Monday, May 27, 2024

An Introduction to Tabletop RPGs

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Greetings readers of The Fandomentals! My name is David, and I’m going to be mostly writing about tabletop RPGs. The first thing I’ll be writing about? How to get into tabletop RPGs. What you need, who to play with and how to find them. But before we can even do that we have to answer a few questions, the most important being:

What is a Tabletop RPG?

A tabletop RPG, broadly speaking, is a game where you assume the role of a specific character. There will be other players, each of whom will be another character in the story. One person generally known as the Game Master (GM for short) arbitrates the rules for the particular game you are playing. A standard explanation is that a tabletop RPG is like when you would play cops and robbers as a kid, except without the constant arguments of ‘I shot you!’ ‘No you didn’t!’ because there is someone else who is dictating the rules. You may be wondering how this works in practice. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of examples out there now. Stuff like Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, and Harmon Quest are all popular (and the inspiration behind this article). I’d recommend listening to those programs if you want a basic idea of what a tabletop RPG is. Of course, the next big question is:

What does a game look like when you play it?

This question can have several different answers, depending on how you’re playing the game and over what medium you are playing it (I’ll get more into that later). Generally speaking, the flow of any specific gaming session looks something like this:
1. The GM will read or describe the situation, environment, and people that the players are interacting with.
2. The players will describe what actions their characters will do, converse with the Non-player characters (NPCs), or have their characters speak to each other in-character (IC).
3. At some point, the GM will have the characters roll a specific die to determine if the characters actions succeed or not. (What type of dice depends on the game and the situation.)
4. The players will roll the dice and the GM will tell them what happens based on their successes or failures.
Generally speaking, this four step process is how a typical session will work out. There may be sessions where no dice are rolled at all, or it may just be one giant combat session. In between the role-playing, there will be Out Of Character (OOC) comments and conversation. Playing a tabletop game is a good way to socialize with your friends, after all.

Now that we know how the game flow generally goes, the next big question is:

What do you need to play a tabletop RPG?

At its most basic, you only need a few things to play a tabletop RPG, and these things can be pretty cheap. Some stuff you might already own includes:
A pencil, a pen, and a good eraser.
Some graph paper.

That’s it as far as common items go. Now, there are some more specialized items you’ll need. Specifically: Some dice. Dice add a bit of randomness and chance to a game and there are a great many different types of dice out there along with all sorts of different designs for them. At your most basic, this is what you need:
1 twenty sided die (d20)
1 twelve sided die (d12)
2 ten sided dice (d10)
1 eight sided die (d8)
1 six sided die (d6) (This is the most common type of die, and the type you’d see in most traditional board games)
1 four sided die (d4)

My personal dice set. From left to right: A d20, d12, two different d10s, a d8, d6 and a d4. Quarter for size reference.

These dice should serve you well for just about any type of game you could possibly play. You can buy more if you really wanted, but this basic set the most common. How much will all this cost? Not all that much honestly. If you go to Amazon for example, you can get a 5 sets of these dice with bags to carry them in for only about 10.00 USD. If you want to spend more money for a specific design, material, or color you can.

Now of course, we move into the more expensive aspect of the hobby: Buying the games themselves. For a long time, in order to get the books needed to play any game, you had to go to a hobby shop, and pay upwards of 40+ USD per book. Nowadays, the prices are a bit more reasonable, and some companies even produce PDF copies of their games to cut down on the price even more. Even still the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which is the most popular tabletop RPG currently and the one you’ll be able to find the most games for, still runs over 100 USD to get the three ‘core’ rulebooks you’d need to play (The Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide.) You have three options here. The first is to just bite the bullet and shell out the money. The second is to borrow the rulebooks from another player. This was actually how I got my start with D&D, but if you aren’t playing in a face to face game that’s not really possible. The third option, and by far the cheapest, is to use the basic rules that you can download from the Wizards of the Coast website. These are not the complete set of rules and they are missing a few classes, races and other aspects of the game that are in the full rules. But it is a very good option, especially for new players. Now that you have everything you need to play it’s time for the final and perhaps most important question:

Where can I find a game to play in?

In a perfect world, every new player would have an experienced GM and a group of friends ready and willing to help them learn how to play the game. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and finding a game can sometimes be rather tricky. There are two primary ways of playing a tabletop RPG, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses: Online, or in person.

An in-person game is the first I’ll talk about. Most in-person tabletop games take place in hobby stores, and there is often a list of what games are played on what day near the front of the store. Playing a game in-person is probably easier for a new player. You have someone right there to help teach you how to make a character and how the game works. Games in real life also tend to meet regularly and on a set schedule. The downsides to an in-person game is the travel time,  the limited number of games offered, and the human element itself. If you happen to like hanging out with the people in the group, it’s great. If they annoy you or you happen to personally dislike one of them well…you may not have many options.

Online games are slightly different. Finding an online game can be as easy as finding a forum dedicated to tabletop games. Places like Giant in the Playground, mythweavers,or Roll20 have a very active recruitment board with dozens of different play by post (PbP) games going on at once. This variety of games happening all at once is one of the major strengths of an online game. The other major advantage is that an online game isn’t very time intensive. Players can post at their own speed, and are given some time to think about what actions they want to take.  This ‘go at your own pace’ style can also lead to one of the major weaknesses of PbP games: They can and do sometimes just peter out. Not all of them do (indeed, one game that I’m aware of has been going on since 2007) but they do have a habit of ending more abruptly than in-person games. The other major downside of a PbP game is that many times they aren’t newbie friendly. That’s not to say that all of them are this way, but a lot of them require at least a fair handle of the rules.

One last thing that bears mentioning is deciding what sort of game you would like to play in. I mentioned it briefly before, but to go into slightly more detail, Dungeons and Dragons, 5th edition will probably be your best bet. Not only is it the latest edition of the game out (Meaning that there will always be at least one game looking for players) but it quite newbie friendly and the basics of the game are simple and fairly easy to grasp.

And there you have it! The basics of how to first start getting into tabletop RPGs. Like with any other hobby there are a billion things to tell you about and to just general advice. In the end though, this is really all you need to know to start exploring one of my favorite hobbies. Just remember to relax, have fun and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you aren’t sure about something. Happy adventuring!

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