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RP on Discord

So, before we get into the logistics of running an RP session on Discord, what exactly is “RP”? RP stands for role-playing, a shorthand for when a group of people gets together, picks or creates characters, and writes or plays those characters while creating a story together. This might sound familiar – after all, D&D has regained popularity, and it is what is called a tabletop RPG (role playing game). But for some of us, we never quite made it to the table. A lot of times we wrote with our friends, often online, sometimes with characters from our favorite media, and others with our own original characters. Since we didn’t have a formal system like tabletop RPGs, this meant there weren’t really any rules besides what you made. For someone who might be intimidated about all the work and prep that goes into starting a D&D or similarly styled game, this might sound like a bonus. Most of the time you just sit down, discuss some group goals and what kind of world you want to write in, and go. On the flip side of things, depending on your plans, you might be starting with literally nothing. No world, no magic system (if you’re using a magic system), no antagonist, and no plot.

Why RP? If you have a teen Discord server, this is an easy program that only requires a few participants with access to the server and time. I didn’t get much warning before the library was suddenly closed, so I was without supplies, at home, and all I had on hand was my computer and an overactive imagination. Since I’m familiar with RP, it seemed like a natural option for me to offer my teens, especially after a Round Robin Writing exercise was well-received.

Let’s talk logistics and how I ran my RP sessions. I had a small group of invested teens, which honestly made things easier. Typing takes awhile, and if you have a large group, waiting as each person types takes forever. I talked to them about what kind of world they wanted, and from there offered them options (I find they’re better about picking after I’ve helped narrow it down to 2-4 options). We went with frontier steampunk, as it allowed us a mix of guns and magic. Once that was established I asked them to come up with a character each, and I’d be responsible for the setup (a few hundred words per each character to get backstory established if needed and get them all to the same place). For the characters, I asked for things like name, abilities, interests, and backstories. Some gave me more, some less, but I clarified as needed, then asked for approval before finalizing anything.

The reason I wanted world type and characters first was to help me determine plot. My teens selected adventurous sorts motivated by money, so I created a mining town at the edge of civilization that mined ether, the gem that allowed magitech to function. A rare substance only found in quantity on the new continent, the town drew a lot of people seeking their fortune. Most recently there’d been a rash of disappearances, and the mayor offered a sizable reward for whoever could either bring back the missing citizens or find and deal with whatever was taking them.

With vague ideas of conspiracies and the dark secrets behind ether’s abundance, we were off! Unlike a regular RP, I elected to take on a role more similar to a DM (dungeon master) in a tabletop game. Basically this meant I played all extra characters, plus managed setting (being a fast typist is useful). This gave me a little more control, as well as allowing my players to concentrate on their characters since this was their first time doing something like this. For parts of the story, I used a twenty-sided dice roller on google to see how successful the character and NPC (non-player character) actions were (to add an element of randomness). I did not do this as much with character interactions, more fights and major decisions.

Overall, we had a lot of fun. It took them a little while to get used to NPCs having attitude, as they were used to video games where side characters had limited dialogue and actions. Surprisingly enough (for them) some characters got offended if you didn’t approach them right, or were downright suspicious of strangers with tensions being high. Also, taking possible threats out before assuring they were actually threats meant they killed two mine guards who were just doing their jobs. They did get away without being identified, but having to deal with a town on the alert for the killers has been a fun element to include. (“Aren’t they ever going to just let that go?!”).

Another funny incident happened in what amounted to a dungeon setup after they’d discovered ether comes from blood sacrifice, and all ether mines are over ancient cities from a lost civilization that had been powered by ether, which eventually gained a consciousness and a hunger for more. Some people in the current era discovered you could regrow ether by sacrificing, and had surreptitiously been feeding it criminals and ne’re-do-wells who were passing through. This has awakened the consciousness and started it back to seeking its own food, some of which it transformed into ether-infected monsters based on real animals it ate. So here they are, realizing they are in over their heads in a middle of a dungeon whose attention is on them, and they need to get out. What do they do? Well, one of them has the ability to essentially summon goats/sheep (long story, but the character’s name is The Shepherd if that tells you anything) and had a goat on hand, and another party member decides to use two (out of three) sticks of dynamite on the goat to send it off in one direction as a distraction.

Except, of course, he forgets to light the dynamite before slapping the goat to send it running. The player character who slapped the goat then rushes off immediately to hide from the supposedly imminent explosion, somehow the goat rolls a 20 on its evasion from the other party members, and when I roll for how distracted the dungeon consciousness is by this, it has an epic fail of 1. Apparently, it likes goats. Who knew?

As you can probably tell, everyone’s had a lot of fun with this. Normally, it takes 2-3 hours for a session. Difficulties arise at finding times everyone’s available, sometimes having members drop out or come in, the time it sometimes takes people to type things, and people getting distracted with other things while waiting for responses.

The solution to pretty much all of these is a certain degree of flexibility. Write new characters in and others out. If things are dragging, speed them up. If a clue you’ve dropped is too hard, make it easier. If someone’s getting distracted, either work around it or @ them as needed (without being too obnoxious about it).

Overall, if you’re good at being creative and flexible, this is a really fun program to run. Maybe it only works for small groups, but I love how it encourages creative thinking and problem solving, enhances writing skills, and is just a fun way to virtually hang out. If you’ve got some teens already on Discord, it’s worth giving it a shot!

Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2021

2021 is going to be better than 2020, and it’s starting off on the right foot with TONS of books we’re looking forward to getting our hands on.

Tell us which one(s) have your interest and what we missed in the comments below!

Bethany:

 

Nicole:

I have also already read Good Girl, Bad Blood and The Project thanks to getting eARCs of them from Netgalley (thank you!) and I CAN’T WAIT until everyone else gets to read them because they were SO good. I also have The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep as an eARC but I haven’t gotten to it just yet. Happy reading 🙂

Jes G:

 

Cassandra:

 

T

 

Casey:

Across the Green Grass Fields is an adult book, but has a lot of YA crossover appeal!

Amanda

Molly 

Andrea S:

Books We’re Thankful For

Bethany:

I read the first three books in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series in late 2014. I was working and living at a church camp in Washington, and my mental health was at the bottom of dumpster. In particular, I was being gaslit by my misogynistic boss. It wasn’t exactly the same as how Arobynn and the King of Adarlan were treating Celaena, but the strength she had inspired me to take my life back into my own hands and to get out of the toxic work and living situation. I am forever thankful for strong female protagonists who empower readers to demand  better in their own lives.

Jess:

4283751445047384. sy475 I'll Be the One

I’ve read many awesome books this year, but these three really stood out. Reading Gender Queer blew my mind, and helped me realize I’m non-binary. I felt so seen and understood. The House in the Cerulean Sea is such a beautiful, magical and heart-warming book that I can imagine reading again and again. The queerness, the wittiness, the brilliant commentary on life, love and what’s truly worth fighting for. Lastly, I’ll Be the One is such an entertaining, funny, and important novel. It’s rare to read about an Asian-American, bisexual and fat teen who loves herself for exactly who she is. There’s K-pop, dancing, friendship, romance, and lots of laughs. I’m so grateful to have found and read them this year.

Cassandra:

With the Enola Holmes movie recently out, I decided to reread the original series. Short and geared towards ages 10 – 14, the main character is the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. I love much about this series, but what struck me on this reread were two things – Enola’s fierce determination for her being a girl to be a strength, not a weakness, and that running away was never framed as being the solution for when the main character has ‘failed’. So often girls disguise themselves as boys and “prove” themselves just as good. In the series, Enola being female is framed over and over again as a strength, as something that allows her to succeed even in a society geared towards men. Her disguises are female and information she was taught as a girl is useful (this shouldn’t be as refreshing as it is). As for running away, winning is frequently framed in terms of who’s able to win a physical fight. Any other win is “making up” for weakness. As if outwitting, outplanning, or outrunning someone is lesser than beating an opponent to a pulp. Enola runs and is proud of her speed and ability to escape. If there is any failure, it’s getting in a situation where she needs to in the first place. Ideally, she gets the information and sends it to the police or her brother for them to handle. In-person confrontation isn’t seen as necessary. She doesn’t berate herself for being too weak and she doesn’t go out of her way to learn how to fight. And I am so, so grateful for that. Over all, Enola’s opinion essentially is, “If you can’t see how strong being a girl makes me, that’s your problem and I will gleefully use that against you.”

Andrea B.:

Dear Martin book cover  How to be an antiracist book cover Good talk book cover

My school district is doing online-only school right now. The literacy coach and I usually host seasonal book clubs and decided to try one virtually this year, not sure of what to expect. We decided to read Dear Martin by Nic Stone and opened up the club to staff and students. Nearly 50 people joined, and the students were excited and engaged. Their insights made me like Dear Martin even more than I did the first time I read it over the summer.

The same school also launched an equity committee this fall, and I’m a member. We decided to read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Just like with Dear Martin, I’d already read this book, but going through it again with my colleagues and hearing their points of view has made the book even more special to me.

One of the biggest surprises of my reading year has been the graphic memoir Good Talk by Mira Jacob. I purchased this for my high school library and when it arrived, I was automatically intrigued, even though I don’t typically like graphic novels. I took this book home with me and devoured it. I love so much about Good Talk, including the illustrations, the wit, and the way the author discusses family strain due to politics. This book is a gem.

Here are the other books for which I’m thankful this year:

  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran
  • Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Nicole

Trying to narrow this list down to just a handful of book that really mean a lot to me and have made me thankful for their existence was harder than I expected. I wanted to have books that are newer, but also some that have been around for a long time. In coming up with my list it made me realize that I really, really appreciate contemporary fiction about real and relatable issues. Those are the ones that have stuck with me and gotten me through the hard times. While one (okay maybe two depending on your feelings) book can be seen as somewhat controversial due to recent remarks from the author, it’s a book I have to include anyway because it’s meant a lot to me for a long time. So, here’s my list and brief reasons for each:

  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – I read this for the first time in 6th grade and fell in love. It was my dad’s favorite book when he was a kid and so that really meant a lot to me. He passed away a little over a year and a half ago and so going back to this book and it’s film adaptation, really mean a lot to me because of that.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – I read this for the first time in middle school as well. Even though I had a lot of friends, I just really related to Charlie in a lot of ways and the way he wrote letters really stuck with me. Even nowadays, I find myself writing random notes or journal entries as if they are to a random person because of this book. It’s also a book that’s made me feel that even when things are awful, you can always make it through.
  • 180 Seconds by Jessica Park – I stumbled upon this book in Kindle Unlimited about 2 years ago. It’s definitely a New Adult book but it kicked me in the gut and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s about a 3rd year college student and her dealing with falling in love and her mental health issues. It really hit home in a lot of ways and one of my libraries has a paperback copy of it. One day I’ll read it again.
  • The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown – This is one of the newer titles on my list. This book starts with Jess’s girlfriend suddenly dying and her having to deal with all the grief of it. I read this book not long after my dad passed away and I think it really helped me accept things. It’s an excellent book for helping with grief as well as an excellent LGBTQ+ title.
  • We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding – is about two girls who used to be best friends and their story of how that friendship ended and them looking back on it not long after. I ended a 13 year friendship last summer and read this book not terribly long after doing so. It was incredibly relatable because of that. So it’s also a title that stuck with me.

 

Molly

This was actually harder than I thought, being a librarian and a lover of books in general. Here is my list of books that top my list:

The Giver by Lois Lowry: I know there are many people who don’t like this book, mostly because of its ambiguous ending. And you definitely can’t judge this book by its movie (please don’t!!) I think this was my first dystopian novel (before that was a thing) and the idea of a society that functioned without emotions was at once fascinating and horrifying to me when I first read this in middle school. I was hooked.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Not to copy Nicole, but this was also a favorite of mine. It was a kind of mind-blowing book I read in high school (I remember it being advertised on MTV! That is how old I am!) The journal/letter style was definitely something I related to, as an avid journal-writer. Then there was the way I could relate to Charlie, even as a teen girl, and feel so heartbroken for him. This was also the first book I read that directly addressed sexual abuse and I understood that it was an important book. I even gave it to my English teacher to read. (Yes, I was a bit of a nerd.)

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison: I love Bridget Jones, I love British humor, I love this book and the rest of the Georgia Nicholson series. I laugh out loud in public reading these books. They are pure teen angst/slap-stick comedy and I recommend them to everyone I know. I can’t wait until my daughter (who is 6) can read them. Well, I can wait for a little, I guess!)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: This was one of the first graphic novels I ever read and it changed the way I thought about graphic novels. I was assigned this book in one of my MFA in Writing courses and when I reached the end, I was so amazed at the way everything came together that I was a little emotional! I recommended it to a boy a couple of years ago during our summer reading program and he wrote that it was the best book he had ever read and wanted more like it. It was one of those librarian moments when you know you are in the right place.

(Apparently I have a thing for yellow covers??)

 

Amanda

Dear Martin book cover

 

One book I am incredibly grateful for is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. When I moved to a library with a more diverse population, I realized I needed to read more diverse books, and this was one of the first I read. This story truly opened my eyes and made me think. I can honestly say I learned something new from this book. I’ve reread it every year since and still find value in it. In many ways, when everything happened this year with George Floyd, I found comfort with this book, in at least I knew how it all turned out.

 

 

 

 

Jenna

I keep returning to Libba Bray’s 2009 release Going Bovine. It’s highly-acclaimed, a NYT bestseller, a Printz winner … and in so many ways it’s the book of my heart. (I mean, aside from the fact that there is a character named Jenna, plus the book’s pub date is my birthday. I met Libba and told her that, and she signed my copy by writing, “To Jenna, I wrote this for your birthday! Truth!”)

Going Bovine is a delightfully bizarre, surreal fever dream and it’s not for everyone. Its bold weirdness, its boundary-pushing narrative, its audacity to be a retelling of Don Quixote, and its commitment to deadpan absurdism are all things that feed my soul. Going Bovine, a novel that follows high schooler Cam on his mad-cow-disease-induced, road-trip hallucination is Libba Bray’s follow-up to her dreamy, supernatural, Victorian Gemma Doyle series. I loved that trilogy, but I love even more that Bray refused to be boxed-in to writing about magical girls for her entire career. This experimental novel showed me the width and breadth that Young Adult fiction can achieve – and I am so thankful that this offbeat book exists for weirdos like me.

Notes on Attending an All-Day Virtual Conference

At the beginning of the year, I looked forward to attending an all-day librarian event in New York City in May. I don’t need to explain what happened. Like so many other conferences planned for 2020, this one went virtual. While I was bummed to miss out on all the fun things that come with going to events like these (Swag! Hanging with colleagues! Meeting authors!) – I did feel grateful that the event hadn’t been canceled altogether. (And my library was pretty stoked, too, because my registration fees had been refunded!)

Like any other librarian, I’ve attended a fair amount webinars. But I’d never attended an all-day virtual event before. I wanted to make the most of my day in front of the screen, so I prepped in a lot of the same ways I do for an in-person professional development program.

How it was the same

I took time prior to the conference to look over the day’s program. There were multiple panels happening simultaneously, so I made my choices in advance of which I was to attend. As with in-person conferences, I also marked off a few alternates in case a particular panel was full (or if I wanted to bail part-way through and slide into another one. Come on, we’ve all done it.)

I decided what to wear. Just because I planned to spend the day on my couch instead of a convention center didn’t mean I should neglect my wardrobe! Instead of figuring out which were my comfiest shoes for a day of hoofing it, I found myself evaluating which of my sweatpants were the stretchiest. When it comes to any conference, whether it is virtual or in person, comfort is always the priority.

I set up an auto-response email, just as I would when I attend any other in-person professional development event. Just because I’d been working from home for a few months, and would be home still while participating in the virtual conference, didn’t mean that I was planning to check email. My scenery hadn’t changed, but I knew I couldn’t expect myself to multi-task. So I made sure my co-workers knew that too.

How it was different

I was exceptionally more engaged in what the speakers had to say. This surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. While I missed the aspect of interacting with my fellow librarians, I found that without the distractions of being around other people I could focus more on listening to the panelists. 

I took pages and pages of notes without abandon or the usual self-consciousness I feel while note-taking in public. And, for the first time ever, I actually referred back to my notes after the conference!

How it was the same, but different – both, at the same time

The last thing I need is another tote bag. But if I’d gone in person I know I would have come home with one. At least. But this event was not light on swag! The publisher booths offered everything from free eARCs, downloadable bookmarks, Reader’s Advisory lists, and more. Aside from digital swag, some publishers had forms to fill out to receive physical swag in the mail. A few weeks later, I received a box of books, a poster, window clings, stickers, and temporary tattoos. 

My social media game was still as strong as it was had I been there in person. I live-tweeted and took photos. I took photos of my screen as if these esteemed authors were actually in my living room. I Instagrammed a pic of one author and commented that I owned the same shirt she had on and she responded with, “Twinsies!” I followed the hashtag and retweeted the awesome takes from other librarians. Though we were all so distant, it actually did feel like we were together.

I made connections. I traded email addresses with publisher reps instead of passing business cards back and forth. I saw familiar names pop up in the chat boxes and got a kick out of “running into” people I knew. At a conference. That I attended from my couch.

It felt like I was really there. And that’s because I really was.