Getting Started with Tabletop Gaming: Where to Begin
So, you’ve heard about this crazy thing called “roleplaying games.” Perhaps you’ve heard about – or maybe you’ve even seen an episode of – Critical Role, Acquisitions Incorporated, or the other amazing variety of play sessions available on the internet. Perhaps you’re curious about what, exactly, the games this vast array of people are playing. Perhaps you’ve given in to the temptation and now you’ve decided you want to get in on this crazy thing and see what it’s all about for yourself.
Excellent! We here at the Five Foot Square are here to support you on your journey into the depths of the ocean of roleplay available in front of you. But in this vast array of games, this endless sea of dice and stories, do you even get started?
Now that, my friend, can be a big question and the answer, to some, might be frankly overwhelming. Along with the vast array of choices comes so much information, so many doors in, so many paths that it can be hard to navigate and figure out where, exactly, is the best place for you to dive in.
That is where, we hope, we come in with this series of articles on getting started with tabletop games. We’d like to ease you in a little bit at a time and give you a bit of direction – and possibly dispel some of the murkiness – on your road to roleplaying.
First, a brief history: where exactly did roleplaying games – especially those we see today – come from? In summary, it’s generally accepted the first game was Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson as a descendent of the miniature wargames that came before it. Without getting into too many details and bogging you down, this was followed over the next thirty years by a vast variety of games across numerous genres. After a downturn in popularity in the late ‘90s, the late 2000s saw an explosion of new games and a resurgence in popularity. That, combined with easier access to self-publishing tools and the explosive growth of social media in the 2010s, has seen an unprecedented expansion of the community – and an ever expanding field of absolutely amazing creators have stepped up to provide material to players always hungry for more.
One of the first steps when you’re considering getting into roleplaying games would usually be to consider the types of stories you’re interested in. While we do believe that’s extremely important to consider – and strongly encourage you to do so – we’d like to take a smaller step first and talk about the very basics: what do I need to get started?
Now, chances are you’re reading this on some sort of electronic device (unless some kind soul has reproduced this article in a print publication). If that happens to be true – congratulations! You have everything you need to get started and play some amazing sessions of what we hope will be your favourite roleplaying game!
All right – that may be oversimplifying things a bit and may not be the entire truth. But it’s really not that far from the truth these days. Today, the barrier for entry is so much lower than it used to be back when we started playing – and for the better! There’s nothing we love more than seeing new people getting into the hobby and coming to love the games that have brought us so much joy over the years.
In reality, your absolute core needs will be a pen or pencil and some paper and even those can often be replaced with an electronic device; we have yet to find a game which does not require even these simple accoutrements. It’s also very likely you’re going to need a set of dice – almost every game uses dice in some shape or form – and even these can be replaced with an electronic device in some cases.
And that’s all you will really, truly need to play these games: a writing implement, some paper, and some dice. Well, that and some fellow players but let’s focus on your specific needs to get going for the moment.
Aside from these simple needs, almost everything else to get playing will be able to be provided by the individual who is running the game – a person called the gamemaster (although some systems use their own terms for the position, this is a general catchall term we’ll use). There are some systems which may require additional accessories but – for the most part – with these few items you’re ready to get playing most games.
But what should you play?
For a number of you – most especially those able to play in person at someone else’s table – this will be a rather limited choice based on what the gamemaster in question is able and willing to run. If this is you, don’t be discouraged and give what they have a try; you might enjoy it and, at the very least, it will give you some experience playing and help you get a better feeling for what you think you might enjoy at the table.
For others, we now take you back to that thought earlier – what type of stories are you interested in? This becomes an important question in deciding what to try out because different games make different attempts at telling different types of stories. Part of that is setting, part of it is theme, and so on. If you’re interested in in-depth mechanics backing up your actions, you’ll likely trend towards a different system than someone looking for a more narratively-focused system with very light mechanical backing.
Unfortunately, it would take a whole series of articles for us to talk about what games are best for different types of interests. Fortunately, this is the long term goal of this series – to take a look at individual games and talk about their strengths and weaknesses and just who they might be for as you get started. For the time being, though, we’d like to just give you an idea of the variety available.
In fantasy alone, you have a wide variety of games. Aside from perennial powerhouse Dungeons & Dragons, you have the popular Pathfinder system from Paizo. Outside of this are systems aiming to recreate your favourite franchises – examples are The One Ring working on recreating the world of Middle Earth, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay allowing you to step in the Old World of Games Workshop’s series, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplay recreating the world of Westeros. And beyond that are various more generic systems that can be used to play a variety of games: Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, GURPs – the list goes on and is too long for this article.
(Editor’s Note: As of the time of this writing, The One Ring has been discontinued and publishing of the game’s new edition by Free League Publishing hadn’t yet begun; as such, we were unable to link to a page about the game on the publisher’s website.)
Or, perhaps, sci-fi is more your flavor. Don’t worry – you’ll have plenty of options there as well. Paizo produces a sci-fi flavoured version of its system in Starfinder. You’ll also find your favourite franchises here as well – Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius, the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games, and Wrath & Glory for the Warhammer 40k folks. Here, too, you’ll find a vast variety of less well known games to try: Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number, Traveller – here, too, there are too many games to list in this article.
Interested in westerns? There are games for that – Savage Worlds has Deadlands, as an example. Interested in modern supernatural? You’ve got the Chronicles of Darkness, among others. Interested in heist games? We got those too – Blades in the Dark from Evil Hat not least among them. Pick a genre and we can likely find a game for you.
We’ll take a break here – while we’re strong proponents of just diving in and trying games, we also don’t want to overwhelm with information. Perhaps from what we’ve already presented, you might have some ideas for games to try and are ready to go looking for a table to play at. For those of you who aren’t sure where to look – try your local game store or, if you don’t have one or would prefer to look online, try /r/lfg on Reddit! For most suggestions, we’ll be returning next time with a better look at where you can find a group to play with and even start to touch on running your own games!
Additionally, we’ll be posting articles on individual games, discussing how to get started with those particular games and going over their mechanics – along with their strengths, their weaknesses, and the type of players who might be suited to each particular game. If you don’t see a system you really want to hear more about, just be patient – as we said, there’s a lot of games and we want to make sure we understand each well enough to give a well-informed launch point for new players to be a decision from.
Do you have any questions about getting started with roleplaying or anything in particular you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comment section or contact us on any of our social media platforms. We’d love to hear from you!
Cover image created with images from the Toronto Reference Library’s Merill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy and Pixabay.