With my entire classroom of middle school students finally engaged in tabletop role-playing, it didn't occur to me to wonder what would happen if I was removed from the equation, but of course that's precisely what happened ...
I miss perhaps a single day of school each year, and that to attend a conference or a family function planned long in advance, but this year, in the final angst-ridden week of school, circumstances called me away for the mid-part of one day. I was going to miss the first half of class!
Faced with the prospect of being absent from part of my Core block, quite a few questions came to mind:
What would happen when I was gone?
How would the other adult called in to monitor things interpret or try to guide the action?
Should I just cancel our last session of the game and toss them a generic reading activity?
Would the students take advantage of the small group structure to blow off the activity altogether?
Would all of my dice disappear?
To (hopefully) mitigate the chaos, I assigned kids to groups ahead of time, mainly keeping them with their existing parties of explorers, but making a tweak here or there to shift a couple of the stronger personalities around. I briefed my Neophyte GMs the morning of my absence, showing each of them a separate cubby that contained a new folder-map, dice, rules, character sheets (including some blanks), and a second index card that introduced some new monsters and treasures which fit their dungeon thematically. Finally, I banged out a quick background script to (hopefully) establish some theme and set things in motion.
Before the instructional day started I asked a student who has a lot of enthusiasm and leadership qualities (Gilmie's player), to agree to read the script to the class after attendance was taken and before the GMs pulled their groups together.
Here's what he read to the class:
The monsoon rains are coming to Bawal Bayan!
The Bad News:
Soon the rainy season will begin and anyone still in the jungles around The Forbidden City will be trapped for six months without hope of rescue or resupply. There’s only time for one more quick dash into the crater to recover treasure before the stockade is abandoned until next year!
The Good News:
A sturdy team of dwarven explorers has cut their way through the jungle to the southern rim of the crater. Though a few were stung to death and carried off by giant hornets, the rest have managed to cut a dozen trees and roll them down into the ruined city below. Those logs have been used to make a crude log-bridge across The Crevasse. Now one last group of explorers has made their way through The Serpent Gate and to The Palace. Below The Palace three separate routes into the tunnels below Bawal Bayan have been found.
One expedition will explore The Sewers of Bawal Bayan; another will dare The Catacombs; a final group will face The Dungeons of Bawal Bayan.
And then I left for a couple hours.
Arriving back at my building I spared no haste making for my room. From down the hallway I could hear voices and laughter and ... yes ... those were definitely the rattle of dice. Without even pausing to check for traps I headed in ... and everything was cool.
A bemused teacher looked on, probably wondering what exactly it was she was supposed to be doing, while the kids rolled dice, wove descriptions, and sketched dark corridors. Trying to slap on my best Jane Goodall-nonchalant-face, I grabbed a notepad and jotted down some of what I overheard as I circulated around the room. It's a collage of sorts, but a collage that any veteran of The Dungeon will recognize:
"Let's try to close the secret door and see if the statue turns back around."
"My ear got cut off!"
"You hear some screeching, what do you do?"
"It's probably a bat."
"I'm done! I'm done! I attack! 20 and 4! What now, hunh? What now?!"
"His armor class is so good because he's low to the ground."
"You're gonna drown."
"He can't swim?"
"He's got platemail on!"
"You might have found something better if you searched harder, but you didn't hold your breath long enough."
"Do you want to pull one of the levers?"
"Which one should I pull?"
When the class period began to wind down I prompted GMs to wrap up their last encounter and help players calculate how much wealth they had escaped with. From there I had my kids complete a short reflective writing assignment. Here are some excerpts from their writing:
"What happened in the game today?"
"In Dagger today we went into a sewer. There were three passages and we all chose different ones ... "
"When I got to a large room there was a [giant] turtle and a puke monster ... [student] snuck away from us and found a room belonging to the snake people."
"First we entered a spinning, rotating, circular room. We scrambled out into a dark, creepy tunnel. The tunnel led to a room and inside were talking [stone] faces. They were speaking different languages ..."
"What did your GM do well?"
"The GM did a good job making the monsters enter at a good part."
"All of the explaining needed."
"He moved the game along so that it flowed."
"He spoke on where we were and what was going on."
"He was creative and made good drawings."
"He did a good job of balancing out where the monsters were. It was a good thing because I probably would have died in the beginning if he had put too many."
"What would make the game better?"
"If more people were in the game."
"It would be better if attacking was more balanced and there were more characters [types]."
"If there was a dragon."
So in the end, we passed a test that I didn't even know was coming.