On Monday, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Adam J. from Game to Grow, a Seattle-based organization devoted to helping children develop healthy inter- and intrapersonal skills through therapeutic RPGs! Adam and co-founder Adam (yes, they’re both named Adam) embarked on this journey back in 2013 when they decided to combine their experiences in counseling, therapy, and education with tabletop games, and established Wheelhouse Workshop, the predecessor to today’s Game to Grow. Since then, they’ve been helping young gamers across the U.S. learn how to develop empathy, frustration tolerance, creative problem-solving abilities, and leadership skills. In 2017, Wheelhouse Workshop evolved into Game to Grow, expanding this service by working with volunteer GMs who, after passing a special screening, run regular Social Skills groups. They also offer consultations, training, and conference events for therapists and advocates around the world!
I’ve found their work inspiring for years, and it was the primary motivation for starting the kids’ D&D campaigns and workshops, so once I saw that some of their free consultation windows became available, I had to sign up! In addition to learning a more about their programs, Adam J. and I had the chance to discuss the D&D for Kids workshops, family-friendly campaigns, and some great techniques for boosting young players’ confidence and social skills through storytelling and role-playing! The biggest thing I learned, is that the Game to Grow approach focuses on enabling growth during the game experience, and finding ways to increase the intrinsic appreciation for the social skills players use around the table.
Here are some techniques he shared…
…for Fostering Confidence
Create leadership opportunities. When it comes to helping a more shy or uncertain player come out of their shell, Adam recommended using game he calls “Goblin Ghost“, which can be dropped into any game or campaign session:
Imagine the party entering an empty room, the door behind them has disappeared and there’s no other way out. All they can see is a rocking chair, a rug, and perhaps a few other pieces of simple furniture…and the rocking chair is moving as if someone was sitting in it. To most of the party, it looks as though the chair is moving on its own, but one player can see the ghost of a Goblin there, watching them expectantly. This player (specifically chosen by the GM) is the only one who can see and hear the ghost, so it’s up to them to guide the discussion and relay information to the rest of the party. The ghost knows the password that will reveal the exit to the room, but they will only share it if the party has something to offer in return. This could be a riddle, joke, story…anything at all!
The offering itself isn’t really important, the point is to create instances in which the player can find their voice and have the opportunity to take the lead.
Ensure each player has a different class. This is a technique I also use for our family one-shots, with pre-generated characters. While I typically don’t mind having doubles of the same class (we just focus on different sub-archetypes to make unique PCs), ensuring diversity of strengths and abilities within the party ensures that everyone has something to bring to the table. As a DM/GM, you also need to ensure that you have a variety of options for problem solving. Ensure that the different challenges can’t all be solved the same way and have moments that will highlight the strengths of each player.
…for Encouraging Inter-Party Role Playing
RPGs create numerous opportunities for developing healthy social skills, empathy, and teamwork…and yet one of the challenges every newly-formed party faces is the inevitable awkwardness that comes along with interacting in character for the first time. This can be particularly intimidating for new players, and they will often try to interact with the environment or their fellow adventurers almost exclusively through the DM. To help them become more comfortable with exploring the world together, Adam recommended these techniques:
Offer prompts for storytelling and relationship-building moments. Even if provided with an opportunity for “down-time”, or sitting around the campfire, it can still be difficult for players to engage in what can feel like awkward small talk. Although our players understand the concept of metagaming quite well, it seems redundant to ask the Ranger what they found in the tunnel when everyone around the table witnessed it as it happened. In these instances, Adam recommended offering up prompts or scene-setting narrative to encourage the party to discuss what their PCs are feeling and experiencing. For example:
“You return to camp, eager to ease your tired muscles close to the warm and welcoming fire and discuss the strange creatures you just encountered.”
You can also facilitate interactions with an NPC who knows the players, like a merchant or travelling companion who will be curious about the party’s exploits and well-being.
Create shared backstories. A wonderful feature in the Dungeon World game is the creation of Bonds. These fill-in-the-blank statements allow the players to determine who in the party they already have some sort of familiarity with. Each of the core bonds are associated with the different PC classes and help to develop inter-party relationships. Here are some examples:
[Druid] The spirits spoke to me of a great danger that follows ________.
[Bard] ______ trusted me with a secret.
[Paladin] _____ has stood by me in battle and can be trusted completely!
I really like this mechanic because the players choose the bonds themselves, which encourages them to discuss and develop their backstories and character perspectives together!
Set boundaries, but let players guide the scene: I strongly believe that your world doesn’t come to life until the players interact with it! If you’ve seen or played Microscope, you’ll be familiar with its unique, GM-less approach to collaborative narrative and worldbuilding. You start out with a beginning and ending for a story line, but it’s up to the players to determine what happens between those two points. This way, they have the freedom to create a story of their own but have to work together to do it. This is also a great way for them to role play different scenes in the narrative as they go along. This is something I will definitely be using in future iterations of the D&D Storytelling Workshops but may be a bit trickier to implement during a game session…though I think allowing the players to have a role in creating the world (with defined parameters) will definitely help them become invested in the story and emphasize that sense of intrinsic value we mentioned earlier!
I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful…I guarantee that I will be using them in my own D&D for Kids workshops and games! I only wish I had more time to pick Adam’s brain, because he and the Game to Grow family have so much more to share.
If you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful things they do, be sure to visit their website, where you can sign up for the newsletter, book a consultation, and learn about their game groups and training webinars.
If you’re interested in findings ways to support Game to Grow and their services, don’t be afraid to ask them about volunteer opportunities. One of the best ways to support them, though, is by gifting donations! They’re a non-profit organization, so they rely on donations and support from the community to keep providing the wonderful services they have to offer!
Head to gametogrow.org to learn more!