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Tabletop Role Playing Games: Do they have a place in the classroom?

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

There’s nothing more exciting to me than the idea of bringing education to life. Take a look at Disney’s latest theme park, “Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge”. This new edition to the Disneyland theme park, soon to come to Disney World, is taking the theme park experience to the next level. When park guests go in, they are not just sightseeing and riding the rides, they are taking an active role in the world that Disney Imagineers have created for their guests.

This concept is, is something that’s been around for many years, and it’s called LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). Guests are living, breathing members of the Star Wars world, and the Disney cast members treat the guests as such.

The fact that a major corporation, like Disney, is doing this, tells me that there is a demand for this level of submersion into their favorite movies, books, stories and games. People love to escape. By creating this world, even adults are not afraid to look silly playing “pretend”. If this is what today’s society wants, can we bring this concept into the classroom?

There is a demand for this level of submersion into their favorite movies, books, stories and games; People love to escape- so why not let students in on the fun!

The difference between LARPing and tabletop role playing is that in LARPing, people are up and moving around, dressed up and interacting with an open environment and the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) which are basically actors with a set role to help you on your journey.

A tabletop game, on the other hand, has the players at a tabletop, optionally using an accent when they speak in character, and role dice to determine whether or not they accomplish the task they wish to accomplish. Both are similar to improvisation except each person is a character who has limits and a specific background and personality.

Here’s How RPG Games Work

Every player has a character sheet, either assigned or created. The character sheets tell you want you are good at, what you’re bad at, and all of your personal statistics. It tells you what your background is, how you grew up, information about your past and your family. You know how much money you have on hand and what items you have on your person. These details allow the player to accurately interact with the game.

When a player wants to do something, they tell the GM (Game Master),and then the GM lets them know what dice to roll and what stats on their character sheet to add or, sometimes, subtract from their total that was rolled. There is a specific number the player must meet or beat to successfully accomplish their desired task.

Die rolls are not required for everything, simply more difficult tasks that would require above average effort. This means that, when a character tries to do something their character is not good at, the odds of them accomplishing the task goes down. This allows some balance and realism for the player. It can be scary in certain situations because there is an element of “Oh my gosh my character might not make it.”

Once you are attached to your character you might really be thinking, “Oh my gosh I might not make it!” There are consequences to every action and it’s all determined by the GM. So, how would this work in the classroom?

Tabletop Roleplaying is going to be a lot more feasible than LARPing for a teacher to set up. Instead of just reading a text or learning about an event in history, give students character sheets and scenarios to interact with. Allow them to BECOME a part of the story or event.

Can you imagine how much more they will learn if the students feel like they were actually a part of the thing they’re learning about? It takes the concept of “understanding” to a whole new level. Say one of the students has a child who gets sick with the Bubonic Plague? What do they do? How do they get treatment? Can their character afford a doctor? What actions will they take and what realistic consequence would happen to them for those actions? Will they get sick as well?

There ARE teachers using RPGs in the classroom to teach things like “King Arthur”, “Beowulf”, and other pieces of literature. I HIGHLY recommend following Sarah Roman on Twitter @A_BildungSROMAN, and reading her article “D&D in the Classroom: Making Old Worlds New”.

She has samples of activities to pair with Beowulf and it is amazing! She has the best tips and tricks on implementing RPGs (Role Playing Games) in the classroom. The article has pictures and a video showing how well applying Dungeons and Dragons in her classroom has worked.

She is basically using D&D rules and creating stories based on literature the students are required to read. Super cool stuff! I am using her articles and posts to help me create my lesson plans to incorporate D&D into my future classroom.

If you are REALLY interested, like me, you can join “Teaching Dungeons and Dragons” which is designed to turn teachers into Dungeon Masters (also known as Game Masters). Check out for more information.

Benefits I Can See Right Off the Bat…

  1. Students don’t lose sight of the setting, the historical context, and major themes of the story

  2. Students get to interact with something they’ve just read or just learned about (maybe a historical event)

  3. Students will not forget the major plot points, nor the lesson probably forever. They will truly grasp the purpose of the text (I have never forgotten the plot to any of the RPGs I’ve played in and the memories are always fond, even if the entire party (group of characters) died).

  4. Students will have fun with the immersion into the text or event, and will be able to give you a better analysis of the characters (people), events, and themes

  5. It will give the teacher an opportunity check student understanding as they walk around to the different gaming groups and observe what they’re saying and how they’re interacting with the content

My ending thoughts on tabletop RPGs in the classroom, is that adding tabletop role playing games into the classroom is the future of education. With immersion gaming being such a huge part of the lives of our students as they go onto their many different devices at home, in their pocket, and at school, RPGs in the classroom will keep public education relevant.

The fact that there’s new demand for in-person immersion, as we see at Disney’s Star Wars Galaxy Edge, tells me it’s a great thing to incorporate into my normal plans. People want to be a part of an experience, not just spectators. I would argue that role playing games best work in person and NOT on a computer.

Players have more options, and have to do more than push button for pre-scripted options. Adding in RPGs to school curriculum will show a good reason to keep schools open and will keep teachers relevant as the digital age continues to take over our daily lives. There are already so many online schools available, as an educator I don’t want to see my job be replaced by technology.

By providing an experience that’s worth students coming in person to school for, I think we can avoid that problem all together. Not only for this reason, but how amazing would it be to provide this type of experience for our students. They have to use their creativity, imagination, and work with their group members as a team as they are navigating the setting and story. I can’t wait to try this out!

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