RoleSchooling: Part One, The Concept
RoleSchooling: The Secret Weapon That Should Be In Every Homeschooling Parent’s Toolbox
One of the frequent problems I’ve encountered in homeschooling is creating and maintaining enthusiasm for subjects that aren’t inherently interesting to a given child. My daughter, for example, is really not overly fond of math, and despite his grammar skills, my son is less than thrilled about writing assignments. So the perennial problem facing me, as a homeschooling parent, is how to make less loved subjects more fun but still a good lesson.
Using games in homeschooling is a popular solution, but each requires many different games to cover different areas, which can be complicated and often expensive. One particular class of game though, roleplaying games, are designed to simulate everything from puzzles, to combats, social situations etc. Games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, GURPS etc. all simulate life itself to varying degrees of complexity.
My hands down favorite for its ability to simulate ANYTHING you can possibly imagine is Hero System. Hero System grew out of the Champions superhero RPG which works perfectly with the current popularity of the superhero genre as a whole, and, as an added benefit, full Hero System inherently requires the use of quite a lot of math, which the homeschool teacher in me just loves. Which leads me to…
RoleSchooling: The Concept
I’ve been working for quite some time on a concept that combines homeschooling and aspects of traditional roleplaying gaming: Roleschooling. To me, roleschooling is a synthesis of learning and gaming which provides a highly flexible, engaging learning experience that builds skills while encouraging self-knowledge and personal growth. The focus is on providing a safe, fun environment in which kids (and adults) enjoy adventuring while exploring academic subjects, creativity and personal growth within any mythology or literary world that they mutually enjoy. Think of it as a superset of roleplaying, live action roleplaying (aka LARPing), choose-your-own-adventure books etc., now with 100% more education.
The tricky bit has been figuring out how to make it easy to get started, accessible for families without any experience with role-playing games, and most importantly, lots of family fun! If you can read fun stories at bedtime, you can handle roleschooling. If you can do voices for the characters while you entertain with your stories, you’re well on your way. If you already engage in roundtable storytelling games, you’re a natural. If you’ve ever seen or read a choose-your-own-adventure story then you can narrate a pre-written roleschooling story. In fact, you can use those choose-your-path books as a way to get everyone familiar with the basics of cooperative story telling. Or use one as a starting point and grow a different story from there.
At its most basic, the system is nothing more than cooperative storytelling with occasional dice rolls. The parent or teacher plays the role of the narrator, guiding the group along a flexible, improv-friendly (always try to say “yes, and…” instead of “no, that can’t happen” if at all possible) path. What does all that mean though? And how do you do it from scratch without being some sort of storytelling genius?
How to Create A Story if You’re Not a Storyteller
If you’re ready to move past simply reading through choose-your-own-adventure books, how do you create something new if you’re not a natural storyteller? Not to worry. It’s easy. See, there’s a system. It’s what screenplay writers do when they storyboard an animated movie – they build scenes. Then they arrange and rearrange them, adding, removing and modifying those scenes as needed as they outline the plot in the book or movie. It doesn’t have to be all pre-planned; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t tightly scripted.
Our preferred method is to begin by picking a world in which our story will take place. Choose a fictional (or historical!) book or movie that the narrator and players all enjoy and are familiar with both characters and plot. A few examples might be the world of Harry Potter or ancient Greek mythology or Marvel or DC superheroes. Have your players select a character (or create their own) from the world they wish to play and put together a character sheet, draw a drawing or sculpt a figurine – really, this can be as simple as a description or as complex as a Hero System character sheet with a full-on 3D printed figure – it’s up to you. Put together a few simple scenes from the book or movie inspiration in an outline so that you have a format to follow during play. We’ve used toy figurines as play characters and made others from clay
Start by noting the supporting characters, the significant events or other information that are revealed during the scene. Substitute your players, with all their personal attributes mingled with the original protagonists in your stories as you plot. How will the storyline challenge your players in their personal growth as individuals? Write up a few speeches or one-liners (“By Odin’s beard!” or “The game is on” etc.) that you can throw out as called for in play. Because you are writing the story, you can keep it as simple or make it as complicated as your group likes – that’s the beauty.
What you’re doing is what a writer does when they plan the plot arcs and scenes in novels – sketching out the broad narrative which arises from the personalities of the characters and the situations they encounter as they work their way toward the climax and resolution of the story. As a teacher, you will find ample opportunity to help your players stretch their vision of themselves, engage in teamwork, and even grow through flexing their creativity and real life skills.
For documenting and arranging the scenes, you can create them as simple text blocks that can be copied/pasted in any text editor or word processor. For those who work better with physical objects instead of digital, you could try using large and small post-its on a dry erase board and link the notes with arrows and comments. You can get really organized about it and use purpose built apps like Scrivener (or it’s little brother Scapple for Mac OSX and Windows), but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
During game play, anytime you come to a decision point, or especially if the players or plot are stuck, nudge the play along with a dice roll to see if key information is revealed in the form of sudden insights, visions, sarcastic comments from a pet or familiar, or other unexpected event. Have the players roll three standard 6-sided dice and add the results of the three die together – this is great for improving quick arithmetic skills. Require that the players write a plan or a proclamation in character – this is great for improving creativity and writing, not to mention cooperative skills.
There are practically endless additional aspects of roleschooling to discuss, but these are the foundational concepts upon which everything else is built. In another article, we’ll discuss the particulars of character development and how that can help you and your players grow in character, academics and creativity through play. This is intended to be a group project, something that we can all help expand and develop together, so please feel free share it with homeschooling and roleplaying friends and relations. And please comment below and join us in the group on facebook!