The most interesting and confident people I’ve ever met have been avid tabletop RPG players. Over the years tabletop RPGs have been labelled as everything from satanic worship to the cause of suicides – but they’re really just a form of collaborative storytelling.
A group of gamers gathers to tell a story, contributing from their own characters perspective – improvising, basically – but within the framework of that particular gaming system. The system can dictate things like how a fight is resolved or whether a character can successfully perform an action, and dice are typically used to add the element of luck.
Please don’t let the geeky image of tabletop (sometimes called pen-and-paper) RPGs put you off from taking up this wonderful hobby – I promise, it’ll benefit you immensely. It’s really no different than getting together with the lads to watch a football match, but it is a whole lot more cerebral. Board games are also a great option – use this handy flowchart to pick the perfect board game.
Start Here: LearnTableTopRPGs.com
This is your essential gateway to the wonderful world of tabletop gaming – start with the section on Why People Play explaining the motivations behind playing, particularly the video on how RPGs players are more confident and successful in life.
Move on to How a Game is Played to watch some actual examples.
The site also has some links to free starter games to download which offer a little teaser of a full system, usually with pre-made characters and scenarios so you can get started immediately. Read through some until you find a theme you like, and invite 3-4 friends to have a game.
The tabletop RPG market generally revolves around selling you source books for your next adventures, so it’s hoped that once you find a system and setting you enjoy, you’ll buy more scenarios. However, purchasing something is never strictly necessary – the D6 System is completely free and open source (you might also want to check out these free download and print board games).
Keep in mind that nearly all RPGs require one person to be the designated Dungeon Master or Game Master (DM or GM, used interchangeably). The DM will play as everyone else – that is, non-player characters (NPCs) – as well as provide the narrative structure. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry: when you play starter games or scenarios, encounters are laid out for you in detail and the story is usually linear. As your storytelling and improvisation skills increase, you may find you increasingly want to create your own epic adventures, but it’s important not to spend too long on the planning phase – I’ve played some sessions where the DM has walked in with a notebook full of ideas, only to throw it aside when the pesky adventurers accidentally choose an entirely different direction for the adventure.
While we’re on the topic, our own Technophilia podcast did a special roleplaying episode set in the world of Numunera – the system is light (no dice rolling), so it should give you an idea of how the storytelling aspect plays out. Warning: there is NSFW language used, and it’s about 2 hours long. Roleplaying takes a long time!
Find a Game: Official Dungeons and Dragons Website
Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is by far the most popular tabletop role-play gaming system around – it was the first tabletop RPG after all, published way back in 1974.
Now owned by Wizards of the Coast (creators of Magic The Gathering trading card game, available on iPad too), it’s important to note that Wizards is a commercial company, and as such a lot of what you find there will be trying to sell you the core rulebook set or a subscription to the online tools. Instead, I’d suggest you head straight over to the Find a Game section. Wizards sponsors DnD Encounters at game shops across the world – they’re free events (usually, though this is at the discretion of the venue) primarily designed for new playersto provide a taste of the game in the hands of an experienced DM. Failing that, hit up the forums to find gaming groups in need of a new member.
Sadly, the many versions of DnD are the source of much tension in roleplaying communities – some gamers swear by 2nd edition, others prefer 3.5. Newer players will have come to the series with the card-based combat powers introduced in 4th edition, a mechanic that left older generations wondering if DnD wasn’t trying to be more like World of Warcraft and less about the storytelling aspect. And just to complicate things further, 5th Edition will be released in July 2014.
Apart from the fantastic FAQ, r/rpg is a great place to read about the adventures of other gaming groups once you’ve gotten a little further into the hobby, and to get help and advice for your campaign. The subreddit might seem like a clique at first, but they’re also quite welcoming to beginners (assuming you’ve fully read the FAQ, that is).
Reference: RPG Geek
Before you click, be warned: it’s a bewildering complicated website running on a tragically antiquated system. BUT – it’s also the best resource you’ll find for user compiled lists and more information on a specific game than you could ever want. Here for instance, is the entry on Hero Kids, an introductory system designed to play with 4 to 10 year old children.
Did I just suggest roleplay gaming with 4 year old children?! Absolutely: introducing your children to the hobby can be a great family activity that will provide them with some serious skills for later in life.
But back to RPG Geek. You’ll find user uploaded images of games, ratings, session reports – such that if you’re on the fence about buying into a system, you won’t be any longer. It’s the Wikipedia of RPGs (and board games, in fact, at the boardgamegeek.com sister site).
Play Online: Roll20.net
I can’t stress enough that playing with friends is the most fun you can have, but if you don’t have any friends and can’t find a game in your local area, consider a virtual tabletop game. Roll20 offers complete video and voice chat with a virtual tabletop for moving around characters, sounds, dice, and much more. It does feel a little more like a computer game, but then some players enjoy the nitty-gritty mechanics of movement, line of sight and such, more than the storytelling aspect.
I regret thinking tabletop RPGs were for serious nerds only when I was a kid: they should be a mandatory part of education! Particularly in today’s climate of mobile addiction, anything that will let our children (or ahem, adults!) develop social, imagination, and confidence skills whilst still having fun is a win all around in my opinion. What are you waiting for?