Monday, June 9, 2014

The Quest for the Amazing Replicating GM (part II)

I took what felt like a big risk by trying to introduce tabletop role-playing to 23 middle school students simultaneously, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well they received it.  It was in fact a big hit!  The problem was, despite my best efforts, once the initial novelty began to wear off, the disadvantages of large group play began to make themselves felt:

  • There was too much down time for students while other kids resolved their orders (something like 5 minutes between turns).
  • As GM, I was almost always engaged in adjudicating orders and so wasn't accessible to answer questions about either the game environment or the rules.
  • It was loud.  Players couldn't always hear what happened as each character's actions were completed, so interest waned.

I responded by transitioning to more traditional small-group sessions, limited to six players, but this had the effect of relegating the remaining 22 students (more kids had been transferred to my class at this point) to other activities.

With the end of the school year closing in on me, it was time to take another leap ... I had to find a way to replicate myself as a GM so that we could have multiple sessions running simultaneously.
My fumbling first step was to provide my 22 "other" students with some graph paper and a key filled with common dungeon map symbols.  My idea was to get the kids thinking in terms of design rather than just exploration/consumption.

From Page 112 of the 4e DMG

I provided some minimal prompting about drawing a dungeon and offered some map symbols before leaving them to it.  A little later I projected some guidance for stocking their dungeons based on the excellent little chart found in the Moldvay '81 edition of Basic D&D (my first) and I created a short list of monsters and treasures to help them stock their creations.

Part 1 of the dungeon stocking table from Moldvay's Basic Dungeons and Dragons
Take a look at the results:

Here's one

This one reminds me of B1

This gem includes outdoor exploration!

Not bad for a first creation

The results were pretty cool, but something didn't feel quite right ... I thought more about what being an effective GM entails.  What were the functions I was trying to get some of my students ready for?
Among other things a GM:

  • Uses interesting language to describes the game environment and helps players visualize and interpret it
  • Reminds players of rules 
  • Interprets and narrates the results of die rolls
  • Consults with the players to confirm locations and movement
  • Makes spot rulings for situations not covered by the rules
  • Evaluates and adjusts challenges and rewards
  • Maintains a sense of suspense
  • Handles disruptive players
  • Creates a sense of fair play and even handedness

So now they had some nifty maps, but had I really prepared them for the role of GM?

Clearly not.

So I rolled up my sleeves and tried again ...

Next Time: The Quest for the Amazing Replicating GM (part III)

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