Thursday, June 3, 2010

Where In the World Is Gutboy Barrelhouse?

We all, I'm sure, have countless examples of how an interest in D&D helps you learn new, genuinely useful, things--or, at the very least, put otherwise useless knowledge to work. However, I'm wondering if anybody out there has stories of actually deciding to use D&D to learn or teach new real-world stuff.

I know, for instance, that this home-school kid I knew growing up wrote an ancient Egypt-based RPG in order to get a history "credit" from his mom.

I'm thinking it'd be fun to build a campaign with the intention of learning stuff, so...what do I want to learn now?

An obvious one is geography--for where I live or places I visit a lot. I'm not much into "New World" D&D, so in order to learn about the US I guess it'd have to be for a Rifts campaign or something, at least in my case. (Using US cities but changing all the names so they sound medieval seems to defeat the point.)

D&D teaches middle-school speed-math, obviously, and always has, so it's easy to imagine someone designing a D&D homebrew with the specific intention of teaching herself or her players more exotic math. I suppose one way would be to make the system as clunky and difficult as possible, with all sorts of pointless formulas you have to feed to get results, and derived stats you don't let yourself write down. Not that that's my idea of fun.

Languages? In school, this would've been perfect: The teacher DMs in Spanish. Everybody says their actions in Spanish. No dice at all--if you say what you're doing right, it works, if you make a mistake, it doesn't. Holy fuck. Holy fucking fuck. I just revolutionized language education. As the levels go up, the DM's grammar and vocabulary get more complicated. Jesus fuck. I could've learned Spanish.

As an adult, I'm thinking this is more complicated. Hire a tutor whose also a DM? Might as well just hire a tutor. Mandy's French is better than mine, now she just has to start DMing...

An easier way might be to integrate it into the spell-casting mechanics--some kind of "if you can say it in the next three seconds you can do it"--type dealy. Though, practically speaking, you'd have to be casting a lot of fucking spells per game in order for it to be useful as a learning tool. It'd have to be rigged so you could cast as many spells as you want as long as you could say them. It needs work, ok, but I think the idea has legs.


  1. D'accord! Bon idee!


    Je m'appel Mordicai!

    Comme ci comme ca.

    Ca va bien.

    Ca va mal.

    &...I'm out. I probably remember more Japanese?

  2. In the math example I d rather work it into the story instead of bogging down the actual playing. Tag it onto something the players already want to do; "win" the scenario. With math cliffhangers with enough info so that if need be they can figure out the new math in between the sessions..

    Mes excuses de n pas avoir écrit ce commentaire en français, mais j ai plus l habitude d écrire en anglais que français.. Autre que ca j aimerai bien jouer en français; je n ai pas assez do opportunités de vraiment parler français.. Mais, je suis sure que mes joueurs n auront pas ce même sentiment :/

  3. What a fantastic way to learn a language. I wish someone had thought of that, let alone implement it, back when I was taking Spanish in high school.

    Now I kinda want to recreate the old PC game "Darklands" as a tabletop rpg. We'd all be learning German while rooting out witches and stopping the Apocalypse from happening to medieval Danzig. Awesome.

  4. I like this, and I think that it would be a perfect language learning tool. But that is just one thing...

    The interesting thing for me with this idea is, that you need a whole party of players, who want to learn the same thing... Then it would be an awesome tool!

    When I started DM-ing again recently, for a while I had only one player, and we decided that it will be a sumerian campaign, and we both were into sumerian history for a while... Exchanging, reading books, discussing etc. But now, I have a party of six, without that guy, and they are not that interested in this kind of thing...

    There were a recent try at a second world war werewolf campaign, with a bunch of my second world war reenacting friends. That could have turned out good, I actually learned a lot by preparing for the first three sessions... But this campaign stopped...

    So with a bunch of players of the same interests, it could turn out right.

  5. though its not exactly what you are talking about, when my sister watched me play with my nephew (and my 63 year-old dad in his first ever rpg-session :)), she got the idea that i could make a school-rpg for her son.

    so when i will see them next time i'd better have a system (and a few scenarios) worked out. it will be very stat- and rules-light (there won't hardly be any i guess), though i like the idea of the little one giving himself his "real" stats and skills for a game.

    my sister wants the focus to be on decision-making and the results of any decisions made (where philipp plays himself in situations i put him in), while i want to give my nephew the chance to walk in other people's boots for a bit (which, lets face it, is what roleplaying essentially IS).

    what would it be like to be another pupil? a bully? a teacher? a girl?!

    i hope this will not only be fun, but also educational for him.

    ps: some great ideas there, especially the language-based success-resolution. and darklands is a fine game indeed.

  6. Torg is a vintage game from west end, and would be perfect for world geography. It would be very relevant in game. I am technically learning disabled, and beginning gaming at age 8 probably had a huge mitigating effect on its effects. It made me read books, and I wanted to do it. I also used to work running D&D in a prison (long story) and we had a guy who learned to read playing D&D.

  7. I believe the BASH! superhero rules were written to help teach younger students basic math skills.

  8. Time-traveling RPGs offer the ability to jump to interesting (and sometimes obscure) points of history and learn about the period, people and events. Anything can be turned into an adventure, the Suez Crisis, The Dreyfus Affair, the Launch of the QEII ... and in Timecop-style adventures the need to 'keep the time-line safe' can force the characters to do some nasty things in the name of history.

  9. I've personally used RPG'ing as a tool to help a friend, who's language skills were lagging behind, get some practical use of English under his belt. Now he already played rpg's, but I still found it worked beef up his verbals a bit. Also knew a guy who worked as an English tutor (for payment)in Poland, using cyberpunk 2020 I think it was. Where I got the idea.

    But yeah, roleplaying games are an excellent tool to practice other languages, particularly when it comes to getting some "hands on" real communication and conversation skills. Most textbook examples are stiff and lead to generally stiff speech. Roleplaying games, due to a more dynamic, unscripted system, gives you a more "fluid" experience, finding your own words, and you learn to well, speak like most people actually DO.

  10. I know of an education officer in the military (not USA) who was going to use MtA as a critical decision making and team-building tool, but it never panned out.

  11. One long delayed project of mine is to give a seminar on statistics for gamers.

    Not just probability, but applying real inferential statistics to problems like whether a die rolls fair or one faction has an advantage over another in a CCG's tournaments.

    Oh, and one danger/feature of learning a language from fantasy gaming is that your vocab becomes stuffed with terms like "fauchard-fork" and "chain mail." My wife still knows "Hellebarde" from the German MUD she used to play on.

  12. I don't so much about the mathematics or foreign languages part, but I do know that it was playing D&D when I was 13 (I'm 38 now) that caused me to actually want to start reading more (granted, at first, only to get ideas for the game, but now I'd rather read than watch TV). It also caused me to enjoy subjects like history, religion and philosophy (again, for game ideas at first, but now because I find them interesting in and of themselves).

  13. The language bit is a great idea, whether for new languages, additional languages, or native languages (vocabulary development, for ex.).

    Math skills could be an application, potentially, if the lesson is adventure/context-based, and not system-based (detemrining when a specific event will occur, locating where a villain may have escaped to, the necessary amount of resources needed to achieve the desired result, ongoing costs for hirelings/strongholds/etc., or even having the PCs run a business on the side [trade, exotic goods, etc.]).

    Then again, critical thinking skills is a potential area, as well. For ex., what does a villain intend, based on what the PCs have learned so far? How would you prove/disprove it (esp. if a convincing analysis may sway an NPC into aiding you)? Perhaps closely reviewing current events (and cultures involved in those events) could provide the PCs insight into the Big Plan and what they need to do next (giving them a chance to be proactive instead of reactive), etc.

  14. In my experience I don't recall using it to ever learn or teach anything. But it definitely was inspiration to learn more about related subjects: History, Mythology, Geography, and what not. It didn't particularly start me off reading, as I was a fairly heavy reader already when introduced to D&D.

    My mom purchased me the red box basic D&D set when I was 10 or 11. Not sure why, she'd never played and I hadn't heard of it before then. And this was back in 84 or 85 and pretty much at the height of the D&D is evil hysteria. She was a Tolkien fan(Had a leather bound edition of LotR.) so perhaps that's it. I'll have to remember to ask her about that some time.

  15. Yeah, i agree with a lot of people here, it's a good way to learn a language.
    I'm French and my friends and I learned a lot of english because when i was 12, there were too many RPG which were in english and weren't translated into french, so we've been doing a lot of afterclass english work in order to play DnD.
    Now english is not a problem and RPG made it easier.

  16. As it so happens, thinking in a direct line from language learning to spellcasting, you could use Eldritch Ass Kicking, which is a very descriptive game focused on fast, flashy combat. If you just tone down the initial power levels (so that your abilities are less difficult to describe), you could totally make it work the way you're suggesting. And it's a damn fun game to play, too, with magic phrases and power words and the like.

  17. While researching and writing my swashbuckling campaign world, I have learned a lot about sailing, navigating etc. I even want to give it a try now. How much of this stuff I can integrate for the players without boring them, I'm not sure.

  18. I'm actually currently attending university to be a teacher and the overlap between gaming and learning is one that regularly comes up. For students to learn anything they need to actually be interested in the topic and/or how it is presented. So using gaming to teach is nothing new.

    However, something that a lot of people don't realize is the overlap between being a good GM and being a good teacher. Both require planning in advance based on what the PCs/students know, a gentle hand in directing where the students/PCs are going, and knowing how to keep students/PCs interested.

  19. I am currently running a campaign of MtA in which I'm gradually introducing macroeconomic elements (in fact, most of the central theme of the campaign revolves around economics and financial history). I hope it will arise some interest from the players :)

  20. As a teacher, the use of D&D or its mechanics and roleplaying in the classroom is something I'm trying to push. You're right about the usage in math and foreign language, but there's application in language arts classrooms as well. Consider modelling the plot and themes of a roleplaying experience similar to that of a novel or text... something along those lines. But yeah, roleplaying is vital in teaching, D&D is one of the best introductions to roleplaying there is...

  21. Well I myself learned English by playing DnD (and a lot of playtime with PC adventure games).

    But now I use it to help some teenagers with Asperger Autism understand social interaction and build relations.
    See, most poeple with autism will have a difficult time understanding, how social interaction works, ie not talking when someone else speaking, appropaite topics, facial expressions etc. And many of these people will have a hard time when they are young, when playing with other kids. Because it can be hard for them to understand the often complex and ad-hoc social rules of a paticular "game".
    But when we play DnD we have a DM who is the abitor of the game, so there is clear "leader" built into the game. I will also challenge them with some difficult in-game social problems; sometimes it can be something simple, like who gets this fancy new magic item? I will let them work it out for themselves and only give suggestions if they cant come to an agreement or if one of the more outspoken and socially stronger players will bully the others into giving them the item. This will introduce them to safe facsimile of how freindship and social relations work. Furthermore there are entire books that list rules for how this game is played, so if they are in doubt they can always refer to the rules. Also about 50% (if not more) of the time we play are spent with a clearly established list of whose turn it is.
    Now this may sound like a boring and restrictive if I have to stick 100% to the rules all time. But the point is, I dont.
    See I will throw my players a lot of curveballs they have to deal with, like using a made up monster they wont be able to find anywhere in the Monster Manual or making them give me suggestions on how to handle a action, that is not really covered in rules.
    It is my hope that they will be able to use their experiences playing DnD in other social siturations where the "rules" are always very fluid.