Dungeons & Dragons: Gaming Role-Playing for ELT

Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest TESOL games and education blog! In this month’s post, we’ll explore the vast and imaginative world of Dungeons & Dragons!

First created in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) has seen epic growth in recent years with double digital sales for the game as older players openly embrace updates to the game and new players are introduced to the game through live plays, such as Critical Role, and podcasts, such as The Adventure Zone. Included in this growth has been extensive interest in using D&D in the classroom to foster communication, collaboration, and cross-disciplinary learning.

What Is D&D?

D&D is a tabletop role-playing game—although recently it has made the switch to video conferencing quite well. In this genre of games, players create a character and then act out the character’s actions alongside fellow players. The overall direction of the game is guided by a dungeon master, or DM. This DM creates the general story for the players to follow and role-plays all the various characters, monsters, and enemies that players may encounter during their adventure. Critically, D&D has no clear win or loss as with a typical board or video game. Instead, the goal of the game is to craft a shared story through the actions and dialogue the players create.

D&D is often referred to as “theater of the mind” as players are strongly encouraged to act out their characters and describe their actions to the other players. Players create characters with specific attributes and abilities, which come with a numerical score. Players complete most in-game actions by rolling dice with the resulting dice score influenced by the players attributes. The game begins with players filling out their character sheets  (see Figure 1). Each area has a numerical score that influences what players can accomplish.

Figure 1. Character sheet. 

How Do I Use D&D in the Language Classroom?

Figure 2: Dice, paper, and rule book are all that are needed to get started with D&D (Copyright CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wiki Commons)

EFL instructor Stephanie Smith makes the case for D&D in the language classroom by using the game to introduce a rich array of vocabulary to students. The game also provides students a space for communication that does not focus on themselves, which can be beneficial to students who are shy or reluctant to talk about themselves.

The open-ended nature of D&D also lends itself well to language classroom role-play where students are encouraged to make decisions and alter the path of the conversation (Di Pietro, 1982). Role-playing games have also been suggested as viable ways for students to explore moral practices and communicate their thoughts on moral decision-making (Wright, Weissglass, & Casey, 2020).

D&D can also be used as a context for student writing assignments where they document the events of a play session, or short essays where they develop a backstory for their character. The open nature of tabletop role-playing games is only limited by the imagination of the players and how much story they want to tell.

For more on getting started with D&D, check out the game’s Getting Started pages.

Until next month, play more games!

References 

Di Pietro, R. J. (1982). The open-ended scenario: A new approach to conversation. TESOL Quarterly, 16, 15–20.

Wright, J. C., Weissglass, D. E., & Casey, V. (2020). Imaginative role-playing as a medium for moral development: Dungeons & Dragons provides moral training. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 60(1), 99–129.

About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn
Jeff Kuhn serves a split appointment at OHIO University, working for the Office of Instructional Innovation and in the Games Research and Immersive Design (Grid) Lab. He frequently delivers talks and keynote addresses on games and learning, game design, and the need for games literacy in educators. He is one of the founding moderators of the Electronic Village Online’s Minecraft MOOC, a community of practice for teachers learning to use Minecraft in the classroom. He has served on the TESOL CALL-IS steering committee, as the Gaming Special Interest Group chair for CALICO, and in the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Specialist program. His research interests include game-based learning, second language writing, and computer-assisted language learning.
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