Roleplaying Games in Latin – A retrospect

Last week I brought to a close a 10-week experiment in a Latin-learning-experience, “Latin via RPG”. I offered this as a kind of ‘course’, but as one participant pointed out it might better be called a ‘learning-experience’, since it was not so much a sequence of taught materials, as an opportunity for unbounded use, and acquisition, of Latin (which, is what I am about anyway!).

I’ll briefly describe a bit about the set-up and participants, and then let them ‘speak’, before offering my own reflections on the experience.

I’ve been playing table-top roleplaying games for close to thirty years now. They are one of my favourite past-times, and a source of a lot of fun. The previous two years I also had the joy of playing Dungeons and Dragons in Latin at the two Rusticationes Australianae. I have often mused about how an RPG would be an effective learning environment because it creates a setting that is not the ‘classroom’, but the gameroom, and it calls for learner-investment in personas, and the story, in a way that classroom ‘scenario’ roleplaying does not. It also allows the participants to explore alternate settings, persons, plots, themes, etc.. This year, I felt sufficiently comfortable in my own Latin to offer this as a paid course to learners. I did some preparations, chose a game system (kind of, see below), and each week we played. We had four participants, ranging from someone with 2 semesters of college Latin, through to some more experienced learners (who would still describe themselves as learners).

Okay, what did they think?

#1

I thoroughly enjoyed this class, and It really forced me to become more comfortable in my understanding of Latin grammar and vocabulary. You were a great professor and game master. I hope if you decide to run it again and I can take part. Your use of classical, medieval, and new Latin helped me a lot to enhance my vocabulary and learn more about Latin as a developing language.

#2

The Latin RPG was fun and good practice. Since it was more student-directed, this led to a very different kind of environment and required a different kind of speaking, and I think that’s good. … Regardless, I enjoyed it.

#3
A thief, a strongman, a necromancer priest of Jove, and a terrible hunter walk into the woods in search of a mysterious temple.  Which turns out to have been taken over by crocodile monsters.  And that’s only the beginning.  What’s not to love?
Latin RPG was completely fantastic!  Everyone was supportive and creative, and there were lots of funny moments.  You made everything so clear and so interesting.  If you run it again I’d enroll in a heartbeat.
#4

My only regret is that it didn’t last longer!

I had a tremendous amount of fun playing an RPG in Latin. I came in as a second year student and gained so much confidence in Latin, hearing and learning how conversational Latin works and sounds.  It was such a great experience that I’m glad i was able to be a part of, and I will definitely be continuing it in my future schooling. It was difficult, and new, and such a cool learning experience that I would recommend to someone looking for a different way to interact with Latin. Confidence is my main takeaway from this, not vocab or grammar, but experience and confidence.
I always felt comfortable saying I didn’t know a word or didn’t understand, and I went from understanding about 30% to 50% of all the words to about 90%+ through the term.
Thank you for hosting this, thank you for keeping me in, and thank all the other participants, I had an unprecedented experience and will do it again.
Back to me…

I had originally thought to run a game built upon the Fate system, because it seemed very rules-light, and I wanted this to be as accessible as possible. We spent the first session talking about game concepts, developing characters, and just getting acquainted. From there each session was mostly a free-form kind of role-playing – I come from a very story-driven, free-form kind of ‘school’ of roleplaying anyway, and this seemed to work well. Certainly as we went on, our participants became more adept at communicating in Latin, and even moreso at understanding. RPGing requires a fairly large cognitive load on the storyteller/GM, and that’s increased in Latin, so if you felt less confident in doing that, then a more scripted adventure/style might work better.

I altered two things as we went that I think were invaluable. Firstly, I went from doing Fate as a behind the scenes system, to an even more ‘loose’ version of it. Essentially I would roll dice for anything that seemed to require dice, and make adjustments based on the characters’ stats. This reduced all game mechanics to a single dice roll + GM fiat. I think in a different setting, I’d be very happy with a more rules-on version, but this worked fine for us.

Secondly, I asked participants to write up a short description, in Latin, of each episode. This achieved 3 purposes – firstly, it let me know what they understood to have happened. It was invaluable in seeing what people had heard, and what they had missed, or misconstrued. Secondly, it gave them a non-timed chance to output, in a non-pressured way. I encouraged them to use English wherever they needed to. Thirdly, it gave me a chance to reshape and supply back Latin outside the sessions. I could provide vocabulary, structures, idioms, etc., in a less direct feedback manner. I think this was an invaluable addition.

I think I will run something like this again, though probably not in the immediate short-term. I think it was a valuable learning experience in active Latin usage among us all, and it was also a tremendous amount of fun.

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