Close to the start of the pandemic, we talked a little bit about playing RPGs alone. However, we all know that TTRPGs tend to be a team sport. It doesn’t matter if you like to meet in person, or at a virtual tabletop, this is typically a game played with friends. Where do you start though? If you’re a newcomer to the hobby, either as a player or someone interested in running games, the number of options can be overwhelming. What game do you start with? Who should you play it with and how do you find them? Do you need your own dice? What are you not even thinking of? Help! Hopefully we can answer a few of these questions and put you at ease, even if you’re only hopping out of your current familiar game genre and into a new one. So here are our tips for those of you just starting out, and for you veterans of the table who are trying something new. - A
A: Whatever your reason, you’ve decided to try your hand at a tabletop role playing game. Maybe you have a story you’re interested in telling, or your best friend has been pestering you about this cool new system they've been reading. Where should you really start though? It would be easy to simply answer this with "Dungeons and Dragons." For many, this can be a good starting point. It's certainly very popular, especially over the last few years, and there's a ton of software support for it nowadays. You’ll certainly have little trouble finding potential games to join or players to start a game if you go looking online. So why shouldn’t you start with playing D&D or running your own game of it? The sheer size of the game can be worrisome and turn some people off. There are a LOT of rules, even if you’re just sticking with the game's basic core mechanics. Perhaps I'm biased, having gotten my own start with the West End's Star Wars: The Role Playing Game, but I prefer to start people out with something much simpler. A more "beer and pretzels" style game gets you into the action without the worry of feeling like you need to know all of of a game's ins and outs (or inns and outhouses... Bugsy, do we need to write a fantasy town management game called Inns and Outhouses?) It's easier for new players to grasp, and easier for a new GM to gain their footing in. Of course, the personal bias of this blog would point you toward Risus the Anything RPG, but any RPG that's only a few pages long should seem a lot less daunting... right? Really, all you need to do is find something that pairs well with a genre of media you like. More of a sci-fi fan? There's something out there for every flavor you can think of. More of an action fan? Search for something with a take on the modern genre. There really is a system for everyone out there. Once you’ve settled on something though…Who should you play with?
There are a number of ways you can go about finding a GM and players, assuming you aren’t taking the reins and leading the sessions yourself. Though D&D can be daunting, you’ll find endless posts in forums that from people looking for players or looking to form a group. If you’re a part of a message board and they have a RPG section, you probably find some invites there. Of course, right now, a lot of those games are going to be online-only. What do you do if you really want to be in person? One great thing to do is to visit your local game or comic shop, or even your local college clubs or community center. They’re pretty likely to have regular games on their schedule, if they're currently allowing games to be run onsite, where people can drop in and out. Either through the forums or by meeting some people at a local shop, you'll get a lot of insight into different styles of gameplay. Not all games are run the same, and not all players (or GMs) are created equal. If you’re still too sheepish to play, they may even let you just sit in and watch. Of course, if you want to get the hang of things that way, there are numerous streamed games you can take in at your leisure without putting yourself out there. Another tried-and-true way you might get into gaming is by convincing your friends. If you’re already strongly considering it, chances are you know someone else with a few common interests that would be willing to play with you. Even if neither of you is interested in running the game, taking on a new hobby as a pair or as a trio is much less frightening than doing it all on your own. Bugsy, what are your tips on finding players and co-adventurers?
When you're moving beyond your existing social sphere, though, you do run a higher risk of not having enough players to run a session. Even sign-ups can't be taken as a guarantee of attendance - I've made it a general policy to assume that half of the people who say they can be there are going to be no-shows, but I always have pre-gen character sheets ready to go, just in case. Creating these is something of a skill in itself: they have to be broad enough for players to make their own, but specific enough to make sure they fit in with everything else going on and for newcomers to grasp onto. In the case of Paranoia, I'll usually let drop-in players choose their character names and tics at the table, which helps to offset all the specific details I've provided them. Like everything else, it's a skill that GMs will develop as they become more familiar with the game its requirements, and their own style.
Ultimately, it's a matter of managing expectations - working out what everybody at the table wants, whichever side of the GM screen you're on, and trying to facilitate that however you can... and don't forget that includes you, too! Try to keep your own expectations and goals in mind, even when you aren't actively pursuing them, and you'll be a better part of the game for everyone.
One of the most informative experiences I've had as a GM was one of those times I had to cancel my planned session because of too many no-shows. Someone I knew was there with her son, who was interested in the whole "roleplaying" thing, so I started a totally impromptu Star Wars game with him as the only player, as I figured it was a setting we would be both be familiar with. Even though I hadn't yet learned the phrase, it worked out as a "yes or roll" approach - I kept the die rolls to a minimum, only having him roll when the possibility of failure could have consequences that re-directed the story. I picked target numbers on my own assessment of circumstances, since there were no character stats or set structures. Over the course of the session (and with more than a little help from his mother, who brought herself in as a semi-NPC), we both learned what the other wanted out of the experience and worked towards that. It was the simplest of scenarios (he played a smuggler whose whip was being boarded and searched by Imperials), but my goal was to give him a taste of the roleplaying experience and what that entails. At the outset, his goal was simply to try something new and have fun, but as things developed and he grew to understand the process, more were added: to escape the immediate danger in a way that was beneficial (or least harmful, anyway) to his character and to move throughout the setting in a way that was exciting and interesting. Obviously, in most RPGs, this is what every player wants out of a game, but it was fascinating seeing someone without preconceptions expand their expectations in real time.
I'd already been running games for years (or decades, if we go back to that formative Star Wars experience with Andy), but I think about that one session every time I consider the best ways to bring new players into the game - to adjust for what they want and make what I want available and accessible to them. I'd encourage each prospective RPG player to approach it the same way. Much has been written about the "RPG Social Contract," but much of that refers to playing the games themselves, and I mean something more more basic and fundamental. Even if you don't have good answers yet for "what do I want out of this," just asking the question will open things up, and even if you do know, the answers will change once you've experienced the game, the group, and the general vibe.
A: Everyone knows how daunting trying out this hobby can be. Remember, though, it's easier to take on with people you already want to spend time with. Rule systems may be massive, but, in the end, they’re just guidelines - have some fun with it! Make sure you find the right game for you, even if it takes a few tries, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Maybe even one of the writers of Never Say Dice would run a game for you... you don’t know if you don’t ask. Most of all, don’t forget that you’ve already been doing this for years if you’ve ever done any sort of pretend play. Played house as a kid? Cops and robbers? Mutants and Space Aliens? It all counts! Be not afraid, we bring you