Developing storytelling skills with role-playing games
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A few months ago, I happened upon reviews for the book Little Wizards, a book that includes almost everything you need to play Little Wizards, a non-violent tabletop role-playing game (RPG) developed for the six- to ten-year-old crowd. The game is set in Coinworld, a 2-sided fantasy world “where Little Wizards live, play, and rise up as heroes.” I had previously thought that RPGs were just for teenagers and adults and had some not-so-positive associations with them due to some of the content and quite frankly, the lack of interpersonal skills of some of the people I knew in high school who played them. My impressions didn’t fit with the descriptions I was reading of Little Wizards. Little Wizards seemed benign enough for my sensitive younger daughter and engaging enough for my older daughter who has devoured the first several Harry Potter books.
There are a variety of table-top RPGs, with Dungeons and Dragons being one of the most famous and one of the most controversial due to some people’s religious concerns regarding it leading their children to the occult. I don’t share those concerns, and Little Wizards is about as mild as it gets; there is no combat component, unlike most other RPGs. It is much more gentle than most cartoons and just about every fairy tale.
The Little Wizards setup does not assume previous knowledge of RPG mechanics and has a great introduction section and notes throughout the book for the narrator. Still, for RPG novices considering purchasing this game, it is helpful to know a bit about RPG formats and how they work. Tabletop RPGs are typically played sitting around with others, often around a table, but not necessarily. They are called tabletop games or pencil-and-paper games to distinguish them from live-action RPGs, in which the players move around, and from computer-based RPGs (video games).
Generally, the tabletop RPGs have some common features. The Game Master (GM) acts as a narrator and authority on the fictional setting and any challenges the players will face. Each player develops a character which he controls. The player states what his character tries to do, and the GM describes what happens. Sometimes dice are rolled to determine whether what the character is trying to do is able to happen (you need a particular score to have the ability to do what you are trying to do).
i.e. The GM sets the scene: “You are in an empty field and come across a locked metal box. In the distance, you can hear the rushing sounds of a water.” Player: “I approach the box, pick up and try to pick the lock.” GM: When you try to pick the lock, you find it is rusty and…
I had always enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child, and RPGs feel similar in format, but with more room for creativity within the structure. It is like cooperative storytelling, with your character influencing the course of the story. So when I stumbled onto Little Wizards, it seemed to be a genius idea for helping to teach character development and other storytelling skills to our young kids without a formal curriculum. We spent about an hour learning how the game works and another hour developing characters (could be done faster without constant interruptions from the two-year-old) and have now played it a few times. My husband is comfortable in the role of narrator and a great storyteller, our characters are captivating (except perhaps for the predictable Harry Potter that my 8-year-old “developed”), and we all look forward to playing again. It is a non-threatening way to share in creative storytelling in our homeschool. We will run out of written scenarios soon (there are only three included in Little Wizards) and I look forward to seeing what we develop on our own.
If you are interested in exploring the game more, crafty-games.com has pdf files with a Little Wizards preview and the character sheets. To play, you need the book and a pair of six-sided dice. If you try it out, let me know what you think.