Today, we have so many apps and tools available at our fingertips. How far away is your smart phone from you right now? Maybe on the table, a docking station, or upstairs on your bed, or possibly in your hand at this very moment.
Have you ever seen someone tie a string around their finger? This old trick reminds the person that they wanted to remember something in particular and the out of place string wrapped around their finger reminds them of that memory.
Since we don’t normally keep strings on our finger, it can serve as a reminder to get something done. And we need reminders, otherwise, the day drifts into hours passed and minutes spent until the cycle completes and we witness the sun sinking behind the western wall with the same pressing feeling that we didn’t get anything done.
May I suggest setting aside all of the screens for a moment and do this one simple thing: make a list. Grab a mundane piece of paper, a blank one that allow you to freely express your handwriting. Retrieve a pen or pencil, depending on whether or not you like to scratch a hard line through your editions or buff them away with an eraser. Place the instrument on the paper.
Write anything that arrives at the top of your mind. Lay everything out on the hospitable parchment which holds all of the space for you. Without consideration, pour out your hearts desires, whether it arrives as a grocery list, unpaid bills, goals for schooling this next year, dream vacations or something you have been meaning to say to your mate. Deliver it up to the paper.
Watch in wonder, as your breathing changes. There it lies before you in honesty. Your thoughts, now in broad daylight, appear before your overarching witness. Whereas before, the jumble of activity in your brain looked more like a soup, this collection of words map out the recipe for how you think, how you dream and how you feel. Appreciate this feedback.
Finally, it all of it’s glory and imperfection. Post it. Not for anyone else to see, but give it just enough light to oblige your attention on a daily basis. You will thank that list many times over as it holds your thoughts for you. For now, my friend, your mind begins to create. Without clutter, and without encumbrance, it sets itself alight with the wings of the spirit and begins to fashion a life for you with the list in view.
While back in nursing school, I remember the long nights of studying, the groupwork projects and of course clinicals. It can take a lot of steam to keep track of everything there is to learn before you pass your NCLEX. So, naturally, great educators of the bygone days developed simple yet, effective models to help with learning all of this information. One of the standards of being a nurse is learning to think critically about any situation and the model we use is ADPIE.
ADPIE is a nursing theory which helps professionals remember the process and order of treatment to obtain the best possible results. Having this grilled into my brain over and over, I realize now that I use this process in everyday life, including while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of referring to the players as “nurses” in this model, I will call them “sojourners”.
For reference, ADPIE stands for Assess, Diagnosis, Plan, Implement and Evaluate. I would like to have you think of ways to use this model during your roleplaying game sessions, emphasis on “game”, no one’s life is at stake, right? Roll for initiative.
Without some scaffolding, even roleplaying games can go in meaningless directions that may leave the table feeling unsatisfied, because I do believe everyone desires to accomplish something in the game. But if you have no structure, most likely, your desires will go unmet. That’s why I think it’s important to use models like ADPIE, or anything really that helps you achieve your TTRPG fantasy!
Please, be warned, this model could change your life and help you achieve your goals. Any success gain while in use of this model is your own fault and reward. May your story continue!
Assess – This process is in place to ensure the sojourners ask questions. What I find most often happening, the Dungeon Master will set the stage for any scene of exploration, interaction or combat, and then the players will immediately jump into action. Might I suggest to follow the nursing model by first asking questions? Pry into the mind of the DM, and describe what your character would pay attention to. Just because the DM didn’t mention a 30 foot oak tree with a fort above the canopy does not necessarily mean it’s not there! But in my games, if a sojourner asks a question about a scene, “would there be a trap door we could utilize?” I will then answer that question, hopefully in favor of the heroes of the story. While assessing the situation, this process allows for sojourners to gather as much information as possible so as to make the best dice rolls as possible!
Another note – I use Owlbear Rodeo in my games and something I always remind them is that “just because you don’t see it on the grid, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist“. This means I don’t always have time to place all of the furniture within the virtual tabletop and encourage my sojourners to continue using that theater of the mind imagination skill by asking great questions.
Example: the DM describes a sinking boat with the colors of the local fishing guild flying humbly in the wind. The players then assess by asking questions about the peripheral information left out by the DM, are there passengers, are their skulking figures nearby, what is the weather, how fast could I swim to get there in time, can I make a memorial so as to come back tomorrow to loot the sunken ship? All great questions before any action is taken.
Diagnosis – While this might seem a word strictly used in the medical world, to diagnosis simply means to Determine what you Know. This is critically important step in the process, because if the table comes to a divided acknowledgment of the situation, then the outcome of the attempts will also be divided. In my games, I like to present two basic situations – Invitation and Challenge. The overall question the sojourners should be diagnosing is “is this an invitation to accept, or a challenge to meet?” Diagnostic indicators are used in the medical world and this is where players need to refer to their character backstories and determine how their character would judge this situation. While being aware of this step in the process, rich moments of roleplaying can occur, because if you properly diagnose the scene as an invitation or challenge, then the entire table will stay true to their characters throughout the story.
Example: After all of the assessment has taken place, the players then confer with each other (in and out of character) that this ship sinking is most likely an act of threat towards their beloved fishing guild. They firmly decide that the party’s course of action is to discover who is behind all this and make them pay dearly.
Plan – after watching a few streams since 2017, I have to say I think even the most seasoned players can flub up on this step in the ADPIE process. We are quick to roll the dice and quick to act and while this can make for some comical moments in the game, planning can provide a more sure outcome. Planning is simple. After taking into consideration all of the questions answered, and forming a unified judgement about the situation, the players use their particular skills, features, spells, and silly accents to ensure their plan goes off without a hitch. Also, on a side note, I think this step is where most of the bonding between players at the table takes place. This step should not be sidestepped by rogue players who shoot first and ask questions later. While there is a place for that level of roleplay, most of the time I have seen players enjoy the unilateral approach to problem solving.
Example: After asking great questions about the sinking fishing boat, and determining this was a crime, the players then decide to split up and gather intel in the town using their various charms, connections and coercing. One player thinks it best that they stay behind and keep a sharp lookout to see if anyone shows up tonight to clean up any messes.
Implement – While developed as a nursing theory for medical professionals to provide the best care, I bet that the best sessions you experience already use something like this! We are over the halfway point of the ADPIE step by step process to providing a rich tabletop session! Implementation, of course, this is where you pull out those shiny math rocks and get to rolling. This is where steel meets steel and everything progress (hopefully) as planned. However, before you start rolling the dice and holding the DM at knifepoint to tell you what you’ve won, please, take a moment and follow this method. As I say in my games, “Describe to me what you are doing, and I’ll tell you how to roll.” I do this because while D&D is fun, I think it’s also a creative exercise in developing perspectives. For example, if I describe to you that I’m drinking from a teacup, what does the teacup look like? Five players can silently write out a description and we will easily gain 5 different images, and none of them were as the DM imagined! The point being, that while rolling all that dice and gleefully anticipating the results, use this step to describe what your player is thinking, feeling and doing.
Example: After witnessing the sinking ship, determining a villain was to blame and planning with the party, Jon the Bard and another sojourner rendezvous with an old friend. They play cards, share a drink and an old story. The other sojourner (player at the table) learns a little bit about Jon’s past as he remembers his hometown. And then, Jon asks the dark question, “who would have an interest in sabotaging the fisher’s guild?” The rooms goes silent and the DM says, “make a persuasion check”. Jon checks his die, “24” he says.” The DM smiles, now ready to drop some serious lore.
Breathe deep for now we take the last step to the ADPIE process for your Dungeons and Dragons sessions. Some might have easier methods, but if it’s good enough for living saving medical professionals, then it’s good enough for RPGs, right? 🙂 Don’t forget, once your brain uses a model, it likes to remain efficient and use the model for other areas in your life. Remember, if you use this, prepare to be successful!
Evaluation: This step is incredibly simple, for it’s about time that the Dungeon Master gets a chance to speak. Oh yes, that’s why I love using this in my games, because he players are doing all of the interacting, talking, laughing and sharing. Aside from answering questions, the DM simply keeps up the pacing of the story, and checks their notes. The evaluation falls into the DMs hands based on the assessment, diagnosis, plan and implementation of the players.
Example: After witnessing their beloved ship sink, decided the villain was to blame, the sojourners make a plan to use their various features and go gather intel. The plan goes off well, for the dice were in their favor, with the exception of the cleric, who despite having the best course of action (gaining intel from the local shrine), the dice failed her. Here is the evaluation. “The fishers guild is being sabotaged by none other than Charming Chums, a bogeyman pirate group who have allied with the town sheriff to chokehold the industry. Rumor says, they meet in the haunted mansion up the hill. Sadly, while doing so, the cleric found to her horror, that the local priest failed to provide info and falsely believe her to be a heretic, and she will now have to navigate town without the churches blessing, imposing a new challenge.“
When in doubt, just ADPIE! Remember that if you use this model in your games, or anywhere in your life, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. You will need to reference it like a dry checklist, but the more you use it, the more natural the process will feel. In the game, you have steps in combat, – movement, action, bonus action, speech, interaction, but over time, those become second nature in your memory. So, don’t allow structure to scare you, for constraint makes for a creative spirit. I hope you enjoyed this step by step walk through of a popular nursing theory ADPIE, and I hope you can use it in games and life.
I believe that everyone of us is a storyteller. You don’t have to speak of elves and dwarves or aliens from a far realm to convey a human experience using your words to another fellow human. Every time you make an attempt to persuade someone, you are crafting a story. Every time you rationalize an event, you are telling yourself a story. In other words, you already tell stories, and if you want, you can become better with practice.
I found this article while browsing for better ways to tell stories and discovered this method! I wondered how my Dungeons and Dragons campaign would hold up to the heat of this crucible for storytelling. Let’s see.
Immediately I drafted a list using this five pillars and overplayed my current game. We have been playing this since March 2020 and what started as a couple friends rolling dice while rescuing a lost miner has turned into a fantastic story, if I may say so.
I believe that is partly thanks to my amazing players, or as I call them sojourners, for together we sojourn through life telling stories. These stories make us. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, life begins to imitate art and we learn to utilize many sorts of problem solving practices in real life that we played in game.
But D&D being good for you is a different story. Today, I wanted to celebrate a success in my campaign and show you the overlay of the 5 Cs and how my story lays gently into this model of storytelling. While I think you should read the article above, here are the 5Cs.
Circumstance, or the setting
Curiosity, or why bother listening?
Conversation, or how would I share this with others?
Characters, or how do I relate as a listener?
Conflict, or what happens in the end?
And here, as promised, is my story.
Because Zariel, ruler of hell, struggles to maintain order in the war torn land, the hordes of the demonic abyss rise in numbers and threaten to overrun our beloved plane of Bonzárel. If she loses, the hordes will rise in numbers, but if she wins, she sets up a military cult recruiting mortal souls into her blood war and martial service. The characters are Felthran, who is honest, stubborn, loyal and dutiful. Garindan, who is haunted, darkened, redeemed, and rehabilitated. Bramble, who is vengeful, humble, proficient and pragmatic. Hey, who is lovable, simple, pure and abandoned. So then remains the difficult decision of setting up the ruler of hell, where an eternal war occurs between evil demons who want to overrun the universe and evil devils who want to enslave and overrule the universe. While the sojourners begin by visiting this neighborhood of conflict to ensure the battle stays far from their home, they discover they are they have been appointed to set up the rulership of hell sanctioned by the gods.
So, there you have it. I’m pleased to find I didn’t require much tweaking with the storyline in order to neatly fit into the 5 Cs of Storytelling. Whether you are sharing your morning coffee with a friend, selling a service to a customer or interviewing for a job, we are all telling stories. Because they appeal to the very core of our ancient humanity, we should learn to tell them well. May your story continue!
Recently, I have been pondering the role of story in the game Dungeons and Dragons. When I first began to play, I realized quickly that this kind of game facilitates story telling at its finest. Images filled my thoughts of villagers gathered around an evening campfire as the elder recounts the tales of their existence, myths and legends retold, along with variations added as, generation after generation, the tribe grew.
Eventually, books held the stories and myths were lost. The books kept the story told the same way every time with little to no variation save for edition updates. I rest that there remains something powerful about stories originating from our mouth and memory.
And then we began to passively watch television, streaming shows and movies. This form of entertainment required less imagination, for along with the verbal descriptions from books, now the visual descriptions were laid out for us right there on the screen. Little if any work was asked of the listener.
Still, from oral tales around a glowing campfire to lounging on the bed staring into another glowing device, we have always been wanting to hear a good story.
With Dungeons and Dragons, and other roleplaying frameworks, we are now able to flex our myth telling muscles into crafting stories around the table. Interesting that the word myth originated from the same word used to make “mouth”. These myths we share do more than entertain, they allow us to become the creators of our own entertainment. Beyond scratching out hit points and rolling dice, storytelling games lead the way in entertainment.
This is a call to summon your imagination to the forefront and begin by prompting your adventures with friends and family around the table. Playing Dungeons and Dragons is an exercise as old as time, long before books and long after television, we will continue to tell stories.
I have been leading story telling sessions for Dungeons and Dragons since 2017. I started by watching a fantastic session with Matthew Mercer by googling “live action dungeons and dragons.” I was struck with awe! This was exactly the kind of games I played as a young child. Somehow adult life crept in and I forgot how to tell stories. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition really has introduced me back into the world of role playing and storytelling. Crafting adventurers for many groups of players, I have had lots of time to build a campaign and then review my work to see how I could refine my skills. I have found that treating adventure planning like a meal recipe helps me remember to keep the ingredients simple and consistent in order to deliver a wonderful home cooked adventure for your sojourners around your table!
Session Number I think it is important to keep track of how many sessions you have run and how long your campaigns survive. This can also be important regarding leveling up your sojourners if you are using the milestone rule.
Title Give your session a title. A title focuses the session into a common story. By shifting their perspectives into the title, all of the players around the table can share in the same story. I’m not sure about you, but this makes me feel like I’m in a book.
Inspirational Quote I always like to remind myself of why I play the game. From the plethora of great GMs, I will borrow an inspirational quote I have heard from another game master or story teller. Some examples that I have used before are as follows:
I begin this game assuming I’m already having fun
Players will have only as much fun as you do
Blessed are the flexible, for their stories will not be broken
Great storytellers ask great questions
You are creative!
Sojourner’s Spotlight and Goals Share a recap on the sojourner’s characters by their stating their place in the world and why they care about the mission at hand. By keeping the sojourners as the centerpiece of the adventure takes skill, you can avoid derailing the adventure with distractions from the main characters. Take a moment to jot down who your sojourners are and why they make the difference in the story.
Introduction When I say, “And so our story continues,” this lets the players know that I have begun the session. I like to start off by sharing about 3 paragraphs of a recap of last session or the current story in a narrative past tense format. This gives me opportunity to crystalize the mission, and highlight some of the most daring escapades of the sojourners. I will then complete this narrative with the phrase, “and so, our story continues.” Also note that with this phrase, “and so, our story concludes for now” is how I let the team know that the session has ended for the day. Bookending the adventure with a consistent ingredient keeps the table on the same page as the storyteller.
Villain Of course, a great adventure requires a great villain! As the story teller, I challenge you to think about your villains as your personal player character. Answer the questions of their origin, who they are, what they are doing in the world and why. Give them bonds and flaws and elaborate backstories. Treat them as you would your own player character and allow them to complete the adventure for the sojourners in a mighty and epic finish! Then, at the end of the campaign, tear up the character sheet in celebration that you helped craft a story of excitement.
Holy Grail This could be a powerful relic, a piece of land, a hostage princess, or any number of holy artifacts. Basically, this is what the sojourners and the villains compete for in the adventure. Along with physical objects, it could also be the affection of another, the witness of the gods, or the favor of a queen. By using the unicorn horns, lost stones, the ancient crystal or whatever your mind fashions, this gives the story a theme of competition between the sojourners and villains.
Setting Where and when your adventure session takes place helps set the mood. There is a big difference between describing the opening scene taking place on the barge floating in the great sea and a dungeon cell locked in a vampire’s lair. Take this time to impose senses onto the sojourners and asking them how they choose to interact with their environment. Some favorite questions I have asked the players at the beginning of the session are as follows.
To what does your character pay attention?
How do you respond to this scene?
What wonderful smell do you sense this morning?
How does the weather affect your character in a way we can all see?
Incident I have heard it said that consumers will decide if they enjoy an establishment within the first 15 seconds of arrival, whether it be a restaurant, church, or anywhere that has a vibe. After you have described the opening scene, you must impose an event or encounter to kick start the session. Instead of blankly looking at the sojourners and ask them, “well, what do you want to do?” Take a moment to place the encounter in front of them. The incident can be a great place to hand a quest or mission, perform a lore drop via a street corner prophet or town crier, or invoke an emotion by a demonstration of the villain’s perilous plans. After this push from the story teller, look out, because the adventurers will steer the story from this momentum!
Encounters Following the incident or starting point, I can then branch out into possible encounters the sojourners will experience. Please note that I can change the order in which they occur depending on what this particular session needs to manage the energy at the table. Encounters can include social interactions with contacts and villains, exploration of cities or wilderness, or wild combat that pushes the narrative into exciting scenarios.
Contacts Contacts are NPCs and a critical part of the adventures. Various NPCs can help or hinder the quest at hand by offering information, giving clues, or leading down trails where you believe the sojourners should go. Honestly, the contacts offer to cover the blind spots the sojourners might have in their adventure. If the table requires a damage dealer, maybe offering a raging warrior NPC to aid them on their quest allows them to share in a harrowing adventure without taking enormous damage and death. If the table requires a book smart librarian, maybe including a mage to tag along with the party might provide opportunities for lore drops to keep the quest on track.
I have also found the game master’s contacts can draw out wonderful roleplay for the players to experience. This provides a show and tell style learning right there at the table. Use the contacts to endear the party to the mission and draw out their backstories for all to experience!
Monsters Monsters. Wow. I have so much to say about them. What I will say is that the process of “re-skinning” a monster from a manual is the best thing I’ve ever done for combat. Most of the time I will browse through the monster manual, and choose at the most, 3 monsters. I choose 3 just to make life easy on myself, rather than rushing back and forth between hundreds of pages and books. Please note that a monster is really any live action challenge placed in opposition to the sojourners. This could appear as a warring tribe of goblins, a rival gang of pirates, or a crime lord beholder. Since I only run 2 hour sessions (for now) I may or may not have combat each session. But when the story begs for some carnage, I have at the most 3 monsters ready to fight. Upon the sojourners meeting the monsters, I’ll give a vivid description depending on our shared imagination and then use the stat block to crunch out the attack rolls and defenses.
Discoveries Discoveries can really drive the story and act as hand holds for the sojourners to experience in furthering the plot. If no discoveries are made, I believe the trail can become cold and the players yearn to round off the quest by prematurely completing the mission. A major discovery includes a finding about the sojourners or the world around them, This could include the villain’s plans which act as an appetizer to tease them to sticking around for the main course, the final showdown. Some great discoveries my players have made include
new cures from local plant life
history on a local area
a newfound truth about their own character
the backstory of another player character
These discoveries also present a great way to reveal something about the villain without them making an appearance, all could arrive as messages, prophecies, warnings, or news from afar.
Rewards There are so many ways to hand out goodies during a game session, but just like any other party, they are best done at the end. Normally, I will already have customized a reward for each sojourner. This could include a social benefit, magic relic, cash prize or holy blessing. Towards the end of the session, I will utilize the high dice rolls as an opportunity for the sojourner to discover their coveted gift. However, in the case that if a player actively goes off the rails to seek for something and rolls high, I will use a random treasure table and dish out a reward.
Surprise and Twists Most of the time, the quest is the main quest, the contacts are trustworthy, the villains are evil incarnate. Occasionally, adding a twist into the narrative can challenge sojourners to think outside the box and surprise everyone with a clever maneuver. Some of the best twists I have used
making the initial rescue mission contact also the main villain by the end of the adventure
a necromancer deal with the party instead of suffering defeat by advocating for the benefits of a recyclable workforce
part of the session was a dream state. This lead to an interesting future session taking place on another plane helping the sojourner get back to their consciousness
Again, use sparingly!
Highlights After the session is over and I utter those magical words, “and so, for now, our story concludes” the players and storytellers will debrief the session by sharing one or two moments that really stood out and pleased them as players. Seriously, this has nothing to do with the characters in the story. This is simply an opportunity for the players to highlight what they enjoyed about the session. It could be a moment of victory for another character, or a villain’s closing monologue or maybe just the way the story teller described the scenery. This gives you a window of opportunity to listen to what your players at that table enjoy about playing roleplaying games. Listen!
Hopes In keeping with alliteration, after you visit the highlights for each player, ask everyone around the table what they hope to see for next session. While they can share future hopes in the overall campaign, allow this time to show you to what your players are paying attention to. They will share you their theories about where the story is going and where they expect the adventure to travel.
I want you to know that we are all creative people and story tellers. Hopefully, by viewing this creation as a recipe for adventures will help you design your own stories with friends and family around the table!
And so, our story continues!
Thank you to all of the story tellers from whom I have drawn inspiration! (In order of exposure)
I want to be a great listener and I thoroughly enjoy hearing people tell stories. I love playing around the table, Dungeons and Dragons because by listening actively, searching for meaning, we can share our stories to end up becoming even better listeners.
Very quickly, I say that listening includes taking in necessary data from another person, but active listening hers and searches for meaning in the words. It asks, “yes I hear and this is how what you say means something to me.” By doing so, I can help the other person feel like I’m in the story with them.
The way Dungeons & Dragons work is by using the storytelling method of “yes and”. “Yes and” simply means that I accept reality and I build upon it. But how do we make this work? The answer is to search for meaning. Ask yourself “if this reality is true then what does this mean to me?” This is IMPLICIT reality. Only listening to a description the dungeon master gives you does nothing more than store new data into your brain. But by actively listening, searching for meaning, then together, we can share stories.
Dungeon Master says, “a storm arrives on the hill.”
Players say “aha, we walk through the storm.”
The above example simply states an explicit reality. Something happens and you do something about it, and at best this informs us, but also bores us incredibly. However, Active listening takes what I describe to you and build up on it to tell a story.
Dungeon master: A storm arrives on the hill.
Bard says “I accept reality and prepare supplies so they are not damaged.”
Cleric says “I accept reality and bite on my lip for a fear being struck by lightning.”
Fighter says “I accept reality, hold up my sword and anticipate the thrill of meeting a storm giant, face to face.”
Warlock says “I accept reality and I remove my robe down to my linens, kneel down and ask forgiveness to Tempus God of the storms for my many sins.”
While not necessary to always preface your implict statements with “I accept reality”, the statement alone provides a sort of training wheel as you get used to sharing the narrative around the table. The explicit means that a storm has arrived and presents a challenge to the players, but the players take responsibility to search for meaning. This moves the story from explicit information to implicit meaning. The story continues.
In this example the dungeon master gives yet a very simple encounter as an ogre attacks the party in camp. However, we can use the same method of “yes and”, in that the players accept the reality and build upon it within a story format. Notice the similarities between the two encounters.
Dungeon master says, “oh no! an ogre attacks your camp!”
Bard says, “I accept reality and prepare to defend the ponies.”
Cleric says, “I accept reality and fear being taken alive as a meal.”
Fighter says “I accept reality and anticipate the opportunity to collect an ogre’s hide to profit in town.”
Warlock says, “I accept reality and pray to Tempus to forgive me for taking a life.”
In this example, it explicitly states that if the characters want to live, they must fight. However, the characters must search for what this information means and state the implicit reality. By using this technique of “yes, and” and then moving from explicit reality to implicit meaning brings the table from simply saying the mundane and obvious and into collaborative and exciting storytelling!
So remember, when presented with a reality say “yes, and”. Take the responsibility to search for meaning by taking the explicit information, and gift your table with a story, and share the implicit reality. If everyone performs in such a way at the table, we enjoy a sojourner’s tale of adventure.
Even if you don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, or any roleplaying games at all, I hope you can appreciate that by using these storytelling techniques, even in your own life can your communication improve. Think about it! By actively listening, you are connecting your own personal meaning and investment into the information the other person tells you. If you then use the “yes, and” method, you agree with the narrative and build upon it. You are saying, “I am playing in your reality, and I will add to it with my own meaning.” Of course this doesn’t mean that you blindly agree with every statement any more than a hero agrees with the ogre that humans taste the best over an open barbecue! By saying “yes and,” you keep the communication moving and alive, even if your following statements and actions divert from the original intention. “Yes, Mr. Ogre, you do want to cook us all up, however, I believe there is a win-win situation we can also cook up.”
Enjoy those around your table and play Dungeons and Dragons and learn to actively listen, search for the meaning and build upon a great story.
Back in the 80s, my family homeschooled. I remember the days of workbooks, reading assignments, playing outside and household chores. Right now, we have experienced the COVID – 19 pandemic of 2020 and overnight, public education closed for the year. This landed most everyone staying at home with their children while performing online calls with teachers and classmates. My family of 5 was already homeschooling during this time so not too much for us changed. Although I remember that homeschooling usually involves playdates, field trips, and trips to the library, during this crisis, we aren’t truly homeschooling. That being said, I do think that this time can provide some much needed reflection on how to identify our values. As I mix together tabletop roleplaying games and homeschooling, think about your own values that you have had time to realize.
When I thought a little more about our situation, I realized that homeschooling is so much more than completing your textbook at home as if it was a sick day or if you were snowed in and the country shut down. During this time, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, having no real place to go and recreate anymore. Quite a few people joined me with online calls as well and we had a great time. So I thought of some ways that home schooling was a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons.
First, I decided to identify my values with homeschooling. As of now, we live in the information age. Find an opinion on a topic, and I’ll find a counter opinion. Find a truth and I’ll expose it as a lie. Find a fact and if we dig deep enough, science is just science and nature is just nature. Even reading through history, I’ve discovered that there are many takes on what happened in the past based on perspectives and sometimes, editing or omission of information.
Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot like that. When the story teller describes a scene of welcomed oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, they’re not going to give you every detail of information. Nor will each player experience the scene in the same exact way. When I’m done with my description, I ask each player to then ask me a question about the scene. This tells me #1 what I failed to inform and #2 what the players pay attention to in settings.
Do I see any animals?
How deep is the oasis?
What time of day?
Does anyone look thirsty?
These example questions prompt me to continue on with the description before assuming I know what they want to hear. It’s not that there are no caves nearby, but only that none of the players really care if caves exist. Theoretically, if a cave existed in that scene, no one remembers or their brains just simply blocked out the info so they could see what gave them interest.
Now tie this back into homeschooling. We see what gives us interest. And these lenses help inform our view of the world. The practice I’ve implemented is asking the children more questions. What do you see? What do you notice? What would you like to know more about? What questions do you have about your reading?
The next point is that on the opposite end of the table, the reason Dungeons and Dragons works as a collaborative story telling game is because every player and the story teller agree to share the same reality.
When the story teller describes a rickety rope bridge over a river of snapping crocodiles, the players then share that reality by testing the bridge, attempting to fly over using magic, befriending the crocodiles by feeding them a prisoner. You get the idea. If the players disregard the narrative by announcing they walk along the bridge with no consequence then the information given by the story teller is invalid. Now, some story tellers will then describe the consequences to the players careless actions, but even then, the players have to continue to agree that what the story teller describes is the same story they play in their minds.
Along with sharing the narrative, players agree to enhance the narrative by adding dialogue, describing responses to the sway of the bridge, tossing a rock down to the crocodiles to see how hungry they might be. This not only agrees with the narrative collectively, but builds a world that can further expand into another story. Like roots from a seed, they expand out and down to create a system of thought with a story.
Homeschooling requires agreed upon values. Teaching your kids at home is not just about handing them information to memorize, although most of study can be about memorization, kids love trivia! Teaching values using rhythms of life, routines and honoring choices with consequences impart the worldview that one is to adopt. How we spend our resources defines our values and homeschooling can really drive a person to identify the treasure they protect, the values of their life. Once they agree upon those values, then watching a child enhance them is one of the most innocent and beautiful events in creation. Their radical adherence and promotion give radiance to the value, arguably increasing its worth. Stop and take a minute to think about what you have found important during this time of repose.
Values are the last of ourselves to remain in the flames of trial.
Dungeons and Dragons. Homeschooling. I’m sure that like myself, you have little teachers in your life that show you the path. Gardening. Photography. I hope that when the rats begin to crawl back into their wheels, that when the bright lights and hum of activity increase back to “normal”, that you have made friends with your values. Shelter them. Grow them. And teach your kids to love them as well.
Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.
When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!
But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?
Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.
When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!
Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.
Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.
Do I have to talk with an accent?
What if l say the wrong thing?
How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?
The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.
This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!
So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.
Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast
Blending the tabletop role playing game Dungeons and Dragons into strong and positive education for children
Parents possess so many opportunities for their children to be successful. As you search for activities for your child this summer, consider getting them involved in Dungeons and Dragons. Let me share three values of playing this well-established tabletop role playing game.
What is tabletop role playing?
Peer over the edge of your imagination.
One of the questions I am asked when talking about Dungeons and Dragons is “what kind of video game is it?” Most people imagine children glued to a screen and nothing could be further from the truth! If video games are your thing, then have a blast, but if you are looking for something for your child which involves more social connection, then consider tabletop role playing. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, is a simple game where people gather around a table and tell a story. At most the supplies you need are pencil, paper and a polyhedral dice called a “d20”.
Make a choice in game, and roll the dice! The higher the number, the more successful you are. The lower the number, well, time to think of another solution.
Wizards of the Coast, founded 30 years ago, are constantly improving upon the content they release and with the 2014 5th edition update, the books and manuals are geared towards a more diverse audience. The clean artwork captures imagination and the instructions read like a choose your own adventure novel. My 9 year old son has plenty of the content memorized and let me tell you, he reminds me of the rules to the game frequently! If you are a long time player, or brand new to the scene, many parents, like myself, are wanting to get their children involved in such as beloved pastime.
In our over stimulated world, we can quickly become isolated. While our smartphones hold our attention, our family tables are left empty. Although we have plenty of wireless connection, people are now less connected than ever. Whatever happened to simply getting together and enjoying each other’s company? Look around, we even have products like Yondr, which are designed to create “cell phone free spaces” so that people can enjoy live entertainment once again. Being present can a problem.
Dungeons and Dragons requires you to be present to play! Much like an afternoon softball game, if you play the field, you remain present your teammates.
The game begins by one person called the dungeon master (DM), setting up a storyline in a make believe world. After the DM sets the stage full of a world with history, interesting locations, fascinating people and problems to solve, then the game is ready to introduce the player characters (PCs). In case you were wondering, Wizards of the Coast produces great story lines like Dragon of Icespire Peak , ready for you to read and play through to completion. If your kids enjoy chasing after dragons, then this story will hold their attention.
Next, we introduce players, individuals who take on certain roles in a group called a party. One player may act as a guide, while another acts as a champion. Another player takes on the role of a healer in case anyone is injured while another player acts as the plucky comic relief, making up songs and cheering everyone up when times get sad. I have described to you some of the job descriptions or classes any PC make perform, such as a ranger, fighter, cleric and bard. When you mix in that fantasy worlds of the imagination often times include more than humans, you now have a party of an elf ranger, a dwarven fighter, a human cleric and a hobbit bard. You can imagine what kind of hero your child will want to play! Much like popular stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, each actor plays a different kind of character to balance out the skills of the party. With each session lasting anywhere from 2 hours to an entire day, people spend time together, creating memorable stories.
This brings us to another value of the game. In D&D, players collaborate, rather than compete with each other. Everyone can take on the hero role, and everyone can win as long as they listen. While most board games involve individuals vying for power, money and spaces on the boardwalk, Dungeons and Dragons has always been about players working together to solve logical problems.
Children practice arithmetic and logic in a group game
For example, if our party comes across a drawbridge manned by hideous monsters, each of the players indicate what their character would do in that situation. The ranger would scout ahead looking for a secret way in, the fighter would stand their ground and protect the party, the cleric would hold back some healing power in case one of their comrades needed aid and the bard would taunt the enemy, seeking to distract them. This kind of play promotes active listening. D&D allows each player to talk around the table, scribble notes and spur each other on much like friends telling ghost stories around a campfire. While one player shares, the others listen and from there, plan their next action. This kind of play promotes children learning to listen to the dungeon master and each other and therefore developing empathy, understanding and teamwork.
Of course, this highlights another value. Dungeons and dragons teaches children how to problem solve. The dungeon master works to set up a verisimilar conflict in a simulated world. Sometimes this problem involves a trap door in a dungeon, a small village threatened by an incoming tornado, or a city guard needing convincing to aid in setting the prisoner free. Keep in mind, a life of adventure poses many challenges throughout the average day! After perceiving the problem, each player goes around the table generating ideas and discussing how they plan to rectify the situation. Much like the improvisational music of jazz or blues, each player needs to show up in the scene if they want to support each other. In role playing games, each child plays a part to create a good story worth telling over and over again.
Dungeons and Dragons makes for great education!
Lastly, on a personal note, as a first time player in 2017, I introduced Dungeons and Dragons to my children, ages 5-9, both boys and girls. I noticed their love for reading and writing skyrocketed over one summer adventure we played together. Dungeons and Dragons was like rocket fuel to their education. Whether it was math or language arts, every subject improved the more they played. Without any prompting, they spent their days drawing maps, writing stories and stapling the pages together to make little books. And when we were done, they then spent time outside, acting out the adventures once again. Their attention span increased. They found a love for reading books to each other and this filled my heart with joy. In a world where we increase our connection to screens, I express gratitude to this game of storytelling. Dungeons and Dragons has helped me and my children connect to each other. My family will be upholding this value for a long time.