Why I think you should play tabletop RPGs
In one of the many worlds a warrior swings his mighty sword, decapitating a monolithic dragon while his thief companion pilfers it’s treasure horde.
In another a dame wades through the slums, trying to find answers to a murder no human could have committed, rain drowning out the roar of the city.
Eldritch beasts sleep in another time, calling out to mortals in the waking world, creating lunacy and fanaticism in their wake.
In one, two individuals are trying to find someone they can truly love, the only conflict that of their hearts.
This is the core of Role Playing Games: A variety in setting, full creative control and social gaming together face to face with friends. Anyone can take part regardless of experience and contribute to the creation of a communal narrative and have fun doing it.
Below I simply want to say why everyone should try RPGs. I could go on about the amazing facets that encompass the hobby but for now I simply want to express why at the end you should go away, gather some friends and start having many evenings of brilliant fun.
To start with let’s all get on the same page of ‘what’ a Tabletop Role Playing Game is (referred to from now on as RPG). An RPG is a game you generally play with a group of people where one person takes the role of the Game Master/ Dungeon Master/ Storyteller and presents a story, a world, a challenge for the rest of the group to take part in. Together, they take part in playing through the story with the Game Master acting as the judicator of rules and the flow of the story. The players usually play characters they have created to take part in the narrative. Everyone gets to contribute and it’s fully of the imagination. This can be a ‘One Shot’, a one off story over the course of one or two sessions, or can be a ‘campaign’ which can go on over the course of weeks, months, even years. It’s all about playing through scenarios and worlds of your own creation with characters made just for you.
One important thing to mention now is rules, stats and dice. The reason it took me so long to actually play an RPG was the stereotype that you had to memorise a million rules, read tens of huge books and keep track of every dice roll. This is simply not true. This is the first misconception I want to get out of the way as it’s the one that berated me. The beauty of RPG’s is that the rules are there simply there to give the game challenge, conflict and unpredictability. If you were simply to wade into the dungeon, announce that you “slice the Lynch’s rotting head from it’s lanky body,” and be done with it the game would get boring pretty fast. The randomness of dice rolls and stats creates tension, risk and branching unexpected paths in the story. Conflict is of course the key to any good narrative. As far as the intensity of rules go that’s entirely up to you!
Want a game where you have to pay attend to every stat and roll? Sure go out and get one, or even add rules to the game you like! Want a game where the rules can be altered and ignored for the sake of fun? You can do that too!
Don’t let people say what the best RPG is as it totally depends on yourself and your group’s play style. Pick whatever you all have fun with.
Just to pin that topic is one of my favourite quotes from Gary Gygax, one of the creators of the original RPG Dungeons & Dragons:
“The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.”
The rules are there to help you make something you all enjoy, and my philosophy is never to forget that and just make it fun for everyone.
Now i’ve cleared that out of the way I’m going to reel off why I think you should play RPGs.
RPGs are a hotbed. A primordial soup of constantly evolving and changing creative globules which siphon from your mind onto the table. Everything the characters do, say or want are all in your mind. You have to imagine every shining sword, every flying car, every steampunk construct. You’re going to be constantly improving your ability to create, and best of all you’ll be doing it together. While the Game Master gets the most out of this, creating a world for the players to run around in, the players also get a chance to ‘add to the Canon’. You don’t need to be a writer or artist to benefit from this improvisational creativity. Speaking personally, I am a Graphic Designer, a job which requires allot of creative research and thinking. Improving the ability to come up with narratives on the fly has aided my ability to create and present my work. Having to think of reasons why a magical Macguffin acts in a certain way, or how a character responds to having their brain operated on, makes answering rapid fire questions on logos look like a saunter on the beach.
Bottom line – RPGs improve your creativity
I could go on for hours in the amazing variety of settings, rules and variations RPG’s have today. Back in the day their was a handful, but after development in the 90’s and the recent surge of indie RPG’s fuelled by PDFs and Kickstarter there is a rule set and a setting for everyone. Just to prove that I’m going to rattle off some examples purely off the top of my head.
Traditional Swords and sorcery? Dungeons & Dragons. Dark fantasy? Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Post Apocalypse? Apocalypse World. Lovecraftian Horror? Call of Cthulhu. Westerns with magic? Deadlands. Cyberpunk Fantasy? Shadowrun. Star Wars? The Fantasy Flights series of Star Wars RPG’s. Dresden Files? The Fate Dresden Files RPG. The Mistborn Series? The Mistborn adventure game. Science Fantasy? Numenera. Firefly? The Firefly RPG. Pulp 70’s movies? Spirit of 77. World hopping? The Strange.
I could go on and on and I’m only scratching the surface. If you can think of it you can play it. Fantasy to Sci Fi, Steampunk to Cyberpunk. Set on the earth or on some far away planet. Supernatural monster hunting or running with the pack of werewolves yourself. Can’t find a setting you’re looking for? Then grab a set of rules and make one up! I personally flip through setting books for ideas so never feel constrained to the general themes most people think of. I do personally recommend starting with something relatable though like Dungeons & Dragons or Star Wars as the bedrock of knowledge most people already have about Fantasy or Star Wars lore makes playing for the first time allot easier.
Bottom line – You can do anything in RPG’s
Now I’ve played my share of MMO’s, and co-ordinating a raid over chat is one of the best group experiences games can offer, but there’s something special about getting together with your friends, sitting around the same table and throwing some dice. Chatting is natural, flowing from the game to daily life at breaks. Snacks always help and the fact you all get to talk face to face is something we all need. When I play with friends we make a night of it, hell we even have drinks, (A house rule is a die roll of 3 or lower = a shot, but that’s for another time). The point is it’s not just a game, it’s an excuse to get everyone together and just play a game and have fun. The negative stereotype paints people who play RPG’s as antisocial nerds, yet what could be more social than having a gathering of friends in real life to have a night together?
Bottom line – RPGs are a great excuse to have a regular gathering of friends
The RPG community is vast and welcoming. Search “how to play RPGs” or anything along those lines and you’re bound to instantly come across boundless articles, dedicated sites and forums all with help and advice. There is so much information and help online it can actually be a bit overwhelming. People constantly post resources, examples of work and other forms of help for players and Game Masters all the time. If you ever have a rules issue or if you’re like me and just want tonnes of inspiration for the game you’ll never run dry. It’s a thriving community which like the games themselves will have everything you can think of to assist you. Again if you can’t find it, why not make it yourself and post it online, I can guarantee that if you want it, somebody else will appreciate it too.
Bottom line – The online community is vast and full of resources.
Now this one is very subjective but heart on my sleeve I think playing tabletop RPG’s is some of the best fun you can have with friends. The stupid situations and stories you come up with together will have everyone in laughter around a table and retold on many an occasion. The tense battles will have them elated when they roll just right to cause a fatal blow on a mortal enemy, feeling smug at defeating such a challenge. Seeing your creations grow, gain experience and gain more power and legend never grows old. As a Game Master getting to see my ideas, my worlds play out in the hands of my friends is so satisfying, and all worth it when everyone has fun. Despite the creativity, the conduit for me to practice world building and all the ideas I have coming to life the thing that keeps me coming back is when at the end of the night when everyone says how much fun they had.
Bottom Line – RPG’s get everyone talking, everyone creating and everyone together.
Now I’ve hopefully convinced you to take up some dice and get a game together, but where should you start? Like the previous section mentioned it can be overwhelming to start with all that information available. Now I’ve kept this article quite link free up to now as not to give information overload, so as a parting gift I’m going to give you a handful of sites you can visit which are great at helping people new to the hobby get started.
http://learntabletoprpgs.com/ – One of the best jumping off points out there. I suggest browsing through the ‘48 Games’ page for one you like as many have totally free intro games you can print off and play right now!
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/ – RPG book prices can add up. Save yourself a tonne when starting off and get some PDFs. Sales are often and there’s even a whole lot of free stuff.
https://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/ – The RPG subreddit is one of my favorite places for getting resources and questions answered. Simply opening the side bar you’ll find a tonne of resources and help for new players and GM’s. Also there is a subreddit for pretty much every system so if you’re looking for specific info try one of them.
https://rpggeek.com/ – A good resource if you’re trying to look for a specific game.
Examples of Play:
http://www.oneshotpodcast.com/ – Currently my favoirite RPG podcast. Hosted by amazing role players they play a huge variety of RPGs so it’s a fantastic way of seeing all the different settings you can play in as well as how a game unfolds
Penny Arcade, Acquisitions Inc – A podcast which turned into a live show in which the Penny Arcade team play Dungeons & Dragons. Chris Perkins does a great job of showing how a Dungeon Master can improvise. Patrick Roufuss also takes part in later episodes which instantly gets my vote. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8UN56GHLyE49H0E6BhCZCJHe9ygMO5Gq
Roll Play on youtube – A series on itmeJP with a variety of RPGs being payed over live chat. A good example how online games can work if you can’t meet up in real life. https://www.youtube.com/user/itmeJP
Tabletop, Dragon Age – An episode of Tabletop in which Wil Wheaton presents a gang of adventures playing a game of Dragon Age. I personally just enjoy the silliness in this playthrough. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-61i3R5y9Y
Critical Role: Dungeons and Dragons campaign tips from Matt Mercer – Various tips on DMing and playing for people new to RPGs. http://geekandsundry.com/critical-role-episode-12/
That’s all I’m giving for now as not to take up all you’re free time sifting through the many amazing RPG resources online (believe me it draws you in). I suggest starting with ‘learn tabletop rpgs’ and going from there once you have a game picked.
What I want you to take away from this is an understanding that tabletop RPGs are one of the best ways to have fun with a group of people. You all get to contribute to a story and make a whole world together, all while having fun and being social. If simply one person went away from this, printed off some character sheets and had a quick game with friends, i’d be happy. I know that once you start you’ll be surprised how many of your friends interests will peque, join in and grow your band of adventures.
Now the astute among you will have realised the Game Master (or GM) has quite a lot of responsibility. Making the world and stories, judging rulings, keeping everyone in the story and entertained, etc. As such you’ll need someone to GM for your first game. Most may get turned off by the prospect of the GM’s responsibilities, but in my next article on RPG’s I’m going to cover why it’s actually one of the best parts! I’ll give an overview of tips for a new GM on what you’ll have to do and hopefully encourage you to give it a try. Till then go find a game with a setting you’ll think everyone will like using the links above, get together and have fun!