Critical Core Review Pt 2

Critical Core Review Pt 2

In Part 1 I shared some of my thoughts and opinions on Critical Core from a designer’s perspective. However, Critical Core wasn’t really made for big RPG nerds like me. It is laser-focused on helping teachers, therapists, and counselors use roleplaying games as a tool to encourage growth in their players.

Now, here in part 2 I interviewed a few folks who are already doing really cool work with RPGs and education. Our questions focus on the question of “Does Critical Core prepare the GM to run games that will aid in learning and development?”

Our panel of interviewees features:

Introduce yourselves!

Click a name to reveal their responses. Click it again to hide them.

Conrad Dege

My name is Conrad, I have a Masters’ degree in Counseling Psychology and I have been a dungeon master for nearly 16 years. I have used RPGs for the entirety of that time as a teaching aid – if not for others then for myself. When I was first seriously learning about tabletop gaming, I was a freshman in college. I joined the school chorale immediately and met several students my senior studying music, literature, theology, and philosophy. I view all of these as paths to understanding the human condition and, while I knew psychology was my route, I have always been interested in these other subjects to further advance my knowledge.

They recognized me as a lifelong advocate of fantasy and I was invited to play “Dungeons & Dragons” with them. I used quotations because it was primarily homebrew mechanics, but we referred to our gaming as DnD. We did not have any of the manuals; we had 3rd edition character sheets and notepads. Our only house rule was simply “Dungeons Masters (DM) are law.”

From my very first choice, I began learning about perspective. At the time I had rolled a Lawful Evil half-elf bard named Asterin and all the players were serving a sentence in a prison town. I cast summon lute thinking that would permit me to perform my primary function…to perform. In my mind this would be a teleportation spell causing the lute to appear in my hands. Instead, our DM imagined a direct flight path to me. Our scene plays out by the lute smashing through a soft wall where prisoners’ possessions are kept and knocking over any people in the way. I catch the lute and guards witness the entire thing, so I’m forced to run and hide inside a barrel. I then spent the next hour avoiding guards but was ultimately caught. From my first action I had to reassess the weight of actions in a fantasy world where anything is possible.

I previously mentioned what each player was studying because it had a profound impact on our collective fiction. Selecting from the moral and ethical scales good – evil, lawful – chaotic, we were expected to strictly adhere to our codes. At a crossroads where the decision was difficult, we would break from the fantasy to discuss why an action would fall under the notion of good. Once we completed our discourse, we’d shift into properly understanding the mindset. None of this was ever to remove agency, but to enlighten ourselves as to the motivations of people. Our exchanges were quite entertaining and made me more apt to see through the eyes of another.

Realizing this power, I made it my own mission as a Game Master to create extremely immersive experiences. I wanted the players to learn something new every time they sat down with me. For years I experimented with house rules and read over 100 DnD 3rd edition books. Even if it was for a single encounter, I wanted new ways to help my players flourish. I finally reached a point where I created my most divisive character ever. At the time I was running 3 separate groups through the same homebrew campaign and charting all of their major decisions. I shared a comparative document to demonstrate different outcomes, but also different approaches to the same tasks. A singular character I created was beloved by one group, loathed by the second, and evenly split by the third. This was a proud moment for me because – whether positive or negative – I had evoked visceral emotional responses. From a psychological standpoint, I created a reflective moment – why do you hate him? Why do you love him? From these questions stemmed intense conversations – not aggressive, but passionate. I had never been more convinced that games could be used as teaching tools.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I am a Master's Level Clinician who is also the Executive Director of the Bodhana Group, a York, PA based non-profit utilizing tabletop gaming for education, therapy and skill building purposes. I received my masters in Human Services in 2008 from Lincoln University. I have over 25 years working with youth with unique challenges in educational, recreational, residential and home based treatment settings. I have been playing and running RPGs recreationally for over 38 years. I have been running them clinically for about 8.

I didn’t receive specific schooling in the use of RPG or tabletop, but have taken counseling courses and have primarily used CBT, Mindfulness, Buddhist Psychology approaches in my counseling of others. Bodhana’s model is about determining the skills or diagnoses you want to work on, choosing a theoretical orientation and then finding ways to deliver that therapy using analogs within the structure of the game’s mechanics and narrative. I prefer rules light systems like Kids on Bikes and Pugmire as well as some one-page and indie titles.

Joe Desimone

I’m Joe DeSimone. My company, The Academy of Games, co-founded with Alex Blakeney, uses RPGs for team building and strategic planning in corporate settings as well for adolescent education. Prior to that I was an organizational psychologist and also taught game design at a few different places, including teaching RPG design at Brooklyn Game Lab and paper prototyping for videogame design at Make Room! for E-Line Media. Overall I’ve been teaching game design or using games in my practice to teach other topics for a decade or so.

Victoria Priano

I’m Victoria Priano, I am an analog designer working within the table-top and comic book industry and represent talent in the beauty industry as my second day job. I have developed a well-received summer program entirely focused on worldbuilding and RPG design as well as regularly facilitating games for young adults -- with a particular affinity for facilitation with ages 16-18 into early college years.

What was the first RPG you played? What was your most recent RPG?

Conrad Dege

At this point I’ve probably played between 20 and 30 different tabletop RPGs. The newest game I learned would be Capes, Cowls, & Villains Foul by Barak Blackburn and Spectrum Games. It’s a cool system that balances superheroes in a way where Booster Gold & Superman can go on a mission together and be relevant. I love the notion that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so let’s encourage development and community to cover our bases.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I first played the Ghostbusters RPG in 1986 after goofing around in D and D. My most recent RPG would probably be Kids on Brooms and Savage Sisters. I’m fascinated by what games bring people into our community and how it shapes their gaming preferences.

Joe Desimone

5th edition of Call of Cthulhu, specifically Delta Green when I was four or five years old. The Unspeakable Oath zines pre-Delta Green being a fully released setting. Weird way to start, being a four-year old playing a deeply messed up RPG in the 90s with a bunch of older metalheads. Most recent was probably Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Victoria Priano

The Star Wars Roleplaying Game by West End Games, or GURPS -- probably GURPs. I’ve been focused primarily on supplemental materials for colleagues' projects, because of two new projects under wraps for the last year -- however I played a lovely session of Spencer Campbell’s Slayers a few weeks back.

Did you know about Critical Core before I reached out? What were your initial impressions?

Conrad Dege

I knew about Critical Core after seeing a panel about it at PAX East years ago when it was in development. I had not actually reviewed the material after release, but I was aware of the concepts. As someone who has used DnD to help facilitate growth in myself and others, I was pleased to know a group of educated individuals in the field could manualize therapy and learning using tabletop gaming. One of the most difficult aspects of psychology has been breaking ancient stigmas.

One part of this is mental health as weakness versus illness. The other part is that the treatment has long been seen as mystical rather than scientific. We as individuals are complex and demonstrating scientific evidence means repetition. Can I recreate that data? What objectively leads to diagnosis vs. subjective intuition? Seeing the pre-generated character sheets, my initial reaction was that the authors did a great job creating universal starting points that meet the aforementioned standard.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I knew very well about Critical Core, the Game to Grow team and specifically Adam Johns and Adam Davis are great friends and colleagues. My initial impressions were that it is a nice approach to teaching people about the basics of role playing games using a rules light approach. Initially, it seemed to be a strange choice, being limited to a certain level with no character creation, but I think ,people can get “jammed up” as it were expecting a fully realized game system rather than an introductory experience.

I really loved the module design breaking down what can be some heady concepts in what exactly happens during therapeutically applied RPGs. I see it as a great jumping off point for newbies to the hobby and a great 101 style introduction to therapeutic concepts for practitioners. In terms of it being a learning experience, there are people who are intimidated by D and D, and Critical Core does provide a great intro experience.

Joe Desimone

I did know about Game to Grow as we are in similar professional circles. We’ve spoken to the Adams [founders of Game to Grow] on several occasions in a professional capacity, and I’ve traded DMs and spoken with Adam Davis a few times. In fact, our company has a copy of Critical Core lying around that I haven’t gotten the chance to look at. It impressed me, even just looking at the presentation and pitch.

For both kids and adults, there have been a lot of previous attempts at educational game frameworks. Everything from therapeutic games built around DBT to military wargames and the strategic simulations build by people like Volko Ruhnke for the CIA. Probably the most “gamey” RPG-based educational games I’d seen are what are called “matrix games,” but Critical Core now takes the cake. Many previous attempts, especially those for either early childhood education or for the consumer market, didn’t really understand RPGs and wound up more like Choose Your Own Adventure books. Probably the closest comparison would be No, Thank You, Evil! by Shanna Germain at Monte Cook Games.

All in all, from what I’ve seen, Critical Core is a big jump forward in terms of game design for this specific market. Having Critical Core lead into 5e is smart, since it intentionally builds an understanding of roleplaying fundamentals beyond the educational framework, and the entire product is much more engaging on an RPG level.

Victoria Priano

No. But I’ve become very familiar with Game to Grow and have been growingly critical, to be honest.

I’m naturally antagonistic towards anything that aims to take an academic and financial gain aimed towards children on the spectrum. I find the marketing pitch of being catered towards neurodivergence antithetical and often othering to the very demographic it hopes to provide a heightened experience to.

Parents will always be desperate to find a way to support their children, and this sometimes leads to pathologizing and estranging them from their peers -- which is wholeheartedly the opposite of their intentions. My previous collaborator was a social worker, who was strongly against the propagation of promising social skills through the means of a buy-in program.

I have a hard stance that the academic approach to simplifying an activity that naturally assists in facilitating growth in these fields unfortunately faces the same hazard as placing any group of people under an academic lense without regularly holding a dialogue with the targeted group -- further ostracizes the demographic while only benefiting the academics esteem and safety related needs.

Critical Core uses the DirFloortime framework.

For those unfamiliar (like me!) Floortime puts the principles of DIR into practice. It is a modality that uses each child’s natural motivation for play to achieve ever-increasing ‘loops of interaction’ with the facilitator. The objective is to develop skills and growth that are more deeply rooted, more flexible, and more empowering than approaches that merely address discrete, surface-level behaviors.

Dir Floortime Image

Are you familiar with DIR? Does it seem like Critical Core executes it well?

Conrad Dege

I am familiar with it though not something I’ve historically worked with. I’ve primarily dealt with an adult population. That being said, I think the Functional & Emotional Developmental ladder is a concrete example of my own experience with RPGs. My players may not be seeking to simply learn those skills, but everyone could improve using them. Progress is about working on yourself daily. Every person can benefit from practice, which can reinforce or strengthen.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I have some cursory familiarity with DirFloortime. I think it is not hard for a play based experience to tie in with the concepts of the core framework of DIRFT. The essence of play responds well with this framework. I like the way that the system calls out and gives some words to what people experience and feel, so in the regard of giving people professionally a language and examples of how CC can highlight these concepts, well won.

As long as professionals can graft this information into their existing framework, then the core teachings from CC can be better utilized. A lot of difficulty from some professionals is the actual creation of settings and scenarios to accomplish the goals listed in the DIRFT capacities. Translating and continuing these is a task many GMs find tough. The module examples show the opportunities broken down very simply.

Joe Desimone

I’m somewhat familiar, but my expertise is I/O psychology not clinical or developmental psych. I’m more focused on the organizational side; training vs education, boardrooms vs. hospitals. Their approach is completely different from my own; we’re in different worlds.

Victoria Priano

Yes. It (DIR) actually caused me a lot of developmental stress, as a child -- while I support newer studies and development around it; I feel as though several other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy and just recognizing that FEDC is built into most systems really is the biggest issue with this approach.

It’s just packaging the pedagogy of what roleplaying already is for vulnerable and desperate parents and adults who are constantly searching for support -- and a solution.

They certainly brand it well for their targeted demographic.

Core Capacities

Critical Core has 5 “Core Capacities” that each encounter focuses on:

A: Regulation. The ability to be calm and regulated is easily the most important capacity.

B: Collaboration. More than mere cooperation, Critical Core provides additional opportunities to practice and enjoy collaboration and will inspire players to not only see other people as a resource for assistance in solving problems, but to seek them out as a source of joy and meaningful connection.

C: Planning. Like in real life, Critical Core players are most successful when operating somewhere between impulsive action and unnecessary overthinking. Game masters should strike a balance between the two, rewarding decisive action based on critical thinking as players are encouraged to blend in-the-moment spontaneity with logical reasoning.

D: Perspective. Because building the capacity to see the world through other’s eyes is an essential component to developing empathy with others, it is important to reinforce the Perspective capacity whenever possible. It is also a valuable capacity as it provides new potential for insight and personal reflection, reinforcing the other Critical Core Capacities.

E: Pretend Play. Throughout the Critical Core Game Master’s Guide you are encouraged to modify the rules of the game as you see fit to support player enthusiasm and engagement. When players are truly playing, they will care less about the specific rules and more about the meaningful interactions they are having. Not only does their engagement increase, their ability to integrate all of the five Core Capacities improves tremendously.

It is important for facilitators to remember that Critical Core is not meant to teach discrete skills without context. Humans are not built that way! Social “skills” are rarely built in isolation and rarely generalize to other settings when taught this way. This means, for example, that instead of teaching listening as a series of observable behaviors, we try to support the dynamic development of wanting to listen to others, alongside the advocacy for alternative ways of participation, i.e., “How I listen looks different.”

Let’s explore these a bit.

Do you agree with these Core Capacities?

Conrad Dege

I think for the target population these make total sense to me. My own background is Cognitive Behavioral Psychology, which boasts high rates of efficacy for anxiety and depression, and an imperative piece of the process is goal setting. The ability to see one’s progress through a journal or session notes compounds with treatment. With the ultimate goal being “develop social skills,” these core capacities could be used regardless of age.

Imagine an adult with social anxiety at a party. Utilizing and increasing skills would begin with regulation. You can’t hold a conversation if you’re too anxious or depressed, so coping strategies would come into play here. Collaboration in Critical Core has fantasy built in, so perhaps this same person can spark a conversation about their passion for it? Goal setting as a function is important, but the particular items could change to reflect various needs.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

The core capacities are well focused on core areas that RPG play help develop and fine tune. This is especially true when viewed from the social skills work lens. I think these are great initial goals to use for the lay professional, parent or educator. They correlate to being present, socialization, critical thinking, empathy and engagement. For some deeper gopals, if the practitioner seeks to use them for such, it would require a deeper dive into stronger concepts, such as trauma work or full diagnoses like anxiety or depression. But again, CC is an introductory tool that gives good foundational elements that can be expounded upon very easily. The core capacities are very commonly seen areas of focus in RPGs. They can be broken down more minutely into more specific treatment examples, but these are great as said before, jumping off point.

Joe Desimone

Again, this isn’t really my expertise. But I would broadly agree with them from a general psychology standpoint and observations from my own teaching.

Victoria Priano

No, I find that it is a way of allowing jobs to exist where genuine interest and desire to study it lies. I find it exciting to have the ability to identify these different aspects, but isolating and trying to work within the capacities models can be very limiting.

Several doctors and social workers I’ve worked with over the years have agreed and been in exact opposition to focusing on capacities.

To some children, and facilitators it actually causes more complications and structures that cause executive dysfunction to flair up and become overwhelming -- when we could have focused on the individual rather than attempting to identify a single capacity when they contain untapped multitudes. As a neurodivergent player, we’ll feel more distressed because instead of just focusing on the story, we’ll end up having some variation of homework at the end of the session.

I’ve found that a 20-year old Columbia student without a psychology background has been a better facilitator than somebody who dedicated their entire career to behavioral science -- because the student is focusing on what is in front of them -- rather than something to correct or identify.


In Critical Core, each adventure encounter emphasizes a specific Capacity. Is this a good approach?

Conrad Dege

I completely agree with this approach. In either an entertainment or educational setting people can only digest so much. If you were taking a course and within the hour the teacher said, “We’re going to cover the history of New Zealand, factorials, Japanese language, and the biology of arachnids” that would be ridiculous. This is a hyperbolic example, but we are only going to absorb so much. Learning too is a building process, so knowing Geometry won’t help me learn a language though it will help me learn Trigonometry. Focusing on a topic predicated on the previous concept is beneficial to comprehension. Likewise in entertainment when a movie attempts to pack in too many things, the whole will suffer for it. We can have enjoyable scenes that don’t add up to a compelling story since they didn’t build up to a finish.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I think this depends on the client and the goal. Our approach is more open play, but some audiences can require very targeted and focused skill work. I also think that the modules do provide great ways to guide practitioners towards themed content around specific goals. The trick is if you have many kids with varying goals, you might need to apply more than one area. The trick here is that if someone looks at Critical Core as a complete all included system, I think they are missing the point. The adventures show possibilities and how they are inserted. They are the building blocks, not the house.

Our approach in Bodhana is to provide a more open playground and sometimes the clients guide the adventure in a direction they find more helpful. This is something I think no system can teach outside of experience. Just as with players in traditional RPG, no story survives first contact - that’s the joke, right? Well clients will take the material and as professionals, we listen to what they inject and we follow the lead. There is some room for more focused adventures, but results will vary. I think people can misread the provided examples as the rule of law and run the risk of feeling that railroading is the best option. I think this misses the point of showing how the narrative can guide the goals as opposed to the story being the only goal work. I do not feel thuis is the point of CC. CC shows again possibilities, not a limited end result.

Joe Desimone

If you’re considering this like a sound element of a treatment plan, it has to first be replicable and verifiable. It can’t just be presented as “this kinda helps.” That’s not how efficacious treatment works. There needs to be an established causal, or at least strongly positive correlational, link between the exercise and its beneficial impact. That’s just part of modern psych practice, and it’s something the Adams would know from their schooling.

I get why you have to make a claim and support it with specifics and regularity. I can’t treat someone with snake oil. But the roleplaying game side of this causes that to fall apart pretty quickly. Too many variables, too much difference between sessions and groups. Every game with kids is inherently its own thing. We might call it “anti-canon” in our circles. In theory, I can claim that a monster was designed to teach a specific lesson and maybe even prove that it has a specific effect. But that’s not the same as saying it exclusively has that effect across the general population.

Honestly, and unfortunately, this attitude and approach can limit the efficacy of treatments like this by not fully engaging with what they offer, and what the participants create on their own. A monster or a scenario may teach X and it may teach Y, but in an RPG I have to admit that it might also teach Z on a situational basis and have some additional impact. This monster might be specifically about collaboration or sharing but it could also be about individual creative problem solving.

But on the other hand, they’re doing something very smart by recommending you eventually transition to 5th edition. It’s a tacit admission that the game doesn’t have to be everything. It’s better to market and present the game as focusing on a specific area rather than admitting that RPG sessions exercise a vast array of skills. They chose their market correctly, I think, by designing it for teachers and counselors rather than trying to explain the “general benefits.” And I think Critical Core is far and away the best “game” of its kind so far.

As for designing encounters to teach a specific lesson, that’s just the politics of tool assessment and the choices made by the instructor. I would probably take their prescriptions under advisement, but not limit myself to them.

Victoria Priano

It is limiting and marginalizing -- and often causes distress to go back and identify a single thing. Stumbling upon strengths and affinities through roleplaying is something inherent, and when you’re actively trying to make something appear you often lose track of the narrative and more pastime enjoyment factors.

Would you use Critical Core over other RPGs? Why or Why not?

Conrad Dege

If I was attempting to introduce tabletop gaming into a school or if my population was children on the autism spectrum or managing other emotional or developmental challenges, then definitely. The way Critical Core is written, I could deliver the contents with confidence that somebody new could pick it up and run it with the intended benefits. It’s difficult to properly prepare another to run a system the way you would. This is built for consistency and easily introducing RPGs.

If I wanted to run a game with friends or adults, then it’s unlikely I would use it. I personally have a great deal of experience with various RPGs. Critical Core is an RPG bridge for newcomers to cross or for a younger group. I’m already deep in tabletop territory.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

I probably would not directly, unless I was working with very new to RPG clients. This is not in any way to mar the system. We have had more experienced players come to us as clients, so the learning curve would be lost on them. Also, the lack of a character creation system would not be usable for these clients. If we were to have younger clients who needed more introduction or teaching, then it would be a good system to use. We also believe mostly in using systems not often seen as some systems give options through mechanics and settings to touch on skills and goals differently. For example, we use Kids on Bikes because some of our clients don’t care for fantasy and they love Stranger Things.

Joe Desimone

I don’t do as much work with kids as I did before; right now I prefer working with adults. But my co-founder, Alex, could make great use of some of the tools Critical Core includes.

Victoria Priano


There hasn’t been a single approach to date of creating a simplified system by any sort of mental health professional that hasn’t distracted from the pure enrichment of the activity. Safety tools and fonts without serifs do more for every neurodivergent player than this ever will.

Sure, there have been systems that educate us on accessibility and history - but as far as this goes -- it very much has felt like a way of ensuring they can continue their research and development. My previous collaborator and I were very careful with our copy for our program, because we felt that this approach was manipulative and divisive.

Would you recommend Critical Core to someone interested in RPGs as a teaching aid?

Conrad Dege

Absolutely – I’ve already touched on this, but the material is manualized to create universal results. It’s easily accessible and adding your own lesson plan will take some practice, but the foundation is strong. One could be teaching about geology and the players have ventured into some Dwarven city in the mountain after a plea for aid. Then begin explaining the differences between the stalagmites and stalactites. There are some miners excavating nickel, but what impact does that have on the vegetation in the area? Its detrimental effects are the cause of some forest guardian from above attacking the mine. There are lots of opportunities to insert learning into your scenarios.

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

Yes. Especially if someone seems or feels overwhelmed by the largeness of D and D or other RPGs. I think it is good for parents. I would caution as I have mentioned that CC is an intro system and can branch out to other systems. It will require a little work to translate this over, but I think for parents and younger people it is a great approach to learning the flow of RPG but other systems would be needed to catapult them further. I have found more players want to create their own characters.

Joe Desimone

Because of the limitations I discussed earlier, Critical Core likely cannot step beyond its prescriptive capacities. I think it’s entirely possible for a teacher or instructor to get full use out of Critical Core’s systems. But someone who isn’t familiar with RPGs will struggle to implement the lessons of Critical Core.

In fact, I think the average GM would be able to make use of this more effectively than the average non-gaming teacher or counselor. It’s not just marketing. This seems like a legitimately useful tool. But when the rubber hits the road I feel like Critical Core might fall apart, in terms of its teaching framework.

As soon as someone tries to negotiate with the bad guy instead of fighting them, then it is up to the GM to adapt to that situation and create a new “curriculum” on the fly. That’s a big ask for most folks. GMing is a difficult skill that can take years to master, especially in an educational or therapeutic environment. To expect a regular teacher to be able to handle the GM requirements that Critical Core expects is not realistic.

To be clear, I don’t think Critical Core is ineffective or harmful. I just think it would fall apart in most use cases. It might still be a good game and have many positive benefits, but the specific lessons being described in Critical Core are difficult to communicate properly for a new GM. In order for Critical Core to succeed, it needs to teach counselors and teachers how to GM well, first and foremost.

If someone hasn’t played and run RPGs extensively before, then I would not recommend Critical Core. Rather I would instead recommend they develop the RPG skills needed; go GM a few games for several years. Do some one shots and some campaign play. Familiarize yourself with 5e as that’s what Critical Core explicitly leads into. Then when you have those skills you’ll be able to benefit from the tools that Critical Core can offer.

Game to Grow should maybe look into offering some kind of accreditation class? That could be a powerful way to ensure facilitators get the most use out of Critical Core.

Victoria Priano

Role Playing Games, every single one is a beautiful, unique and dynamic teaching aid -- this is marketing.


Answer a question you wish I had asked.

Conrad Dege

Why did Wizards Of The Coast make Ajani into a Phyrexian sleeper agent?

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

If I could role play with any group of persons historical, they would be - Groucho Marx, George Carlin, Rob Paulsen and Jim Henson. The level of improv, comedy and meaning to a session like that would be incredible. Such great inspiring minds with messages would be a treat to sit around a table with.

Joe Desimone

Nope, I got to say everything I wanted to say!

Victoria Priano

Why has there become this standard for how long and how many players when playing with young people and neurodivergent adults?

I aggressively disagree with the mandation of a 90 minute game, and the limitation of 4 players. As a facilitator with pre-teen to young adults -- allowing the children to be able to have conflict resolution amongst themselves and reinforcing a secure environment will always triumph over the cannibalizing of anybody’s game. I have pages of anecdotes of children going above and beyond to offer emotional support and community for one another, especially when one of them is struggling -- and am deeply disheartening by the power that is focused around their utility as a games facilitator.

Several years ago I was running An Altogether Different River with a bunch of pre-teens, and I had a therapeutic aid there. Not only did he escalate issues during the game, he consistently broke immersion to the point that all the players quietly asked if he could “not play with them anymore, because he was making everybody feel like they were being judged.”

You don’t need another system, you need adults that have the tools and experience to provide an enriching environment -- it seems like they just want money.

Anything else you wanted to add? Any exciting projects you’re working on?

Conrad Dege

At the moment, our channel Dege Time, which showcases roleplaying games while teaching therapeutic benefits, is showing Strixhaven. The players attend a magical university where they’ve all become library employees and we demonstrate how to have fun with very little combat. We have a few more games in store for our second season and will begin a third season in the winter. We’re also going to be at the Save Against Fear Convention this October in PA!

Jack Berkenstock Jr.

We are currently developing our own proprietary role playing game called Branch Riders, an exciting setting where players travel between 8 distinct realms and battle an enemy called the Blight through the use of unique attributes called Approaches and their skills or gifts. The Blight is a presence that seeks to cause disarray and mischief. Branch Riders must battle them and reduce their impact on the citizens of the realms while maintaining secrecy to prevent the blight from tearing the curtain between realms and uniting against us all! We plan to launch the system for playtest in October of this year and are hoping for a 2023 KS launch.

Joe Desimone

[Laughs] Always and yet not really. I’m working on a digital education and onboarding suite for Sean McCoy to teach Mothership to new players. I just finished fact checking an upcoming book from MIT Press about the history of TTRPGs from OD&D through to today. One of these days I’ll eventually get back to my series of interviews with designers, Not Pretty But Wonderful, both conducting them and transcribing them for an eventual - seemingly very far off - book. Always more projects, never enough time.

Thanks Again to our Wonderful Guests!

I really enjoyed chatting with these folks; their knowledge and experience is invaluable! I’m even more excited now for the potential that RPGs have yet to fully explore. Definitely reach out to them if you have more questions or are looking for their expertise.

This concludes our Critical Core review. You can learn more about Critical Core here.

Thanks for reading! In case you missed Part 1, check it out here.