Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Forbidden City (with teens!): Session One [Part 1]

Okay, so today marked my very first attempt to simultaneously engage an entire (albeit small) class of 23 middle school students in tabletop role-playing.

Short Version: My students were very good natured about the whole experiment.  It was a success and they enjoyed it, though they felt the pace was too slow (though not slow enough to spoil the experience).

Long Version:

1. A Careful Start:

I began cautiously, by explaining that we were going to try something new today as I  distributed copies of Dagger, an ultra-lite old-school RPG by Brave Halfling Publishing, available for free here.  I then asked my class to read the rules to themselves, inviting some students to work with a partner if they so chose.  I allowed about 15 minutes to read the six pages of rules -- that may seem excessive, but the reality is that their reading aptitude varies quite a bit and while some finished in that time not all did.

Next we talked about what we read; I led with questioning and they responded ...

  • "It mentions ability scores right here in the first sentence, but doesn't say what they are.  What do you think the writer is talking about?"  
  • "It gives three different character classes here.  What's each one particularly good at?"  
  • "What do you think hit points are?  What do you think happens when you run out?"
  • "What first level spells are available?"
A clear division quickly emerged -- those who play console games and those who do not.  Hit points, character class, and leveling up are of course all part of today's gaming legacy thanks to that odd little game by Gary and Dave ... though I must admit that "saving throw" stumped them at first.

2. Making a Choice:

From there I hurried them along into choosing from four iconic character classes (knight, wizard, elf, dwarf).  All classes come pre-packaged with starting equipment and I pre-determined hit points by class (knight & elf 5, wizard 4, dwarf 6).  The elf, who brings the only ranged weapon to the mix, was the clear favorite with 11 of 23 kids initially wanting to go that route.  Wizard was the loser, with only two takers (both non-gamers, both girls) ... was there a "wizards = Harry Potter = little kids' stuff" stigma that made this choice less attractive I wonder?

3. Getting to the Big Screen:

As my students broke for lunch, I scrambled to get a post-it stuck to each character sheet and to update my Smartboard file.  I pulled a small photo from the internet for each character, generally pulling pictures of painted miniatures, and labeled it with the player's initials.  When the kids returned, I shared their
 "miniatures", let three kids choose rumors from the list (they picked 1, 7 and 14), and got the action started at the mouth of the Black Canyon!