D&D: ESL — Tabletop Gaming In The Classroom

(Disclaimer – this tiny project  is in no way affiliated with Dungeons & Dragons or Wizards of the Coast. It’s just the random tinkerings of an ESL teacher wanting to use tabletop games as a teaching tool)

Thanks to some much needed downtime, I could finally rekindle my old love of Dungeons & Dragons.  To make things better, I managed to blend both D&D and my teaching gig in Japan together into one glorious beast that I’ve been calling D&D: ESL.

If you have second language students you want to have some tabletop fun with (Mine are all high schoolers), then you can find everything you need down below with an overly detailed explanation. I could also see this working pretty well as a tabletop introduction for children.

I know there are already a few official D&D variations (The Heroes of Hesiod) and clones (Hero Kids) out there that are focused around teaching young players the art of tabletop, but there is a bit of a void when it comes to more mature ESL learners. A high schooler wants to be a tad more badass, even if he doesn’t know how to say it in English.

(NOTE: I have really dumbed down the overall character sheet and a number of other bits. Things have been combined and others thrown out all together. This is a game to get ESL students to talk and it has worked pretty well for me in getting my very shy Japanese students to actually express themselves and show some excitement in their English speaking.)

 

Introduction for anyone new to D&D style games. The video focuses on the 4th Edition of D&D but the principles are basically the same. (This article is mainly built with D&D 3.5 Edition and Pathfinder in mind)

What you will need:

  • Player’s Handbook (I personally prefer Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 or Pathfinder)
  • Character Sheets
  • Dice (a full set — d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20 — is preferred but a simple 6-sided would work with some adjustments)
  • D&D Vocabulary list
  • Blank Notebooks (1 per Student)
  • 2-6 Players (Could work as a 1 on 1 game or as a full class activity, but some serious changes will need to be made)

 

Player’s Handbook:

While this is not a must, it is highly recommended. You will really appreciate having this on hand when one of your students ask you a number of random questions (And I promise you, they will). You can also manage with simple Google searches if you really can’t push yourself to make the purchase. The internet is ripe with an answer for every question you might possible have about tabletop games.

I would also recommend getting your hands on a D&D Monster Manual or Pathfinder Bestiary. Not only do they both have amazing art to grab the imaginations of all your students, but they can make random encounter creation a breeze. Or grab a pen and jot down some monster stats from the web. Whichever fits your fancy. (I’ve added a useful list of Low Level Monsters in the download section below)

A D&D Dungeon Masters Guide or Pathfinder Game Mastery Guide would also be a great asset when having to choose a DC (Dice Check) for anything a student might randomly decide to do. It has tables and tables of useful information for this. The internet can also supply a less organized version of all these DC tables if you want to go the free route.

 

Character Sheet

DD ESL Character Description Pic 300x119 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomCharacter Description

The character description section has been pretty much untouched. The only thing you need to really focus on is –  What classes and races am I going to allow? I would recommend sticking with the vanilla ones, which are Fighter / Rogue / Cleric / Wizard  for classes and Dwarf / Elf / Half-Elf / Halfling / Half-Orc / Human / Gnome for races (You’ll notice I went ahead and added all the base races that modern D&D gamers expect) Be sure not to separate Elves into Wood Elves and High Elves or you’ll have a heck of a time given an Elven history lesson.

(Note: the only race skills and attributes I gave were for the races’ visions. Explaining race bonus’ shouldn’t be too complicated if your students are upper level English learners though.)

 

DD ESL Ability Scores and HP Pic 300x210 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomAbility Scores & HP

Now for ability scores. You might have noticed that they have been smashed down to only Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. This really allowed me to simplify the game quite a bit by just putting Strength + Constitution = Strength, keeping Dexterity untouched, and Wisdom + Intelligence = Intelligence. For charisma, I placed it alongside either Dexterity or Intelligence depending on what class the student is playing.

(Note #1: the player’s handbook gives a great explanation on how to get ability scores during character creation, but let’s make this simple. I went the easy root during character creation and had each student roll 3d6 — three 6-sided die– and then added up the number, after re-rolling any ones they might have rolled, to get their ability score. Do this for Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence.)

(Note #2: ability score bonuses are the same as those in regular D&D. A 10 in any attribute is a 0 bonus and you add +1 bonus for every 2 points above 10 and subtract -1 bonus for every 2 points below 10. So a 16 in Strength would be a +3 bonus but a 6 in Intelligence would be a -2 bonus. The Player’s Handbook has explains this with more detail.)

The Total HP and Current HP will depend on the class chosen. This is discussed in detail in the player’s handbook, but basically each class has to roll a specified die to see how much HP (Hit Points) their character has. Fighters tend to have the most, but not always. I made it simple and just gave them all the max amount of HP they can get for each class based on the Pathfinder Player’s Handbook.

(Note: Here is a list of the vanilla class’s max HP. Be sure to add their Strength Bonus to it. Fighter = 10,  Rogue = 8, Cleric = 8, and Wizard = 6. Buff up these numbers a bit if you feel the group is a bit too weak. The students won’t mind this one bit.)

 

DD ESL Combat Rolls Pic 300x64 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomCombat Rolls

Attack Rolls, AC, Weapons, and Armor are not too different from what you might expect, but it definitely has been cut down to size. To start with, all weapons in the ESL version are limited to Swords / Maces / Staffs (actually Quarterstaffs) / Axes / Spears / Bows / Slings. They are offered in both their 1-handed and 2-handed counterparts. Try to encourage all students to grab a mêlée weapon and a ranged weapon even if they don’t think they’ll need it (Tip: try to steer clear of dual wielding 2 weapons since it adds unneeded difficulty in an already difficult situation).

After choosing a weapon, check the Player’s Handbook for the damage it deals (ex. 1d6 — one 6-sided die –) and add that to either the Attack Roll or Ranged Attack Roll depending on the weapon type. Be sure to add the distance the ranged weapon can shoot next to the damage it deals

Next we take a look at  Shields and Armor. I allowed my students to choose from, once again, the basic types. For Shields: Buckler / Light Shield / Heavy Shield / Tower Shield. For Armor: Robes (Cloth) / Leather / Chainmail / Platemail. I gave each item the basic AC (Armor Class) bonus from an average piece of armor of that type. Everyone character will start with 10 AC, and from here you will add all the bonuses from both the Dexterity Bonus, increases from Shields, and increases from the armor.

AC = 10 + Dexterity Bonus + Shield + Armor

Don’t forget to count the Maximum Dexterity Bonus to AC that Chainmail and Platemail causes. Please read the Player’s Handbook if you are not quite sure what a Maximum Dexterity Bonus is.

All that is left here are the two Misc. sections which are mostly there for any random armor or equipment a student might want to personalize their character with. One of my students tossed a black mask in this section to add a little flavor to his Half-Elf.

 

DD ESL Gold Items Pic 300x294 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomGold

I started each student out with 50 gold and did not have them pay for the armor and weapons that they chose. This is my own personal preference for this ESL class. You can easily give them 2,000 gold instead, but be careful about over inflation in the world.

 

Items

My students are not required to keep rations, water, or bedrolls. I’d much rather assume that they had them anyways. This section is instead used for all their loot, which fills up pretty darn quick. Once it’s full, they have to go sell or start carrying things in their hands (Which causes problems in combat. A lesson they only need to learn once).

 

DD Spells Pic 300x293 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomSpells

You will get a Wizard in your group without a doubt, and it really ups the paperwork for you while adding an interesting Roleplay aspect. Every fantasy group needs a Wizard and every Wizard needs Spells!

I made very little changes to the official spells that a Wizard would learn in any D&D game. I took the official list and made a nice 2 page handout of all the Level-0 spells (Cantrips) and Level-1 spells that the wizard knows. I did take the liberty of changing a few of their names to more simpler/common English. You can download the handout in the download list below.

The Wizard will know all Level-0 and Level-1 spells starting out (Over-powered but it hasn’t caused a problem yet). You can easily change it to the official amount if you want.

Spells Known

Wizard Level

Level-0 Spells

Level-1 Spells

Level-2 Spells

Level-3 Spells

1st

All

All Listed

0

0

2nd

Gains 2 spells every level for the level they reached and below. Must learn other spells through scrolls, study, etc.

 

Spells per day was taken right out of the book. The leveling system for spells works just fine and keeps the pace well-balanced.

Spells Cast Per Day

Wizard Level

Level-0 Spells

Level-1 Spells

Level-2 Spells

Level-3 Spells

1st

3

1

0

0

2nd

4

2

0

0

3rd

4

2

1

0

4th

4

3

2

0

5th

4

3

2

1

 

Draw Your Character

Kids over in Japan have some crazy art talent! I added this nifty little box to spice up their character sheet and to let me see a bit into how they are imagining their character. It helps with creating stories that revolve around the characters.

 

RPG Dice Pic 300x223 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomDice

Head on down to the local hobby shop or hop onto Amazon and grab yourself some RPG Dice (4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and 20-sided). They normally won’t run you more than $5.00usd for a full set and its more than worth it. Many students (Especially ones stuck in the deep countryside) have never heard of or seen any dice beyond a basic 6-sided one. Their eyes light up as soon as you throw the dice on the table. It’s worth the money if you really want to grab their interest, believe me.

Or you could go the basic 6-sided die route. A number of the rules have to be shifted a bit but you should be able to get it all going without too much of a hassle.

 

D&D Vocabulary

A lot of the vocabulary used in tabletop RPGs is a whole new level of foreign to most ESL learners. If you plan ahead and get a nice list of organized RPG vocabulary together, you shouldn’t have too many problems. You can find my list of vocabulary in the download links below. I added also added a D&D introduction page to my vocabulary list explaining what D&D actually is in English with a full Japanese translation (Sorry if that’s not much use to you) on the right. The D&D description really sped things up.

 

Blank Notebooks

Have students take adventuring notes in their notebooks during each session of the game. This not only helps them remember what happened but also helps you recollect anything you might have forgotten to jot down yourself.

At the end of each game session, have the students take their notebooks home with them. Their homework is to write a journal entry (In English, of course) about what their character did during the session.

 

Advice

  • This version of the game is much more Roleplay oriented. There are no skills to choose from, such as Climbing or Swimming. Instead Choose a fair DC and have the students roll with matching Ability Score Bonuses added.
    • Be sure to give certain classes small bonus for class oriented skills. Such as Rogues with Picklock or Wizards with Use Magic Device.
  • DD ESL props and dice 1 300x292 D&D: ESL    Tabletop Gaming In The ClassroomBring pictures to show the different races and classes. Many students can’t comprehend the difference between a Dwarf, Halfling, and Gnome.
  • Get creative with the locations and don’t be afraid to use crazy voices.
  • Speak slow and be sure to work on your drawing ability beforehand.
  • Be ready for stories to go in a direction you never would expect with native speakers.
  • Make and use props! They are a godsend for grabbing confused students interest and helping them understand. A few that I’ve made are:
    • A hand drawn and aged region map. Sold to them by the first Innkeeper they met.
    • Potion vials where students break open a random pouch of food coloring to determine the type of potion they found. Red = Health / Blue = Skill Increase / Green = Poison.
  • Make yourself a Dungeon Master Screen with all the personal house rules you’re using. The students are going to panic if even the teacher doesn’t know what to do.
  • I wouldn’t recommend using D&D 4th Edition since it is much more combat oriented. What we are wanting is a roleplaying environment where the students are forced to speak and describe what it is they are wanting to do.

 

Handouts & Misc. Downloads

 

I am in no way a master at tabletop RPGs. I have only played a few games of D&D 3.5 back in university, and I loved every bit of it (No groups near me now, unfortunately). If you find any errors or have some advice you would like to share, please leave a comment below! I would appreciate hearing any tips or questions from both teachers and D&D players alike.

If anyone doesn’t mind a noob D&D player in your group as well (Japan time), please toss a message in the comments. Thanks for reading and have fun gaming!

 

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Written by Jonathan Parsons

English teacher and freelance writer Jonathan Parsons is a longtime gamer working abroad in Japan. He spends his free time swimming through the Akita winter snow to his car and playing classic PC and Famicom games.

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  • Dennis Laffey

    Looks awesome. I used Classic D&D with a group of Korean adult EFL learners once and it went well. I’ll pass these ideas around my current Korean and former Japanese EFL teacher friends.

    And we have games every week or so on Saturday nights, 9pm Korea/Japan time on Google+ if you are interested. Look me up on G+ -- Dennis Laffey, or stop by my blog http://www.lordgwydion.blogspot.com and leave a comment if you’d like to try out our games!

    • http://www.ogrejungle.com/ Jonathan Parsons

      I miss teaching adult students. Always fun being able to have more mature conversations. =)

      Would definitely appreciate the pass around and I hope it helps them out (Even if it’s only with ideas).

      I’ll definitely toss you a message over on G+ when I get some time. Glad to see that other people in the time zone have a healthy D&D schedule.

  • Steve Towson

    For the Japanese students, show them the Monster Manual and then get them to create stats AND A DESCRIPTION for Tengu, Oni, Kappa, etc.

    • http://www.ogrejungle.com/ Jonathan Parsons

      They’d probably love that a ton. I’m pretty sure most students would go crazy (In an awesome way) flipping through the MM. =)

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