Workshop Review : Popular Tabletop RPGs and the Importance of Idea Development for Creative Students

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ARLIS/NA 2021 Virtual Conference
May 14, 2021 2 PM – 4 PM

John Latour

Teaching & Research Librarian – Fine Arts, Concordia University Library

This workshop immediately caught my attention when I reviewed the programming of the ARLIS/NA conference as a whole. I had previously attended a presentation on role-playing games (RPGs) for instructional use in academic libraries over a year ago, but this one offered by librarian Katy Parker (UT Austin) was quite different in that it drew connections between one of the most well-known tabletop games of its kind, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), and art & design information professionals. It recognized the potential to use these games to help art school students to develop skills such as creative writing, illustration, and sequentially based art.

In the introduction to the workshop, Parker noted the popularity of RPGs in their own library and remarked how students were reserving library spaces on a weekly basis to play them. The introduction also included a brief history of RPGs, and how they differed from most other games. Essentially, each RPG player must build a fantasy character for themselves (such as a human ranger, an elven sorcerer, etc.) by following a highly structured set of rules. They then verbally role-play these characters, either individually or alongside other players, through a series of imagined scenarios led by and refereed by a Dungeon Master (DM).

When RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons first emerged in the 1970s, they were played in person and referenced multiple print rulebooks, but these types of games have transformed substantially over the years. Players may now choose to take part remotely using digital platforms and e-publications. Workshop participants learned how to create their own character using online templates from the D&D Beyond (5th edition) platform. During this session, I created an account, and developed a half-elven bard for myself who I named Iosian (the name I originally chose for this character, Ios, was already taken!).

This was an introductory and hands-on workshop whose attendees had some or no previous experience with RPGs. As such, much of the session was spent creating characters, and there was little time remaining to explore how art & design professionals could use RPGs for pedagogical purposes. For this reason, it would have been useful to have some reading material about the history of PRGs provided as homework ahead of time, or else the workshop could have been divided into two parts over different dates: one session for building a fantasy character, and the other dedicated to applying scenario-building practices associated with RPGs for students’ skill development (for which I would gladly sign up).

D&D Beyond. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2021 from

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