Table-top Role-Playing Games (TTRPGs) are cooperative collective storytelling games where the goal is to create an experience together rather than win. Most people immediately think of Dungeons and Dragons in this genre, but it is far from the only example. For an easier library-based program, I suggest using Fate: Accelerated designed by Clark Valentine, Leonard Balsera, Fred Hicks, Mike Olson, and Amanda Valentine, for a cheap and simple to play game. It’s intended to be used with any setting, as opposed to games with specific settings and genre conventions built into the rules, this lets us take the settings of books, play around in some of our favorite worlds and answer the question of “what would you do if you were in that situation?“
And that’s the fun of it. No one, not even the Game Master or GM, knows how things are going to go. It’s a collaborative effort, players get to practice teamwork as well as, social skills, some basic math, but most importantly it gives a space to practice agency. Unlike a book, giving a look into the mind of another person, games allow the players to experience the plot and decisions (or approximations of them) as if they were the character. Let’s use Let the Monster Out by Chad Lucas as an example. The novel shows us what Bones and Kyle do when the mysterious evil corporation takes over the minds of the town’s adults, while a TTRPG lets us flex our imagination and problem-solving skills to find out how we, or our characters, would act in the same situation, even if the scenario is silly.
In a game group, one participant acts as the GM; their role is as the arbiter of the rules, as well as describing the game world, setting, and playing the characters that the other players do not control. The other players each play as a single character in the game world. These characters are the main characters in the story. The GM will describe a scene and the players will explain what their characters do during the scene. If it is uncertain if a character would succeed at a task, players roll some dice to figure out if it happens.
The best part of TTRPGs is that they can be really easy to get started. Especially rule sets that are on the simpler end of the TTRPG spectrum, like our example game Fate: Accelerated. With a bit of pre-reading, some game material preparation, and a willingness to improvise, any librarian could set up a unique program centered on experimenting with agency.
Here is how to set up a program. We will host a book/gaming club hybrid to explore character decisions and themes of books more thoroughly. Let the Monster Out is a book centered on fear, a shady mega-corporation, and solving problems with the power of friendship. To avoid spoilers for the players and to keep things easy, use the local community instead of the community in the book, and have the players make themselves as characters. Pick a few locations near the library, maybe even include the library, and use them as places for the kids to explore, but also add in the Flexcorp headquarters. *The rest of this article assumes you have read Let the Monster Out.
I’ll be using the example of the area around the Merlo branch of the Chicago Public Library. I chose the following locations, use what is useful for you.
- The Lake Michigan shore and the park around it
- Cheesie’s, a cheese-based restaurant
- Mariano’s, a nearby grocery store
- The Playground, a small theater in the area
- The Merlo branch library
Don’t be afraid of the locations differing from their real counterparts. Pick a location for the kids to save the scientist with the clue notebook that Bones and Kyle save in Let the Monster Out. As an example, the kids could save the scientist from the lake instead of a river. Create fictional characters for the player’s characters to interact with, per the Fate: Accelerated rule book. Additionally, understanding the main problem in Let the Monster Out and its effects as well as writing down a few key clues and scenes from the book lets you improvise in the way you must in a well-run RPG. (Don’t worry too much about improv, it’ll be fun even when it doesn’t go perfectly.) The wet notebook found on the scientist in the story can act as a prompt when players are having difficulty. If the players are stuck, or are unsure what to do, mention “hey maybe a new page in the notebook is dry” and give them a small hint. If you are getting close to the end of your program time, the notebook can tell them what to do for the ending. This lets you help the players out without making them feel handheld. Don’t do this too much or they will just focus on the notebook only. Besides that, remember what is happening in the plot of Let the Monster Out. Wifi is making the adults inhumanly fearful. How does that manifest in the world? And how is Fluxcorp taking advantage of the situation? For further guidance on preparation and running the game session, please refer to the Fate Accelerated rule book.
Now it’s show time!
What you need:
2 to 4 hours
4+ six-sided dice per group, preferably 4 per person
1 fate accelerated character sheet per participant, see link below
Access to the Fate Accelerated rule book for rule questions
2 copies per group of the 2 quick reference sheets, located at the end of the Fate Accelerated rules
Guide participants through their character creation, or provide pre-made character sheets if you are worried about time. The characters should be middle or early high school-aged. Characters having a fear is important for this situation, so have the players give the character a fear. It doesn’t have to be a fear any p player actually has. Providing suggestions of common or silly ones is a good idea. Write those down. Additionally, during this time, explain and implement the safety mechanics I provided below. In my games, I use lines and veils and the X card, but more are available and may fit with you and your community better. They will hopefully be unnecessary, but it is good to have these just in case.
Have the players introduce their characters and how the character knows two others. Once that happens, ask them why the characters are next to wherever they are to save the drowning scientist. Wait for a response and begin the scene where they have to save the drowning scientist and get the wet notebook.
Once this happens, the players are driving the bus, let them lead their own investigation. The only thing that has to happen is to have at least one nightmare and the big climax of the players fighting through their fears in the Fluxcorp offices. Specifics of the game are up to you and your interpretation of the rules.
The climax of the game should begin when you have about an hour left in the program. Run them through the final bit, and bring the story to a brief close with parents and the police showing up to save the kids and arrest the bad guys. Try to finish this up with 15 minutes to a half-hour left.
Use the rest of the time to discuss how the participants thought about the book, about the game, if playing out the scenario changed what they thought about the decisions the characters in the books made and anything else that may have come up in the session.
Link to the Fate Accelerated rules ( https://evilhat.itch.io/fate-accelerated)
Character sheets (https://www.evilhat.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Fate-Accelerated-Character-Sheet-1.pdf)
Safety tools (https://goldenlassogames.com/tools)
Example of fate being played (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOFXtAHg7vU)
For other easy game options to use Honey Heist and What I Did on my Summer Holiday are standouts (https://gshowitt.itch.io/)
Nguyen, C. Thi. Games: Agency As Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Web.