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Faq FOR GMs

Interested in playing a Reacting to the Past Game in your classroom? Below are suggestions from experienced Game Masters for commonly asked questions.


Topics Include


Pre-Game
Before you start...

What Games Are Good For First-Time GMs?

French Revolution is good for beginners. The stakes are clear and the threat of war draws the students in very quickly. The fact that most parties draw from the same set of ideas for the debates (Rousseau) makes it easier to make sure that the class is driven by the ideas and the subterfuge and strategy. -- Troy Osborne (Conrad Grebel University College)


It runs like clockwork. Characters and issues are clearly defined. The Austro-Prussian War addendum makes a good ending. My students who have played multiple games tell me they think French Revolution is best designed of the games they've played -- Amy Caldwell (CSU Channel Islands)

The Threshold of Democracy and "The Needs of Others. Both are very structured, rolesheets clearly indicate to students what they need to do, etc.--Marina Maccari-Clayton (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

I would endorse both Building the Italian Renaissance and Art in Paris as good first games. I feel that they are a bit less complicated for the Gamemaster than some of the others, while still having all the main components of a Reacting game. They were a really good intro for me.--Rachel Miller (CSU Sacramento)

I personally love the French Revolution game, but it requires students to have quite a bit of "initiative" (assigning paper topics, setting the agenda, publishing the newspapers, etc.): students need to be closely supervised to make sure they are doing all what they are supposed to, and that can get complicated for a first-time GM to manage (so many moving parts!)--Marina Maccari-Clayton (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

How Many Games SHould Be Used In A Course?

I like having two, but for some longer games one is sufficient. Multiple games are beneficial if they mesh well in the course. For example, I use Athens and Wanli to bookend my World History 1 course because both touch on similar issues in different ways. -- Nick Dupras (Northen Michigan University)


I prefer multiple games for three reasons:

First, sometimes animosities emerge between factions: by running additional games, instructors can shuffle factions, which leads to a very rich community;

Second, students get better at doing Reacting once they've actually completed a game;

Third, it makes it possible for more students to have leadership or other types of roles. --Mark C. Carnes (Barnard College)

Because of my student population, I can only run one game in a course. In fact the games last the entire semester. Every time I play a game, I solicit suggestions from the students and I evaluate how well the game had run. This has lead me to add more background sessions and to add new activities before the game begins. --Kimberly F. Jones (LIU Brooklyn)

I think the ideal is to have more than one game. The student will be more prepared for the demands of RTTP the second time around. However, if you only have time for one game, that is much better than no games. I have found that a single game early in the semester can change the nature of the classroom for the rest of the semester in a positive way. --David Henderson (Trinity College)


For some classes, I think playing one-day games, then a flashpoint, and then a full game makes a lot of sense. If you are going to play just one game, you should play it at the end of the class. -- Amy Curry (LSC Montgomery)

Will my students get the same experience from a compressed version of a game versus the full game?

Like all things in a classroom, this is about tradeoffs. Instead of thinking about what you're getting in a compressed game vs a full game, think about what you're getting from a compressed game vs no game at all. Think about the opportunity costs of doing a full game and what else you can potentially do with that time. Then weigh the costs and benefits. --Ray Kimbll (United States Military Academy)

In a content-heavy lower-level course like World Civ, I find several one-day games to work very well. It allows me to balance content with deeper dives into selected topics. --Mary Valante (Appalachian State University)

On the question of leaving issues out, look for the ones that will likely have the easiest consensus and cut those first. You want to leave in the meatiest, most intractable concerns that will provoke the maximum level of debate and dialogue.--Ray Kimball (United States Military Academy)



In-Game Support

How Can I Help Students with Dificult Texts?

My goal in helping students understand ANY core text is to engage them with the text in three different ways.

First, students as assigned the core text reading and then required to take an online multiple-choice test with two attempts allowed and missed questions (with their incorrect choices) visible after the end of the first attempt. My questions are aimed at conceptual reading rather than acquisition of particular pieces of information.

Second, we spend class time in discussing the texts, either as a guided discussion with the whole class or in smaller groups.

Third, between the last setup class session and first game day, all students participate in online, small-group discussions of the core texts in character. They are required to make an initial post, to write a response to another character's initial post, and to pursue a carry-on conversation in both threads. Each post must include a specific reference -- ideally a quotation -- from a relevant core text. -- Paul Otto (George Fox University)

I use the following four informal response assignments in my first-year writing course. They seemed to work pretty well in terms of preparing students to actually engage with their sources. Note all of these were assigned AFTER students had received their role sheets.

(1) From the following sources, pick one that most closely aligns with your faction's viewpoint or, if you are an indeterminate, that is most likely to influence your character's thinking. Explain why you chose the source that you did. What specific arguments is it making that are likely to be useful to you in the course of the game?

(2) From the following sources, pick one that your character is most likely to disagree with in the course of the game. Why did you pick it? Explain by reference to specific points the author is making.

(3) In preparation for your first speech / writing assignment, carefully read sources X and Y and make a list of the key terms in each argument. Which of these concepts are you most likely to rely on or engage with in your own speech and why?

(4) Reread sources A and B and pick out two quotes from each source that your character is likely to react to strongly. They may be statements your character agrees with or disagrees with, or they may be sentences that are interesting for their rhetoric or style. Write a paragraph-long response to each quote, in character. -- Maria Gapotchenko (Boston University)

I find that students pay more attention to the texts when they know they're going to have to USE them. I devote time to texts in prep sessions, and sometimes schedule additional prep-session time. The last game I used, I also had students write a response to texts in-character, which seemed helpful to them. -- Michelle Herder (Cornell College)


I distribute roles as early as I can. That means that much of the background reading is done while students already know their character. I find that reading from a specific perspective - do they support this claim? oppose it? - helps them focus their reading, and promotes their understanding of the text, since it makes it less abstract and clarifies that implications of these ideas for their own role. -- Daniela Mansbach (University of Wisconsin-Superior)

What Is The Best Way To Assign Roles?

Quite a few people in my department use Reacting, so there's a high chance of having at least a handful of Reacting veterans in my classes. If there are factions, I always try to split them up. I like to make them indeterminates because their familiarity with Reacting makes it easier for them to go it alone, but I discovered if I make too many of them indeterminates, they will try to form an implausible "indeterminate faction." If there are shifting coalitions rather than factions, I tend to assign them the most clearly indeterminate roles, coalition builders, and presiding officers. I've found that reliability is the most important quality for presiding officers.-- Nicolas W. Proctor (Simpson College)

I greatly believe in random role assignments, with some exceptions.In general, students seem to be more accepting of their roles if assignments are done randomly; and they are less inclined to think that THEIR assignment involves some invidious distinction in the mind of the instructor: "Does she think I can't take a leadership role? That's not fair. I've never really had a chance, but I think I could do it." And, from my experience, one of the greatest delights in teaching Reacting is seeing a student take on a difficult role and succeed with it. If students oppose a role, especially because it conflicts with their beliefs, I try to persuade them that it will be a good learning experience; if they insist, I change the role or create an "observer-type" role, often as a journalist;historian who reports on the game. Of course, role assignment is complicated if the class involves multiple games: You don't want to recreate the rigid factions from one game in the next; and you want to shuffle indeterminate and leadership roles, too. -- Mark C. Carnes (Barnard College)

I try to make sure factions are balanced with at least one strong writer and one strong speaker each, and that key indeterminate roles are given to students who are okay working solo. -- Jenn Worth (Administrative Director: Reacting Consortium, Barnard College)

What do I do if Students Want to Take Actions that Aren't Listed in the Gamebook?

If they can support their plan with corroborating evidence I will generally allow it. They have to show the plausibility of their plan, historically speaking. For example, in Galileo I once had a Conservative faction that wanted to expel a Lincean cardinal and defrock them. They had to find the proper historical support and procedure. In the end it was unsuccessful, but not for lack of effort. -- Nick Dupras (Northern Michigan University)

Sometimes students have outlandish ideas. But sometimes, we know, history unfolds in outlandish ways. So who is to say whether a student's wild gambit is plausible? Often it's best to buy time and then gather information the lazy way, by saying to the student: "This is an interesting idea. But do you have any evidence that anything like this happened, or could have happened? Do some research, and if you think you've got evidence that your scheme is plausible, I'll consider it. By the time the student has completed the research, the game will have moved forward a bit, and you will be in a better position to decide whether to let the gambit go forward and, if so, how.-- Mark C. Carnes (Barnard College)


If you can, try to resolve it between sessions rather than in the moment. Request guidance from the hive mind on the facebook lounge. Then, go with your best instinct and what you feel will guide them towards the best learning objectives. -- Jeff Fortney (Florida GUlf Coast University)

Put the burden on the students to do the work. Tell them to do the research, write it up, and if they persuade you that the scheme has some historical plausibility, go with it. If it gets students to engage meaningfully with history, it's worth it. They often do some of the best work when they try to do this. You may have to think on your feet and wing it a little bit as gamemaster. (Always be ready with a quick and easy die roll. Evens=success, odds=failure). Do think about how and when they can introduce the scheme into the game. If I want to give other students the chance to give speeches first, I'll tell the plotters they have to wait a game day. -- Amy R. Caldwell (CSU Channel Islands)


If it fits within the historical possibilities, go with it—they are obviously into the game. However before you say yes, consider the impact their actions has on the whole game and what historically based consequences of the action need to be simulated. -- Ruth Mills Robbins (Biola University & Pasadena City College)

How Can I Help Students Who Are Afraid of Giving Speeches?

When any student is giving a speech, I smile and nod in affirmation. I try to convey encouragement. I don't know if this helps, because students then tend to look towards me instead of at their peers. I've wondered about this: Do shy students need the affirmation of their peers? Will they more likely FIND that affirmation from peers (especially within their faction) than from an instructor, however affirming her facial language? I'm not sure. I add this comment because this issue is difficult and, over the past quarter century, I certainly haven't figured it out. -- Mark C. Carnes (Barnard College)


Remind the student over and over that they are not giving the speech. The character is. -- Jennifer Sheridan Moss (Wayne University)

Videos and guides are available for instructors and students here!

In games that I design, I always have a role that is writing-only. The character is typically a journalist or commentator who is responsible for reporting on the events in the game and putting some sort of spin on for his/her point of view. Most games have something of this nature or a role that can be modified easily.--Stewart R. King (Mount Angel Seminary)



Grading and Attendance

How Can I Keep up with Grading so Many Speeches and Papers?

For papers, I use a rubric. It's often the case that I need to make the same comments over and over. When that happens, then I know it's something that needs to go in the rubric. I don't edit at word level but I will comment in the Feedback section about specific issues.

The categories in the rubric are: The claim/argument (15% Above = I make a claim and explain why it is controversial), Evidence of research (40%), Voice/Tone/Vocabulary/Sentence Structure (20%), Organization of Ideas (15%), Citations (10%).

The last row of my rubric is paper length where I give reductions of 25% and 50% if the paper is too short or too long. Some of the language in the rubrics has been "borrowed" from different things I've seen in the Reacting Facebook Lounge and/or in the Reacting Library. -- Terri Nelson (California State University, San Bernadino)

For Formal Game Speeches, I have a form that students have to fill out in advance. On the form they list (a) the purpose of their speech, (b) the main points of their argument, (c) an explanation of how each point relates to a primary source document (from the gamebook or from personal research) and (d) a citation for each primary source. The form reinforces the need to relate the speech to the readings and has greatly increased the references to the readings. With the form submitted to me, I can then grade the speech as it is being given. This means I can grade speeches as they are being given-- a huge time saver. I look quickly at their form for Evidence of Research. The other categories are usually pretty quick to determine. I take a few notes as feedback as they are giving their speeches.--Terri Nelson (California State University, San Bernadino)

Develop good rubrics (there are several in the Facebook group or Instructor Resources in the Consortium Library), and remember: more feedback is not necessarily better feedback. -- Aaron Cowan (Slippery Rock University)


I struggled with this for years. Then I wrote an essay, "Writing for Reacting," in which I outlined 6 grading criteria: (One criterion, for example, is to use active verbs; another is to strengthen arguments by conducting research). When grading a paper, now, I just refer to "Advisory 1" or "3", which deals with most of the technical issues. Then I add a sentence or two and I'm done. This is much easier and faster. (The essay is available in the RTTP library under General Game Resources--It is included as an entry in the Comments section.)-- Mark C. Carnes (Barnard College)


I find it helpful to give them as much information as possible up front, to ease the jitters of improvisation a little. I also ask them to self-assess their participation using the same rubric during a final reflection.-- Michelle Herder (Cornell College)

What Do I Do If Students Are Absent?

For individual students, it depends on how critical the role is. I try to go into each class with a backup plan for the most important 5-6 roles for that day. Ideally, I even prep potential backup characters the day before.I've taken one other step that worked in the moment, but I am not a big fan of it and wouldn't advocate. On one class, I had the leader of a faction have a panic attack and need to leave immediately. It was clear that the game would be thrown into chaos without them that day, so I as GM spent half of class as them. It worked, but it also undermines the student-centered nature of Reacting.--Jeff Fortney (Florida Gulf Coast University)

Entire factions are harder. It has not happened to me, but I have a feeling I would take a few unorthodox steps. Perhaps unplanned GM interventions that allow that factions perspectives to be heard? The other way would be to just let it happen and cover in the debrief that history is made by those who show up, and here's why we went so far, of course.-- Jeff Fortney (Florida Gulf Coast University)


Not showing up has significant adverse impact on their grades, so that's one thing. If the student knows in advance they'll be gone, I allow them to hand their speech off to an ally. Otherwise they lose out.--Michelle Herder (Cornell College)

If I know in advance (usually around breaks) then each student must find a proxy to advocate for their cause. Further, the proxy must make sense - ie Henrietta Rodman can “fill in” for Jeannie Rodgers but not Leah Schwartz. I also run two days of Session 6 (Feminist Mass Meeting) so if you miss one day then you must give your speech the following day. Currently, Emma Goldman has been absent since Session 3 in one section, but the students don’t know she is missing. This is the beauty of Reacting - the GM can invent or create on the fly, so one should never feel beholden to “rules.” -- Kathryn Lamontagne (Roger Eilliams University)

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