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Dungeons & Dragons Resource Round-Up One

By Wes Ford
 | Aug 05, 2022

building-emotional-learning-through-DnD-680wWell met, fellow adventurers!

Please, pull up a chair and listen to a tale most fantastic about two powerful heroes, Ila and WotC, and their journey to spread the knowledge about how one of the oldest and most well-known of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) can be used to strengthen students’ literacy outcomes.

And by Ila, I mean the International Literacy Association (ILA), and by WotC, I mean Wizards of the Coast, and by most well-known of tabletop role-playing games I mean Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I hope you will forgive me my opening flair for the dramatic. I have been playing D&D for over 30 years now—I still have a standing game on Wednesday nights with my college group—so I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am for this partnership.

D&D and education

D&D has always required a depth of knowledge and understanding to play, particularly in the older editions when the rules were overly complex and sometimes unintuitive. The rule books were long and complicated to read and understand, and there was a lot of math—just a lot of weird math!—and that, too, was often unintuitive. Fortunately, those issues have been fixed across the past 50ish years of the game being in publication.

However, fixing those issues did not diminish D&D as a platform for literacy and math learning and education in general. The goals of our three free ILAWebinars that center D&D, all sponsored in part by Wizards of the Coast, focus on more specific avenues of learning.

Our first of the three, Building Emotional Literacy Through Dungeons & Dragons, centered the idea of using D&D to provoke teamwork and group thinking and to enhance social-emotional learning (SEL) through D&D’s collaborative storytelling elements. That event occurred on July 12, but fret not if you missed it: The recording of the event is available on demand on ILA’s YouTube channel.

Our second event, Leveling Up Reluctant Readers With Dungeons & Dragons, is just around the corner on August 9 at 5:00 p.m. ET. The third event, Using Dungeons & Dragons to Scaffold Writing Instruction, is on October 11 at 5:00 p.m. ET. If you can’t attend either of those sessions live, the recordings will also be available on YouTube soon after each event. But I recommend trying to be there in person if you can: The Zoom chat during the first webinar was lively and full of great additional information from the various attendees and panelists.

I’m going to attempt to summarize that additional info here and now, and I’ll do the same after those other two (if I can), but I’m going to miss things. In particular, what you will not get from this is the overall excitement and enthusiasm attendees brought to this event.

How to start a D&D group

First off, go to Wizards of The Coast’s resource page for educators. This is a newly designed page with links to other resources and videos. It was launched in early July, so keep an eye on this page for more information to come, including a D&D Afterschool Kit that will be free for educators.

You can download a PDF of the basic core rules for gameplay for free on Wizards of the Coast’s webpage.

Beyond those resources, there are three different D&D Starter Kits that be used to quickly jump into the game without the full expense (and potential intimidation factor) of buying the three core rule books:

And yes, that third kit is based on the Netflix original show Stranger Things. More specifically, it’s based on the adventure the main characters were playing in the show and features a variety of connections back to the characters, such as notes from Mike on how things might play out. Fans of Stranger Things will have an instant connection to this one. But it is a typical D&D adventure, not a game based in the Stranger Things world.

It should be noted that these starter sets don’t contain the full rule set, the adventure stops before characters can achieve full power, and they don’t provide all the various options and customizations. But most beginning players don’t need those.

Additional aids

Wizards of the Coast provides a free digital tool called D&D Beyond, which offers guidance on how to build characters, has printable documents, and contains all of the core rules. This can save you a lot of time flipping through the rule books.

Beyond those, you can purchase stand-alone adventures, such as the iconic Tomb of Horrors that was featured in the Ready Player One novel by Ernest Cline or the contemporary Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, that are designed for groups of characters at a certain power range. These modules will contain maps, notes, descriptions, and lists of characters and items necessary to run that adventure. Whether you use them as printed or take bits and pieces and fit them into your adventure, these can save the game facilitator a lot of creative energy and prep time.

Is D&D just medieval fantasy?

No, but that is the assumed world and so that’s what the core rules default to. It’s easy to reframe and reskin core concepts into whatever you need them to be. If your players are more interested in a nautical theme adventure, perhaps taking place in the Horatio Hornblower era (the early 1800s), that’s just a matter of describing the world to match that setting—but that kind of world building can take a lot of time for the facilitator.

You don’t have to build your own world at all if you don’t want to. Across its many years in publication, D&D has developed and introduced a variety of fantastical settings, some of which were modeled after real-world locations and people, such as the Aztecs and the Mayans in the old Maztica Campaign setting. However, given this was published in 1992, there are likely problematic stereotypes in the source materials. But perhaps identifying and correcting those issues could be a starting off point for interested students.

Here are worlds that are currently supported by the Wizards of the Coast Fifth Edition (5e) ruleset:

  • Eberrron—this is a high magic world but with more magical technology, like a playable class of sentient “robots.” It’s kind of like steam punk…but the steam is magic energy.
  • Forgotten Realms—D&D’s most expansive world, I believe. There are so many novels written about a variety of characters who live here; if your students are interested, they will have years of good reading material available.
  • Spelljammers—D&D in space!
  • Ravenloft—a world of Victorian gothic horror; this was my favorite! Happen to be reading Dracula? His mirror, the Vampire Stradh, is there to challenge your players—just as Van Helsing’s mirror, Van Ritchen, is there to help. As are the counterparts to Frankenstein and his monster, Dorian Gray, Dr. Moreau, and a slew of other Gothic and Lovecraftian monstrosities with direct connections to real-world literature.
  • Ravnica—a worldwide cityscape; the art makes me think its a combination of spellpunk and cyberpunk, but I could be mistaken.
  • Theros—which is the world in which Magic: The Gathering (M:tG) is based. I was an avid M:tG player in high school.

Attendees also noted that there are rules that detail other worlds/settings and use the D&D 5e ruleset even though these books are not written and published by Wizards of the Coast:

Moving slowly into RPGs

I know. I’m throwing a lot at you. But so far, the basics are simple: You can get the rules for free. There are a variety of worlds and settings in which the game can take place. Starter kits and adventure modules can make it quick and easy to get going. You can even use Stranger Things as a hook.

Here are a few other links to resources that attendees provided that might help you get a school- or library-based game up and running, possibly by getting student by-in or that of administrators and caregivers:

  • Chasing New Worlds: Stories of Roleplaying in Classroom Spaces—a journal article about classroom storytelling.
  • The Forgotten Realms Endless Quest series by Candlewick Press can help reluctant players get a better sense of the world and the action. This series is based upon Wizards of the Coast properties and the books allow readers to select their own course of action through the book rather than having a consistent progressive narrative. Yes, I think that avoids any copyright issues that might have occurred had I used the well-known description of those types of books.
  • Game to Grow—non-profit organization dedicated to the use of games for therapeutic, educational, and community growth. Could help win over admins and create stronger social-emotional learning connections.
  • Inspirisles—this is an RPG in production that teaches Sign Language as you play (BSL/ASL).
  • Take This—a mental health advocacy organization that provides resources, training, and support for individuals and companies that help the gaming community improve mental well-being and resilience. This could be another avenue to strengthen SEL connections.
  • Thorny Games—these game producers have created two different games about language, but I couldn’t be sure if they were RPGs.

 

And that is our resource roundup from the first D&D ILA Webinar! I hope you find these links useful and that you join us for both upcoming webinars—sponsored in part by Wizards of the Coast.

Wes Ford was introduced to D&D at an early age and has never lost his passion for it. His current gaming group has been playing D&D together regularly for over 20 years.
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