The thing about RPGs is there’s a type for every player out there; a genre, a play style, a theme. Some scratch that itch better than others. Like music, they appeal to everyone differently. That said, Dungeons and Dragons has continued to be my preferred choice, and not simply because it’s the classic pen and paper game. What do I know? Well, I’ve dabbled in a few others, I’ll name a few of the more recognizable ones below.
- Ryuutama is one big journey. At its heart, it’s about traveling through perilous places and working with your group to overcome obstacles. Each campaign can even reflect themes, like light and dark or campy versus mysterious.
- Fate. The world is your own. Seriously, every story is unique. Its mechanics largely revolve around skills that characters bring to the table to interact with the world, players or NPCs.
- Shadowrun is more… complex. It certainly demanded the longest time I ever spent on building a character. With this game, knowing the rules comes in handy. The intricacy is also its strong suit. It can craft a challenging world that players strive to endure.
All of them are great RPGs, there’s no denying it, but then there’s Dungeons and Dragons. It’s where I started. D&D is iconic. My bustling social life encompasses running three campaigns and partaking in three as a player. I refuse to admit to more. Why? I can’t get enough. As a writer, video game designer and avid gamer, it hits all my buttons at once. You probably don’t believe I’m being objective, and I can’t blame you. So let me tell you how my adoration started.
I’ll repeat, D&D was my first RPG. I had no concept of what the game entailed besides internet memes. For the record, I loved Cheetos before that infamous video.
(You’re welcome: https://youtu.be/eD9U2CM-Y1E)
A Story is Born
One day my friend approached me and asked: “Hey, a buddy of mine is starting up a D&D campaign. Want in?”
I think my face said it all. Do I have to read the handbook? I’ve never played. Why are you still staring at me?
He wasn’t deterred. I think he knew me too well. “It will be fun, all you need to do is think of a character you want to be. And a background story. We’ll do it together.”
Background. Story. It all started there.
He walked me through all of it. The Player’s Handbook was straightforward to an avid loather of rules like myself. On our first session, I still didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t need to. It’s just that type of game you can be walked through. To this day I encourage new players to join my sessions. “I’ll give you a character sheet, you just play the part.” That’s all the bait I need, then they’re captivated.
Actions are easy:
- “I want to barter a trade.” Charisma roll.
- “I want to attack that goblin.” Roll to hit.
- “I want to clearly avoid your carefully constructed story hook and opt for NPC relationship building….” I’ll get back to you.
Learning the Game
I learned through playing, patiently guided by my Dungeon Master—everyone’s keeper of permissions for anything you’re uncertain of. When I was too embarrassed to ask about a rule, I looked it up. The handbook handles the basics, the DM denies or allows anything… obscure. Cue the memes of players asking to get away with something and rolling their fate.
Since we’re on the topic, playing by the book, or as you go, D&D is one of the best RPGs to bend the rules. As a DM, I find the game melds story, combat, and exploration in such a way that I can gloss over minuscule technicalities to commend a player’s imagination. While playing you more often ask yourself “What should I do?” instead of “What can I do?”
It really depends on the Dungeon Master though. Which is why I always encourage a Session Zero. It’s something my DM introduced me to. It’s a way to lay everything out on the table before you start. It’s important to get to know your party, talk to your DM, and express what you want out of a campaign. Either way, the game is flexible.
The game has been around for years, so there’s a lot of material to work with. Excusing yourself from running a game because you don’t know where to begin, well that isn’t a good enough reason. There are modules galore for starting DMs, or the veterans looking to implement a dungeon favorite alongside homebrew campaigns. I’ve even used older modules alongside 5th edition; it’s all viable. Plus, the internet has most of the documented materials since the game was first released in 1974. All at your fingertips.
Is it ever enough? With the amount of diversity offered in the D&D universe, it’s hard to get bored. There are new worlds to be crafted, characters to be born, and ever expanding adventures to take part in. Then mix it all up and go again. The possibilities are staggering. The variance is refreshing.
I think at this point, I’ve strayed from objective writing. Still, I hope some points have hit home. To summarize, there are a lot of great RPGs out there, and I’m always trying new ones. There is only one that I’ve yet to grow tired of, and which continues to resonate with pen and paper players everywhere. If you’ve considered trying an RPG for the first time, pick up a Player’s Handbook, find a group of friends and put your imagination to the test. From there, you’ll come to appreciate the details of the topics I aim to cover in the future.
Header image by lamont_cranston