TaleCrafters

TaleCrafters

I. Introduction

We are teaching in a time of exciting changes not only in the field of education, but also more specifically in ELT. Newer and more liberating technologies are opening up possibilities for what’s capable inside and outside of the classroom. Educators in all disciplines are beginning to arm our students with what’s commonly referred to as 21st century skills, which includes creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. In our own field, language instructors are increasingly abandoning acquiescence to a structured approach of language acquisition in favor of emergence. It’s within this environment of change that we should seek new ideas in order to engage a new generation of students.

What It Is

TaleCrafters is classroom role-playing game.  The term role-playing game is broadly defined in popular cultural, where it is used often to describe a large swath of digital games or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the classic pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike what you may expect from hearing the term role-playing game, TaleCrafters isn’t a digital game at all; at no point are your students staring at screen or moving around an avatar. It’s also quite different from traditional tabletop RPGs like D&D, where simulationism calls for constant dice rolling to mark damage or keep track of hit points. TaleCrafter instead focuses on the narrative. It’s a game because we use dice to determine the twists and turns of our story.

The evolution of this system comes from a thriving industry of indie-RPGs. More specifically, it comes from a sub-genre called story games. Some of the most influential on this framework have been Luke Crane & David Peterson’s Mouse Guard, Sweeney, Antunes, Stiles, Chapman, & Laws’ Faery’s Tale, Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco, and Matt Wilson’s Prime Time Adventures. TaleCrafters captures the feel of these story-driven role-playing games, while also making the genre possible to use in large classrooms for the purpose of language teaching.

While TaleCrafters is primarily about role-play, it also gives you a framework for contextualizing other task-based learning activities you use in your EFL classroom. It does this by encasing tasks into a questing structure, making all your tasks relevant to the storyline that students create. All these quests come together to creat one grand story arc, of which your students don’t just passively absorb, but actively shape and participate in.

Who the Students Are

This framework can be run with both kids and adults, although it is primarily geared towards younger learners. The minimum age group for students to be able to meaningfully collaborate with each other is third grade elementary. There are a wide range of skills for students to choose from, so the framework is suitable for both boys and girls.

Students can also be beginners at English, although some basic reading and writing skills are assumed. Classes with mixed-levels are handled well because peer-to-peer learning can be utilized with all the group work. Keep in mind that, like a well-designed video game, TaleCrafters starts with a step-by-step tutorial that gets students up and running, so there’s no need for students to understand any of the language used in these rules.

TaleCrafters is designed to be scalable. Tasks are meant to be done in groups of 3-5 students, and one teacher can feasibly facilitate a class of up to 20 students. With a co-teacher, it’s conceivable to scale a class up to 40 students. For small classes, three students is generally considered the minimum, although a creative teacher could alter the rules for only 2 students or a 1-on-1.

The Teacher’s Role

The teacher’s role in this framework is that of a facilitator. The teacher will assign quests, help students realize their role-plays, and preside over their quest outcomes. Ultimately, your job is to let your students be heroes. You will do this by challenging them with quests. They’re not always going to succeed–in fact failure and learning from it are built into the system. You are there to guide them through their adventures and help them emerge through everything for the better.

Where It Fits

TaleCrafters takes up the production phase of a traditional task-based learning class. All of the examples in this document assume a format where the first half of class is taught to the teacher’s teaching style, while the second half is comprised of tasks in TaleCrafters. For specific lesson plans, see the tutorial section near the end.

That being said, this is a framework that is certainly forward-looking in terms of technology. In particular, it can really take advantage of a flipped classroom. The same technologies used for sending voice and video messages can also be used to assign drilling practice as homework; thus freeing more class time for the activity.

What You Need

The materials you need to run TaleCrafters can vary. In this document I will be referring to the setup I use most frequently, which involves both teacher and student having smartphones or tablets. However, some teachers may be in a situation where that’s not feasible, so I will attempt to point out alternate methods when certain materials are called for.

Ideally, here is what we need to run the system:

  • 10 dice: Ideally, six dice should be of one color and the rest of various other colors.
  • Character sheets: You’ll need to print out  a character sheet for each student. Character sheets are at the end of this document.
  • Computer, projector, & screen (or IWB): We show visuals for quests on the screen and we can also keep track of student’s characters in a spreadsheet.
  • Smartphones/tablets: You need one smartphone per group of students. Students record their role-plays on their phones and then submit them to you during class.

Since I work in Korea, the app that students use to record their role-plays is the ubiquitous KakaoTalk. KakaoTalk is a small and fast app that’s kind of like a social network. It let’s you seamlessly send texts, voice notes and videos to each other. In other countries, though, similar functionality can be achieved by using Skype, Line, or by just attaching recordings to emails.

Getting Started

You don’t need to fully read this whole document to start using the framework. You can jump ahead to the tutorial and just learn the basics from there. The first few classes don’t require any use of the game mechanics other than giving out experience points for role-playing. Also, at no point do you have to explicitly tell students the rules or have them read this document. The rules will become apparent to them in time.

II. Characters

In TaleCrafters, each student assumes the role of a character. By using their characters, the students will go on quests, solve problems, and adventure around an imaginary world. Their characters will change over time. The more they use English, the stronger their characters become. They will also suffer from setbacks, though. These setbacks also give the characters learning opportunities which in turn advance their abilities.

In addition to their own characters, there are also other characters called non-player characters (NPCs). These are the background characters who give quests or act as obstacles to them achieving their goals. Even though they’re traditionally called NPCs, they’re kind of misnamed because in this class students also take on the roles of these characters while working on quests.

Each student should receive one character sheet. Students aren’t going to fill everything in all at once. If you follow the tutorial, you will notice that each section gets filled in during a specific lesson. There’s also a spreadsheet for the teacher to keep track of the students’ characters. In the following sections, I will go over the individual components of the character sheet.

The Character Sheet

A Character Sheet

The character sheet includes spaces for the student’s name, experience points (xp), level, attributes, skills, traits, items, and conditions. On the back there is useful information including a level chart and a listing of all the skills they can choose from.

Name

The character’s name is the first thing a student has to choose. You may want to give them a list of names to choose from so that they all fit in to a particular theme. In the default setting of the tutorial, the students are all human characters who are maybe just a few years older than your students’ real age. Of course, you don’t have to follow the default, and the beauty of this kind of game is that you can change the setting to anything you can imagine.

Experience Points (XP)

Students earn XP when they complete scenes and quests in class. XP is similar to stickers on a sticker chart. Once they reach a threshold amount of XP, they have the opportunity to level-up their characters. Rather than giving out XP as they finish each quest, it’s best to dole out XP near the end of class when students come together to share their experiences.

Level

Characters become stronger and learn new skills as they gain levels. Higher level characters are able to take on more difficult quests. Levels can be correlated to specific benchmarks on a course syllabus. There is a chart relating XP to levels on the back of the character sheet. Remember that even though there are numerical values for XP and levels, this isn’t a computer game. So before just handing out a new level to a student, make sure they can justify using English what their character has learned in order to advance.

Skills

Students primarily rely on their skills to overcome problems. Skills are divided into four main categories. These main categories are academic, self-defense, survival, and social. The available skills in each category are:

  • Academic: art, chemistry, geography, gym, history, languages, math, music, science, social studies
  • Self-defense: axe, bow, dagger, halberd, fists, shield, spear, staff, sword, wand
  • Survival: camp, cook, find, fish, heal, hide, hunt, look, navigate, tame
  • Social: act, argue, charm, comedy, help, lead, lie, scare, shop, speak

Additional skills and categories will open up as students gain levels. Skills also have their own levels, representing how adept a character is at each one. The way skills are used to solve problems is covered in the Skill Challenges chapter.

It’s a good idea to record the skills that students choose into the XP spreadsheet. When students choose skills, especially the young learners, they are broadcasting to you something about how they see themselves. A student who picks geography and tame is telling you that he wants to see his character out in the wild making friends with beasts. Listen to their skills and design your quests accordingly.

Traits

Traits help define individual characters. They can be either physical or character traits. Examples of traits could be brave, tall, fast, skinny, etc. Traits give students a bonus when they are invoked during their quests. Students don’t start with any traits, but they can be added when a character has overcome a bad condition. More information on earning traits can be found in the Learning from Failure section.

Conditions

When things go wrong, characters may suffer from bad conditions. A bad condition can be anything you can think of. Some examples are headaches, sadness, or broken bones. Conditions negatively affect how well the characters can perform their quests. Students can overcome conditions, and in so doing eventually make their characters even stronger. This is also talked about more in the Learning from Failure section.

Items

The right item can help students complete a quest. Items are followed by some descriptive adjectives that help students invoke them in their stories. Students can get items by buying them off NPCs or as a reward for successfully finishing quests.

NPCs

Students won’t always be the hero or a helper in every quest. Sometimes, they will take on the role of different characters. These characters can be quest-givers, monsters, or anything else the students think up. One student per quest can fill in part of the circle for the NPCs. When a student has filled in the whole circle for the NPCs, they can then call on an NPC during a quest for help. Calling on an NPC for help is explained in the Game Mechanic chapter.

III. Quests

TaleCrafters operates through a questing system. Students are presented with scenarios populated by NPCs. These NPCs each have something that they need the students’ characters to do for them. Most quests should be designed to be solved through role-play, although you can actually frame any class activity as a quest. For example, one quest I designed required students to speak a phrase into the Google Translate app and have it understand them in order to open a door. I also had a recurring NPC who never wanted to do his own homework, so his quests were for the students to do some grammar exercises. However, the main reason for doing TaleCrafters is to be communicative, so the majority of the examples presented here are role-playing activities.

Scenarios

A Scenario

Each class the teacher puts the students in a new scenario. The scenario consists of quest-givers and a background image. Scenarios set the premise for the scenes and quests the students can complete during the day’s lesson. In the above image, I’ve just taken a picture of a fountain on campus, then put that picture into a Google Presentations slide along with an image of the NPC. This particular scenario set up a quest called Tainted Waters where the students had to go around campus to investigate and fix water sources by role-playing in videos.

Because context is important, you may want to include multiple slides for your scenario. It’s fairly easy to set up text bubbles and animations in Google Presentations, and a little back story can help immerse the students into the present situation.

It’s also worth noting that once students start working on their quests, the storylines for each group may all go off in completely different directions. That’s OK. At the start of each class, though, students need to reconcile their own stories so they can explain how they all got to the same current situation.

Not every NPC has an important quest to do. Some NPCs just want conversation or have some menial task that needs to get done. These types of quests are just called scenes. After giving students the scenario filled with quest-giving NPCs, you can proceed to show them the individual scenes and quests. The scenes and quests images below are also just Google Presentations slides.

Scenes

A Scene

Simple quests that don’t carry any risk to the characters are referred to as scenes. Scenes usually just reward students with XP upon completion, rather than items. Scenes are good for introducing new characters or allowing character development in the story. It’s good to have one or two scenes in each class to create a good flow.

Quests

A Quest

When students listen to an NPC’s cry for help and decide to take action, then they are officially on a quest. A quest requires students to use their skills, teamwork, items, and traits in order to be successful. Quests can offer great rewards, but they can also result in bad conditions. The quest slide shown above is dissected below:

Title

Every quest has a title that the teacher and students can reference.

Quest Rating

Each quest has a rating. The rating represents the approximate difficulty of the quest. We’ll talk more about quest ratings in the next chapter, but for now it’s important to take note of a simple chart relating to difficulty levels:

Quest Rating Description Quest Rating Description
1 easy 5 heroic
2 normal 6 epic
3 challenging 7 legendary
4 difficult

Quest ratings are a bit subjective. An easy quest could be delivering a letter, while a heroic quest could be recovering treasure from a dragon’s lair. You should feel free to change the quest rating if the students are trying to do things that you think are either too easy or difficult for the given rating. For example, eventually students might think they can just solve their quests by, say, robbing a bank. You can counter them by saying they’ve just increased the quest rating from easy to difficult, practically ensuring they will not succeed and probably be met with severely bad consequences.

Listening/Reading Text

Most quests start off by something the quest-giver says. There are other options, too, like reading a message in a bottle or reading a poster on the wall. Don’t forget to fit the lesson’s language focus into what the NPC says.

Mission

The mission is a summary of what the quest-giver wants. It tells the students what needs to happen in the game’s fiction in order for the quest to be successful.

Task

The task section gives details to the students about what they specifically need to do to earn XP for completion of the quest. For role-plays, this is often a minimum time limit that their role-play should last. If they’re using a speech-to-text app, it might be a screenshot from their phones they have to send you.

Language Focus

The language focus gives examples to help the students take what they learned in the lesson and fit it into their role-plays.

Rewards

XP can be given to students who successfully finish the task part of the quest. That means students who submit a role-play that both meets the time limit and includes examples of the language focus in context can receive credit. If that were the only reward, however, students might soon lose interest. To make things more interesting, we also give extra rewards in the form of gold and items if students succeed at the game element of a quest. It’s these additional rewards and the desire to win that keeps the students actively pursuing quest after quest.

Quest Chart

At the bottom of each quest is a space for students to plan out how they will tackle each quest. In order to succeed at their quests, students will need to use teamwork, skills, traits, and items. Before recording their role-plays, it’s important that students think about the strategy they want to carry out to complete the quest. By filling out the quest chart, they will get the material they need when they start speaking their role-plays. Also, when the teacher is checking a group’s submitted role-play, he will be listening to what the students say and comparing it to what they have written in the quest chart. The next few sections will look at each part of the quest chart.

Quest Chart

Hero’s Skill

For each quest, one student will take on the role of the hero. During the course of the role-play, that student will make one of his skills the primary means of addressing the mission. As an example, let’s say the students’ mission is to fix up an old theater. The students decide that Dubu will be the hero, because she has an art skill of 3. The students will then write down art and +3 in the quest chart for hero’s skill.

The hero of each quest also has a few other special responsibilities. The hero will be the one  who rolls all the dice to determine the outcome of a quest. The hero is also a director, of sorts. If you are using smartphones to record role-plays, then it’s a good idea to have the hero hold the phone and point the mic end at the person who should be speaking. Otherwise, students have to either pass it around or lean in to the center of the table, both of which can break the flow of the role-play.

Primary Hero’s Trait

If the primary hero has a trait that can be used during the quest, he or she can add a +1 trait bonus. Using the previous example, let’s say Dubu has the trait tall. She could invoke it by including how high the ceiling is that she has to paint in the role-play. Note that only the hero’s trait will give a bonus in the quest, not the traits of helpers.

Item

If the hero can use any item that a group member has, then that item will give a +1 bonus. It’s possible that students will seek out an item during the role-play to help them. As long as that item is appropriate to their level, they can receive it and use it in the quest, though you may want to raise the quest rating by 1 if it’s a fairly nice item that they will use in other quests. In the example we’ve been using, Dubu bought a paint brush earlier that she’s going to use to paint the ceiling with.

One type of scene that I occasionally give out to students is a shopping scene. I either set up a shop in a city or a wandering merchant, and initially fill it with basic things like tents, lanterns, paper, and fishing rods. The students can start spending the money they receive from quests on these things. One of the social skills is bargain. They can try to get discounts making a roll similar to the game mechanic roll talked about in the next chapter. They could even try stealing things if they wanted–basically anything is possible by using the game mechanic, as long as they know the difficulty and consequences of their actions.

In this version of the TaleCrafters framework, I only talk about basic items, since the character’s level limit is 10. So for now, all items just give a +1 bonus.

1st Helper’s Skill

Collaboration is essential in TaleCrafters. The quests we give them won’t be solvable by just one hero; they will need to work together with their teammates to get as much help as possible. In the example of fixing up the theater, while the main hero is going to paint the ceiling, she’s going to be helped by her friend, Archos, who is going to gather berries for making paint. Gathering berries would fall under the find skill (which is a higher-frequency replacement for gather), so the students would write that on the quest chart. Getting help from a teammate adds +1.

2nd Helper’s Skill

The hero can receive help from up to 2 teammates, each adding +1. In our example, the 2nd teammate mixes the berries the 1st helper gathered in order to make the paint. The students write science in the quest chart.

Conditions

Finally, any bad conditions the primary hero has must be accounted for. In this case, the primary hero’s condition is sad due to failing in a previous quest where she tested her charm skill. In their haste, the students have forgotten to try and fix that condition, so they get a -1 penalty. Conditions are cumulative, but in this version of the framework each condition is worth -1. Overcoming conditions is one the key elements of this game, so that’s talked about more in a later chapter.

Dice Total

After adding up all the bonuses and subtracting for conditions, the students will write that number in the blank for dice total.  The hero will take that number of dice and roll them. The outcome of that roll is the focus of the next chapter.

IV. The Game Mechanic

The questing system is what turns an ordinary role-play into an interesting game.  In most role-playing games, characters are constantly  testing themselves: they may keep rolling dice to see if every sword strike hits its target, or they might have to click the mouse for every wizard spell. We don’t have the time or the desire to do that in a language classroom. Instead, we take all the things that the students do in their role-plays and put that into one big dice roll. The outcome of that one dice roll tells us everything we need to know about what went wrong and what went right in their quest.

The particular mechanic that we use to evaluate quests is called a dice pool. When hero of the quest rolls the dice, any die that comes up a 1,2, or 3 is a failure, while any die that comes up a 4,5, or 6 is a success. The image below shows failed dice in a red circle and successful dice in a green circle:

Failures and successes

Succeeding

The hero will roll a number of dice equal to the dice total the students wrote (and the teacher verified) in their quest chart. After the hero rolls the dice, we count up the number of successes. If the number of successes is equal to or greater than the quest rating, then the group succeeds at their quest. As an example, let’s say the student’s quest was level 4 and they earned 6 dice in their role-play. The hero received 6 dice and rolled the following:

Four successes

Four dice were successes and two were failures. Since the number of successes (4) is equal to or greater than the quest rating (4), the group has successfully completed the quest.

When students succeed at their quest, then in addition to XP, they usually receive other rewards that were specified in the quest, such as items, money, or additional XP. They can also receive more abstract rewards, like an NPCs friendship, which they could use in a later quest to help them in the same way an item would.

On another level, when the students succeed at their quest, they also achieve narrative truth. That means whatever they acted out in their role-play becomes true in the fiction of their stories. As long as they rolled and beat the quest rating that the teacher put out, then the story is fully theirs. We talk about that a little more in the aftermath section.

Failing

If the hero rolls fewer successes than the quest rating, then the group fails. Using the same example of a level 4 quest with 6 earned dice, the hero rolls the following:

Two successes

This time, there were only 2 successes. Since 2 is less than the quest rating of 4, then the group has failed at their quest.

When a group fails, they still receive XP, but not any additional rewards from the quest. Depending on how badly they fail, they may also get saddled with conditions, break items, or lose narrative control. We’ll look a little more at what happens after failing in the aftermath section.

Margins of Success and Failure

We can see just how well the students did in their quest by looking at the margin of their success or failure. If the group rolls 4 successes on a quest rating of 4, then the margin of success is 0. That means they just barely passed the quest. If they roll 5 successes and the quest rating is 4, then their margin of success is 1, so they did pretty well. On the other hand, if they roll 2 successes on a level 4 quest, they would have a margin of failure of 2. A margin of failure of 2 means something pretty bad is going to happen to the group in the fiction of the story.

The Aftermath

After the dice are rolled and we know if the group succeeded or failed and by how much, we need to make a quick ending to the quest for story purposes. Refer to the chart below as a guide for tidying up students’ quests in the aftermath:

Margin Description Result
+2 Amazing victory Teacher may give additional rewards
+1 Better than expected Students may embellish on their success in the game’s fiction
0 Barely passed Story finishes as expected
-1 Just failed Students describe what went wrong and give the hero a bad condition
-2 Failed clumsily Teacher describes failure and can set multiple conditions, lost items, etc.
-3 A fiasco Teacher mercilessly assigns multiple conditions

If the group succeeds, then they can describe their success in the fiction and move on to the next quest: they don’t need to pay attention to any particular die that failed. However, if they fail, then it’s important to take a closer look at the dice to determine what went wrong. For this reason, we assign certain color dice to certain bonuses. That way, if the group fails, they can look at which dice failed as a prompt for explaining what went wrong in the story. In the image below, white dice represent the hero’s skill, the red die is the first help, the blue die is the second help, the green die is the item, and the black die is the trait.

Dice Blame

We can see from the picture that both helpers failed in the story. Using the aftermath chart and dice colors, we have a pretty straightforward way of explaining how failed quests end.

Calling for Help

If the group fails a quest, they have one option to try and pass it again. If a student has filled out the circle on his character sheet for NPCs, then they can call on an NPC to come in and try to help them. Let them choose one failed die and describe how the NPC helps them with that. They can re-roll that die to try and get a success.

If the quest they are currently doing is the last one to fill out the circle for the NPCs, then it’s OK to let them call in the NCP for help, provided their story is convincing. After calling on an NPC for help, the student should erase all parts of the NPC circle and start over. They can start over with one part filled-in if the circle was already full at the start on the quest and that student was the primary NPC actor in current quest.

 Conditions

When students fail their quests, the most common thing to happen will be for them to receive bad conditions. A condition can be anything that negatively affects the characters, so they’re not limited to just physical ailments. Try to make the condition appropriate to the story. For example, a failed quest that involves the cook skill might result in a stomachache, or a failed quest involving history might result in a loss of confidence. When an appropriate condition is decided on, write it down on the student’s character sheet.

Overcoming Conditions

Overcoming conditions is kind of like a mini-quest. In order to recover from a condition, students first need to role-play what they do to overcome it. They can include this as part of their role-plays for other quests. If they are trying to fix a condition during a quest, they will have to roll the dice once before their main roll. The afflicted student should roll dice equal to the ability number which the condition affects. He can also receive help from 1 other student to get a bonus die. For example, let’s say a student has the condition tired. He says it affects his spirit, which is level 2. In the role-play, he listens to harp music from his friend. This gives him 3 dice (2 for spirit, 1 from his friend’s music help). Conditions only require one success to overcome, so the student has 3 dice to roll and only 1 has to be a success for the student to recover. When a student recovers, they can erase the condition from their character sheet, then follow the rules in the next section, Learning from Failure. A student can only try to recover from 1 condition per day.

Learning from Failure

When a student gets a bad condition, he or she shouldn’t feel too discouraged. In fact, the only way that a student can get traits is by first suffering a condition and then overcoming it. Once a student successfully recovers from a condition, they can add a trait to their character sheet. Have them role-play how their trait manifests itself before adding it. On the character sheet there are circles next to each attribute. When a student overcomes a condition, fill in the circle next to the attribute they used. The next time a student tries to overcome a condition, they will have to use another attribute in order to gain a trait. Once they’ve used all 3 attributes, they can erase the circles and start over.

As an example of recovering from a condition to earn a trait, let’s say a group fails a quest that involved the hero convincing some people to do something, thus using the hero’s speak skill. She was then given the condition sad for failing. The next class, she is going to be the hero again, so she wants to try to fix her condition, or else she will get a -1 die penalty on the quest. To fix her condition, she decides to eat a cupcake. The teacher asks why that helps, hinting at either mind, body or spirit on her character sheet. The student responds with spirit, which happens to be level 1 for her, saying that the cupcake makes her feel happy. Her friend helps by baking the cupcake (cook skill). She gets 2 dice and rolls them, and they show up as a 1 and 4. She succeeds because you only need 1 to be successful. After that, she fills in the circle next to spirit on her character sheet and chooses a trait to add. She comes up with the trait kind and justifies it by making up a story of a time her character helped out someone.

V. Combos

A combo is when the hero of a quest strings together two or more skills. For example, when Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride tells the six-fingered man, ‘You killed my father, prepare to die’ before their sword fight, he would be combining history with sword. Students get 1 bonus die when they combine two skills, and a bonus die for each additional skill, so long as it all makes sense in the role-play.

Skills can only be used in a combo after they have had their circle filled in, which is to the left of the skill name on the character sheet. The circle has four parts which are represented by a sword, a broken sword, a helping hand, and a crossed-out hand. Students can fill in each part of the circle according to the outcomes of when they apply that particular skill. If they succeed as a hero using that skill, they can fill out the sword. When they fail as a hero using that skill, they can fill out the broken sword. When they help using that skill on a successful quest, they can fill in the helping hand. When they help but the quest fails, they can fill in the crossed-out hand. After using a combo, the student should erase all the filled in parts of the circles from the invoked skills and start over.

VI. Tutorial

Now that you understand the system, you might be wondering how to implement it. This chapter shows a progression of classes you can follow to get your students started using the TaleCrafters framework. This tutorial is meant to show how this method works for even beginner level students. Each class includes a lesson plan along with slides that you can show in your class.

Class 1

Here’s a sample lesson plan for a 50 minute class. This class covers basic introductions and basic use of the verb be. Students begin TaleCrafters by doing simple role-plays where they meet the characters.

1st Class Lesson Outline

Character Name

Situation 1

Scene 1A

Scene 1B

Scene 1C

Scene 1D

Class 2

In the 2nd class, students start to define their characters more by using adjectives.

They role-play tasks that let them learn more about each others characters.

Class 2 Lesson Outline

Situation 2

Scene 2A

Class 3

From the third class, students will start choosing skills. They start by choosing a

subject they like to study at school. Their role-plays include singing and taking pictures.

Class 3 Lesson Outline

Academic Skills

Situation 3

Scene 3A

Scene 3B

Scene 3C

Class 4

On the fourth class they choose a weapon and use has/have. Their role-plays start to

offer more rewards than just xp. In this case, simple armor and weapons.

Class 4 Lesson Outline

Situation 4

Scene 4A

Scene 4B

Class 5

The fifth class introduces survival skills in conjunction with can/can’t for ability. Role-play scenes are beginning to look more like quests.

Class 5 Lesson Outline

Situation 5

Scene 5A

Scene 5B

Scene 5C

Class 6

Students pick a social skill. This is the last skill they should have before they start doing full quests.

Class 6 Lesson Outline

Situation 6

Scene 6A

Scene 6B

Scene 6C

Classes 7 and on

By now, students have pretty developed characters and they can start doing simple level 1 and 2 quests. If you need quest ideas, feel free to contact me. Thanks for reading!

VII. Advanced Topics

Running a class like this for the first time can be daunting. In this chapter I will give some tips and also advice on issues that are likely to come up.

Skill Descriptions

The skills in this framework should give students the ability to come up with any kind of solution they want to complete their quests. What’s possible with each skill might not be readily apparent, though, especially since the skills have been named in consideration of early learners possessing limited vocabulary.

Academic Skills

  • Art: A low level artist might be capable of making simple drawings, while highly skilled artists can sculpt and paint masterpieces. Sample quests that might interest students with the art skill could be painting an old building, doing someone’s portrait, or designing clothes.
  • Chemistry: Chemists can mix ingredients to make all sorts of things. Expect a low-level chemist to have many unintended mishaps. Quests involving chemistry might include brewing beverages, making mood-altering potions, or determining the nature of strange substances.
  • Geography: A simple geographer has a good grasp on the local terrain, while those at the top of their field could have knowledge of areas far beyond. Geography could be used in quests like finding a water supply, mapping out an area, or planning a route.
  • Gym: Students who choose gym will have characters that are generally more athletic than others. A low level gym specialists can do tasks that require speed, strength, dexterity, or stamina, while a more advanced character can easily scale walls or make long leaps. Quests that could include gym are retrieving a pet from up in a tree, fording a river, or quickly delivering a message.
  • History: Students versed in history are capable of conjuring up facts to help in situations. A low level historian might know local lore, while an expert has deep insights into all the different citizens that populate their world. Quests involving history could include investigating strange ruins, determining the meaning of a pictograph, or figuring out why two nations are at war.
  • Languages:  Knowing languages means the student’s character can communicate with a wide variety of different people. A low level language student might know 1 or 2 languages, while an expert can blend in to any culture with ease, and possibly talk with animals. Quests involving languages could include helping a lost stranger on the road or translating ancient texts.
  • Math: Math involves solving quests through logic. While a low level mathematician can just do basic arithmetic and subtraction, at higher levels expect them to start doing amazing feats of engineering. Some quests you can design using math could be counting lost sheep, part-timing as a store clerk, or fixing a dam.
  • Music: The music skill can represent singing or playing an instrument. As students level-up their music skill, they can learn new instruments. Sample quests using the music skill could be putting a guard to sleep, charming animals, or earning money as a street musician.
  • Science: The science skill can be used for all kinds of experimentation. Low level scientist might have basic knowledge of elements and physics, while high level scientist can apply that knowledge to all sorts of uses. Example quests for scientists are recording types of plants in an area, determining why certain animals are getting sick, or helping farmers grow bigger vegetables.
  • Social Studies: Characters who know social studies are familiar with customs of various cultures. Lower level characters may not fully understand the nuances of a culture, while higher levels have a deep understanding of the complex social behaviors of all sorts of different creatures. Exampe quests where social studies could be relevant are planning a ceremony, making introductions to a hostile group, or giving apologies.

Self-defense Skills

  • Axe: As a character gains levels in their axe skill, they can describe more complex attack moves. In addition to self-defense an axe can be used in quests such as chopping wood for winter,
  • Bow:  Increased levels in the bow skill means more precision and accuracy. Bows can have non-combat functions in quests, such as delivering a note or starting a fire from a distance.
  • Dagger: Daggers can be easily concealed and let characters strike quickly. An example quest involving daggers without combat could be peeling vegetables for a farmer.
  • Halberd:  A halberd is versatile but slow. It can use the same non-combat quests as axes and spears.
  • Fists: The fists skill is used for hand-to-hand combat. Different skill levels can represent mastery of additional stances. Non-combat quests can also be designed that take advantage of martial arts-like skills, for example having to tackle a wild boar.
  • Shield:  While primarily defensive, a shield can also be a weapon if used to bash. A non-combat quest using a shield might be to carry water across a certain distance without spilling any.
  • Spear:  A spear has a long reach but can be a slow weapon. Advanced levels in this skill can represent new techniques or combos. An example of a non-combat quest using a spear could be reaching a set of keys from behind bars.
  • Staff:  While sometimes used as a physical weapon, a staff is mainly used to allow a character to use magic. A low level staff skill could let a character use 2 simple spells, like conjuring sparks or levitating objects, while higher levels lead to more spell slots and more powerful spells.
  • Sword: Increasing levels in the sword skill allow for more special moves with the sword. An example of using the sword skill in a non-combat quest would be clearing brush.
  • Wand:  A wand allows magic similar to the staff. An example of using a wand for a non-combat quest would be using magic to clean a room.

Survival Skills

  • Camp:  The camp skill represents how well a character can do things like set up shelter or make a campfire. A low level camper can do things like pitch a simple tent and start a fire with flint and stones, while a high level camper can help his companions weather a blizzard. Some sample quests involving camp could be preparing for a storm, being lost in the woods, or staying warm.
  • Cook:  The cook skill represents all forms of food preparation. While a beginning cook can make a few dishes over an open flame, an advanced cook can prepare a feast for a king. Quests for cooks could be winning a cooking contest, satiating a hungry giant, or avoiding hunger in the desert.
  • Find: The find skill represents the character’s ability to forage for things. A low level forager can find easy things like apples danging from trees, while an expert could seek out a rare herb in dense foliage. Quests for these characters could include picking berries, gathering medicinal herbs, or recovering lost keys.
  • Fish: This skill is how well the character can go fishing. Skill level can represent the size and rarity of what the character catches in the water. Quests for fishers include feeding the cat, making fish soup, or fishing for treasure.
  • Heal:  Heal is how well a character can bandage wounds and tend to the sick. A low level healer can fix up bumps and bruises, while an expert can set up medical centers on battlefields. Some quests for healers could be saving a sick child, curing an outbreak, or helping at the hospital.
  • Hide: Characters can use their hide skill to help themselves and their companions evade threats. A low level character can remain hidden from less astute threats, while an expert hider can make his party nearly invisible. Some quest ideas using hide are hiding from mother, playing hide-and-seek, or guards on patrol.
  • Hunt: Things like tracking animals and setting traps are covered by the hunt skill. Expect a novice hunter to track large animals that leave obvious tracks, while an expert can follow a trail based on minute details like bent grass. Some quests for hunters could include tracking the owl-bear, trapping the lion, or following the strange newcomer in town.
  • Look: The look skill demonstrates how perceptive of an observer the character is. A low level observer can notice the obvious, while a high level one could spot a needle in a haystack or sense when someone is lying to them. Some quest ideas for look are spotting the grass snake, lost in the crowd, or forecasting the weather.
  • Navigate: The navigate skill represents the character’s ability to find their way. Low level navigators may remember which paths to take, while advanced navigators can lead their companions by following the stars or other clues in nature. Quests for navigators could include rafting the rapids, conquering the labyrinth, or finding the candle shop.
  • Tame: The tame skill is the ability of a character to train animal or creature companions. Low level creature tamers could get a simple pet, while expertly skilled tamers could command dragons. Some sample quests for this skill are ridding the market of rats, the lost kiwi, and delivering the message.

Social Skills

  • Act: The act skill lets characters pretend to be things they’re not. A low level actor can wear basic disguises, while highly skilled actor can blend in anywhere. Some example quests could be spying on the neighbors or working at the theater.
  • Argue: Characters with the argue skill are good debaters and effective at persuading someone else to follow their opinion. A normal arguer might get a friend to follow along with his or her plans, while an expert can control the opinions of even the staunchest adversaries.
  • Charm: Characters with charm can get what they want out of a social interaction by being cute. A basic charmer can get ordinary people to go along with their plans by using a smile, while experts can command whole nations to go to war for them. Sample quests could be borrowing dad’s shoes or persuading the princess.
  • Comedy: The comedy skill is used by a character who can get what they want out of social situations by being funny. Their skill level determines the scope and hilarity of their comedic actions. Quest ideas for comedy can include befriending the inn keeper or entering the thieves’ hideout.
  • Help: A helper is always eager to lend a helping hand and is trusted by others. The skill level of a helper represents the respect and depth of trust that helper can receive from the person they are helping. Some quests that might need help could be putting up signs or running the election.
  • Lead: A leader is effective at organizing and commanding people. A normal leader can direct the actions of a small number of people, while an expert can lead whole nations.
  • Lie: A liar knows when it’s best to withhold or twist the truth a bit. Low level liars may get caught often, but a highly skilled one gives no hints to when he or she is not telling the full truth. Quests that could involve lying are designing the mayor’s new outfit or late to the ball.
  • Scare: A character with the scare skill can get what they want through intimidation. An incredibly intimidating character just has to make one glance to get people to follow them. Some quest ideas for this skill are escorting the governor or retrieving overdue library books.
  • Shop: A character with shop is good at bargaining. Skill level can represent how much of a discount they can get. Shopping quests can be specifically set up that use this skill.
  • Speak: A good speaker can sway large groups of people. Low level speakers might get temporary control of a small crowd, while experts can manipulate large populations to follow their cause. Some quests for speak could be building a barn or ending the war.

Multi-questing

One thing students may want to do is take on multiple quests at the same time. For them, having each student in the group focus on writing out a single quest and then performing them all together later seems the most efficient way to earn XP. That, however, leads to a lack of communication and many of the positive aspects of teamwork and collaboration are lost. Make sure your students are only doing one quest at a time, and that each member is actively engaged in contributing to the planning and execution of each one. I accomplish this in my classes by printing the quests out on slips of paper and initially only handing out one to each group, while leaving the rest at the front of the room.

Time Management

After you’ve laid out the scenario, introduced the quests, and passed out a first quest to each group, then your job as a facilitator begins. You might think being a facilitator sounds easy, but this is a very demanding job. There’s usually a calm before the storm period while the students are planning out how they will solve their first quest and asking you for help or advice. Once they start submitting quests, though, and you see the notifications on your smartphone one after the other, you can easily become overwhelmed. Try to stay ahead by catching the first group as they record so you don’t have to listen to it again on your phone.

Another issue is ending the class on time. One thing you can try is having a timer set up for at least 5 minutes before the end of class. After that time, students should stop their questing as you wrap up the class, have them share their stories, and give out XP. Of course, some students will have just submitted a quest right before the buzzer, and some will be so close that they will stay after to finish. That usually means the teacher has to stay after class for a bit to resolve those quests.  You can be stricter about that, but I usually forsake a good chunk of break time resolving quests just because the students enjoy it so much.

Level Progression

I aim to level up my students once every three classes or so. I usually award the same amount of xp per quest as the quest rating. Below is the level chart along with the rewards students get for each level.

Level XP Bonus
1 0-9
2 10-19 +1 skill point
 3 20-30 add a skill
 4 31-42 +1 ability point
 5 43-56 +1 skill point
 6 57-72 +1 ability point
 7 73-90 add a skill
 8 91-110 +1 skill point (max 4)
 9 111-135 +1 ability point
 10 136-165 +1 skill point (max 4) OR add a skill

Levels 11-20

I’ve only ever leveled students up to 10 because I’ve always used this framework semester by semester, starting over each time. It’s possible that you may want to keep characters going for a longer amount of time. In that case, refer to the following extended leveling chart. You can’t simply add points to skill levels beyond 6, or there would be an unmanageable amount of dice. Instead, students can master a skill or get critical hits in it. A skill that is mastered gets a success on die rolls of 3,4,5, or 6. A skill with critical hits allows a student to roll sixes again and add any additional successes to their total. With critical hits, a student can even keep rolling his criticals as well if those show up as sixes.

Level XP Bonus
11 166-202 make 1 skill critical
12 203-243 +1 skill point (max 5)
13 244-290 +1 ability point (max 4) or add a skill
14 291-341 +1 skill point (max 5)
15 342-397 +1 ability point (max 4)
16 398-453 +1 skill point (max 5)
17 454-514 add a skill
18 515-580 make 1 skill critical
19 581-651  +1 ability point
20 652-727 +1 skill point (max 6)

Items

Items can be a little bit tricky. The Law of Narrative Truth means that if a student invokes a skill like find or shop in a role-play, and that quest is successful, then he can get that item and even use it in that quest. You might notice, though, that there isn’t a place on the character sheet for recording a form of currency. Despite that, I use play money that I hand out after certain quests and also randomly throughout class to promote participation. I then occasionally include shopping scenes solely for students to spend that money on items, even though they can do that anyway in their other quests. The tricky part is balancing out how items are acquired through skills like find and through using currency. A good rule of thumb is to refer to the quest rating chart and replace difficulty with rarity, then adjust the quest rating accordingly.

Ask any game developer and they will tell you one of the easiest ways to get people addicted to a game is by regularly doling out random treasure. The same applies to this game. One of the greatest motivators for students is offering treasure chests for successfully completing quests. I usually hand out blank cards to the students near the beginning of the semester and tell them to draw treasures or random items on them. Then I collect them and put them in an envelope that represents a treasure chest. Since the students themselves made the cards, there’s about a 50% chance the treasure will be utter garbage, but the students still love getting them, and even come up with novel uses of items like dust to complete quests.

One more thing you can do with items is make them something abstract, like Steve’s Friendship. They can write that in the item section of their character sheet, then later use it as if it were an item.

Dice

Dice can be noisy and a distraction, so in my class only I hold on to the dice. I suggest passing them out one at a time for the quest resolution roll only after students can justify they deserve them in their quests. For example, a student who says “I use my navigation skill” hasn’t earned any dice. The student should instead say what they do explicitly, like “I follow the path straight down to the river.”

For helper dice, I make the helper explain their actions and give the helper die to them directly, who in turn should hand it over to the hero. Having the helper hand the dice over can better illustrate the collaborate effort needed to solve quests.

The hero should be the one who rolls all the dice for quest resolution. Sometimes a hero doesn’t want that responsibility and wants their teammates to roll, but don’t let that slow down your class.

At first I wan’t too comfortable with using dice in class, even though now I can’t think of a better mechanic for efficiency and streamlining of quests. I’d recommend you try dice first, but if you want a different medium for randomizing quest outcomes, like drawing sticks or picking cards, then it’s important to understand the odds of the dice pool system so you can replicate it with your own system. Here is a chart showing the probabilities of success, with number of dice along the top and quest rating along the left:

  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 75 88 94 97 98 99 99 99
2 25 50 69 81 89 94 96 98
3 13 31 50 66 77 86 91
4 6 19 34 50 64 75
5 3 11 23 36 50
6 2 6 14 25
7 1 4 9
 

VIII. Downloadable Files

Character Sheet

Quest Template

XP Spreadsheet

Credits

Daniel Brown, Spring 2012

Inspirations

Mouse Guard–Luke Crane & David Peterson, 2008

Faery’s Tale–Sweeney, Antunes, Stiles, Chapman, Laws, 2007

The Multiplayer Classroom–Lee Sheldon, 2011

World of Warcraft–Blizzard, 2004

Resources

Characters, creatures & icons–David E. Gervais

Aged paper–firesign24-7 (DeviantArt)

Font–Medieval Sharp (OpenFontLibrary)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

17 Responses to TaleCrafters

  1. Steve says:

    Hi again Danny, I gave this a fairly thorough read-thru, and WOW!!!! …very interesting. It’s easy to see that you’ve put alot of effort into this project. It’s very thought provoking and is even inspiring….just what I’ve been looking for, …the inspiration part I mean..!!! I’m goin’ to refer back to this a couple more times to fully digest it. …goood seeing you again, take it easy, and I hope that I could contact you about this if needed…thanks again, AND, Thanks for putting me as one of the characters in the game explanation.!!!

  2. Daniel says:

    Glad you found it inspiring! A lot of colleagues names have mysteriously popped up as characters. There’s another Steve in the next framework I’m putting up, which is for an adult conversation class, so it might be more applicable to your uni courses. You also got me thinking about designing a debate class…

  3. Hi Danny, just come across your blog after joining the Multiplayer Classroom Facebook page – very interesting, and I’ll take a closer look. I have been interested in this for a while and have used the RPG format in class with students taking an exam, adapting the website Chore Wars (you can read about it here:http://www.digitalplay.info/blog/2011/03/28/gamify-your-classroom-with-chore-wars), and we have a blogpost written by a colleague who is converting his classroom into a RPG too. I am going to take a closer look at what you have been doing, but would you be prepared to write a guest blog post on the subject at our Digital Play blog?

    • Daniel says:

      Graham, happy to hear you’re interested, and I’ll gladly do a guest blog post at Digital Play. I’m right at the start of a new semester, though, and ironing out two new frameworks, so it’ll be a couple weeks until I can get to it.

      I’ve looked into but haven’t tried implementing Chore Wars yet. I’m not sure it’s flexible enough for everything I would need it to do, for example the customs skills or conditions in TaleCrafters, or in my new frameworks things like business slogans and values are game mechanics represented on character sheets. So in addition to custom character sheets, I just have a Google Docs spreadsheet for each class where I record their XP, and have some cells that automatically update for their level. It’s not as pretty as Chore Wars, but it works so far.

  4. danielcraig says:

    It’s difficult to take this all in on my phone, but my initial reaction is wow! I’m not sure how I could work this into classes here at our university, but I’ll give it some thought.

    If you ever have a chance, I’d love to see an edited video of this being implemented. Until then, I’ll have to settle for your presentation next week. See you there.

    • Daniel says:

      I’m currently weaving 2 very similar games into curriculums based on the Top Notch coursebooks. In the past I’ve basically written all the course materials, which was time-consuming but allowed me contextualize everything. So, for example, a conversation wasn’t just introducing the language component but also foreshadowing quests or introducing characters. Fitting this into an existing course can be challenging, though, but fun. Last week in my sci-fi themed game we took a generic lesson on fitness and eating habits and turned it into a mission where students went to a planet where being out of shape was illegal so they had to interrogate and arrest people, among other things.

      Anyhow thanks for stopping by and commenting, and I hope to see you next week at KOTESOL!

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  8. Joey says:

    Just watched your KOTESOL talk and really enjoyed it. I wish you had more time to demo more aspects of the system. I’ve been meeting a lot of teachers who are using a variety of collaborative storytelling and role-play approaches in their language classes and I’ve used a few myself. The whole area has a wealth of potential in all kinds of teaching. It would be fun to get a SIG together for it!

    Also, I thought I would share this project that’s on Kickstarter now. It’s a system for learning Korean. You may have already seen it, but it looks awesome all the same:

    The funding it’s gotten is a good indicator that there is an interest in this!

  9. Daniel says:

    Joey, thanks for attending the presentation. Time really flew by and before I knew it, it was time to end and we barely even got into the workshop phase. An SIG would be interesting and I’d like to see more of what other people are doing, though I haven’t looked into how to form one. If you want to get people together to talk about this and similar approaches let me know, and I’ll be there.

    I’ve exchanged ideas with Kyle in the past over at story-games.com, and I’ll definitely have to get in on his kickstarter.

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  14. cloa5132013 says:

    Hi, I’m an home English tutor in Japan. I have started teaching two adults and I saw
    this ESL RPG board game- http://670.wikispaces.com/RPG-ESL-Game-DesignDocument. I had to make my own game as this is incomplete. I made that they had to solve problems using word magic- new words to solve the problem pictures.

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