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Thoughts on RPG Assessment Process

by Hawke Robinson published Sep 20, 2016 11:15 AM, last modified Sep 20, 2016 12:15 PM
This was triggered by someone's question in a Facebook group, and I thought it worthwhile to repost here, in a more legible format, and more useful platform...

Question: "Hi! I am working towards my drama therapy certification and very interested in rpg games as a scaffold for people who find improv alone or role playing without a context a step too far. I'd love to chat with anyone who has had success with any games in particular. I'm trying to get a short-term group together for neurotypical adults interested in play and self-growth." -Dana Sayre -

I am going to be egregious in over-generalizing here, because this is getting to be too lengthy a response in my attempt to include many of the caveats, variables, and exceptions. While the topics discussed below are applicable to both LARP and TRPG, I will be focusing initially in this response on the TRPG aspect more, since I am more familiar with the TRPG commercial products than LARP commercial products.

I do not have the wonderful Drama Therapy background of Adam Davis of Wheelhouse Workshop, but some clients I worked with that have been through DT previously, found the more free-form drama therapy or even very free-form LARP, more daunting, using words such as "too much", "too vague", and "too personal", for them to be comfortable. Especially for those with variants of social phobias. For those overwhelmed who find "too much choice is overwhelming", many find the added structure of a more formalized TRPG or LARP system "safer" with more clearly defined parameters.

These experiences are highly variable from individual to individual. Also group dynamics can significantly skew these experiences & results. Groups consisting of more trusting individuals seem to find the freedom of more free-form enjoyable, while those with higher anxiety/insecurity levels report feeling more threatened, especially if they do not know/trust the other players, this is age-irrelevant, young children with good attachment often do better than adults with trust issues when in the free-form settings. Of course this doesn't preclude using free-form specifically to address such issues (this is a common approach and theme in Therapeutic Recreation (TR) & Recreational Therapy (RT) programs, we are heavily trained in "ice breaker" activities in an attempt to address exactly these issues.

For my approach using RPGs in more formal therapeutic and educational settings, creating programs to achieve specific client goals, in addition to perusing/consulting any doctor/therapist diagnoses, I typically have prospective participants complete various Leisure Interest surveys (a standard practice in Recreation Therapy) such as variants on the Leisure Interest Measure (LIM), Cooperation & trust Scale, Leisure Attitude Measurement (LAM), and my own Genre Interest Assessment Tool (GIAT), and System Interest Assessment Tool (SIAT), etc. to determine where their interests lie, and attempt to match the players, genre, setting, play style, and system as much as I can to those results, and the best mapping possible to their other diagnostic needs and goals.

After each session, participants complete variations on leisure satisfaction experiences of the activity, and before each session about their intervening time (typically weekly or ever 2 weeks), regarding anything about the previous games that came up for them "in real life" (IRL), to continue the assessment loop, and encourage "processing".

It is assumed for this discussion we are focusing on tabletop RPG (TRPG) for this discussion, not LARP, computer-based, or solo. It is also assumed for this discussion we are focused on Fantasy genre settings. There are many other genres such as science fiction (Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Traveller, etc.), Modern Day dystopics, Steampunk, period horrors (Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, etc.), and so many others. A fair number of people that end up enjoying RPG, do not actually care for Fantasy-based settings, so it is an important consideration. A number of people that had tried a fantasy-based RPG decided they didn't like RPG. But when presented with a chance in another genre based more on their leisure & genre assessment results (modern day police-procedural, or 1940's "gumshoe" style, mysteries, for example), reported completely changing their attitude about RPG. Of course there are genre neutral systems such as Steve Jackson's Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS), and Basic Role-Playing (BRP), which can be used easily for any genre and provide many supplementary settings in those many genres. To help narrow down the vast array of options, I find the aforementioned assessments invaluable in providing optimal experiences for the participants.

For commercially available TRPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) I have found useful as the "Lingua Franca" of the tabletop RPG world. It is the easiest for preparing a transition/exit plan from inpatient to outpatient, it is the easiest to purchase hard copies, and to find groups at game stores, etc. However, I am increasingly (after ~5+ years of use) liking what I am seeing with Cubicle 7's The One Ring Role-Playing Game (TOR RPG). It is set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, generally the time after The Hobbit, but before The Lord of the Rings begins. It is focused heavily on "Fellowship", and has built-in game mechanics to gently, in a positive way, encourage group cohesion and sharing, without being a "nanny system" like Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. TOR RPG is helpful because the Middle-earth setting is well known due to the movies (of course the books are much better!) :-) . In the interest of full disclosure, my bias for Tolkien-related material, I have been running Tolkien-based RPGs since the early 80s, and I am founder of the Eä Tolkien Society, the annual Tolkien Moot gaming convention, Other Minds Tolkien Gaming magazine, and more. :-) As for expenses, TOR RPG is on par with D&D 5e for entry costs.

As for Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (WHFRP), especially if you include the "social mods", can be very useful for more troubled players, such as abused or incarcerated youth. The system provides very clearly defined parameters, and visual aides to help reduce "cheating". Not usually an issue in most RPG groups, but with some at-risk, and especially troubled & incarcerated populations, very helpful. A group in Israel reported very positive results with WHFRP over a couple of years with several groups, with participants that were mostly at-risk youth and some with Autism spectrum diagnoses. Warhammer FRP has one of the highest base costs for entry of any TRPG, and much more than TOR RPG. 


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