WRIT 1133 | Writing: Indie RPGs | jesse.stommel@du.edu

Course Description

World-building and Collaborative Storytelling. The first commercially available tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), was published in 1974. In most role-playing games, players take on the roles of characters and tell a collaborative story, whether fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, realism, etc. RPGs range from massively popular commercial projects like D&D, which includes 100s of source books, to much smaller indie projects with a single book as short as a chapbook (or even a single page). In this class, we’ll play, analyze, write, and release short RPGs. The shape our games take and the stories they tell will be driven by research. We’ll imagine worlds, experiment with game mechanics, and play-test our own creations.

A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict. ~ Thomas P. Kasulis

And so we’ll start with a syllabus and schedule, but it will evolve throughout the term driven by our discussions and discoveries. In this class, we’ll approach writing in novel ways, examining and experimenting with rhetorical texts, including film, multimodal composition, games, and other interactive narratives.

What We'll Do and How We'll Do It

This course is primarily face-to-face, and our subject, the playing, analysis, and creation of tabletop RPGs really depends on these face-to-face sessions. But we'll also be sharing our work together online and out on the open Web. Not all of us are encountering this moment in the same ways, so each of us will have to make decisions about how we can engage. I want to be clear about several things:

  • Much of the work of the course will be shared online. And demoed with the group in our classroom.
  • Our scheduled face-to-face sessions will be designed as spaces for discussion, gaming, and play-testing.
  • While our face-to-face sessions will be key to the collaborative work we'll be doing, I trust you to make decisions about what feels safe for you, and we all want you to do what you can to keep others safe.
  • I encourage you to connect with me and your classmates in whatever ways make sense and are safest for you. Ultimately, this is a community, and there are lots of different ways we can each contribute.
  • This course will live on the Web in three places: this site, our Discord server, and wherever you choose to put your work for the course. Our face-to-face sessions will inform our other work.
  • I look forward to getting to know you as a student, a writer, and a person.

Office Hours

I will be available for virtual or in-person office hours as necessary. Just reach out to schedule a video meeting, or feel free to engage via DM in Discord, which is the fastest way to get feedback or questions answered.

Disability Accommodations

I've worked to make this course adaptive and flexible, so that you can find your own way into the work, whatever your context. DU's Disability Services Program guides, counsels, and assists students with disabilities. If you have already met with them, feel free to chat with me about any changes we can make to help your learning. I will certainly offer accommodations. I'd rather we work together to make sure the course meets your needs. You do not need to divulge any personal information in order to have these conversations or to receive accommodations. I trust you. Learning is something we do together. And, of course, I will hold information you do share with me in confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you do not require accommodations due to a disability, understand that some of your fellow students might, and it is important to me that you do not make assumptions about where, when, or how they learn.

Basic Needs Security

What's most important to me is that you feel able to show up fully to our work together. I'm human first. Students are humans first. If you face challenges securing your food or housing and believe this may affect your learning in this course, visit DU's basic needs resource site for support. Please also let me know personally if you are comfortable doing so, because there may be ways I can help.

You can seek confidential mental health services in the Health & Counseling Center (HCC) and My Student Support System (My SSP). Another helpful campus office is Student Outreach & Support (SOS), where staff can connect you to other campus resources.

I'm decidedly putting these accessibility and basic needs statements at the top of this syllabus, rather than buried with the fine print at the bottom. At this moment, at any moment, our basic humanity is something we need to be leading with.

Course Objectives

Nothing in this syllabus will be set in stone or taken for granted. The outline and objectives here are a beginning, something we’ll treat roughly as the course proceeds. This is not a map, but rather a direction we’ll point ourselves with the goal of vigorously rewriting the syllabus as we go, discovering what we’ll learn together as we learn it, questioning what we’ll do even as we begin to do it.

You can find the DU University Writing Program's standard outcomes for Writing 1133 here.

To these I'll add that we will:

  • Interrogate writing as a practice. This is, in part, a course about research, so we'll consider how writing comes into the world, deciding what sources we need to gather to do our work and thinking critically about that gathering.
  • Wonder at genre, audience, and intention, both in the work we do but also through our selection of sources.
  • Consider the intersections between text, images, moving images, games, etc.
  • Experiment with multimodal composition. This is a course about critical thinking and also critical making.
  • Change our minds about stuff.
  • Have epiphanies.

The Work of the Course

This course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff, focusing on critical thinking and process more than finished product.

Required Films and Texts

There is not a traditional textbook for this course. We will do some reading and watch some films, but the course will center around what we make and our discussions about what we uncover.

We'll be playing and analyzing games that are available in both book form and as downloadable PDFs. You should plan to spend about $40 - $50 for the term for the downloadable PDF versions (which are usually significantly cheaper than physical copies). If that presents a challenge, for whatever reason, let me know.

The rest of our readings will be available openly online.

Weekly Activities

Each week, the course schedule will guide you through the various activities of the week, including information about synchronous sessions, both face-to-face and online. Watch our schedule and Discord for updates as we proceed.


This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. In order for us to work together as a community, we all have to come prepared to participate. If you can’t finish work for any reason, chat with me (and your collaborators) in advance.


You may collaborate with your peers on any of our projects. I've created a channel in Discord called #looking-for-group, which you can use to find collaborators. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, chat with me at any point.

Self-reflection Letters

You'll do lots of writing for this course, some of it short, some long, some rough, some polished, some for an audience, and some of it just for yourself. There will be lots of room for you to decide how much time and energy you want to invest in each of the activities or assignments we'll do. The most important work you'll do is to reflect on your own writing and writing process. Ultimately, this course is not about proving to me that you can write, but about helping you find new ways into your work as a writer.

Public Work

Much of your work for this course will live publicly on the Web within open platforms. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. Think carefully about these choices. We will discuss issues related to privacy and the open Web extensively during this class.

Grades and Assessment

"Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake." ~ Alfie Kohn, "The Case Against Grades"

Everyone who participates in our course community, finishes the major assignments for the course, and completes their self-reflections will get an "A." Instead of your grade, here's what I want you to focus on:

  • Actively engage in the work of the course. Writing is ultimately what this course is about, but there will be lots of different ways for each of us to engage.
  • Determine what participation in our community looks like for you – online, in-person, synchronously, asynchronously, on Discord, in our physical classroom, wherever you can best contribute and learn. Listening and reflecting can be just as important as speaking and questioning. Writing is not an independent exercise, so I encourage you to focus a good amount of your energy on helping your peers, reading their work, championing their accomplishments, and offering feedback that pushes them in their own writing process.
  • Reflect on your own work. This course is about process, not product, and so writing about our own writing is the most important work we'll do.

I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. The intention is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your work in the course to date.

You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.


Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? In literature and digital media, creative influence, collaboration, and borrowing are usually acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). But, even more, I encourage you to truly make them your own — by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself — a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources — by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.


It is my commitment to you that I will not submit any of your papers to Turnitin. Plagiarism-detection software like Turnitin monetizes student intellectual property and contributes to a culture of suspicion in education. I trust you. I trust that your work is your own. If you have questions about how to properly cite sources, let me know. If you want to know more about Turnitin and how you can protect your own intellectual property, here is an essay with info.

Inclusive Community

While some of the work for this course will be done independently or with a small group, think of all your peers as an audience for your work, as well as a source for feedback and encouragement. Draw on their expertise. This class will be as much (or more) about you teaching yourselves and each other as it is about me teaching you. Because of this, it's incredibly important to me that we create an inclusive community that is respectful of our differences and offers space for the boundary-setting necessary for positive relationships to form. Our diversity is reflected by differences in race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, nationality, and other cultural identities and material circumstances.

Discrimination, Harassment & Gender-Based Violence (TITLE IX)

Discrimination, harassment, and gender-based violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, class, age, appearance, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The University of Denver is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex (gender) and other protected classes, such as race, color, national origin, age, and disability. The Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX (EOIX) is responsible for responding to and investigating reports and complaints of discrimination, harassment, and gender-based violence. In addition, all non-confidential University employees are considered “responsible employees” and required to report such incidents to EOIX. For more information, please visit the Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX website.

DU Writing Center

The Writing Center provides writing support for undergraduate and graduate students at all levels, on all kinds of projects, and at any stage of the process: from generating ideas to learning new editing strategies. Consultants take a collaborative approach, working with you to help you develop your writing in light of your specific goals and assignments. To make an appointment for a free, 45-minute consultation, call 303-871-7456 or go to MyWeb > Student > Writing Center. Visit the Website (www.du.edu/writing/writingcenter/ ) for hours and additional information.

Teaching Philosophy

Critical thinking is like eating, something lively and voracious, something that drips and reels. It isn’t (and can’t be) virtual. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, we must increasingly find ways for this work to happen online. We must bring our subjects to life for both ourselves and our digital counterparts. Learning must fire every neuron — must touch us at the highest levels of consciousness and at the cellular level. No matter where it happens, this is what learning must do. It must evolve — and revolt.