My top five role-playing games

Role-playing games are cool now, they say…but they are not cool. They are for nerds. Here are my top five.

1. Dungeons and Dragons – the first edition.


The red cover with a dragon on. The monster manual. These were all classic books that we loved and read very often. I used to painstakingly copy pictures from them. D and D is still my first role-playing game of choice, I play it with my kids because it’s the only one I know and, yet, even after all this time, I still don’t really understand the combat rules.

Think of all things that D and D gave the world. Magic missile, the mystical D20, beholders, rakshashas (pinched from Hindu mythology, says Wikipedia), that cartoon from the eighties, search the room for traps.

2. Middle Earth role-play


MERP was great because of the upgraded combat system and not just because it explored Tolkien’s world. With the percentile dice anyone could kill anything and there was a really funny critical hit table at the back of the book. It’s here I first learned abouyt Uruk-Hai.

3. Star Wars Role-play


I’m a mid-level Star Wars fan but I liked this game because we all understood the combat system which used loads of six sided dice. The lazer combat was fair and, in our game, we had our own space ship. I played a ‘quixotic Jedi’ – someone who thinks they’re a Jedi but they aren’t and this was enormous fun. It seemed the rules encouraged characters to be flawed in some sense and this added to the game. We got to role-play and not power-game.

4. Dragon Warriors


This was a paperback book. The rules were dead simple and I understood them quickly. Without lots of tables and charts to follow we were able to get on with the business of role-play and fighting and creating our own world.

5. Paranoia


I was so young when I first played this game that I learned the word ‘Paranoia’ from it. Set in a dystopian future reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World, you played a human who was assigned a colour. The aim of the game was to kill your mates and advance up to the colour bands. Back-stabbing and argument generating, Paranoia was like a microcosm of the current UK political system.

any more?


Talking heads – role play with masks – for teenagers and young adults


Ok, so this is a bit off the wall but it is a quite a good laugh if you have a young class or students who have a sense of humour. This is a simple role-play class using masks of famous people.

How to run the class

The biggest part of getting this class to run successfully is how well you sell it to your students. It is a kind of drama activity and yes, it is a bit wet, but, your students will only think that if you don’t sell it to them correctly.

Say and think this :Make no bones about it, speaking and using English language creatively are absolute cornerstones of learning a language and by delivering this class you are doing your job well and the students are learning.

Don’t say or think this: this class is a bit of messing about where we all get to make up stupid dialogues and laugh at each other.

Put students into groups of three and give them a copy of the masks from here: You can ask students to cut them out or stick them on cardboard if they’re a little younger. If you can laminte them it will make them a little more durable. You can also cut out their eyes if you want, but you don’t need to.

Tell your students they have ten minutes to make a dialogue, they are going to hold the masks in front of their faces and  then speak as the famous or interesting person. They can use all of them, or just three of them, they can change their character at any time. They can use any subject they want as long as it’s not rude or offensive.

It all depends on you if you want them to write their dialogue down or just try to remember it. I get them to try and remember it and ad lib.

Write these three headings on the board and explain them to the class before they start:

Introduction: There needs to be a starting point, the characters can tell us where they are and what they are doing. Where are they? In the forest, at home, in their office? Tell us.

Conflict: There needs to be something that the characters have to come up against, they need some conflict to make the dialogue interesting. This could be against each other or something else. Are they at war? What problem do they have to solve? Do they have a problem with each other?

Resolution: Finally, whatever problem they have, there has to be a resolution. It has to finish and come to an end.

Now ask students to work together on their dialogue. Some groups won’t be able to do this because they are not creative enough, you have to circulate and help them. Offer any ideas you come up with and encourage them. This is a crucial stage and if you don’t help them a little bit, the results won’t be great.

When students have made their dialogue, ask them to perform them for the rest of the class. If this is too hard, ask them to perfom it for another group.


I tried to pick people that my students would know but you could use any face you like. Just go to and search for ‘famous person’s name mask’ and you’ll find loads of faces that might be more relevant to your students.

Further ideas

You could video them doing this and stick on .

You could use themes that you want them to develop. You could ask them to make a patient going to see the doctor role-play or a shopping role-play or anything that fits in with what you’re studying.

Dungeons and Dragons in the EFL classroom – a basic adventure ‘Rescue the woodcutter’s daughter’

I played Dungeons and Dragons for many years as a teenager and enjoyed the role-play, the creation and the dice rolling and it’s only recently that I’ve got back into the game. I’ve never taken it too seriously and so, I thought,  why not try it with my EFL / ESOL students. After all, it is a game that requires a lot of talking, communication, reasoning, reading and even some writing – all the skills you need to use a language. This adventure wouldn’t make a good lesson, it’s something you could do as part of an English club or similar.

If you don’t know what D and D is, and you’ve never played before, then this lesson is definitely not something you should try.  You can visit the official D and D website to get a quick explaination.  It’s a role-playing game set in a swords and scorcery world where you control a ‘character’ and a ‘dungeon master’ controls the game.

Set up

I played the game with four pre-intermediate students. The first thing I did was give students a character sheets and quickly exlpain how to role-up a character. I used a great and very simple character sheet from here – I also had a the full range of D and D dice including the pyramid shaped D4 and the mystical D20. I filled in t he THACO and the saving rolls from my old D and D rule books.

Races students could choose – orc, human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, half-elf

Classes students could choose – warrior, hunter (ranger), thief,  (no magic users to keep it simple)

Making characters took ages and ages, it required explanation of tradition equipment and an overview of what a role-playing game is, some of my students had never played an RPG before and it took a while to explain to them that they could make their character do whatever they wanted. It’s probably best just to start the adventure. 

Playing the adventure

 Again, if you’ve never played D and D and don’t know the rules – this will be meaningless. Players arrive at the woodcutter’s house on the map at the top left. Here they find the woodcutter, a tall blond man in his fourties, he’s bitterly upset because his daughter has been kidnapped by goblins and taken into their cave. The woodcutter explains that the goblins live deep in the cave under the mountain in what was once a great dwarven city, now in ruins. Hopefully players will take on the task of rescuing his daughter.

They follow the path around the great lake to the entrance of the cave with two bronze statues of ancient kings standing outside. Inside and after they come to a wooden door which is locked. They can try to smash it down provided anyone has strength of more than 16. If they knock the door will be answered by the four goblin guards inside. Player need to fight their way  past them. Players get 200 xp for any goblin they hit.

After the small goblin guard room, players encounter a giant spider. Details of this beast are on the map above. If they kill the spider there are four D6 healing potions in a chest near its web. Anyone who hits the spider gets 200 xp.

Players go through the next door into the gobin king’s throne room. Here there are four goblin guards a nd the goblin king himself to fight. Any player that hits a goblin guard will get 250 xp and anyone who hits the goblin king will get 300xp. The players will find the woodcutter’s daughter tied up in the corner if they win the fight and also some treasure in the chest near the goblin king’s makeshift throne. If they search, they will find the secret door that will quickly lead them back to the woodcutter.

The adventure ends when the players return the woodcutter’s daughter to him. He has no reward to give but players all get 500xp for finishing the adventure. That should give them enough xp to go up a level.


D and D is perhaps a little too complex for first time role-player, unfortunately it’s the only RPG I know anything about.

Some students will not be able to do this, not because they don’t have the lingusitic skill but because they lack the imagination or creativity.


I looked for other ESL teachers playing D and D only and here’s what I found. There aren’t too many of us.

A blog thread on playing D and D in the classroom

How D and D made me a better teacher

Nice ideas on running D and D in your classroom here