RPGs designed for language learning

Started by kksimons, April 26, 2012, 10:32:36 AM

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Hi there,

So I've had the idea to do this for awhile but I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to do it for awhile. I've just finished writing the vast majority of the RPG, it is based on the book The Magicians by Lev Grossman, who has given me his permission to use his IP along with his good will.

This game is about love and heartbreak, angst and growing pains and about magic. This game is about drama, relationships, pain, catharsis and the pursuit of happiness. The setting is present day and the players play high school students that have decided to be enrolled at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. For those that have not read the book, it's been described as Harry Potter for adults. A wizard is able to cast spells because he's a unhappy and a little bit broken. Basically when players frame scenes in which they are effected in a negative way emotionally they gain drama points and those points can then be spent (and are needed) to cast spells. Another thing I like about the books and setting - and mostly playing in it - is that it doesn't side step other fantasy novels and makes it really fun to be a bit "meta". Characters know of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings so you can kind of play yourself (or a teenage version of you) very easily and really get into it. For those that have read the books, The Neitherlands provides a vehicle for playing modern characters in fantasy settings. What if scenarios like what would I do if I was magician that was dropped into Narnia, Lord of the Rings, etc.

This is where learning a language comes in. In order to cast spells they have to speak Korean (the book guides players through pronunciation, alphabet, etc and I'm working on getting a website going for video tutorials). There are two systems in the book, the first is the "Apprentice System" which is basically a more hardcore version of Ars Magica in which players slap together a verb and noun to cast a spell but there are no all-encompassing nouns and verbs i.e. players have to use a different noun and verb depending on the spell and context of what they want to do. The second system "The Master System" builds on that vocabulary by teaching grammar patterns so that players learn to cast spells by speaking in complete, full sentences.

Obviously for something like this to work you'd have to get a group together that all had the language learning goal in mind, I also plan on putting out a kind of "adventure path" that would take the players and coach the GM through a bunch of adventures designed to bring the players from virtually no-knowledge to an elementary level. Essentially instead of traditional exercises and grammar drills and such, all the learning would be framed as an rpg and I'll have a forum up and running with video tutorials and help of course as well.

I'm in the middle of a double major in Korea right now (Korean education, French) so I plan on doing a book for Korean first and then French soon afterward. I was hoping other people would think this was cool, would maybe want to playtest and/or give feedback and help me start building a community around rpgs for language learning! I've only playtested it here in Korea but it's been going well, despite seeing lots of changes as we go along but obviously the foreigners here in Korea have a vested interest in learning Korean so there is that motivation. I've also been playtesting it since it was an idea for a rpg game designed to teach English at the school I was teaching at so there's where it got started.

Any questions, feedback, if people would like to take a look at what I've got so far that'd be great. I've got artwork coming in and I'm trying to learn InDesign so I can make it look pretty and maybe do a kickstarter or something in the future to gauge interest. If anyone is interested PM your email and I'll gladly send over a pdf, though like I said I'm still tweaking the "master system"

Thanks for your time!

Ron Edwards

That is an interesting idea and I'm glad to see it posted here.

Please note the rules in the sticky thread at the top of this forum (Game Development). They require that you include a link to some kind of external document we can all use for reference. This requirement is very minimal; even the sketchiest description in a blog or something will do for now.

Best, Ron


Sorry about that!

I don't have the site set up quite yet. Here's a rough draft:



I realize there isn't much people can say about the language learning element of it, other than knowing the main idea behind the mechanics like the noun and verb system, etc. However, I was more wondering what people thought of the way the narrative is set up to be run, the scene economy and how drama points work. Would really like to hear anyone's thoughts on it.


This sounds AWESOME. However, the link is dead. Could you host it to a place like Mediafire? Dropbox can be finicky.


Hey there, I've been working on it and it's still pretty rough. I'm planning on having video tutorials for each lesson and especially for pronunciation because I don't really see it working so well any other way (unless a group has a fluent GM to teach them of course)

It didn't seem like people were interested in it so I actually took it down. It's back up if you'd like to take a look at it though! I would very much appreciate any help or constructive criticism.



Still looking through that PDF, but my initial reaction is that I'm way more excited about a language-learning RPG than playing in the setting introduced in The Magicians, and using Korean as the language of magic in that setting feels a bit dissonant for me. This is in part because the only actual incantations I recall seeing script for in either of those books happened to be in Hebrew, IIRC, but also in part because those books felt something like a smiling poke in the eye to fantasy fan expectations. (It felt like they were saying, "Magic is exciting! No, just kidding, the world is awful. Grow up.") I have a hard time reconciling that theme and tone with the goal of playing out adventures and learning a new language along the way (even if there are mechanical benefits to heartbreak in an attempt to preserve the books' emotional focus).

As I said, though, that's just first impressions, and I want to take a closer look. Curious to hear what others who have read Grossman's books might think on blending educational goals with roleplaying in this setting.


It actually turns out that I won't get be getting the IP rights anyway as there's still a TV show in the works for the books. Like you said though, I'm actually a lot more comfortable not using an expressed setting. I did like the themes and emotional attributes fueling magic though. While I still want to use similar themes and still have it about being a kid and balancing growing up and high school/college life with being able to do magic I won't be sticking to the "canon" of the books so no worries there. It's been fun for the groups I played with to play as teenagers in the "real world" with normally meta knowledge like lord of the rings and Narnia, etc coming into in-game play.

It's been a lot of fun to play and my group has come a long way but they're much more invested since they live in Korea and they already have a lot of intrinsic motivation to learn Korean. When talking to other gamers in other countries though a lot of their reactions was "please do this for Japanese" so I'm not sure how much people will be able to get into learning Korean but I hope they do. The fact that it is so different, unique and completely foreign made me think it could be a language of magic and it's such a cool language to learn. Plus I'm only fluent in Korean and French, so there's that.

For setting I'm not sure if providing a detailed one is even necessary - I think people would have a lot of fun doing group setting creation under the caveats that they study in school of magic. I was thinking more of just providing questions that the players can use to flesh out the school, decide if the school is generally pretty normal except for it teaching magic or if it's got dungeons, mazes or forests with magical creatures on the periphery, etc. With each new group I've playtested with that's what we've done and it's worked well.

I look forward to hearing what people think about it though, especially the core mechanics! Thanks a lot for the interest.