing games

Role-Playing Games in the Classroom


Zeus, the god of Storms and the Sky

In the early 90’s a fellow teacher became acutely aware of the effect the role-playing games I was playing at home after school had on the cognitive abilities of the fatherless boys I was constantly entertaining.  She suggested that maybe, if it was working at home with a few students and former students, it could also work in the classroom with all students.

This, of course was a daunting classroom activity to carry out, but enough of a creative challenge to my story telling abilities that I simply had to try.

I began with a cheap RPG book about adventuring D&D style with characters from Greek Myth.  This was an opportunity not only to play adventure games, but to teach a little bit about history and a lot about mythology.

So I created generic character sheets using my own personal copier, my own copy paper, and my own overhead projector plastic overlays.

I created adventures that could be conducted on the overhead with dice and each kid having their own set of skills and useful items.  We conducted Olympic games and included mythological creatures like Tritons and Centaurs as player characters.  We learned about the city of Olympia, the city of Argos, the city of Corinth, Athens, Sparta, and even Atlantis.

I let students draw their character from a hat on strips of paper that contained a boy option and a girl option.  I even let students trade for the character they wanted and we learned negotiating skills along with problem-solving skills.


                                                                                     Demeter, goddess of fertility (which you can’t say in a junior high classroom, so goddess of crops and farming.)

Most of the stories were driven by a kidnapping where the beautiful daughter of one of the players was kidnapped immediately after the Olympic medals were awarded.  The villain would take her to his evil island base, and the players would have to work together to buy or steal a boat.  Gods and goddesses could be called on to intervene, and sometimes they actually did.  Another story line began with the sack of Troy, during which the players either murder or witness the death of a young Trojan boy who just happens to be Heracles’ son.

That story took the players on a quest of penance to visit the underworld and retrieve the boy in the same way that Orpheus tried to rescue his lady love Eurydice.  Potentially, Heracles would even join the quest himself if none of the player characters were the actual killer.  And, of course, all sorts of encounters with monsters would ensue.



I ended up using about as much of my personal resources as a story-teller and a cartoonist to create those adventures as I had available.  But I had students tell me that the week of classroom time spent playing that problem-solving myth game was one of the most memorable learning experiences they ever had.  I never tried it with a high school class, only middle school, and then mostly with 7th graders.  But I think the experiment was very successful from about 1992 to 2004, and it taught me even more about teaching than it ever taught them about mythology.

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Player Characters

One of the best things about Dungeons and Dragons is that, in order to play the game, you have to play “let’s pretend” a lot.  You start with the notion that you have to pretend to be somebody else besides who you really are.  Possibly you can pretend to be someone who is impossible and could never be real.  You can be an elf, or an orc, or a dwarf… but if you decide to be a hobbit, you can’t call yourself a hobbit because that name is the intellectual property of the Tolkein family… but you can be a halfling… and somehow that gets you by.  And if you are, like me, the “Dungeon Master”, it becomes your responsibility to become the voices for all the NPC’s or non-player characters.  You get to be a multitude of people who are really not you.  And you get to do things that the real-life you would never do… either because it is simply not possible, or you haven’t finished studying magic in the real world, or because you are really not such a terrible person in real life… or not such a good and wonderful person in real life as the elf paladin you play in D&D.


My eldest son’s character, the leader of the adventuring party.

Ditty Bytcha was my son’s first D&D character, rolled up with dice to be a human fighter and an artificer (a maker of useful mechanical and magical devices).  His name was a bit of a joke.  His back story included a father named Willy Bytcha and a mother who was a paladin of the god Aureon (the blue dragon god of wisdom and knowledge) named Gunna Bytcha.  His grandpa was named Gummy Bytcha.  But as time went on, he acquired a sword named Stormgaar.  It was a magic sword, imbued with the intelligence and memories of the secret agent from Breland that gave the sword to him.  It served as his conscience.  It kept him from stealing from the poor and murdering women and children.  It guided him through moral dilemmas like what to do with a captured enemy.  And it gave him a way to add to his power to defeat evil.  By playing this game of goblins and dire wolves, dragons and surly dwarves, my son learned to negotiate his problems.  He learned that every problem does not lend itself to being solved by hitting it with something heavy or something sharp.  It gave him leadership skills that I truly believe have influenced him as a present day U.S. Marine, and may have led to the leadership responsibilities he has taken on there.


My number two son’s character is Gandy Rumspot, the halfling rogue and builder of sailing ships.

My number two son decided to take over an existing character, the halfling rogue Gandy Rumspot.  This character was a hard-drinking, charismatic, and thoroughly outgoing little hobbit… er, I mean halfling.  He was really the opposite of my son in almost every way.  My son is shy and over-cautious to a fault.  Gandy, however, took to the sea and took to the air.  He turned himself into a designer and builder of ocean-going ships.  And when they encountered other halflings who rode on trained pterodactyls, he had to have one.  They captured and tamed one, and he learned to glide through the air on the saddled back of a pterosaur.  He has learned to take risks and try the things that might seem scary.  When he wanted to get a job, without prompting, he went up to the manager of a tea-seller’s booth in the H-Mart Asian market and asked for an application.  They immediately gave him an interview and hired him.  He has already earned enough money to buy himself an electric guitar which he has taught himself to play very, very well.


My daughter the Princess chose as her character Mira Mirkestasia, a soul-gem wearing Kalashtar (a form of mind-reading sorceress).

Mira is my daughter’s character.  It took a while to convince the other two that their icky little sister should be allowed to play the game too.  They were worried that she wouldn’t be smart enough to keep up with what they wanted to do, wouldn’t be resourceful enough to help them overcome evil, and would be too squeamish to kill stuff and kill guys when it needed to happen.  So, she became a cerebral Kalashtar, one of those ESP brainiac characters who can do mind-reading and telekinesis because they share their body and soul with a bizarre creature who fled oppression in another dimension entirely.   In one adventure, she took possession of a mystically powered intelligent throwing knife named Xulo-Mira that would always hit the target (assuming she could make the dice roll) and would always return to her hand.  She became a reader of magic scrolls, a lover of magic books, and, in real life, she fell in love with reading, particularly the Percy Jackson novels of Rick Riordan.  Her grades in school improved.  She has become inventive, creative, and artistic… enough so that she was accepted into the special METSA program for high school next year where she will be able to get college engineering credits and do the things she loves to do while getting her high school diploma.


The clay dragon the Princess made in art class and wowed the art teacher into blubbering incoherence with.

I cannot claim with a straight face that playing the D&D role-playing game allowed me to train my three kids into wonderful people.  That is just an opinion from a doting father who gets off on playing god in an imaginary universe.  But I have found role-playing to be a useful way to teach things.  Over the years I played a lot of RPG’s in the classroom and at home.  I used role-playing exercises on kids whose behavior needed a lot of molding and modeling.  It can be done in real life, and I am not merely a D&D nerd who only lives in a fantasy world of his own making.  I am a D&D nerd teacher who teaches through a fantasy world of my own making.


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Dungeons and Dragons (Revisited)

Since I have been writing a lot about old D & D lately, I decided to repost this essay about playing Dungeons and Dragons.  It is reworked slightly to help mesh with recent posts.  Of course the names of students have been changed to protect the innocent.  I don’t expose real people in my blogging.  I tend to fictionalize everything.  After all, no one should have to suffer the damage to their reputations that Mickian goofishness can cause.

Back in 1982 I first started dungeon mastering for my younger brother and two sisters.  We bought a family set with both the red book and blue book.  It was the beginning of a lifelong love of storytelling games.  You can’t give fanboy dynamite to an Ubernerd and not expect some kind of big old explosion.


The thing that caught me so completely was the way that you could share the development of the characters and story, everybody at the table adding their two cents until you had a whole lot more than six cents… More like priceless.  And you never knew for sure how it would turn out, no matter how much you planned the plot and plotted the plan.  Events could turn out entirely opposite to what they should have, and inspiration on the spot could alter the essential course of a campaign.

In the beginning it was all about wizards.  The original game featured power that left wizards weak and vulnerable in the beginner levels, but fearsome with fire-balling ferocity after only a few levels of experience.  My brother’s wizard, LeRoy became powerful enough to make himself the king of all of Balindale and the Southern Kingdom .  When the dungeon master raised up armies of undead and ogres and undead ogres to bedevil old LeRoy, the bearded Lord of Balindale could simply summon meteors from the sky and burn them to the ground.  If I presented him with rival wizards who had armies and kingdoms of their own, he pulled a fast one and used his diplomatic dipsy-doo to make them into allies… even the evil ones.  He convinced them to sign treaties with him and eventually to accept him as their sovereign lord.  Thus the Wizard Ganser from mighty Gansdorf was tamed and turned.  When the evil Black Wizard refused to cooperate, Ganser and his army helped to invade and destroy the stronghold of Fort Doom.


So stories came to be dominated by wizards and wizard personalities.  And then I began recruiting former students to play the game.  The personalities changed.  Goofy Gomez chose to be the wizard, the typical classroom clown who could never do anything straight.  Fernie the Flunkie, a particularly destructive personality, also took up the way of magic with Asduel the Sorcerer.   So in some games, Asdok the Bumbling made jokes and got his fellow adventurers into situations where only the last minute appearance of a kindly, all-powerful Titan could keep them from being roasted in a pot with carrots and potatoes.  In other games, Asduel the Merciless burned cities and castles, made orphans into servants and slaves, and generally frowned quite a lot when the dungeon master  suggested that some Non-player characters needed to be spared or the over-all adventure would be lost for all players.


So, because of the power of wizards, we all learned that stories could be easily unbalanced and abused by the personalities in them.  We learned how important it was to learn to work together.  When Sir Hogan, the Knight of Tol Arriseah, and Sin Gard, the fighter of the many magic swords got sick of old Asduel, they let the bullywugs and locathah of Eary Marsh first take him prisoner, and then roast and eat him with carrots and potatoes.   And when Asdok the Bumbling set fire to the base of the tower in which he was trying to wring the treasure from the top, trapping his little thief friend, Artran the Halfling up there with him in the body of the ugly girl he had turned him into with a polymorph spell, they allowed him to take a ride in the tower-turned-skyrocket into another dimension entirely.


Dungeons and Dragons taught us that the difference between good and evil can be learned.   We learned that hitting your problems with a sword or dropping a fireball on top of them did not always solve them.   We learned to negotiate, to feel what others feel, and how to become a different person than the one you are.  I truly believe that the most important lessons you can learn about life can be learned playing D&D.  Morality, camaraderie, and cooperation are not really taught in school, but they can be taught in D&D.


And now I play Dungeons and Dragons with my own children.  How better to get to know them and mold their characters?  How else can you let them learn why you shouldn’t blow up your neighbors or slay your uncle with an axe except in an imaginary world where the ultimate oops can be fixed with a lawful-good cleric who knows a convenient raise the dead or resurrection spell?

So now I can officially post my Paffooney where Samosett the girl archer and little Prince Robin have murdered Unkel the Magical Ogre to get his chest full of treasure.  Oh, I shouldn’t forget Boffin and Bimbur the dwarves.  They are the ones that brought the group through the Wilderness of Zekk to find Old Unkel’s tower.



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The Black Wizard

Admit it, you’ve been expecting a post about the Black Wizard.  Haven’t you?  Or is it just crazy old Mickey thinking he represents the other shoe that needs to drop?  Well, I do get kinda goofy talking about Dungeons and Dragons, don’t I?


The Black Wizard had a name that the player characters eventually learned… but I have stupidly forgotten what it was.  So, I merely refer to him by the name they knew him by for most of the game.  He was a personal nemesis to two of the player character wizards.  He is shown here kidnapping Balin, the young son of the wizard LeRoy, my brother’s fifteenth level wizard.  He also faced off against Asduel, the Sorcerer played by young Fernie the flunkie who was in my eighth grade English class for two consecutive years.  Neither one could defeat him by themselves, and they never played in the same game at the same time.  

The Black Wizard lived in Fort Doom, a haunted military base from the frontier of Ancient Starnor.  He had designs on the Castle Kingdoms of the north like Tol Arriseah, Gansdorf, and Selonica.  It was thought that he was the evil twin of the powerful wizard Merlini, but was so twisted by black magic that even Merlini no longer recognized him for certain.  He teamed up with the Red Dragon R’Drak to lay seige to Gansdorf and Selonica.  But the armies led by Sir Hogan and Asduel drove them out of the city of Selonica, and R’Drak himself was slain in the Battle of Gansdorf.  He fled to the Southern Kingdom that LeRoy the Great Wise Wizard had built around the city of Balindale.  His haunted fortress at Fort Doom was near Balindale.  The Black Wizard conspired with the vampire Count Marilinev to turn all of the Southern Kingdom’s people into vampire thralls, but he finally met his match when LeRoy recruited the Raven Wizard Shaumar to best him in magical combat two against one.  He fell from the sky that day in a roaring red fireball and exploded against the mountainside.  Asduel would later capture and imprison his right-hand witch, and LeRoy took over Fort Doom, converting it into a castle for good.  The evil wizard’s young son Kath would be raised by LeRoy as a brother to Balin, and later was converted into a player character, adventuring for the causes of goodness and light.  Kath’s batwing cloak was the only thing he inherited from his evil father.

So if you have become totally fed up with my Dungeons and Dragons memories, find some relief, please, in the fact that there is very little more to tell.  Even goofy old Mickey can’t say too much more.  We played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in the early eighties, but it was doomed to ultimate limits by Baptists who thought the game was a tool of the devil for corrupting young minds.  Who knows?Maybe they were correct.  I did, however, always manage to have the good guys win in the end and evil be defeated.  It takes a pretty crafty old Satan to turn that into corruption. 

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