Running a game with students in a class can be a difficult but doable task. In a classroom, you are playing an RPG with up to 40 students which are extremely hard to manage when students have not played RPGs before and are not necessarily interested in RPGS, and students might be at younger ages who are not prepared for the mixture of creativity and rules found in RPGs. Even with hurdles, it is worth trying as a teacher so here are some tips you can use to assist in running a game with students.
A. Try to avoid games with GMs in the beginning: Games with GMs are great for storytelling. I love Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon World, and just about all mainstream games. They are the best, but they require the use of a GM. A GM knows the game system better than others at the table, they lead the group through a story, and they guide the action in many systems. It’s a role that is very difficult to pick up at first and yet is the backbone of many games. In school there is a limited amount of time to implement RPGs and sadly that means even less time to teach students how to be GMs. If you can’t teach them, then you (the teacher) is the GM, and it’s hard to create a normal game experience with 40 students.
The best advice is to start with a GM-less type of game to get students to understand RPGs. Use those for a while before trying a GM’d game to get students accustomed to what role-playing is like. Examples are Microscope and other games by Ben Robbins, The Quiet Year by Avery Adler, Post World Games by Jim Pinto, or Fiasco and other Bully Pulpit Games by Jason Morningstar. In these games, there is no GM. Everyone is an active part of creating the story. This makes it much easier for a teacher to travel around the classroom and help students with the lesson instead of the teacher trying to think about the game.
The exception to the tip: If you want to run a GM’d game you can do it with a whole class and it works. I’ve done it with Dungeon World and Dread already. Let students share a character. So all 6 students embody one character and their personality. When doing this let students vote and agree on their action before you allow them to share it out loud. If they do not do this the students will argue about their decision in front of the class and this takes a lot of time and other groups want to then argue as well. So make it a rule that they work together to be this character and that they only share at the consensus.
B. Go over each step 1 at a time: RPGs have many steps especially in the beginning. Trying to go over all steps at once will cause many students to be lost in the process. The best advice is to follow each step in an RPG and after explaining it to students let students try out the step. Use this during world/character creation, and during scene creation. Take each scene in a game one step at a time the first time around. After the first time of this longer process students typically understand what’s going on and you can let students just keep playing. However, for the first game if there is a break between steps or sub-steps of a game then follow that step, perform it with students and let them try, and correct misunderstandings early.
C. Lines, Veils, and the X card: This concept has been around for a few years in the Indie gaming community and it’s vital to playing games with students. It was originally termed by Ron Edwards and is crucial for games with students.
Lines are topics and ideas that the group of students does not want to have in the game. They are lines that are drawn. These are content students do not want in a game because they might offend members of the game and prevent them from having a good time. Students talk in a group together and all express the lines they want to place in the game. After they are done it is agreed the group will not use those subjects or ideas in the game in order to allow everyone to enjoy the game. Examples could be bullying, violence, profanity, sex.
Veils are similar to lines, but instead of not being allowed they can be in the game, but they are the fade to black moments or censored inside the game. An example is students might want violence in the game, but they don’t want to show it. When violence occurs instead of talking about it in the game they say “violence occurs”, profanity could be alright but we bleep it out we don’t say it. It’s a way to say we want something in the game but we don’t want to express it fully. Think of it as how movies drop from an R to a PG-13 or PG with the removal of showing the violence or hiding the words used. Similar to lines let student groups discuss these before playing.
X-Cards are a way during play to show that the game is approaching a trigger point of a line or veil. Have them at the tables and explain to students that if the card is held up it means someone is uncomfortable and to change the course of the game. It’s a great reminder tool.
Lines and Veils are very important and I recommend starting almost any game you run by integrating these ideas into it. A shout out to Pat Dixon who encouraged me to write about these. He said in his experiences with students playing games in the class that “most of the time students jump into the game wanting to mess with/harm/humiliate each other”. This is very common in most games because students when left to their own devices, will any times jump to doing the wrong thing because they feel they are invincible in games. They also feel that by bullying in a game that they are not really bullying and therefore can get away with it. By implementing these before game students have an opportunity to agree on the game they want to play. They agree on the rules and understand how they can allow all players to have a good time. Everyone having a good time is crucial in any game and this help reinforce the consent to everyone else that the goal is for everyone to enjoy the game.
I hope these tips help improve your games in the classroom and I’d love to hear about any tips you have as well