Mechanics

No, don’t worry. Industrial lubrication isn’t required, neither is a working knowledge of mechanical engineering.

A rag might be useful, though.

I wanted to mention some details, regarding how we do this RPGing, in a teaching situation.

Of course, the bulk of our sessions is spent gaming. It’s kind of a necessity. But, there are elements that incorporate and give time to the facets of language learning that are important.

We deal with vocabulary in the usual ways; when a word comes up, it is recorded and kept for later. At the end of the scenario, we then go back to the words and “play” with them, using a variety of activities; crosswords (for definitions), wordsearches (for recognition) and usage/grammar exercises (e.g. put two words together and come up with a sentence for context).

Writing is dealt with largely through Character Generation (usually biographies for each character) and regular ‘journal’ entries, so players can develop their characters and give their perspective on events. I usually award experience points, when this is done effectively.

Speaking and listening happen constantly, just through the nature of the games. However, a lot of speech is generated by the actions of the group and a good amount of discussion is required between them, particular in terms of problem solving and planning. This is especially so when a N.P.C. (Non-Playing Character, like Judge Kasper in “Firefight”) is in action. Of course, I (as the G.M.) have to play various other roles, as we move through the scenario, so that’s where another level of speaking/listening comes in (being a Native Speaker and sometimes requiring the group to react quickly).

Indeed, it’s speaking that represents ‘the point’ – any language learning serves a goal, which is the “natural” use of the language, in given, every-day situations.

Now, as an experienced EFL/ESL teacher I am well-aware that some students “hide” from their speaking duties, behind other students or answers, such as “I don’t know“. Polish learners are no different. Teenagers and children have less of an issue, because of their access to technology and just being more open to other tongues. However, this is not so true of adults, as most have experienced a “traditional” education, where English was taught through grammar. Thus, many have very good knowledge of this, but much less ability to speak (an over-use of grammar teaches “perfection”, which is a double-edged sword, promoting proper speech, but disrupting it at the same time).

So, to RPG as an aspect of language teaching, we have to find ways around this…

Those of you who have read Part-Two of this blog will have seen the photo of the group on Titan. Well, not actually on Titan, but from the board-map. In the top left corner, you’ll see “Caller Rotation“, with a number of minutes next to it. This is the main speaking strategy employed – the ‘Caller‘, who becomes the spokesman for the group, speaking to the G.M. when certain communications have to be made, playing N.P.Cs where necessary, making any final decisions and/or promoting discussion amongst the group, for a given period of time. From our ‘Judge Dredd – Judgement Day’ example, after 9 minutes (in the case of the photo) the ‘caller’ dons the badge (see below) and takes on the task, until their 9 minutes has elapsed and the badge/role is rotated to the next player. Meaning, no player can avoid speaking. If they are not quick or thorough enough, penalties (for example, a D6 or D10 loss of experience points) can be meted out.

(the caller’s badge for Cthulhu, ‘Screamer’ being much more apt)

And, that’s how some of the major mechanics work. It’s not all about gaming. As a teacher first, I have a responsibility to teach. However, “good” teachers develop ways of working and attempt “new” things, in order to provide a “better” learning experience. It just so happens, that having played various games over the last year, both with teens and adults, RPGs may provide a way of language teaching, which is as satisfying for the learner as it is for the teacher.

We shall see. Season 2018/19 is just around the corner and a “new” group will hopefully present itself.

The only question then is, where do we start?

Mega-City One? Cthulhu?

Or, somewhere else..?

Season 2017/18 – Part Four

A month or so passed. ‘The Haunting’ had left its mark on the group and one of their new friends at Boston University suggested a sailing trip might be a way to get over their horrific experiences. Especially Max, who was still struggling physically and mentally.

So, the ‘Delilah‘; a pleasure boat, was offered and the group set sail for a few days of Atlantic bliss.

(the modern era ‘Delilah’. The 1920s version was more of a ‘clipper’)

It didn’t last long.

Arbuthnott; the Delilah’s first-mate, spotted a large ship, some way off the port-bow. Radio contact was attempted, but no answer was received. Due to the unwritten rules of the sea, Captain Watkins steers the Delilah towards what quickly becomes a cargo ship, by the name ‘Groenland Tropisch‘.

And so begins ‘The Derelict‘, another challenging ‘Cthulhu’ scenario that isolates the investigators in an ‘Alien‘-type situation, where the question is asked, who is hunting who?

Notable Moments:

> when Laurence and Max stumble upon the creature, as it sleeps in one of the ship’s cargo holds.

> with his first-mate dead and no hope of help, Captain Watkins takes his own life, just before the Delilah is lost to the depths of the north Atlantic.

> as Laurence works feverishly in the radio room, to create a home-made grenade laced with shards of silver, Izuku and Charles guard him and the bridge, as the creature climbs up the super-structure, before trying the exterior door handle…

> a second team member was lost, as the genius that was Max was killed by the creature, with a bolt from its weapon. A combination of bad luck and bad dice rolls, but genuinely a sad moment.

> Charles’ camera put in its first appearance and, at times, he seemed more bothered about capturing some nice shots than avoiding the creature’s.

Result:

Following a battle, the creature was killed. Radio contact was made with the Boston Coast Guard and a rescue ship sent. Max’s body was recovered, as was that of the creature, but an inquest would mean that neither would be released, for some time. Oddly, the creature’s body then disappears…

Season 2017/18 – Part Three

After their exertions on the streets of MC-1, it came time to take the group out of their comfort zone and change gears. So, to the world of the ‘Cthulhu Mythos‘.

Fortunately, most of the group had heard the name (through a combination of computer games and personal research) even if they didn’t know exactly what it was.

For the uninitiated, ‘Cthulhu’ is based on the horror writings of the highly-regarded H.P. Lovecraft. To many, he is considered the godfather of the modern horror genre.

The group were very keen to experience ‘Cthulhu’, so we set about character creation, which was more in-depth than for ‘Judge Dredd’. I also asked the chaps to come up with a written background for their chosen character and choose a picture to illustrate their appearance.

(examples of the pictures used) 

Once this initial stage was complete, we began ‘The Haunting‘; an introductory scenario from the ‘Call of Cthulhu – 7th Edition – Keeper’s Handbook‘. It may be only a brief introduction, but this is still a challenge, for anybody new to ‘Cthulhu’.

The story revolves around the ‘Corbitt House’; a residence on the outskirts of Boston, which has a checkered history, thanks to various mysterious happenings that have occurred there.

(a strange symbol that appears during the scenario)

Without giving away too many spoilers, before finishing this scenario, the group of investigators had to face a malevolent spirit, whose only goal was the death of the living.

As the Keeper, I also added in one or two extras, to both extend the story and give the group a thorough experience, for their first game.

(inside the Corbitt House, where the team divided, to tackle the various problems)

Notable Moments:

> Izuku used a sigil (an occult marking) to conjure a dimensional portal, unwittingly attracting two creatures through into the corporeal plane. This caused some…issues.

> Max (a physicist) created an electro-magnetic device, in order to disrupt the energies around the house. Quite successful it was, too.

> a dagger, with an ornate, ivory handle also caused some trouble. Especially, when it decided to levitate of its own accord and fly around the room.

> a Mi-go came through Izuku’s sigil, but its short reign of terror was ended by a superb pistol shot, from Laurence.

(the aforementioned Mi-go)

> the first examination of the sigil brought the group into contact with a Dimensional Shambler and my, didn’t he cause them a fright.

> Sadly, we lost a character; Douglas, having gone into the basement to save Izuku. But, it was a spectacular, burning death, at the hands (literally!) of the evil spirit.

Result:

The spirit was finally defeated, after an exhaustive struggle. Most of the investigators sustained injuries; notably, the flying knife ended up in Max’s back and only a successful first aid roll saved him. And yes, Douglas was killed. Still, their mission was considered complete and each member received the appropriate payment from their employer; one, Mr. Knott.

 

 

Season 2017/18 – Part Two

Having survived their encounter with the Wreckers, I decided to play the original Judge Dredd RPG, called ‘Judgement Day‘.

The story begins… The dying body of Judge Pentecost is found close to The Maze; an abandoned retail complex, now inhabited by a shy and very nervous population of Mutants.

Without giving away too many spoilers, for what is a very challenging and wide-reaching scenario, the group went from the wild streets of Mega City One to the desolation of the maximum security penal colony of Titan, and on to the personal guard of Chief Judge McGruder, herself and a threat against the whole populace (400 million people!!) of the city.

Notable Moments:

> the valley on Titan and the floating cylinder.

(the team in the valley, on Titan (right) and their encampment (left))

> Judge Kart taking on a crazed hotel chef and getting a chopping knife in the guts, for his trouble.

> Judge Goldfinch trying to fix an electrified cordon, only for it to explode.

> Judge Lance crossing verbal swords with the very steely SJS Judge Stark.

> rather than run away from a T-Rex, Goldfinch decides a better strategy is to hug its rather muscular leg.

> not wanting to leave a scenario without firing a high explosive round, Judge Crane fires one off inside a cinema auditorium.

Result:

Ultimate disaster was eventually averted, after the group solved the various mysteries, following the clues to the final showdown and saving not just the Chief Judge and her Brit-Cit counterpart, but also the entirety of Mega City One.

Just.

Season 2017/18 – Part One

For our inaugural game, I chose something relatively easy, but still enough of a challenge to be engaging.

Thus, Game Numero Uno was ‘Judge Dredd‘ – “Firefight“; an introductory scenario from the Game Master’s Book.

Of course, I had no expectation the group had actually heard of the Judge Dredd character, so we underwent a brief “greeting” period to the world of Mega City One (we watched clips from the two movies; ‘Judge Dredd’ (1995) and ‘Dredd’ (2012 )) leading to an information-based session on the history, expectations and role of the Judges (which led to a oral test, just to check the group were up-to-speed and engaged).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, to “Firefight”. The basic premise was – Justice Department ‘Rookies’ are conducting a mobile patrol. They are passed by a speeding motorist, who they follow into the ‘Buddy Rich Tunnel’. During a brief chase, Weather Control reports a malfunction, which causes a thick bank of fog to descend on the highway. The speeding vehicle promptly enters the tunnel and crashes. Taking advantage of the situation, a large group of ‘Wreckers‘ attack, therefore leading the Judges into a scenario where they must protect any innocent citizens and apprehend the “perps“.

(a photo from Episode 3 of “Firefight”)

This scenario was meant as a chance for the group to cut their teeth, as Judges and to add some body to their characters. So, Judges Crane, Goldfinch, Kart, Kasper, Lance and Peterson took their skills onto the streets of Mega City One, for the first time.

Notable Moments:

> initial dice rolls were required as the team drove their Lawmasters into the tunnel, where the road surface had become slick, because of the fog. Not all were successful and at least two of the Judges’ bikes were lost to skids.

> Judge Kasper (a player who left the group, so became a NPC (Non-Playing Character) controlled by the others) got shot in the leg and was subsequently set upon by two Wreckers. However, he was saved by Goldfinch, with a couple of well-aimed volleys of rapid-fire from his Lawgiver.

> being the youngest member of the team, Judge Kart discovered the joy of a well-placed high-explosive round, when he blew up an empty car and the two perps who were hiding behind it.

Result:

Apart from one or two scrapes, to both body and bike, most of the group came away in one piece. Except, Judge Kasper who would require a significant amount of medical care, before returning to the streets.

All gained experience points, which were used to upgrade skills, hence leaving the Judges in a better state, in preparation for the next mission.

Of the 14 Wreckers who attacked the highway, three surrendered, seven were killed and the remainder were sentenced to significant stretches in the Iso-cubes.