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Getting Started With Tabletop Role-Playing Games

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  • ttrpg

A Player’s Guide

Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Pathfinder, and many others offer a unique and engaging experience that differs significantly from video games. While video games can often be played solo or online with a ready-made community, TTRPGs typically require assembling your own group of players and, crucially, finding someone to run the game, known as the Game Master (GM), Dungeon Master (DM), or other titles depending on the system. Here’s a guide to help you get started as a player in the world of TTRPGs.

Finding a Group

The first step is to find a group of people to play with. This can sometimes be the most challenging part, especially if you don’t know anyone who is already into TTRPGs. Here are some ways to find a group:

  1. Friends and Family: The easiest way to start is often with people you already know. If you have friends or family members interested in trying something new, gather them and suggest a TTRPG session. You may have friends or coworkers who already play, but some people don’t advertise their interest, so it can be worth asking.

  2. Local Game Stores: Many game stores host regular TTRPG nights or can help you connect with other players. They often have bulletin boards or social media groups where players can post looking for games or players. Unfortunately, many smaller and more rural areas may not have access to a game store.

  3. Online Communities: Websites like Reddit (e.g., r/lfg or r/rpg), Discord servers, and Facebook groups can be great places to find other players or games looking for participants. Most tools, services and content publishers will have communities around them, often with dedicated spaces for people looking for games (LFG) or players (LFP).

  4. Dedicated Table Finding Services: There are some online services designed to help people find games or players. An example is Tabletop Wizard.

  5. Conventions and Events: TTRPG conventions, both large and small, offer opportunities to play games and meet other players. If you are starting out, this may be a bit intimidating, but if you live somewhere with convenient access to an event like this, it is definitely something to consider.

Starting Small

When you’re new to TTRPGs, starting with a small, manageable game is wiser than jumping into an epic campaign. Here are some tips for starting small:

  1. One-Shot Adventures: These are single-session games designed to be completed in one sitting. They’re perfect for beginners because they provide a complete story experience without a long-term commitment. Many game systems offer published one-shot adventures.

  2. Pre-Generated Characters: Using pre-made characters can save time and help new players jump straight into the game. Many introductory adventures come with characters ready to play, which can be helpful in systems like D&D or Pathfinder, where character creation can be more involved.

  3. Short Campaigns: If your group enjoys the one-shot but wants more, consider a short campaign/adventure. These multi-session stories can be completed in a few sessions, offering a taste of campaign play without the long-term commitment.

Choosing a System

While D&D is the most well-known TTRPG, many other systems might better suit your group’s interests. Here are a few considerations when choosing a system:

  1. Complexity: Some systems are more complex than others. For beginners, a system with lighter rules can be more accessible. Examples include Cairn, Knave or Brighter Worlds.

  2. Genre: Different systems cater to different genres. While D&D is fantasy-based, you might prefer a sci-fi game like Starfinder, a horror game like Call of Cthulhu, or a superhero game like Masks.

  3. Support and Resources: Popular systems often have more resources, including rulebooks, adventures, and community support. This can make it easier to find help and advice as you learn the game.

Playing Online

In recent years, notably since COVID-19, the availability of tools to play TTRPGs online has dramatically improved. This makes it easier to get into the hobby, even if you live in an area without a large community. Here’s how to make the most of online play:

  1. Virtual Tabletops (VTTs): Platforms like FoundryVTT, Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and Alchemy provide digital spaces to play TTRPGs online. They offer features like map tools, dice rollers, and character sheets that make playing remotely possible and enjoyable.

  2. Voice and Video Chat: Tools like Discord, Zoom, and Whereby can facilitate communication during your games. Many VTTs also have integrated voice and video chat options.

  3. Between Game Communication: Most games with be coordinated using a Discord server. If you don’t have a Discord account, sign up for free. Discord is like a more social-focused version of Slack, and it has evolved into a set of community hubs for like-minded people. Many TTRPG-related Discord servers have channels devoted to finding games or players.

Tips for Using Discord

  • Join Official and Popular Servers: Many game systems, virtual tabletop platforms, and content creators have their own Discord servers. For example, D&D and FoundryVTT have large, active servers with channels for looking for games.
  • Participate in Communities: Engage with the community by joining conversations and getting to know other members. Smaller, more focused servers can be a great place to make friends and form gaming groups organically. Generally speaking, most TTRPG creators, whether on YouTube, Patreon or elsewhere will have a Discord community.
  • Look for LFG Channels: Most TTRPG Discord servers have “Looking for Group” (LFG) channels where you can find people hosting games or looking for players.
  • Open World Games: Some servers offer open-world games where you can join in on a sandbox adventure as part of a random party for a given night. This can be a great way to experience different play styles and meet new people.

Finding a Game Master

The role of the Game Master is essential in most TTRPGs, as they guide the story and manage the game world. If no one in your group wants to take on this role, here are some options:

  1. Take Turns: Some groups rotate the GM role, allowing different members to try running the game.

  2. Shared GMing: In some systems, the GM role can be shared among players, reducing the burden on one person.

  3. Online Resources: Going back to the Discord and Facebook communities mentioned before, often you will find posts from players looking for games to play in, but also from GMs looking for players.

  4. Hiring a Professional GM: There are professional GMs who run games for a fee. You might find this yields a high quality game, but remember that “professional” means they are paid, not necessarily that they are good.

Running a game may sound intimidating, but it really isn’t that hard. I definitely recommend attempting it yourselves before hiring someone.

Tips for a Great First Game

  • Communication: Before you start, discuss expectations and preferences with your group. Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the type of game you want to play.
  • Be Open and Flexible: TTRPGs are collaborative storytelling experiences. Be open to improvisation and unexpected twists in the story.
  • Have Fun: The most important rule is to have fun. Don’t worry too much about getting everything perfect. The goal is to enjoy the adventure with your friends.

Starting with tabletop role-playing games can be a rewarding experience. By finding the right group, starting small, choosing an appropriate system, and being open to learning and having fun, you can embark on exciting adventures and create memorable stories together. Whether you play in person or online, TTRPGs offer endless possibilities for imagination and connection.

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