So you want to play a Role Playing Game, otherwise known as an RPG? You don’t know where to start though do you? I didn’t think so.
The world of RPG’s can be a scary place for a newcomer, what with everyone making reference to rules and stories that you know nothing about. I’ve known quite a few people who have started off interested just to been scared away by some of the crazy things my friends and I have laughed about without even realizing no one else understood a word we were saying.
Well newbie, you’re in luck because I’m going to do you a solid and help you get started. Welcome to my “How to play an RPG” guide.
Step 1: Select a system
The first thing you need to decide is what kind of game you want to play. That’s right, no two RPG’s are the same. Some deal in mythical creatures of the ancient world while others stick with the wonders of future technology and space exploration while others deal with anything in between.
I can’t possibly list every option available to you due to space and time so I’ll just briefly cover a select few that I’m most familiar with.
Do you want to deal with swords and magic, ancient monsters, decaying ruins and dank dungeons all in the pursuit of gold and power? Then I suggest you try Dungeons and Dragons. This system has gone through many iterations since it’s creation but it’s still the basic hack and slash everyone thinks of when they talk about nerds wearing silly hats and rolling dice in their mother’s basement. (It’s worth noting that the visual I just described to you is a gross misrepresentation of D&D players often portrayed by popular culture. I have never once wore a silly hat when I played D&D in parent’s basement)
Maybe fighting dragons and saving the princess isn’t your thing. What about ancient and secretive vampire societies that live among us? Or werewolves hell bent on cleansing the world of these undead abominations? If clashes between real life monsters hidden within the modern world peeks your interest you might consider one of the World of Darkness games.
Neither of those peek your interest? Well if you try hard enough you can find an RPG system based around nearly any popular movie or television show. So if dragons and vampires don’t cut it then maybe you’d rather clash sabers with a Jedi or explore alien worlds aboard a federation starship.
It is import that you find a system that fits what you want to do, but ultimately it’s not the end all or be all. With that in mind, if you already know a group of games that you’d like to join then it’s worth considering playing whatever system they usually play.
Step 2: Brush up on the rules
Now that you know what system you want to play it’s time to learn some of the rules of that game. Nearly every popular game has what’s called a “players guide” which is a book outlining how that particular system works. Among other things the guide will usually provide you with a general overview of how a gaming session will work, how to setup a new character, how dice rolls work and what they mean, as well as a variety of statistical sets regarding things like weapons, items, and whatever else is important in that particular game world.
Once you’ve already learned how to play one RPG, learning a second or third are easy but learning the rules of that first one on your own can be nearly impossible for most people. In the previous section I suggested that if you already know a group of gamers that you could simply decide to use their system. Well, if you already know one or more gamers you may wish to use them as a resource for learning to play your first game. In fact, while a player’s guide was very useful I really didn’t learn to play from it as much as from my friends who were already experienced gamers.
Step 3: Make a character concept
You’ve picked the system and you’ve learned some of the rules. By now I bet you’ve already got a rough outline in your mind of what you want your first character to be. Or maybe you don’t. Keep in mind that your RPG character can be as little or as much like you as you’d like it to be.
What system you’ve selected will help you select certain specific and statistical traits that will be useful in game, but I’ve never found those to be sufficient in and of themselves when it comes to character creation. To make your character more enjoyable you may want to add more detail to your rough outline. Here are some of things I decide on before declaring my character created.
Oh yes, and before I begin… I suggest you write down some of the things you decide for your own future reference.
Gender: Is your character a man or a woman? This may seem like a simple decision or one that might not really matter and in some ways that might be true. Still, imagine the ways in which you and your life would have turned out differently had you been born a member of the opposite sex.
Age: Rarely do players have games where their characters start before the age of 18 or whatever is considered an adult. Maybe you don’t want your character to start at 18 though. Maybe your character is 30 or any other age for that matter. If you don’t think age matters simply remember yourself at different ages. I don’t need to explain further do I?
Background: What were your character’s parents like? What about his childhood friends? Her hometown? Her pets? His education? Where there any really traumatic or life altering events in her past?
Goal: What does your character want most out of life? Is he or she interested in money, fame, revenge, status, family, self fulfillment?
Step 4: Find a group
I’ve mentioned gaming groups several times before now but this is the point where you need to find one if you haven’t already.
Gaming groups can be of any size as long as you have at least two people although a larger number is often more fun. I personally belief the optimal number is between three and six, though your experience may vary.
If you don’t already have friends who game or want to start gaming with you then you need to go find some. If your hometown has a store that specializes in RPG games and supplies this could be a great place to look for new members or find an already established group to join. If you don’t know of a place like this then you’ll have to resort to more drastic methods like putting up flyers or checking out college libraries.
Step 5: Have your first session
You’ve got everything you need now to go to your first game session. Don’t worry if you find that the first session feels awkward or strange because that is always the case when you start a new group. It does get better.
A few final notes: One, it’s always a good idea to bring your resources to the session. That means books, character sheet, your own dice if you have them and anything else you think might be useful. Second, if you are meeting in a place that allows food then snacks are a good idea. Things you can share are best such as a case of soda or pretzels or the like.
Welcome to the world of RPG’s. Good luck and good gaming.