This article is about programming for Tabletop role-playing games. If you have questions about this post or you would like to request that I focus on something specific next, please contact me @MichaelBuono on twitter. Feel free to share your own programs and ideas in the comments section, or you can reach out to me if your internet shy. My email is email@example.com. Have a safe and healthy New Year.
Programming is easily one of the most difficult parts of our jobs. First of all, it involves a ton of planning. Secondly, it directly involves other humans. That makes it difficult to predict exactly how things will go. Before I became a librarian, I was well prepared for the task. In addition to prior job experience, I was a game master. I ran games that spanned years of characters’ lives, and that took two years worth of Tuesday nights to run.
Running a role-playing game and programming has some common attributes. Specifically, that the best laid plans won’t survive contact with other humans unless you force them to go along. No one has fun when they are forced to do something in a way they don’t want to. RPGs are systems for social storytelling. Each individual can affect the course of the game through their choices and will. Game Masters are repeatedly reminded as they tell their story, that the story belongs to the group and not to them. Like in programming, good preparation allows you to easily adapt your plans to the wants and desires of those you’re playing with. The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier it is to adapt a game or a program to those you’re with.
Role Playing also has a lot in common with writing. If you already have a programmer or volunteer who does creative writing workshops for the teens, then maybe you can tap them to help you with this kind of programming. If not, then all you really need is a couple of interested teens. When my friend Chris and I started playing, we had no one to teach us to play. We had no real idea how the system worked. He had the book, and the desire to read it. I had a character idea (in retrospect an unoriginal idea) that I wanted to play. From there our group grew and the game grew. The places we played became part of those very positive memories. If you make the library that place, then you may create lifelong users.
Run a module or beginner’s adventure.
Wizards of the Coast and other role playing companies have released pre-written adventures frequently called modules. The modules are for varying player and character levels. Examples of this include: the adventure included in the Pathfinder Beginners Box
Librarian free gaming
You really, really don’t have time to play with them? And you don’t have a GM handy? Try Prime Time Adventures, where the players work together to create a TV show. It’s like cooperatively telling the story of a tv show with an ensemble cast. It is a great game to give a group of bored, interested teens when you have other things that require your attention. Another option is the game Fiasco, another gm free game where players take on the role of a group of criminals in the style of Oceans 11, and then have to navigate how things go wrong. If you want an idea of hot it works, there is a Tabletop episode about how the game here.
One of my co-workers, Martha Mikkleson at the Patchogue-Medford Library has been running volunteer programs at the library for years. At the core, they are all the same. Teens help younger kids or teens do things. It is a simple concept that requires a lot of work, but allows her to accomplish exponentially more. She is at the point now where kids who were helped by Study Buddies (a program where older kids help younger kids do homework) have come back to become buddies. She has also applied this theory to music, books and even video games. I know she is not alone in using teen volunteers in this way. In the Sachem Public Library, we have a gaming group made up of high school students of all ages, and a couple of middle schoolers.
Running a role playing game, once a week, is not easy. It can be time consuming. There isn’t the demand for RPGs that there is for homework help, so its not logical to set up a full blown program. But if a teen comes to you with an interest in trying a game, then sweeten the pot. Strike a deal that if they run a program once a month for younger teens or even for older children, then you will consider it a volunteer opportunity.
World Building for creative writing and role playing games:
Fantasy Novels always have a map of places within that word in them. It’s rare that they don’t. They are important for helping people visualize the world. The same is true of Role Playing Games. Maps help players get a visual understanding of the world they are playing in. Distances between locations, difficulty of travel and clearly labeled dangers all have an impact on a player’s decision making. During world creation. Creating a world is a lot of work for one person, so groups of gamers sometimes engage in cooperative world building. Here is a cooperative world building exercise you can use in a program for both gaming and creative writing.
Program Summary: Each teen establishes the history and culture of a nation sized piece of land. Then negotiates with those who “border” them the historical relationship.
Program Prep: Start by drawing the shape of the primary continent. Then divide that map up into various sized “jigsaw pieces”. (Think about the somewhat arbitrary shapes of the U.S. States) Use the photocopy machine to enlarge each subdivision onto a piece of paper. You may wish to make multiple copies. You can make this easier by doing it all digitally through GIMP or some image drawing software.
Program: Put the continent map at the front of the room. Explain that the teens will be responsible for creating the history, culture and major population centers for a single region of the world map. Then they will have to talk to the neighboring regions to decide what their relationship is and why. Hand out the region as randomly as possible. Personally, I would label the provinces with corresponding numbers. Hand out the “nations” and let the kids go to work. The Librarian or Staff member moves about the room asking questions to help keep the creative process going.
Collection Rescue: Non-Fiction on Castles, fashion and visual history guides are a great way to use the non-fiction collection in the process.
Character development as a creative exercise
The hardest thing for most in fiction & role playing is to write compelling characters. In fiction, you do this to keep others engaged. In Role Playing you need to create an engaging character to keep yourself & others engaged. It sounds simple, but it can be complex. For one, in RPG’s you’re bound by the constraints of the system you using. This program approaches character creation from a systemless approach, and it is more to teach them the process than to build one from an actual game. If you’ve already done world building, then you can have them make their characters in that world. If not, then allow them to pick a setting & run with it. Two, their characters will have to interact with others.
Program Summary: Each teen creates a character using the characters from literature and movies they find the most appealing.
Program Prep: Provide each teen with two sheets of paper. One divided into 3 columns with Mental – Physical – Social at the top. On the other side, have one column for quirks, one for flaws and one for relationships. The other with character history written on top of the front & character description written on the back.
Program: In most games the system balance mental, physical and social traits. Have the teens pick a primary focus, a secondary focus and a tertiary focus. This will make the character easily portable to any system. Then use those librarian skills, and spend a little time helping teens determine the appeal factors of their favorite characters from books & movies. The object is to help them determine what is attractive about the characters they are already engaged with. Help them establish 10 appeal factors for their primary character attribute, 5 appeal factors for their secondary attribute and 3 for their tertiary. On the other side, encourage them to flesh out more details of their characters including odd manners of speech, a short temper or a one sided love.
Once they are done with this, have them try to incorporate an explanation of it all in their background. Let them pick the setting, unless you actually plan on using these characters for a game. Encourage them to write at least a paragraph. When they have completed this to their satisfaction, then have them flip it over and describe the person they just created.
Collection Rescue: Books on writing, especially those focuses on character quirks or character development.
Some other program ideas:
Miniature Painting – Here are the step by step instructions for painting miniatures. I’m not very craft, and I could figure out how to design the program to keep costs low. Miniatures are used in war gaming primarily, but they are also used in role playing to represent a character in combat on a battle map. Any miniature with a base the size of a quarter can be used for a character. Painting allows players to individualize the piece.
Battle Map building - The standard battle map is a sheet of large plastic graph paper with 1 inch squares on it, but some people do use more advanced maps. They are built in the same way model train enthusiasts build the towns around their tracks.