This summer I started a small gig: running RPGs online for kids on Outschool. I’ve since GMed for 30 players in 10 different games. It’s made me a better teacher, designer, and Game Master. And did I mention it pays? But we’ll get more into that. The assumption here is that everything I just said made you interested in the job I’m about to sell you. Or maybe you’ve read all of the Playing with Younger series and you wanna try out all that you’ve learned.
Now, why would I tell you about this amazing opportunity? Well, because I’m so nice… And financially motivated. Hear me out, if you sign up using this refer link, you’ll be sending me $200 after you make your first $100. I can’t force you, but it’d be a rad way to support the blog and my ramblings. You make money, I make money, more kids play RPGs, you become a better GM, all that and more. Everyone wins.
Last thing before we jump in: instead of chopping this article into several pieces and scattering them all over the blog, it’s just one megapost. I’ll curate this as needed and have an FAQ. It’s a living document.
Part 0: What is Outschool?
Outschool is the wild west of online education. Students (and parents) look up classes they want to take, and they sign up. There is SO much variety. Just to prove it, I show an email that teachers are sent every week filled with class requests that parents and kids make (unedited, I kid you not):
- “Toca Boca Game Play” for age 11.
- “Ukulele Lessons for Beginners” for age 11.
- “King Cobras and Other Venomous Snakes” for age 4.
- “Light Saber Training” for age 4.
- “Mahjongg Group Play” for age 11.
- “Guitalele Lessons for Beginners” for age 8.
- “Intermediate to Advanced Hip Hop Dance” for age 18.
- “Inclusive Princess Classes for Boys & Girls!” for age 5.
- “Law Classes ” for age 13.
- “Introduction to Russian Language Class” for age 13.
- “Learn about the Starfish ” for age 3.
This stuff is all over the place. And what’s amazing is that this stuff is basically totally un-vetted. More on that later. But pretty much anything goes. It’s an open market of classes based on INTEREST, not curriculum. Motivated and invested students are the lifeblood of these classes. And that’s excellent.
Your role, should you choose to accept is to run these classes. We’ll be taking the route of running RPGs as our focus, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring and starting other types of classes.
So let’s begin.
Part I: Getting in
So, you want in. What are the actual requirements?
- Reliable Internet connection
- Know how to run an online class (I’ll help, it’s just over Zoom)
- Write and speak English.
- Verify your identity/background check.
- 18 years old
- Live in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, or Wales.
Still here? Good.
Start by signing up here (the link provided shows that I referred you). To apply, introduce yourself with a short video. Tell them how much you love running games, how much experience you have, and your character’s backstory in your most recent campaign (jk, please don’t). Then you submit it.
And it might get rejected.
It happens and it happened to me. And from what I’ve seen on the messaging boards, this is common. Their process is based on astrology or something. I dunno. What I *DO* know is that a different person oversees the approval process each time. So if/when this happens to you, take an honest look in the mirror, remove that one smudge, and just re-submit the video. If it happens again, consider re-shooting the video and making it better. I don’t have a criteria for how to do that, but go with your gut. How’s the lighting? Are you speaking clearly? Do you think you should leave out your opinions about homebrewing PC classes?
After that, you just have to do a background check.
This entire process takes one to two weeks, depending. Better start yesterday. But today will do just fine too.
Part II: Choosing the game
So you’re onboard the ship. Now to select what game you want to run.
I have three criteria for running a system on Outschool. It MUST be:
- Fast – The game should have a combined explanation/pitch, beginning, middle, and end that takes one hour. You could do longer but take breaks. Regardless, kids should be making choices within the first ten minutes. No long prologues, no meandering. You’re there to play the game, so play the game.
- Accessible – The players don’t bring any materials. There are no rules to remember and can be explained in (I kid you not) less than 15 seconds. To help with scheduling, I use an open table format so players are able to jump in and jump out as they like. They keep the same characters should they return for a future session. Think of it like a series of unlinked one shots (single-sitting sessions) that may or may not have overlapping characters.
- Fun – High flavor. The description alone should make kids excited to play. You got to make those memorable moments pop. Choosing a solid setting helps with this.
So, I actually cheated. I gave you the requirements for a system first because I knew that’s what you, as a GM, would want to see first. But I implore you to look from the kid’s perspective. I ask you, which will they care more about: the dice and rules? Or the world they play and make all of their decisions in?
So how about some examples?
You’re reading a nerd-blog. You know Dungeons and Dragons. My game Adventure Hour! is my stand-in for all this fantasy adventure. As an anachronistic stew, it has everything. “Fantasyland” has few rules as far as what’s allowed and that opens the door for so many possibilities for scenarios. Just start them on a pirate ship, in space, or surrounded by dragons. OR ALL THREE. This is definitely the easiest to prep and run. Just watch some Adventure Time. Recommended for beginners.
Maybe you need more direction. How about some pop-culture? Kids like Harry Potter, Pokemon, Star Wars, Avatar, yeah? Go for it. You just have to be careful about proper nouns. I got in a fight with Warner Brothers over the use of the term “Hogwarts” and eventually had to settle for naming my game “Magic School Adventure Game” and then having a picture of “totally not Hogwarts students.” Whatever works.
But I’ve done Star Wars, Avatar, Peter Pan. They all work. And as recognizable cultural touchstones, they’re super easy to pitch. “So you know how they had adventures in series X? Yeah, that.” I hesitate to even say it, but go for worlds that appeal to both boys and girls.
Now, back to system. You may come into this thinking, “oh, I super comfortable with D&D 5e or Pathfinder. I’ll do that.” To which I say, “think from the kid’s perspective.” If they have to ask you more than one question about how to whack something or sneak past the guards or whatever, they’ve checked out. They want you to tell them more about the pirate ship in space surrounded by dragons. Imagine two conversations with a kid: one about any battle scene in The Lord of the Rings, the other about the combatants’ armor class and to-hit modifiers in said battle.
Strip back everything in the rules as humanly possible without damaging the core of gameplay. “Alright, so when we don’t know what will happen, we roll a 20-sided die. Over 10 is good, ten or lower is bad.” MAYBE add “if you’re skilled at something, add 3 to the roll.” Again, rules explanation in 15 seconds. Notice I said a twenty-sided die, not “a d20.” Know your audience. But kids are even more likely to know what flipping a coin means more than rolling a twenty-sided die. (Explanation for how to make coin-flipping into a viable RPG here). Go with the easiest option for the table, not the most familiar option to you.
Example: I wanted to run Electric Bastionland. Super simple system… in person. When online and working with kids, you really shouldn’t be using more than one type of dice. I had to can it for that reason, even though it’s something I wanted to run.
Other system considerations: You’re working with an audio-dominant format that takes place in virtual-space, not meatspace. So if you are using dice in your game, use a dice roller online. I use this one in Google search. Who rolls the dice? Well, if you want to give players the experience of rolling the dice as “playing the game,” have them roll the dice. If you don’t want to sacrifice the pace of the game on that altar (my preference), you, the Game Master, should roll the dice.
But again, go with the easiest option for the table, not the most familiar option to you. Consider even playing diceless.
Character records? Same thing with dice. If you view keeping records as part of the experience of “playing the game,” go for it. That can even improve your argument for playing RPGs as a skill-based activity. But otherwise, keep the records yourself. I’ll show you what that looks like when we get to running the game. But be aware of how much the system you choose requires you to track PER PLAYER. Even Hit Points can be a bother.
Visual aids? Like maps, character art, handouts? Theatre of the mind instead of battle maps. You can still provide handouts, but obviously they have to be online, so use static images. I’ve used maps like in this Seven Samurai scenario.
Part III: Making your first class
In this class students will be playing “Adventure Hour,” an adventure game that has students solving problems, cooperating, and engaging in critical thinking.
That’s the summary for Adventure Hour. You’ll make something for your own game.
When choosing the subject of your class, I’ve defaulted to “Life Skills.” To solidify this, focus your games on problems that require clever thinking and one or more of the following:
- A) more than one person to solve
- B) a use of one or more tools
- C) the help of an NPC
For class type, I’ve been doing one-time classes (think one-shot). But the data does show that ongoing and multi-day classes do better. Ongoing means the class runs the same time every week, but the learners can jump in and jump out (I may switch to this after further reading). Multi-day and flexible schedule are also options.
Choose an image, add a video if you choose.
Choose the age of your students. I usually go for 7-12, but have run for as young as 6 and as old as 14. Other games I’ve seen are just for teens, 13 to 17. There are options.
Number of players. I ran games online for friends before getting into Outschool and I can say that five is an absolute limit. Four is a sweet spot, for sure. Always be aware of how much spotlight each player gets as the number of players increases.
Time. I’ve mentioned it, but I only do one hour.
Pricing. You get a 70% cut. Outschool takes 30% for overhead. Here’s what that looks like for a one hour game using recommended prices:
Find that equilibrium price. You can go lower or higher if you choose.
Then you request a listing for the class. One or two days later, you get your results. The only time I class I made wasn’t listed was that Warner Brothers debacle I mentioned earlier.
Part IV: Running the game
You have a computer, yeah? If it’s a laptop, the video camera is included. Don’t use your built-in mic. A pair of earbuds with a mic attached will do fine. No need for anything super fancy.
The whole thing runs from Zoom. If you haven’t used Zoom yet, I would guess you had some way to time-skip 2020. It’s easy. They have instructions through the Outschool site about how to use Zoom and it’s all integrated there.
My setup is basic. I run everything off of one monitor (I know, plebeian). Here’s what it looks like:
Zoom cameras: Top right. As there are more people in the call, that small window grows bigger. So you can still see players and notes, just be aware that the window space needed to see players is variable.
Chrome: Three tabs, Outschool, character records, dice roller. Remove your bookmarks bar. Share this window in Zoom. When you switch tabs, students will see it. Works for dice rolls and other tabs for visual aids.
Records: My current solution is Google Slides. I have characters on one slide, character creation on the next, and every slide after has every game I’ve run. Here it is if you wanna see if up close. Only stupid thing is that I have to remove the filmstrip you normally see on the left of the slides. Here’s how:
Notice how few things are for each player character. I’ve got Name, Inventory, Notes. That’s it. In a nice three by two grid with five players, that leaves the bottom right cell for public notes. If there’s an active list, that’s where it goes.
Notes: My personal notes are on the bottom right. Everything I need for the adventure is summed up in a few bullet points.
Protip: Disable the chat function once the game starts. Kids will distract themselves so bad. Though it is funny when kids try to type a message while mumbling their words or drifting off randomly.
And now you’re off!
Part V: Final word
Best of luck.
Appendix: Recommendations for running games online
- Coin-flipping. Use this instead of the dice roller. Read how to make this happen in the game here.
- 2400. Just the base mechanic of “roll a six-sider, 1-2 is bad, 3-4 is success with a cost, 5-6 is success” is easy enough.
- Avatar Ultralite. Do what you can to further streamline the character creation process. Pre-gens may be necessary. If you wanna keep it random, make six PCs then have players roll for which is theirs.
- Star Wars Ultralite. Same advice as above.
Where do I ask questions?
In the comments. I’ll update this as needed.
How do I introduce the idea of RPGs to non-gamers who see my profile?
Hello! My name is BLAHBLAH and I teach classes dedicated to playing role-playing games. A role-playing game (RPG) is an imaginative conversation that has rules to guide the discussion. You might be familiar with Dungeons and Dragons as one of the oldest, most popular RPGs. In these games, you and other players will take on the role of heroes who explore fantastic worlds, overcome obstacles, and help others. Over the course of play, you can expect opportunities to problem-solve, cooperate, and engage in critical thinking. You will make choices that cause you and your team to succeed or fail.