Introduction to Tabletop Role Playing Games


Tabletop RPGs are experiencing a resurgence as of late thanks in large part to crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, which has allowed indie game developers to make their ideas into reality.

Fortunately, once you realize there is more to board games than Monopoly and Cluedo, you will never look back. While video games and collectible card games that were popular in the past like Magic The Gathering certainly had an impact on the tabletop role-playing game industry, some people still prefer to sit down and play a RPG-driven game with friends – myself included. It is an excellent hobby to take up in your spare time.

The aim of this page is to serve as a guide to tabletop role-playing games with beginners in mind. If you are new to this genre, you will certainly appreciate tabletop RPGs that are light on rules and a lot of fun to play. It’s the best way for beginners to ease into the hobby.

What is a Tabletop RPG?

Games, whether video or board and tabletop, can strengthen skills that can be applied to real life situations. Strategy, critical thinking and calculation skills can be sharpened and applied to real world situations. Honing these skill sets can be particularly beneficial to Airmen in a variety of career fields. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anthony Sanchelli/Released)

For those who don’t already know, tabletop RPGs are story-driven role-playing games played on a traditional tabletop or digital tabletop (when played online), with rules of play (which if we assume the game is newbie-friendly) can be grasped simply and quickly. While many people associate tabletop RPGs with pen-and-paper games specifically, role-playing games extends far beyond the boundaries of this category to include RPG-themed games played around a table.

When playing tabletop role-playing games, you take on the role of a particular character (complete with their strengths and weaknesses) in a shared fictional universe, and gain new skills and abilities and levels based upon experience points to beat enemies. Your heroes’ class, stats and skill choices are hugely important in progressing in the game.

Depending on the type of tabletop role playing game, you might be required to collaborate with other players to complete quests, but when you’re playing most tabletop RPGs you will play against others in the game. The story and combat usually progress in a turn-based fashion. Every turn is about exploring the fictional universe filled with countless original creatures and adventures.

While fantasy and adventure RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons are probably the best known, there are many other fictional settings for tabletop role playing games, such as post-apocalypse (especially zombie settings), cyberpunk, superhero and sci-fi themes.

Now, you don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to know the granddaddy of all tabletop fantasy adventure RPGs is Dungeons & Dragons, but there are so many others. Most geeks are familiar with popular games like the cyberpunk/fantasy role-playing game Shadowrun, White Wolf’s gothic/punk-themed role-playing game World of Darkness, among others. Furthermore, pretty much every nerdy franchise such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who has had their own tabletop role-playing games made at one time or another.

Since most people play games for fun, it’s hardly surprising that newcomers to tabletop RPGs prefer to play board/card games where you get to actually see the characters and environment you’re playing in, as opposed to the imaginary world of pen-and-paper RPGs like D&D (which can still be fun, but provide a different experience). Playing RPG board games provide a better sensory experience, and you still need to use your imagination to help bring out the immersion and to visualize what is happening to your character.

The Dice

The majority of tabletop RPGs are played with dice on a playing board to randomize gameplay. Dice are used in role playing tabletop games to introduce unwelcome outcomes. Without them, you could always choose the favorable outcome, like for example in a combat situation, always hitting the goblin with your axe.

Digital Tabletop RPGs

Tabletop RPGs have been translated into a variety of electronic formats. As early as 1974 (the same year the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game was released), games based on the D&D universe were being developed on mainframe university systems.

These early computer RPGs influenced all of the role playing video game genre, including highly popular video game RPG-inspired titles such as the Final Fantasy and Skyrim franchises. Final Fantasy is a turn based RPG that is played in a similar manner to that of tabletop RPGs, while the Skyrim game is considered an action RPG, and has abandoned turn-based play in favor of real-time action, but still features RPG mechanics.

Publishers of several tabletop RPGs like Talisman have also gone on to create digital versions of their games, which was helped bring sword and sorcery to a whole new audience (i.e. video gamers who might not have otherwise been introduced to a traditional tabletop RPG. And since you can play these multi-player table-top role playing games online, you don’t need to organize a group of friends to meet at a central location. It can be a lot more convenient!! You may also have friends that have relocated, and it is no longer practical for them to meet up and play (regardless of how much fun you used to have playing your favourite tabletop RPGs with them.)

With that being said, many players want a break from being on a computer, and as such, traditional tabletop RPGs played with friends around a table are preferred.

Game Master/Dungeon Master

One common feature of many tabletop RPGs you can play is the need for a game master (GM), a participant who has special duties to present the fictional setting, arbitrate the results of character actions, and maintain the narrative flow. In some ways, new technology has simply made tabletop RPGs easier to organize and faster to play through, removing the need for a “game master” or “dungeon master”.