League of Wayfinders Interview

League of Wayfinders

This Denver, Colorado based before and after school enrichment program specializes in making role playing game experiences for elementary school students. They took the time to answer some of our questions and share their thoughts on the special kind of magic that happens when working with Heroes who also happen to be kids!



The world of education is changing and improving from generation to generation. Educators like yourselves seem to be newly embracing games as a core medium for imparting lessons and encouraging growth. What concepts are at the heart of role playing games that make them uniquely suited to teaching and learning?

“The thing that makes Role Playing Games special is that players are piloting characters that exist within the fiction. Everything that happens to their character within the story happens to them in turn. They have skin in the game, so to speak. Every role player has had a moment where they have wondered how something works in the real world, because it is important for their character to know. You are much more likely to retain an understanding of how terminal velocity works when your character is falling off of a cliff and you need to figure out how to save them, than doing a thought experiment about a bowling ball and a skyscraper. Memory champs use a trick called the Memory Palace. When you need to memorize a series of things, pick a place you know well, and tell yourself a story about what is there. We remember better when information is set in a fiction and a narrative. Secondly, we get to practice a form of radical empathy when role playing. You are, in a very real sense, in another person’s shoes. You can explore the perspective of a different person, while having a deep connection to them and a stake in what happens to them. I like to think of Role Playing being good for you for the same reason dreams are good for you. You can explore concepts and consequences in a safe space.”

The League of Wayfinders creates experiences for before and after-school enrichment, focusing especially on elementary school kids. What challenges have you discovered when crafting games and interactions for this age group? How have you addressed those obstacles and what adjustments have you found the most helpful?

“To be frank, we have adjusted and tweaked our program every semester since we started back in 2013. We are continually learning what works and what doesn’t. Whether navigating a scenario, crafting a story, or building a game system, it is important to set your goals early, and use those goals as a lighthouse when you feel lost or things aren’t working the way you want them to. Specifically, we have had an especially interesting time surrounding character powers. Getting just the right amount of definition to a power is crucial to a good game. We want them to envision their hero and be excited to play it. We want players to think critically and imaginatively to overcome obstacles in the story with a limited set of tools. When designing rules for powers, we have had to continually ask ourselves ‘What is important here?’. We toyed with the idea of creating classes like D&D and Pathfinder, slowly rolling out powers through magic items, or letting them do whatever magic pops into their head at the time. In the end, we decided that it is not as helpful for us to put strict limits on their powers, but to teach our instructors how to guide the players into interesting, interactive, and story-focused powers. This is a common theme in solving problems for us. We try to teach our instructors the reasons why you make an in-game decision, not just follow the rulebook.”

Role playing games are unique in that they blend a mentor-learner dynamic with a collaborative storytelling dynamic. How would you describe your role at the table when you’re guiding Heroes through their adventures?

“We call it a peer relationship. We spend weeks with small groups of 4-6 kids, all investing in characters and a story. The players and instructors have different roles, but everyone should be having fun. Our role at the table is to create an engaging, fun story, and get as much critical thinking, empathy building, teamwork, and education out of it as we can. A core piece of our business that we could not do without is the ability to take time and talk through ideas, actions, and consequences with our kids. We respect them as people. I think this is true of any good role playing group, but is especially important with kids. That being the case, both at the table and throughout our time with the kids our goal is to create a safe space for expression and to do that we have to retain a mentor relationship based on trust.”

Like many of us who make games and build worlds, The League of Wayfinders relies on the concepts outlined by Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” to craft stories. What other theories, philosophies, and inspirations do you find most pertinent to your work?

“The essay ‘On Fairy Stories’ by JRR Tolkein was a huge influence in helping us pinpoint the goal of our program. Carl Jung’s theories on personality types and archetype helped us create a dynamic world. Like all healthy nerds we collectively draw from an almost never ending supply of influencers to aid our work.”

The aftermath of a player decision during a game is tricky enough to handle with adults. How do you and your fellow instructors introduce logical cause-and-effect scenarios and meaningful consequences to your younger Heroes?

“Hey Game Masters, never create a scenario that you aren’t able to handle the consequences of. This ruins a lot of encounters and whole games. I know I have done it. That moment when you have painted yourself in to a corner, and your attempts to escape it make less and less sense within the story. Luckily, kids are less interested in the backstory and motivations of your characters and scenarios, so it becomes much easier to get them un-stuck. That having been said, it is important to us that when a player is unhappy with the consequences of their actions, they have already been given a chance to think through the possible consequences of their actions beforehand, and you have a plan to help the situation turn around. We try not to mess with their volition, but do not shy away from consequences. When a player really screws up, we look to the other players and give them a chance to help out the player in question. We try not to use our supreme story powers to save their characters, but fold the consequences into a more interesting and complicated situation that includes the whole team.”

Lots of people are interested in getting their kids into RPG’s or starting family games right now. What recommendations, advice, or encouragement would you offer parents who don’t know where to start?

“Start playing! Somewhere in your circle of family and friends, there is a RPG player who can show you the ropes. It seems complicated, it feels nerdy, and it can feel unnatural. Stick with it. Gary Gygax the creator of D&D, once said, ‘The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.’ There is no wrong way to role play. When playing with kids, start simple, and remember that game mechanics are there to serve the story, not the other way around. Ignore any rules that are too hard or hurt the story. You can get kids started much younger than you would think.”

What you’re offering to your community is a fairly new concept in our society. How did your founders get started?

“We started by playing RPGs. We found them late in life, but quickly discovered their possibilities for self exploration. We were running a philosophy club at the time, and we were both were using role playing techniques in our jobs and daily lives to self express and help others. We came up with the concept because we really believe that role playing is good for you, and good role playing is really good for you. Over the last 6 years we have worked intensely and with purpose to exemplify the best parts of role playing, and stick to our core ideals of role play. Making it Fun, Fair, and Intuitive. The community response has been amazing, and we are growing rapidly. It has been a long road to get to where we are, and not for the feint of heart. If anyone is interested in becoming part of our growing organization, feel free to reach out through our website, www.leagueofwayfinders.com or email us at [email protected]

The League of Wayfinders is growing and expanding services in the Denver area. We can’t wait to see what you do next! What challenges are ahead for you and where would you like the organization to be in the future?

“We are incredibly happy to have our vision come to life, and see the years of hard work now affecting peoples’ lives. Our continued challenge is finding interested and passionate people to play games with kids. Most after school programs staff 1 person for 25 or 30 kids. We need an instructor for every 6. Part of the solution for us was to deliver on the second part of our vision, crafting a West Marches style community game for people to run and play in quality RPG games, get to know each other, have deep conversations about RPGs and their possibilities, and let others know that we exist. After looking at all the available platforms to serve this unique style, Obsidian Portal had the features, functionality, and approachability we were looking for. Looking toward the future, we want to expand into middle and high schools, but that requires a completely new approach in terms of story, world, and mechanics. Different needs and topics apply to middle and high school than elementary, and we want to bring the same quality and attention to individuals as we grow.”

We love what The League of Wayfinders is doing as well as the positivity, care, and inspiration that you’re bringing to your Hero kids and to all of us in the gaming community. The Wayfinders and other mentors like you are lighting a path that we hope many more will follow in time. The most important question of all — how can your fellow game-makers best support your cause?

“We need people in the Denver area to join our community games (using Obsidian Portal) and run games for us! You can inquire about both, or bring League of Wayfinders to your community on our site at www.leagueofwayfinders.com/join

A special thank-you goes out to Casey Butler and the League of Wayfinders for the interview and for all their work with schools and kids! You can read an excerpt of this interview in Obsidian Portal’s September Newsletter. To receive the Newsletter, make sure the appropriate checkbox is checked by going to your OP profile, click “Edit Your Profile” in the upper right, and then scroll down to the checkbox in the bottom left under “Email Contact Settings.” Check your preference, then, click “Save.”

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Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

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