While it has created significant struggle, the COVID quarantine has also provided many an opportunity to explore new hobbies. For some, that comes in the form of trying new TTRPGs. Tabletop roleplaying games are a fun, engaging way to socialize with friends and develop critical thinking and improvisation skills. Tabletop RPGs are going through something of a renaissance right now, meaning help and information are easier than ever to come by. Here is a general overview on how to get started.
1- Pick a Game
The most well known TTRPG is by far Dungeons and Dragons. Considering that the latest edition (5e) was specifically designed to encourage new players to take up the system, this is a good place for many to start. There are plenty of resources available and countless forums, blogs, and YouTube channels dedicated to helping new players. D&D is a game where you’ll never have too hard a time finding someone to play with you if you know where to look.
A negative aspect of the popularity of D&D is it tends to make people forget the wide variety of systems and settings that are available; D&D isn’t the best for every player and it isn’t the best for every story. If you’re looking for combat, socialization, and exploration oriented high fantasy experience, D&D might be what you’re looking for. If you want to explore themes of morality or humanity vs monstrosity in a modern setting, a game like Vampire: The Masquerade might be more up your alley. Are cosmic horror and early 20th century aesthetics your cup of tea? Check out Call of Cthulhu. Were you really into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, or Scooby Doo growing up? Monster of the Week aims to provide the same kind of feeling.
If you need help deciding what system to try (or even what’s out there at all) here are a few lists and descriptions of various TTRPGs. Keep in mind that there are many more RPGs than most would expect, so if you don’t find something you like here, there’s always something else out there.
The 10 Best Fantasy RPGs that aren’t Dungeons and Dragons
10 best rules-light and storytelling RPGs for beginners
Level 1: Beginner-Friendly RPGs
What are the best sci fi-themed tabletop RPGs?
2- Gather Your Materials
Most tabletop games require three main components: a rulebook, a character sheet, and dice. Every system is a little different, but the core rulebook will make it clear exactly what you need. For example, D&D requires the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, character sheets, and a full set of dice (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 20-sided). If playing a pre-written adventure, you’d need a printed copy or PDF of it and if writing your own, you may need a Monster Manual.
These materials can add up in price, especially if every player is wanting their own physical copy of the rulebook. There are a few ways to cut down on costs, however. Plenty of free digital dice rollers exist online, so you don’t have to buy dice. Character sheets or your game’s variant are almost always free and downloadable on the publisher’s website. Digital copies of rulebooks and supplements are often cheaper than physical copies and come with the added benefit of being easily shared between all players. These materials can also be found and downloaded for free in many places, but I’m fairly certain I can’t advocate piracy of copyrighted material in the newsletter of a college food bank. Just remember that smaller, indie game developers are harmed by piracy far more than giants like Wizards of the Coast (developers of D&D).
3- Select a Platform
Thankfully, this one is easy. Roll20.net is almost always the best answer. Roll20 is a website that allows your group to communicate with each other, view the same game board, make character sheets for dozens of different RPGs, store notes, roll dice, and do almost everything else you could possibly need to run a game. You can even buy copies of certain rulebooks and supplements through roll20, which can be directly implemented into your game instead of transcribing information from your books. Roll20 also has an active community that makes modules- guided adventures that do most of the Game Master prep for you. All the GM has to do is familiarize themself with the adventure ahead of time. Roll20 can be a bit overwhelming at first, but that’s the price of having so many useful features crammed into one website. If you’re having trouble with it, many youtube tutorials for using roll20 exist.
If you’re not interested in roll20 or it doesn’t support your game of choice, you may want to look into alternatives such as Fantasy Grounds, D&D Beyond, or Tabletop Simulator, but I don’t have experience with any of these, so I won’t pretend to be an expert on what they offer. If you really want the feeling of playing a pen and paper game with your friends at a table, try a chat/video chat application like discord and aim a camera at the game board. You won’t have all the fancy features, but some people prefer it that way.
4- Find a Group
Finding a group is often easier than people make it out to be. If you don’t already have a group of interested friends (3-5 people for the majority of games), it’s simple enough to find others in a similar position online. Roll20, for example, has a place for people to post “looking for group” ads with information on the game that would be played and the schedule. Many systems have dedicated forums or fan-made discord servers that have similar “lfg” sections. Once the pandemic has come to a close, you can also go to your local game store (places like Danders Games and North Coast Roleplaying come to mind) and ask if they offer any help in finding groups. Many have dedicated play areas and even offer game nights for new players to learn from experienced veterans without the costs of starting a new game on your own.
The main trouble is finding people who have schedules lining up well with yours and (most importantly) people who want a game with the same themes and priorities as you do. If you want a setting for your D&D game inspired by something other than an anachronistic medieval Europe, you probably won’t click on the first guy on the list. Within the same system, you can have games that focus on dungeon crawls, straight combat, or deep political intrigue, so it’s essential to find a group you can be happy with.
Note: speaking of non-European settings, keep an eye out for Swordsfall if you’re interested in an afro/cyberpunk setting. It appears to still be in development, but it looks very promising.
Now you should have the knowledge you need to go forth and start a new tabletop roleplaying group! The experience is very rewarding and many people come out of games with lifelong friends and stories to tell for ages. Have fun!