Maybe you saw that opening in Stranger Things where the kids yell excitedly around a table over an imaginary game that sparked nostalgia. Perhaps you’ve always wondered what those dice were for. Possibly you’ve even heard of shows like Critical Role that have followings of thousands of people playing a weird board game of storytelling. Whatever the case, if you’ve ever wondered about tabletop role-playing games but been to afraid to start or ask for information, this post is for you.
So what is a tabletop roleplaying game? A TRPG, as they are often called, is a game in which a scenario is described in words with actions determined by a ‘resolution system’: often dice, sometimes cards, and occasionally even a strange element like a tower of blocks. In a TRPG the world is created by a Game Master, or GM. This is often called a Dungeon Master, or DM in reference to one of the most influential TRPG’s, Dungeons & Dragons. They often seem complicated, or as an activity for lonely nerds or hipsters resisting technology. But I can assure you, they are so much fun and worth the intimidating learning curve. They allow you to create a story as unique as you want with your friends, or with strangers who will become your friends through the experience.
So with that, here are six TRPG’s to get you started.
1. Honey Heist
Honey Heist is a game by designer Grant Howitt, who is known for designing quirky, easy to run TRPG’s that are great for parties or first-timers. It’s best summed up by the game itself:
It’s HoneyCon 2017. You are going to undertake the greatest heist the world has ever seen. Two things –
One: You have a complex plan that requires precise timing.
Two: You are a GODDAMN BEAR.
The best part? It’s two pages, and uses your standard six-sided die that you probably have floating around from the monopoly game that seems to exist in every household. It’s so easy to run, a bear could do it. There’s no pressure on the DM or the players to make anything ‘serious’ and everytime I’ve played it’s been another unique, ridiculous experience that never gets old. Download here or just look below.Honey Heist - By Grant Howitt (1)
Do you want to test your survival skills? A fan of horror? Maybe you are an engineering student wanting to exploit your natural Jenga skills? Dread is the game for you! It takes a bit of set-up: players have to complete a questionnaire that outlines the skeleton of a character, but lets the player customize it with their answers. It makes it easy for a character to fit into the story, yet still be unique to the player so there is some investment in the story. The story is a scenario, and several are included with the base game. There are also others created by enthusiastic players you can find online, or you can make your own! The best part? No dice. The game is driven by a tower of blocks, and you can just use the drunk/dirty Jenga set you swear you only have as a joke. It’s super accessible, fun to play, and easy to teach. So bring out that Halloween spirit and see if you can survive Dread. You can preview the basics of the game below, find some free resources here or purchase a pdf version of the game instructions here for $12.dread_quickstart_letter
3. Golden Sky Stories
Alright, maybe some of this seems a bit too intense for you, or maybe you are looking for a game to play with younger siblings/cousins/children. Golden Sky Stories was originally released in Japan in 2006 under the name Yuuyake Koyake. It’s a nonviolent TRPG in which characters are ‘henge’, basically animals with some magic, in a small rural village solving problems. These problems aren’t fighting a goblin horde though, but instead focus on making friends and helping others. Honestly, it’s such a cute idea, and I’ve had a lot of fun playing it. You can buy a PDF copy here for $10 right now or a print copy here for $20. As part of Tabletop Day 2013, a short demo was released, which I’ve posted below if you want to try it out!2013-GSSDemo-StarlinePublishing
4. Dungeons & Dragons
Nothing is better than the classic, and no TRPG gets more classic than D&D. Dungeons, dragons, damsels, destroying towns if you choose, what could be so wrong with it? Well maybe the terrifyingly complex rules. Many a people have looked at the price tag of ~$50-75 a book for the two necessary rulebooks, which are hundreds of pages long, and felt a headache immediately come on. But D&D doesn’t have to be that hard. Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes D&D sells a starter kit for $20. Online they have basic rules for the players and dungeon master. Whatever your comfort level, their page for beginners on D&D is helpful for figuring out where to start. Still scared shitless of this endless void of information? I suggest watching D&D! No this doesn’t mean you have to awkwardly ask people in your game story if you can snoop on their game. I recommend finding one of the many D&D shows available online. My personal favorite is Critical Role, which is a D&D livestream done by professional voice actors. Their second campaign just started, and is a great place for any beginner to see some high-level, but enjoyable D&D. Ultimately, you just have to dive in!
Whatever your level of experience TRPG’s are a great area of gaming to get in to. They are inherently social, and bring out the storyteller in us all. Plus, they make for some pretty great stories. So pull out your D20s, D10s, D6s, and D4s, and roll for an RPG!