Posted in extra credit

Pen-and-Paper Role Playing Games in the Digital Age

By Pete R.

There are many useful things that traditional pen-and-paper role playing games can teach children and teens: problem solving skills, collaboration, empathy, statistics, storytelling, general interpersonal skills, and countless more. Artistically minded players might draw their characters or major events in their games; narratively minded players might create elaborate backstories, or take on the role of game master and tell their own stories.

However, kids and teens today are also deeply embedded in technology. Not that people aren’t willing to put aside computers, phones, and tablets and pick up a pencil and paper. But some people are more interested when technology can be implemented. Luckily, there are a plethora of options for this. Wizards of the Coast, which published Dungeons and Dragons, has D&D Beyond, which allows players to create their characters online. Many games that use the d20 system have a system reference doc (SRD) website or wiki, which allows quick lookup of spells and other rules. Such resources are useful for both players and game masters––if you game with a laptop, it’s much quicker just google search the name of a spell than flip through a rulebook.

One of the best resources is Roll20. This website allows players to create characters from a variety of systems, and lets game masters develop everything they might need. While it can be used for high tech in person games, it is ideal for playing with far-flung friends. I myself have led a game of Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons with a group that lives literally across the United States. For teens, this can be an invaluable resource if friends move away but want to keep gaming. It can also help teens who live in more isolated, rural settings find a group that they might not be able to meet with in person.

Finally, technology can make gaming more accessible from the sheer price level. There are countless online dice rollers and plenty of free resources for players and game masters. It’s possible to roll up characters and play a game with nothing more than a smart phone and a wifi connection. It’s not the best option, but it means that cash-strapped students don’t need to shell out any money in order to play.

I’m sure there are many more resources that I haven’t touched on here. The important thing is that distance, isolation, or financial limitations are no longer limitations for teens looking to let their imagination run wild and roll some (possibly digital) dice. And for those who love technology, they can incorporate a whole suite of interesting technological flourishes to their games. And of course, there’s still the opportunity for people to crack a physical book and take out some pencils and paper and play like people have been playing since 1974.

Posted in episodes

Episode 18: Tabletop RPGs

The homework for the episode:
Try out an RPG (or join your regular table for a session)!

We’re geeking out hardcore this week with a discussion on tabletop gaming – specifically pen and paper RPGs (although Martha will be the first to admit to you she now games with a laptop and tablet handy, since it’s WAY too much work to remember all the spells on her Cleric’s spell list). Prior to recording this episode, Martha played in and GM’d at two different Pathfinder tables, which tells you all you need to know about how she spends her free time, really.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Martha: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork on audio book
Rachel: The Girls Next Door tv show

Welcome, Rachel!

Pete tells us about the book he’s reading currently, demonstrating that he has more of a tolerance for historical nonfiction than anyone Martha has ever met in her entire life. We all detour for a bit to talk about audio books, which Martha can’t live without and Rachel’s never tried (hint: the key is a good narrator). And then Rachel sends us back to the mid-2000’s with the reality comedy TV show The Girls Next Door, and we all take a moment to be righteously indignant about the Playboy Mansion.

Look, I (Martha) have already spent too much time telling you all that she’s trash for reality TV, so this shouldn’t shock you, really.

We are leaving our three-media homework model to the side for a moment to try something different! This ep, we share our experiences with tabletop roleplaying games, and discuss the values we think they have, particularly in an academic and educational environment. We share games that are particular favorites, what we grew up playing, why we enjoy them – and how we’ve passed that on to the students we interact with.

In an interesting plot twist, it turns out that we all pretty much got started gaming seriously because of Martha’s husband (my path is a little murkier and started earlier than we were actually together, but it is a true fact that many of my early high school gaming memories involve my husband in some way).

Martha mentions Risus, the Anything RPG, which you can find totally for free here.

On October 25, we’re back to the standard format and talking about Sound and Music in Media with friend of the show Dan Karlin! Here’s your homework:

Pete: Blade Runner, 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford
Martha: American Horror Story: Asylum, season 2, episode 10, “The Name Game”
Dan: Mulholland Dr., 2001 film directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Pre-Reading

Prelude to Episode 18: Tabletop RPGs

We’re doing things a little differently this week: instead of assigning homework and talking about three distinct pieces of media, we have more of a round-robin discussion about tabletop RPGs. For anyone not familiar with the jargon, a tabletop roleplaying game is a game you play collaboratively in a group of people, probably all working to the same goal or telling the same story. You create a character to inhabit, and that character progresses through the course of the story, or campaign. Some examples include Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, White Wolf’s Vampire or Werewolf, Shadowrun, or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, to cherrypick a mere handful out of HUNDREDS of possibilities.

We are joined by special guest and friend of the show Rachel Hilbert, who has been playing games for several years (sometimes with co-host Martha). Some of the things to think about before listening to the episode:

  • What value do RPGs potentially have in an educational environment, such as a library or classroom?
  • How can we use them in an academic/educational way?
  • How have our (your) experiences with RPGs informed how you approach storytelling?

I hope you guys dig the episode – it was fun to mix it up a little bit! In the meantime, here’s some background reading that helps inform our take on RPGs and academia.

Tabletop in the Classroom: How I use RPGs to teach by Udolf Alfisol
Creating An Educational RPG Adventure for Your Classroom by Adam Watson
Creative Tabletop Gaming: ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and Libraries (Oh My!) by Thomas Vose

Posted in supplementary material

Games, Gaming, and Educational Space

(Written by Martha S.)

This is a topic I would like to see us devote a whole episode to, if we can make it work, because it is a vast, rich vein to mine and has a lot of useful information for us to impart. But as an introduction to the idea, let me say: games and gaming are an incredibly useful tool in one’s educational repertoire. I have spoken myself at conferences on the benefits to having RPG resources and programming in the public library; others have written at length on the benefits of gamifying learning. I hope we will be able to add our voices and experiences to the conversation.

I am thinking about this at the moment because I spent the previous weekend at GenCon, the largest gaming convention in North America and the longest-running gaming convention in the world (this year marks its 50th anniversary). It is a celebration of gaming of all kinds, from board games to tabletop RPGs to miniatures and more. When I attend, I play as much of the Pathfinder RPG as possible, in addition to a handful of other tournament games over the years (I have played in WarMachine, Conquest, and Imperial Assault events). It is INCREDIBLY fun and I imagine my husband and I will continue attending until we’re physically unable to do so.

Look, I’ve given you two introductions to justify the fact that I want to tell you how amazingly inclusive Paizo is as a gaming company, and now I can’t figure out a way to transition easily into that, so I’m just going to say it: Paizo works really hard to make their “iconic” characters really, really diverse and I love it. (An iconic character is the example character for a particular class, that usually participates in the fluff or art in some way. Merisiel, for example, is the iconic rogue, and she is a gay elf who is in a relationship with Kyra, the iconic cleric, who is a gay brown human.) Additionally, the adventure paths that Paizo publishes (pre-constructed campaigns designed to get you from level 1 to level 20) are full of LGBT+ characters, frequently included without any kind of fanfare or controversy. The world of Pathfinder is rich and diverse, and while the writers are nowhere near perfect in representation (adventure paths are frequently weighted with hot women the players can romance and much fewer, less attractive men), it never feels exploitative or gross.

I’m sure that using RPGs as a way to teach empathy and compassion will come up if we are ever able to do an episode on games in the educational space. For now, I just wanted to say that I appreciate what tabletop gaming is doing to increase empathy in geeky circles, since there are so many other geek subcultures where it is lacking. I’m gonna go write my android space priest multi-personality collective now, for Paizo’s brand new science fantasy game Starfinder.