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How to Use RPGs to Build Literacy and Have Family Fun

Updated: May 7, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons. Mutants and Masterminds. Werewolf the Apocalypse. Vampire the Masquerade. Pathfinder. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these are just some of the few role playing games out there, also referred to as RPGs. It may seem strange to some parents, but these games are fun interactive ways to get your kids (And teens!) into reading. Through building characters, setting up stories, or reading the rulebooks, these games depend on the players ability to comprehend the text and are actually written at high reading levels. And, through the act of playing the game, some of the more difficult vocabulary is broken down, while your kids are able to work with these words in a tactile way that mostly escapes complex texts.

RPG’s are a great tool to build literacy, critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving skills. And the best part is, there are so many out there that there is one for ANY interest. Want to be an elf? No problem. How about a cowboy? Yep. Got it. Science nerd? Don’t doubt it, they all exist! Needless to say, I’m a big fan of using RPGs to develop literacy and more.

What is Really Going on When Your Child Plays a Tabletop RPG?

RPG Character Build: Race and Class

First, players must create a character. No, you don’t just pick the top hat! Players have to fully develop their character, from species, race, abilities, and even a background story! You start out with a character sheet that is basically an empty worksheet that must get filled out completely. No blanks allowed!

There’s even a little bit of math involved in creating statistics for the character. Best part, your kids will have to READ the rules of the statistics to fill that part out too! Honestly, there’s a lot of reading involved for the entire process of building your character. Kids must do a ton of reading and research in order to create their chosen character.

For instance, if they are playing Pathfinder the first part of the character build is to determine to rules of the species, which would be the half-elf. Then you pick your class. This is the ranger. Both the species and the classes have their own set of rules that the player must read up on to understand how these rules effect their abilities.

RPG Character Build: Stats, Feats, and Stuff

Then you have to read some more! The next step is choosing what skills you want to be good at. And, no, you can’t be good at ALL skills. This is where the RULES comes in. So, you and your kids will spend the next bit of time determining what feats your characters have, what equipment they can have, etc.. (again, no you can’t have it all. You only get a small allotment at the beginning of the game as a LV 1)

And the whole time, while you are building this character, you have to be strategic. If you don’t build your character well, your player could end up dead in the first game session!

RPGs Character Build: The Background

Finally, we get to the creative part. You and your kids will describe what your character looks like, pick names, and even make up a background story. You also need to figure out what your character’s personality will be. How will your characters react in certain situations? Think of role playing games as a structured improvisation session. 

Playing the RPG

Once characters are created, then the play begins! A “Game” or “Dungeon Master” will have created a story and world for the players to interact in as their character. If you are playing as a family, don’t worry, there are pre-created games you can find online, so even an inexperienced Game Master can bring the game to life. Once you and your kids have played a few sessions, you can even encourage your kids to create their own games. The creation of games or sessions, require just as much, if not more, reading and comprehension as the character development. See, while the worlds in a given game are imagined by the GM, each RPG world has a set of rules that the GM must follow. So, this requires a bit of research and innovation on the Game Master’s part.

Staying in Character with RPGs

During the story lots of things will happen simultaneously. Your kids, (and you if you are playing with them) will have to learn to work as a team or suffer the consequences for trying to do everything on their own. They will have to learn how to convince non-player characters (controlled by the GM and a role of the dice) to help them. They will have to try to get these non-player characters to give them information to progress the story.

Critical Thinking with RPGs

Players must think critically when faced with different problems and challenges throughout the game. The best part, every part is unfolding in the minds. They must use their imagination in order to see, hear, and get a sense of what’s happening in this made-up world around them. So, you may be asking, where is the literacy once the game has started? Well, the best players understand the games and the rules as much as the GM. So, even though the characters may be set, understanding how non-player characters will act, or what the rules of a location are, can mean the difference between a successful strategies and a deadly one.

What is My Child Playing? Should I Be Worried?

What you as the parent should consider is which games are being played? Who is running the game as the storyteller? Is my child playing with other children? Will the game stay child-friendly? The trick to RPG’s is that the game itself is essentially a set of extensive rules set within an imagined world. Each RPG can be child friendly, or can be very adult.

The power lays with the Game Master, who decides what the tasks are, who the non-player characters are, and what the backstory is. The biggest thing for you to do as a parent is ensure that whoever is telling the story is keeping it appropriate for your child’s age. Any of the games can be made to be silly. I recommend sitting in on a session if you’re concerned about this. A game like Vampire can get dark quick, if your child isn’t a teenager, the game could be too intense without the right Game Master. If you really want to make sure your child’s playing in a safe environment, why not run the game yourself?

Family Game Night: RPGs

Tabletop RPGs are great family fun. Have the entire family gather together and play. One person is the storyteller, the rest make their character. Learn how to work together as totally “different people”. It takes away any sort of family disputes because it not longer exists within this new world. Explore it together. Fight a dragon or two. Find lots of treasure. Join a band of pirates. Or even save an entire city from an impending doom. The options are endless. If your family is a big fan of superheroes try Mutants and Masterminds. If you love Star Wars there are different games out there for you to become a Jedi, a pilot, or a scavenger. Look up a local gaming store, head in, and browse the books until you come across something that will be fun for the whole family. 

Memories that last forever

As you bond over games and make memories, you won’t regret coming over to the nerdy side. However, your child should be old enough to read and write in order to play. Even if you think you can just help them do it, it really is important that the players know how to read and record information on their own character sheets. After all, it is the skeleton of their RPG character.

As a parent, if you are worried about running a game yourself, don’t be! Learning how to play comes through time and practice. And we have all heard the saying that doing it wrong just helps you understand better how to do it right! The most important thing is that everyone has fun! Kids will learn over time how to make roles. Most beginning lean on the GM to explain how to roll for each type of move. And, if you as a parent are just starting out, those pre-created games tell you exactly what rolls need to be made!

Who Else Plays RPGs?

Also, lots of celebrities play tabletop games and even encourage their children to play along with them. Felicia Day, Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello, Patten Oswald, and even the great Robin Williams; the great genie of the lamp, played (or still play) Dungeons and Dragons. There are so many more people in the acting industry who play because it is such a fun, creative outlet. They have a passion for using their creativity and acting skills to have fun and enjoy a good story, while being totally immersed in the experience. 

Check out our links in the article for different Tabletop Role Playing “Core Rule Books”.

Let these rule books be your starting guide. It’s all you need to play other than a set of dice, some paper, and something to write with.

  1. Decide What world will you step into

  2. Who will you and your kids become?

  3. What adventures will you have together?

  4. Maybe your daughter will become a weretiger on Friday nights

  5. What if your son has epic strength and intelligence as his very own created superhero?

  6. Will you go from mom or dad by day, and by night will you have to become someone else… something else? (Arrowverse readers I hope you appreciate that reference).

All that matters is that you’re all having fun, all the while building your literacy, creative, leadership and critical thinking skills. 


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