Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classroom Activity: Map and Setting (part III)

Here is the planned culminating activity for my unit on setting design. I didn't spin off into world-building (though that would be a delight) but kept this project focused on having each student create a location-based adventure scenario.

Unit Two: Creating a Setting

Key Objective: Students will extend their knowledge of geographic tools by generating maps and map keys

Culminating Activity (#4): Design a Complete, Location-Based Adventure Setting


  • Students are furnished with a rubric, graph paper, hazard and reward lists, stocking guidelines, sample map legend, and list of sample plot hooks
  • Students are advised that they will be preparing two keys for the same location: one basic level, one expert level
  • Students are provided with a list of transitional events to inspire a history for their setting (“flood”  “invasion by creatures”  “plague”  “earthquake”  “opening of dimensional gateway”  “100 years pass”  etc)

never pass up an opportunity to use Albrecht Durer

  • map with legend and two-part key - evaluated by rubric (rating each category from 3 to 0))

Here are the descriptors for work that earns a "3"

3 = My map is carefully drawn in ink, includes a title, a legend for symbols used, and has 15 or more numbered areas with significant variety in features.

3 = My beginner key includes each numbered area from my map. My encounters relate to each other and have a consistent rationale. There is variety and interest in my encounters and they include tricks, traps, monsters, empty areas and treasures.  My encounters are reasonably balanced to challenge beginning level explorers.  I have identified one or more plot hooks for introducing characters to the setting.

3 = My expert key includes encounters that are interesting, creative, and which offer an appropriate level of challenge.  This key has a clear relationship to my basic level key, suggesting change over time.  I have identified one or more plot hooks for introducing characters to the setting.

Coming up next time, Unit Three: Managing the Game ... can I continue to develop a cadre of junior GMs?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Classroom Activity: Map and Setting (part II)

I'm continuing to develop lesson ideas for my middle school game-based enrichment class.
Right now I'm focusing on Unit Two: Creating a Setting

Key Unit Objective: Students will extend their knowledge of geographic tools by generating maps and map keys
Activity 2: Whole-group Setting Design.
Working first in whole-group, next in small groups, and finally in whole-group again, the class will collaborate to develop a single adventure setting. Finally they will evaluate the setting as a whole.

Sub-Objectives for this activity:
  • Students will practice using a map key and interpreting maps

  • classroom Smartboard & projector
  • class votes on type of setting (ancient tomb, sunken city, ruined castle, ghost ship, etc)
  • small groups to design hazards and rewards
  • come together to add group contributions to Smartboard
  • identify one or more plot hooks for involving characters in the setting
  • identify criteria that make a setting engaging (mystery, danger, originality, etc)

  • 3x5 reflection
    • Using the criteria we identified, evaluate the setting we created as a class on a scale of A to F, using specific examples to explain the reason for the grade you chose. What one thing could be done to improve the setting?

Activity 3: Use a Menu to finish stocking a short, partially complete, prefabricated setting

Sub-Objectives for this activity:
  • Students will practice reading informational text and using charts
  • Students will use a rubric to guide their creation of a keyed map

  • Distribute one copy of partially finished prefab setting per student (e.g. B1 In Search of the Unknown, The Haunted Keep from Moldvay B/X)
  • Distribute a menu of suggested hazards, NPCs, rewards, specials, room dressing
  • Distribute / display stocking guidelines (frequency, challenge level, thematic elements, plot hooks, etc)

  • completed setting -- does the student demonstrate that they understand how to use stocking guidelines and map legend / symbols to complete the map and key the locations?

By the end of Activity 3, students should be ready for the culminating activity of Unit Two, where they design their own adventure location completely from scratch! Next time I'll hammer out some of my thoughts about that -- then off to Unit Three!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Classroom Activity: Maps and Setting

Once I have taught my middle school students the basics of a D&D 5th ed / d20 rules set, given them practice generating characters, had them play a few sessions, and had them reflect on different points of view and bias in narrative, I want to move them on to thinking more about game settings.

by Donato Giancola (c) 2001 Wizards of the Coast

Unit Two: Creating a Setting

Key Unit Objective: Students will extend their knowledge of geographic tools by generating maps and map keys

Sub-Objectives for this lesson:
  • Students will practice reading a map key and interpreting maps
  • Students will practice reading informational text and using charts

Activity 1: Read and evaluate a short, prefabricated, pre-stocked, map-based adventure setting 
(e.g. Haunted Keep from Moldvay B/X)
  • assessment: 3x5 reflection


  • Distribute one copy of prefab per student
  • start with whole group read-aloud with think-aloud
  • transition to pairs  
  • Pairs answer questions
    • “What is the best part of this setting and why?”  
    • “What would make it more interesting or fun to play?”
    • “What is innovative about the setting? -- you've never seen it before.”
    • “What plot hook was used to involve characters in the action and what other plot hooks can you think of that might fit?”
    • “Is this setting best suited for beginner or expert characters and why do you think so?”
  • Share some answers whole-group
  • Reflective writing prompt: Evaluate the setting that we looked at in class today. Would it be interesting and exciting to explore? How could it be improved?

Later activities / lessons in this unit will move toward having students create their own maps!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Classroom Activity: Point of View

As I round out my first RPG classroom unit, here are two more activities that will get students thinking about point of view in narrative.

art by Samuel Farinato
Unit One: 
Learning the Ropes -- The Rules of Play for a Collaborative Storytelling Framework

Key Objective #1: Students will develop familiarity with the basic rules of a collaborative role-playing game.

Key Objective #2: Using the framework of a storytelling game, students will explore the effects of point of view in narrative

Activity 3: Promote an existing character to level four and play as expert
  • Assessment: 3x5 reflection
    • “What was different about higher level play?”
    • “How did the setting or hazards change to maintain the challenge?”

Activity 4: Culminating Activity: Explore how a series of events told from one character's point of view can differ from that of another character who experienced the same events.

  • place students in group of four
  • play 1-3 sessions with skilled GM while students note major events
  • students compose a double-spaced, past tense narrative of the events from the perspective of their character
  • students trade narratives for peer-editing
  • students receive a peer-editing guide [grammar, tense, flow]
  • students revise draft
  • students read at least three other narratives, taking notes on differences between those versions and their own version
  • students receive rubric and write a short essay demonstrating how point of view can affect a narrative


There.  Again, not staggeringly new stuff ... and it does run the risk of creating a bunch of junior R.A. Salvatores ... but rather than the same old classroom activities I'll have the kids creeping through dungeons and rolling funky dice to get to the learning objectives!  

Future posts will look at classroom activities for Units Two through Four.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Square Peg, Round Hole

As I suspect any teacher will tell you, the first couple weeks on either side of the arrival of students back to school are positively nuts.  This year, however, I was ready -- I was on campus two weeks early setting things up and in very good shape ... and then I was approved to teach a gaming class ... outstanding news!
... Now I just need to write the curriculum ...

I decided that I want a baseline fantasy role-playing game to use as a leaping-off point for my Adventure Games enrichment class.  I want the following features:

  • Simple enough for kids of various reading proficiencies to understand with some guidance
  • Cheap or free (each student needs some materials in his or her hands)
  • Short enough that it won't intimidate a reluctant reader
  • Sophisticated enough to provide on-grade-level reading content and practice reading instructional text
  • Compatible with the gaming DNA of D&D 5th ed. and Pathfinder
  • Accessible to kids who've never seen a d20 let alone role-played before
  • Detailed enough to allow a modest level of character customization
  • Uses d6 and d20 only (that's a cost thing)
  • Can be played entirely theater of the mind style (sans minis) ... again, cost
  • Brand-neutral to side-step residuals from B.A.D.D. the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s
  • Minimal length to keep print costs down
  • Able to compliment the established Olde School Wizardry setting (Bawal Bayan, etc)
image accessed at
Can you see where I'm going with this?

That's right ... to my knowledge the product I just described doesn't really exist.  A number of things come close but, like the proverbial square peg, nothing quite fits.
The solution?  Write it myself of course!

So that's what I've been up to this last week or so.  Starting with D&D 5th ed, I've been chopping and digesting the rules down to something compatible but much more basic, creating seven world-specific character classes, and boiling the systems down to a d6-and-d20 minimum that still resemble the original enough that if my students try to join a game outside of school they won't be thrown by the term "saving throw".
That's me with the funny hat.
With editorial help from my lovely wife (who is an amazing proof reader) and my kids (imagine my pride when my ten-year-old quipped, "I noticed that the ability modifiers are different in this version" ... yes, the nerdery is strong with this one!) I've completed a 20-page Adventure Games draft that hits all of the requirements.  I'll send it out to the district print shop later today.

Once the dust has settled from that project, I can go back to designing actual lessons for the new class ... ideas that I'll be sharing right here of course!