Time Twistin’ the RPG

In this Chapter

Length of Program

Time Twistin’ the RPG is an online game that may be played for a few weeks or for the entire summer.

For librarians who wish to host more traditional programs an hour in length, additional games that do not require technology are provided in the “More Games and Activities” section of this program.

Program Description

Time Twistin’ the RPG is something completely different! Each teen plays the role of an historical character, either real or imaginary. Samurai from the Edo period in Japan can rub shoulders with Marie Antoinette, and Blackbeard can plunder with Jesse James. Time Twistin’ the RPG can accommodate any number of players.

Preparation

Backstory Sheet

In Time Twistin’ the RPG, each player takes a turn writing his or her character’s thoughts and actions based on a “Backstory Sheet,” such as the one below, resulting in a collaborative story. The Backstory Sheet includes a brief explanation of how all the characters developed. The sheet also gives physical descriptions of the places they will visit, so that teens can write about them in their posts. The background sheet also gives descriptions of any characters that the librarian/moderator will be playing in the game. Before the game begins, the librarian and/or teens must select or write a Backstory Sheet.

Sample Backstory

A rift has opened up in the space-time continuum, and it’s sucking people from different eras in history into it! (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) The rift has to be repaired before history as we know it ceases to exist. Fortunately, the Temporal Repair Squad is on the case. They’ve set up an emergency field headquarters at the source of the rift and dispatched a couple of Field Agents to work on the problem. But two Field Agents aren’t going to be able to do it alone. Your characters, from all different time periods of history, have landed in the field headquarters with no idea what’s going on. It will be up to you to save history!

The Field Agents are played by your moderators (the librarians). They are under strict orders not to tell you anything that might change the course of history, but they are also overworked and underpaid and may not have time to stop you from finding out things from one another. They are supposed to solve this problem on their own while keeping all of you occupied, but how could two Field Agents, no matter how brave and capable, do that on their own? You are going to have to take matters into your own hands!

Field headquarters is a barracks-like quick-assembly metal and plastic one-story building. Inside the front door is a foyer with doors leading off on either side to the men’s and women’s dormitories. Straight ahead is a hallway that leads to the cafeteria and the temporal computer center.

Character Description Sheets

Before the game begins, players choose characters and write Character Description Sheets, similar to the example below.

Sample Character Sheet

Character Name: Marcus Septimus

LiveJournal Name: marcus95

Description: Marcus is an ancient Roman soldier. He wears a tunic and sandals and carries a sword. He has armor only wears it on the battlefield. He has black hair and brown eyes and is about six feet tall. He is twenty years old but looks older because of his battlefield experience.

What else do you want us to know? Marcus is a successful commander and his men look up to him. He is hoping to buy his own land and retire from the army some day. He is a take-charge person who will try to protect the people around him. He thinks the Roman army is the greatest army in the world and doesn’t like anyone who says differently.

There are two schools of thought on character profiles in role-playing, and both are valid. One is that, since the players are pretending to meet each other’s characters for the first time, the profile sheet should include only things that a person would notice about another person upon first meeting them. For example, it would include a description of what they look like, their mannerisms, what kind of clothes they wear, etc. It would not include things that a person wouldn’t know upon meeting someone else, such as their state of mind, likes and dislikes, past history, etc. The other school of thought is that players should be free to know anything that players want them to know about their characters, because knowing more detail helps the other players react in ways that make the game more interesting. For example, you wouldn’t know upon first meeting someone that they have a huge fear of mice, but if a player knows this about another player’s character, their character might point out the mouse in the corner to make the game more interesting.

Let teens know that copyright laws do not allow them to play fictional characters from books or movies, such as Harry Potter.

Game Manuals

A Game Manual consists of a copy of the Backstory Sheet, copies of all Character Description Sheets, and also maps and any other items created for the game. Players will refer to the Game Manual during the game.

In advance, the librarian prepares a Game Manual. A simple way to prepare a manual that looks polished and professional is to use a narrow three-ring binder with a clear pocket on the front. Ask a teen to create a cover, and possibly maps or other artwork for the inside of the manual. Make color copies of the cover to slide into the clear pocket on the front of the binders. Add color photocopies of the maps and other artwork, and each player’s character sheet. Teens love to draw their characters and they’ll appreciate color copies of their artwork. If new players join, add their character sheets to the manual.

Play-by-Post Role Playing Games

Time Twistin’ the RPG is played online as a blog or email. This type of game is known as “play-by-post” role-playing games. Each player takes a turn “posting” a few lines of the story, either as a new blog post (or email) or a comment on an existing blog post (or a reply to an earlier email). Each player writes his or her character’s thoughts and actions. The result is a collaborative story that everyone in the game can read and to which all players may add.

Teens may play Time Twistin’ the RPG on any computer with Internet access at the library, at home, at school, or in the community. Players may check in on the game’s progress whenever they wish. Posts are automatically saved and can be read at any time. New players may join throughout the game and can easily catch up on the story by reading the posts.

The process of signing in and posting is very similar to writing an email, and takes about the same amount of time. Players do not have to be on the computers at the same time as each other, and they probably will not be.

If the game creates too large a demand for the library’s Internet computers, librarians may ask players to play at times of the day when computers are in less demand, or they may consider making more connected computers available for the duration of the game.

There are no “winners” in the traditional sense in this game. The fun comes from playing a character well.

Platforms

The librarian must select a platform for play. Time Twistin’ the RPG is played in an asynchronous platform, which means that players do not need to be online at the same time. Here are a few fairly simple platforms on which the game may be played.

  • A blog hosted by the library, with participating teens posting to the blog.
  • A Yahoo group or Yahoo email list that includes the addresses of each player, with participating teens sending e-mails to the group. Online role-playing games are surprisingly easy to set up in a blog or Yahoo group. If you are not familiar with blogs or Yahoo groups, ask your teens for help getting started.
  • A blog in a social networking site such as LiveJournal, a virtual community where users can keep a blog, journal, or diary. In LiveJournal, the librarian may create a group blog, called a “community.” As moderator of the community, the librarian selects privacy settings so that only members of the community may post, and then admits each participating teen to the community with the ability to write and comment on posts. The moderator may also set the privacy level so that only members of the community may read the blog entries. Additional information about how to create and manage LiveJournal accounts is included below.

If teens are playing on LiveJournal, each player must set up a LiveJournal account for his or her character, using the character’s name, or as close to it as possible if the name is already in use! Instruct teens to pay attention to the privacy settings and not to reveal personal information, since their profile pages will be public even if the community is not. If you are playing on a Yahoo group, each player must set up a Yahoo e-mail account for his or her character using the character’s name, etc.

There are two steps to prepare for the game, regardless of the platform.

  • Set up the group forum in your platform.
  • Set up individual accounts for each player and the moderator, and give each access to the group forum by adding individual accounts to the group/community. If the game will be played in a Yahoo group or Yahoo email, each player must create a Yahoo e-mail account using his character’s name. For LiveJournal, players create LiveJournal accounts and fill out a brief profile. The profile may be fictional and related to their characters, but they must include their real age and contact information, since LiveJournal’s terms of service require all players to be 13 or over. Remind teens to keep personal, real-life information private using privacy settings.
The Role of the Moderator

In general, the moderator in an RPG plays the same role as the host at a party: helping ensure that people interact and conversation flows. Moderators do this either by posting to the story as the characters they are playing, or in the role of an omniscient narrator, posting “mod posts” that break into a story to advance the plot or announce that an event has just taken place. Most moderators read and post only occasionally, just as players do, possibly once or twice a day. However, with LiveJournal the moderator of a community may choose to read and approve all comments before they appear for other people to read, in order to ensure that content is appropriate. Librarians may not wish to do this, as it slows down the game and requires a lot of work. Simple ground rules will probably suffice. A ground rule that all posts and comments must be rated PG, for instance, is easy for teens to understand and may prevent steamy romance scenes or graphic violence.

If a game is very active and it is difficult to keep up with all the posts, the moderator may share duties with one or more persons. Members of a teen advisory group would make great game moderators.

It’s a good idea for the moderator(s) to play characters who have a reason - and the authority - to step in and change the course of the game if necessary. Librarians can use the explanation provided in the sample Backstory Sheet, or they may make up their own. This way if two players get into a heated interchange or if the game is just getting boring, you can throw a plot twist in to get started in a new direction.

Tips for Moderators
  • Keep up with reading the game posts and what’s going on in the game. LiveJournal has an option to receive email alerts when there are new posts. Add more moderators if needed.
  • It’s easy for beginning role players to spend the entire game talking only to one other character. If this happens, throw in occurrences to which everyone will respond, such as a mysterious noise in the night,
  • There is a chance that real-life tension could develop between two teens as a result of what one of the characters does to another character during the game. Be aware of this and be ready to defuse the situation.

More Games and Activities

Here are some short activities with a time-travel theme that you may add to your program.

What Did They Say?

Read the first half of a historical proverb or saying and ask each player to make up a possible second half. If they know the right answer, tell them to make up a different second half rather than writing the real second half down. Gather up the slips, mixing in a slip with the real second half of the proverb. Then read each one and let the players vote for the one they think is real. Players get one point if they vote for the right answer and one point for each of the other players who vote for their version.

Not Ready For Prime Time Players

Ask each player to pick a famous person from history and write down ten things that person might say. For instance, George Washington might say “I cannot tell a lie” or “My false teeth are killing me!” One person acts as narrator and begins a simple story, such as “One day two people were walking down the street when they saw a man stealing a horse! One of them said...”, and then calls on a different player every time a character in the story has a line of dialogue. Each time they get called on, players reads the next line on their list of ten sayings. The story will get very silly very quickly!

Who Am I?

This old game is a classic. Tape pieces of paper with the name of a different historical figure on each player’s back. Because the players can’t see what’s on their own backs, they have to ask “yes or no” questions of the other players to figure out who they are. The first person to guess who they are correctly wins. Play until every player knows the name that is taped on his back.

Developmental Needs and Assets

Players express themselves creatively by writing a group story, and players may research their characters to make them more authentic. The words in the posts and comments in an active game may add up to the same word count as a typical YA novel. Time Twistin’ the RPG encourages teens to read something that they’re highly invested in - their friends’ posts in the game!

Books to Display

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper.

Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games by Lawrence Schick.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers.

In Darkness, Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.

The Luxe by Anna Godberson.

Saba: Under the Hyena’s Foot by Jane Kurtz.

Victory by Susan Cooper.

Books to Booktalk

Any of the above historical fiction titles would be great to booktalk to help players decide on their characters. Additional books that will help them create their characters include the following. Let teens know that copyright laws do not allow them to play fictional characters in books or movies, such as Harry Potter.

Cowboy Lingo by Ramon Adams.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz.

How to Be an Aztec Warrior by Fiona Macdonald.

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England by Kathy Lynn Emerson.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Gladiator by John Malam.

Display

Display a flyer for the program and books that will inspire teens to develop characters. Set up the display well in advance so teens can borrow books and get ideas for characters. For example, Cowboy Lingo is a gorgeous compendium of real over-the-top cowboy slang that the author collected over many years. If a teen wants to play a rustler who’s “crooked as a snake in a cactus patch,” or just a cowboy with a way with words, this book will help create authentic dialogue.

Many teen role players enjoy spending a lot of time creating their characters. Allow plenty of time for them to enjoy planning. Be sure to include everything they develop in the Game Manual, such as pictures of the character, backstory, etc.

Bulletin Board

Create a bulletin board of the game characters once they’ve been chosen. Include brief bios and character portraits. If you plan to allow nonplayers to read posts on LiveJournal, include the URL for the game. Set the privacy settings to allow nonmembers to read posts.

Incentives

Players will likely be very proud of the Game Manuals, especially if they look professional, so don’t spare the expense!

Professional Resources

Kit Ward-Crixell’s Presentation From GLLS 2007

http://gaming.techsource.ala.org/index.php/We%E2%80%99re_in_Ur_Library_

Bein_Ur_Books:_Making_and_Using_Book-Based_RPGs_with_Middle-Schoolers


Listen to an audio file and view PowerPoint slides of a presentation explaining the use of online book-based role-playing games.

Knorr, Paul, and Michael Varhola. Tests of Skill: A d20 Adventure and Sourcebook for Fantasy Role-Playing Games.

Skirmisher Game Group, 2004.

This highly customizable pencil-and-paper RPG focuses on roleplay rather than fighting, making it a good choice for Time Twistin’.

Live Action Role-Playing Game

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LARP

This Wikipedia article gives an overview of live action role-playing games.

LiveJournal

http://www.livejournal.com/

Instructions on how to sign up for a LiveJournal account and how to create a community may be found on this web page.

Online Text-Based Role-Playing Games

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_text-based_role-playing_game

The play-by-post game is a subset of the larger category of online text-based role-playing games. This Wikipedia article explains more about these kinds of games.

Play-by-Post Role-Playing Games

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play-by-post_role-playing_game

This Wikipedia article provides a quick orientation to the genre of play-by-post role-playing games.

RPG Quest: Role-Playing Games from Game On! TTR.08, the 2008 Texas Teens Read! Manual

http://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/projects/ttr/2008/manual/rpg_games.html

This program from the 2008 Texas Teens Read! includes a good overview of role-playing games.

WikiRPS

http://www.wikirps.org/wiki/Main_Page

If you choose to play a paper-and-pencil role-playing game instead of going online, WikiRPS provides several free paper-and-pencil campaigns.

Sample Character Description Sheet

Character Name: Marcus Septimus

LiveJournal Name: marcus95

Description: Marcus is an ancient Roman soldier. He wears a tunic and sandals and carries a sword. He has armor only wears it on the battlefield. He has black hair and brown eyes and is about six feet tall. He is twenty years old but looks older because of his battlefield experience.

What else do you want us to know? Marcus is a successful commander and his men look up to him. He is hoping to buy his own land and retire from the army some day. He is a take-charge person who will try to protect the people around him. He thinks the Roman army is the greatest army in the world and doesn’t like anyone who says differently.

Draw a picture of your character (if you want to):

Sample Backstory Sheet

The Challenge

A rift has opened up in the space-time continuum, and it’s sucking people from different eras in history into it! (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) The rift has to be repaired before history as we know it ceases to exist. Fortunately, the Temporal Repair Squad is on the case. They’ve set up an emergency field headquarters at the source of the rift and dispatched a couple of Field Agents to work on the problem. But two Field Agents aren’t going to be able to do it alone. Your characters, from all different time periods of history, have landed in the field headquarters with no idea what’s going on. It will be up to you to save history!

The Setting

Field headquarters is a barracks-like quick-assembly metal and plastic one-story building. Inside the front door is a foyer with doors leading off on either side to the men’s and women’s dormitories. Straight ahead is a hallway that leads to the cafeteria and the temporal computer center.

The Characters

The Field Agents are played by your moderators (the librarians). They are under strict orders not to tell you anything that might change the course of history, but they are also overworked and underpaid and may not have time to stop you from finding out things from each other. They are supposed to solve this problem on their own while keeping all of you occupied, but how could two field agents, no matter how brave and capable, do that on their own? You are going to have to take matters into your own hands!



Texas Teens Read 2009! Programming Manual / Time Twistin’ TTR.09

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 10, 2011