Updated: Jul 14
First things first, What is an RPG? RPG stands for role playing game. This still might not sound familiar if you haven't played one, think Dungeons and Dragons. Most people have heard of D&D, whether they have played it or not. It was the one that started them all. That's right, all! There are a lot of them to choose from. They range from very simplistic with a paragraph of rules to complex with tomes of rules, backstory, and information.
So, you are on board with using games to teach your kids (and if not check out this post), but this sounds like a bit of a stretch? Let me explain. RPGs are story based games. One person is the GM (game master). DM for dungeon master works too. The GM runs the game and plays as all the people, creatures, and things that the PCs (player characters) encounter. Even more simply, the GM is like the narrator. The other players in the game are the PCs. Now that you have the very basic idea, let's dive further.
For the PCs the first task is to create a character. This varies by RPG type, some taking an hour and others taking just a few moments. This can require a lot of math but they all require some intentional choices. The players will be playing with this same character over the course of many game sessions, unless it is a "one off" single session story. Once in game they will want to role play these characters and make their choices based on who the character is and not simply what they want.
The GM has the big job of establishing the story and the world that will be played in. They create it, but don't control it. Ultimately the GM and PCs build the story together as the game is played. If the teacher is the GM there is so much they can add to help with intentional learning. Let me give an example.
One year we were learning about the pilgrims and their relationship with the native peoples. To give the lessons a bit more life, we played Roll for Shoes, a quick and simple RPG. My son did not create his own character for this one. I set the scene with descriptive detail and he looks at me with the most incredulous look possible and says, "Am I a turkey?!" Yes, yes he was. He got to be a "fly on the wall" to some of the events that happened. By the end of the game he had saved his turkey flock, stopped a war from breaking out, and pulled some pretty sweet ninja turkey moves. He had a blast doing it, once he got over the fact that he was playing as a turkey.
The beauty of RPGs is that you are basically playing a game of pretend in any setting you like. You can give the players problems to solve, situations to figure out, and give them the chance to put themselves in someone else's shoes. The game can be set in any time and place. You can even add a little extra language arts time by having your kids write out a short story of what happened in the game. This can result in a lovely book of memories over the course of many gaming sessions.
Are you sold yet? I hope so! There are a lot of options to choose from in the RPG genre. I already mentioned Roll for Shoes. It is a free system that requires few supplies and you can find it here: https://rollforshoes.com/. Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder are very immersive and rules heavy games. They can be expensive and time consuming, but also very engaging. There are many RPGs based on movies and TV shows too. We have played the My Little Pony RPG and Star Wars.
We recently had a chance to try out Animal Empire from Half-Monster Games. It is scheduled for release next month and it is fantastic! Character creation is simple and the game is not heavy on rules. The book has great information for GMs about how to create a story and locale. It has some starting story ideas and even a ready to go story to play. Animal Empire allows for a lot of creativity while also not having to come up with everything on your own. The mechanics of the game can easily translate into a realm of your own creation too, historical or fictional. This is our new favorite, for sure!
Half-Monster Games has given us permission to share their digital Animal Empire book with all of you! You can find the book here and get started on your role playing adventures! You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram @halfmonstergame plus buy the book at https://halfmonstergames.store/ . You'll find it under RPGs.
Animal Empire is the featured game in our government units study. You can find it on our unit studies page here.