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First Prototype of Tabletop RPG as a Modality for Therapeutic / Educational Intervention

by Hawke Robinson published Jun 20, 2015 05:05 PM, last modified Feb 05, 2023 12:22 PM
This is my first prototype rough draft in the development of role-playing gaming as a modality for therapeutic / educational interventions. For a Recreation Therapy course in which I am currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University, our task last week was to "Develop a Tabletop Leisure Education Game" for a group of Autism Spectrum (and other) adults in a facility near the Seattle area (we are in Spokane, WA). Of course I selected (with the approval of my assigned partner in the project, Tabletop Role-Playing Gaming (RPG ) for this assignment, in this case a 1940s Gumshoe Detective-style mystery set in urban Chicago...


I submitted the complete bundle this Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014, to the professor with all my fellow Recreation Therapy classmates. She, with the help of her husband and others, will be going through all of the activities over the following weeks, and evaluating them for compliance with a specific checklist. A few of the submissions may be fortunate enough to be selected for submission to a facility on the west coast with an adult special needs population, which we may potentially have the opportunity of implementing during the Summer break as part of our many required hours (1500 related volunteer/paid hours, before eligible for starting the 16 week internship).

I tried to distill the the simplest components of a tabletop role-playing game down to the bare necessities. For dice, a single six-sided die, since that is the most likely to be available in a household or facility, and keeping it numerically simple so that the widest range of populations could still find the game accessible. Even if the participants are unable to read the rules, a Game Facilitator (GF), likely the Recreation Therapy Specialist (RTS) can teach the rules to the participants verbally as they go through the process of character creation (or selection of pre-generated characters) and the actual game play, teaching the rules incrementally as they proceed through the adventure itself.

As far as the classroom assignment itself, and the evaluation sheet, I am concerned that the level of complexity of an RPG, even one this stripped down to the basics, may be problematic within the limited scope of the assignment and/or an RTS's available time for learning and teaching a new activity if they have not previously engaged in tabletop role-playing games (tRPGs).

We only had about a week to work on the activity, and I was not able to finish polishing it all. I did not have enough time to really convert it to language more appropriate for a Recreation Therapy Specialist (RTS), so I am not sure how well my draft will score related to the assignment, but at least I am finally applying years of ideas and research to finally creating a tangible work related to a therapeutic role-playing game. Consider this an "alpha" draft proof-of-concept prototype. It is extremely rough, I can see flaws and problems abounding left and right, but at least it is a starting point for the iterative revision process toward a complete and working therapeutic/educational intervention modality using role-playing games.

I submitted a complete kit, with dice, miniatures, pencils, all the rules, and a summary adventure, everything necessary for a small group to immediately engage in the adventure (once someone is determined to be the Game Facilitator (GF, aka Game Master (GM)).

I changed the term for Game Master (GM) to Game Facilitator (GF) to be more in line with terminology in the  recreation therapy profession, hopefully more obviously self-explanatory to a prospective Recreation Therapy Specialist (RTS) considering using  tRPG as a modality for intervention.

I was assigned a partner, that has never had previous experience with RPG (half my age), and we worked together on this project. I guided her where I could to help determine a setting that would be fun and familiar to her. Admittedly I did about 80-90% of the total work for this project, since this really was my bailiwick, and she had never had any previous experience with RPG, but every chance possible she engaged in the process. As we worked through the process, especially the storyline creation, she become increasingly excited and engaged in the process, and repeatedly commented how much fun it was, and she stated she felt she had to keep reigning herself in because she was "Getting so into it" during the storyline creation. As I submitted the rules to her for review, she began to increasingly understand how this would work, and was increasingly enthusiastic.

The Rules System

The rules are based on my Tolkien-based Ea RPG Basic Rules ( ), but with all the Tolkien and fantasy aspects shaved off, and instead changing the font, language, and examples to be more fitting for a 1940s setting. NOTE: The GF Guidebook still has a lot of the old Tolkien/fantasy related material lingering, I ran out of time to convert the rest of it. After I get the notes and feedback from my professor, I will heavily revise the rulebooks based on her play-testing and professional feedback, and while at it, finish the conversion, as well as increasing the language in the GF book to be more RTS-related.

I intend to keep the Players Guidebook more focused on laymen language, with only a few notes more befitting the professional language of an RTS, while the GF guidebook will increasingly focus on therapeutic recreation (TR) professional terms, methodologies, theories, etc.

Photos & Links to Documents

Here are some photos of the complete kit I submitted for the assignment:





Here is a link to the Rules Summary sheet.

Here is a link to the (blank) character sheet.

Here is a link to the Players Guidebook itself:

Here is a link to the Game Facilitators Guidebook itself:

Here is a link to the assignment summary with the adventure details, and pre-generated example character sheets:


Evaluation for the course - What Makes This Recreation Therapy, Not Just Recreation

There are multiple factors make a recreation activity an actual therapeutic (or educational) recreation intervention, but one of the key factors is clearly stated and measurable objectives. One example could be, through the use of the activity, increasing the client's ability to initiate and maintain a conversation in a group setting, in the case of a client with impulse issues causing social interaction dysfunction (ADD/ADHD for example) improving from interrupting an average of 3 times per minute of conversation with others, to no more than once per minute (and then continuing to improve from there)..

This assignment utilized the Leisure Education Activity Planning Worksheet (Appendix A on page 48) of the book Facilitation of Therapeutic Recreation Services - An Evidence-based and Best Practice Approach to Techniques and Processes, by Norma J. Stumbo, and Brad Wardlaw.

The intended population is anyone needing to work on cooperative social skills, in this case it as assumed (as per the prompt) to be higher functioning adult Autism Spectrum clients.

We were to pick at least one of the four components of the Leisure Education Content Model (LECM) by Stumbo & Peterson (2009).

Those four components are 1.0 Leisure Awareness, 2.0 Social Interaction Skills, 3.0 Leisure Activity Skills, and 4.0 Leisure Resources.

My assigned partner and I decided to specifically target 2 components with the RPG adventure:

  1. LECM 3.0, Leisure Activity Skills, section 3.1 Traditional Leisure Activity skills. After the adventure the participants should be able to provide at least one hypothetical example of how they could develop skills in a performance art (singing, acting, dancing) by finding and utilizing a private instructor.
  2. LECM 4.0, Leisure Resources, section 4.4 Community Resources. After the adventure the participants should be able to provide an example of how to find the various theaters in a given region, nd how to isolate finding a specific community theater based on specific desired goals (type of theater).

In addition to meeting the classroom assignment requirements above, the participants will likely also be gaining many other benefits due to the nature of the modality used to instruct the above 2 areas of the LECM, namely that tabletop role-playing games (tRPG), are a socially cooperative problem-solving recreational activity, so many other potential beneficial outcomes are likely.

For populations needing to learn and improve appropriate social skills, cooperative play, reading, writing, basic math, creative visualization, verbal understanding and expression, and coordinated group simple-to-complex problem solving, tabletop role-playing gaming is an ideal modality.

I hope the community finds this first attempt useful, and I would very much appreciate everyone's comments (good, bad, or indifferent), creative suggestions, and any other feedback you can provide in this ongoing iterative process.

Keep those dice rolling!


rpgresearcher at gmail dot com.