If you’ve ever spent time in game stores you’ve seen a group or two rolling dice, reading books, and using strange voices. You’ve probably even read a couple of our own RPG (role-playing game) articles here, here or, (my favorite) here , and wondered what it was like to play in these worlds. As an avid RPGer I can tell you I love it. While there are rules to follow, both mechanically and in the setting, playing an RPG is more about telling a story. You create a character that can be nothing like you or exactly like you. You explore their story and relationships in a fantastical world. You can sling spells, swing a mighty axe, throw deadly daggers, release dangerous arrows, and so much more. In RPGs the only thing that limits what you can do are not a game board and pieces but your imagination. Explore vast tombs, fight an ancient dragon, seduce the king, or steal from a bar patron. Whatever it is your character enjoys you can try it in an RPG.
One of the best places to be introduced to tabletop roleplaying games is a place we’re all familiar with: a local game store. They’re almost certainly hosting RPG events, and you may have seen fliers around the store. This is a great place to jump into the game, try out the system, meet some people, and experience some RPGs (look for some play leagues, societies, or guilds). These are generally open gaming events where premade characters are provided and seating is open to anyone who signs up, registers, or claims a free chair. The Game Masters (guides, teachers, referees, etc) are experienced with the system and are there to take the players along a short adventure that is part of a long story.
These are great places to get a taste of some of the most popular RPGs. The purpose is to meet new people and learn the system and setting. There is no pressure to know the rules at all. Just come in blind to the game and jump in, they’ll walk you through everything. Be sure to check with the Game Master to see materials might be needed before the game: dice, paper and pencil, books, figures, etc. More often than not they’ll have most everything you’ll need to play. These events are free, and there is no commitment to come every week. Try joining different games, different systems, and even different characters to see what’s right for you. These open play events have made RPGs much more accessible to those who have never played and didn’t know where to start.
Another great way to learn RPGs is to give them a shot yourself. “But it’s so expensive,” you say. “I don’t want to buy the books and invest that much money on something I’m not sure I’ll like.” Fair enough. You make a valid point, so I present to you a few alternative ideas. The bigger game companies have made, cheaper (maybe even free), starter rules sets for their systems. Some of these are for the most popular games previously mentioned; Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Cypher System Numenera Starter Set. These will run you anywhere between $20 and $40 and they provide great replayability as they provide character sheets, handbooks, adventure guides, and dice.
Maybe the bigger gaming companies aren’t really your style. The beauty of RPGs is that there are so many options you’ll be able to find something you and your group like, whether you want to spend money or not. Some absolutely great RPG systems have been developed that are fun, easy to pick up, and free! Here are some great ones to check out.
- Honey Heist is an adorable and hilarious game where you are a group of bears trying to carry out the greatest heist the world has ever seen. It’s a simple 2 pages for the rules. You create your bear by rolling on a random table (or you could pick and choose what you like). Then you commence play by taking either ‘bear’ actions or ‘criminal’ actions and rolling some 6 sided dice to see if you succeed.
- Swift Saga uses a card system to create characters which provides excitement and randomness for each play that is simple and takes minutes. The cards provide your statistics, feats (special abilities), and relationships. This system has no particular setting and is great for one-shot games where you can just a tell a stand-alone story in any world you want. The rules and a couple adventures are free but the Deck of Infinite Heros, used to create your characters, will run you $25
- The FATE Core System, by Evil Hat Productions, is a great open setting system you can use for any style of game you want to play. You create characters with abilities, flaws, and unique relationships with the other characters. During creation you create use easy to understand adjectives and simple sentences to describe your character. In the FATE Core System you roll Fudge dice to resolve actions, using your character descriptors to help with your rolls. Those are the dice with the plus and minus signs. There is also a fantastic System Reference Document that you can use for free. Here you can watch a play through done by TableTop.
- Suffer from voices in your head? So does John. That’s because Everyone Is John. In this quick roleplaying game you are a voice inside John’s head trying to get him to do things that you, specifically, are obsessed with. To gain control of John you have to ante up some tokens, the winner pays what they anteed. To get John to take a specific action you make a roll but can help your success by spending tokens. The game ends when either John dies or all the voices run out of tokens.
- If you’re looking for something a little more suspenseful and without the dice, check out Dread. In this game you use a Jenga tower to determine success or failure which means something tragic will eventually happen to your character. Characters aren’t created using numbers but instead using a questionnaire that helps with roleplaying and story hooks.
- Perhaps the suspense of the Jenga tower interests you but not the genre itself. Maybe playing a pair of lovers who can’t or shouldn’t be together sounds more interesting to you and your partner. Check out Star Crossed, the Kickstarter is going on right now. If you want some more details check out our interview with creator Alex Roberts here.
- Another game in the suspense and horror genre is Ten Candles. You create your characters by writing traits on index cards, eventually burning them in the candles when you use them. The candles are also used as a timing device for each scene, and dice are used as a resource for players and the Game Master to try and succeed during conflicts.
- Ever feel nostalgia for when you were a kid riding around the neighborhood? Want to go on an adventure like the movie E.T. or the show Stranger Things? Check out Kids On Bikes. This is a collaborative storytelling RPG that takes place in your stereotypical small town but there are mysterious things going on. Gather together your awkward or cool adolescent characters and find out what that strange and terrifying thing is!
There are also some board games you may already have that lend themselves to incredible roleplay if you’re willing to dive into your character. A few great ones are Mice and Mystics, Red Dragon Inn, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Werewolf, and Sheriff of Nottingham. I would recommend trying some of these games or others where you play a specific character, as opposed to being a generic player, and really ham up the voice, body language, and attitude. It makes these types of games that much more fun.
A couple other ways to find a wide variety of RPGs is to check out the 200 Word RPG Challenge. There is a collection of entries from several years to explore and try out. Also, on June 16, your local games store should be celebrating Free RPG Day. Yes, that store will be giving out FREE quickstart rules and adventure modules for all sorts of games.
I want to mention a couple other options briefly that may not be for everyone. Perhaps you’d prefer to play from the comfort of your own home but don’t want to lead the game yourself. One option, if no one else wants to invest in the time to learn the specific rule set beforehand, is to hire a professional Game Master. “Pay money to play a game?” you gasp. I hear you, I hear you. Truly, I understand. But people also pay to go to escape rooms, movies, sports, or concerts. Are those much different? Imagine this: at your own home (or a location of your group’s choosing), you and a select few of your closest friends, and one person who you’ve worked closely with to tailor an adventure that fits what your group is interested in. This professional Game Master takes the time to craft a story just for you, is patient in teaching and leading the game, there are no outside distractions like there would be at a public game store, and you get all the attention from someone who has studied and prepared to entertain you. This has been a hot topic in the RPG community the past couple years but there are some amazing professional Game Masters out there ready and willing to take your party on a grand adventure. With some good internet sleuthing you may be able to find a Pro Game Master local to your area or available online for remote GMing. One of them is Looking For GM. Here you can hire a GM that fits your specific schedule and gaming style and coordinate everything online.
There are several great sites that provide a robust and vibrant Virtual Tabletop. One of the most popular is Roll20. Here you can browse games that are looking for players, post that you have a group looking for a Game Master, and coordinate schedules to make a game work for you. You can use this locally or connect with friends across the world. Some software you can download for free is RP Tools. This is another very well made tool to help with online and local play.
Role playing games are a great experience. They are a fantastic way to create a fun story, enjoy dynamic teamwork, and explore a world full of exciting monsters and characters. Have you already played some RPGs that you love? Comment below and share your experiences! RPG stories are some of the best.