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Kim’s RPG Confession


I’m about to make a confession that may shock you.

I have never played a tabletop role-playing game.

I know, I know, it’s hard to believe! I put up a good front, after all, cracking “saving roll” and “initiative” jokes with my geek friends, referring to things as “chaotic neutral,” making appreciative comments about d20 earrings in the dealer room at cons…but it is all a hollow lie.

People have a hard time believing this when I tell them. After all, am I not the queen of the console RPG, both Japanese and Western? Do I not do all the sidequests on my Final Fantasy games, even the really annoying and tedious ones? Did I not, as a young lass, round up the neighbor children, dress them up, assign them roles, and lead them on various quests in a sort of baby LARP? (Favorite themes: Narnia (I was Lucy), GI Joe (I was Scarlett) and Princess Escaping From Evil Wizard (I was the Princess. Duh.))

Yes, gentle reader. I am all these things. And yet I somehow missed out on the grand progenitor of them all. How could this be?

[ad#longpost]A large part of it, I think, was that I grew up in a place and time where D&D and its ilk were widely regarded as something that scary, heavy-metal-t-shirt-wearing boys did in their basements, where they trained to raise demons and drink blood and other unsavoury things. Also, I was a fairly shy and bookish girl, and most of my friends were also shy and bookish girls, and so I mostly socialized with people who wanted to discuss Jane Eyre or whatever, rather than making friends with the heavy-metal-t-shirt-wearing boys in my social sphere. (Ironically, my husband was, as a teenager, a heavy-metal-t-shirt-wearing-boy who played D&D; so it’s a good thing we didn’t meet until much later, or we’d have missed out.)

That said, however, eventually I grew up and learned to talk to people and became a proper geek, only to realize that I’d missed out on a key component of my education. “So what?” you might be saying. “You’ve lived without it this long!” True; but being a geek who has never played D&D is kind of like being a sports anchor who’s never seen a baseball game–you don’t get a lot of your friends’ references, you laugh stiffly at jokes you only vaguely understand. It’s awkward.

Also, I think it sounds like fun. And I have long coveted those pretty little dice. (With their OWN SPECIAL BAG. I love things that have their own special container.)

So I finally decided that it was high time I gave it a try. I did some reading, Googled around a bit and the basics seemed pretty accessible. I have a handful of friends who I could possibly talk into playing with me, even…but none of them want to run the game. No big, I thought. Maybe I could learn to do it myself. I write, after all; I’m creative; I’m good at math. How hard can it be?

So I dragged Tuffley down to the comic shop to browse around for a game to try…something–ideally something fairly easy for me to pick up and learn, maybe even something I could teach my brother and sister to play with me on our upcoming family vacation.

The gaming section of our local comic shop is tucked into a corner, behind the indie trades and opposite the porn manga. One narrow shelf is crammed floor-to-ceiling with board and card games; Blokus, Apples to Apples, Munchkin, Catan. The usual. Next to that are the RPG books. HUNDREDS of RPG books. Shelf after shelf of tall, thin, $25 volumes with incomprehensible names, all weirdly similar to each other and written in some sort of secret code. D&D alone filled several shelves, including not one but two “For Dummies” books. TWO. Apparently, in the minds of the “For Dummies” editorial board, Dungeons & Dragons is more complicated than auto repair, commercial real estate investing, AJAX programming, and existentialism…all of which only needed one title to convey their greatly-simplified infodumps to the reader. I was…not encouraged.

But I persevered, pulling random likely-sounding books off the shelves and flipping through them, hoping something would jump out at me, searching for some sort of “My First RPG” that I could pick up and learn from. Maybe such a thing exists, but if it does, I couldn’t find it at the store that night. Given time to sit down and study the books, I’m sure I’d be able to figure it out, but which books should I study? I could spend thousands of dollars here with no guarantee that I’d be finding what I wanted.

So the question then becomes this: how does an adult learn to play an RPG? Once you’re out of school and the weird kid in your algebra class ceases to be an option, it seems like every gamer you know either hasn’t played since they moved out of the dorm or is currently engaged in Part 783 of an ongoing multi-year campaign in the Fiery Hellpit of Eternal Suffering with their level fifty-kerbillion Rogue Mage-Thief, and not really in a good place for newbies right now. There’s gaming at cons, sure, but the gaming room at your average con is not exactly newbie-friendly. It gets kind of…intense in there, and by Day Two of con it starts to smell offputtingly of recirculated Cheeto dust and despair as the nonstop tournaments get to the really cutthroat rounds.

So the first mission was unsuccessful, but I was undeterred. I left the comic shop that night, with a new understanding of the scope of my quest, determined to move on to the next great information wilderness: the Internet.

Share your ideas and suggestions in the comments, true believers. I call upon your aid in this time of trial.



  • Well, you arrange a game with us, of course! Most groups would be happy to have you along, even if they have to explain a few things. Just read the Player’s Handbook carefully first, ask some questions via email if you have them, and you’ll be set! It’s not hard at all. You can even find play-by-mail groups if you can’t find a live one.

    You’ll love it!

    And yes, dice = geek bling! I have more sets than I want to admit, and I always need more. My characters have specific colors they like to use, you see… >.>

  • It looks like Din above me has tackled the main thing I would suggest. However, what good is it being on the internet if I can’t offer far more advice than necessary in the comments of a blog post?

    First of all, if at all possible, I would say do NOT try to run a game before having played in one yourself. I’m not saying it can’t be done (plenty have), but you will have a much easier time if your first experience with role-playing does not also involve all the management and organization that comes with being a GM. Tabletop role-playing can at times (though not always) have some unintuitive aspects that are best learned through experience. You will be less stressed, and if your players are first-times they will appreciate the guidance you can bring to the session.

    That said, if you find you enjoy tabletop gaming, you should definitely step behind the screen (as they say) once you feel comfortable. Even though it can be a great deal of work, it can also be greatly rewarding to lead a group of friends through a story and a world that you’ve crafted. Plus, generally wisdom is that even if you prefer not to run games, taking a turn at doing so helps you to be a better gamer (in the sense of being able to better contribute to the overall experience for everyone).

    Once you have been able to play a session or two (or even before), you should also think about what kind of gamer you want to be and what you want out of your gaming experience. What aspects do you enjoy the most? Do you enjoy the strategic element of dealing with combat, creating characters that are optimized for a particular combat style through stats and abilities? Or do you prefer the theatrical, collaborative story-telling element where the character’s background is more important than their stats? Both? Neither? You may have an initial idea, but you could actually start playing and surprise yourself with what you enjoy more. This is important to consider because it will determine what games you want to play, what games you want to run, how you want to run them, and how well you will interact with a particular group.

    In terms of how to run a game, the better systems will usually have at least a few pages, if not a full chapter, devoted to running games in general and their game in particular. Obviously, there are also many online resources (one I’ve recently started reading is The best way to learn, though, is to observe and ask. Make use of others’ experiences to make things easier and more rewarding for you. Also, ask around about what games people enjoyed. You can find a game that caters to almost any setting you can think of, but there are also games that take place in worlds you may not ever have imagined, but that you find intriguing. Here are some that I’ve enjoyed or have piqued my curiosity.

    -Dungeons & Dragons, obviously the granddaddy of them all and the go-to option of high fantasy.

    -White Wolf’s World of Darkness games (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Hunter, etc.), modern noir-ish fantasy horror that inspires even stronger love-hate reactions than D&D.

    -Shadowrun, the unfortunately now defunct primary exemplar of cyberpunk role-playing. Combines magic and fantasy humanoid species w/ near-future tech and a grim and gritty world of low and high crime. Should be pretty easy to find used sourcebooks.

    -RIFTS, a kind of kitchen sink alternate reality tech+magic game that allows for pretty much anything you can imagine. Not sure of its current publication status.

    -Serenity, role playing in the ‘verse created by Joss Whedon for the Firefly series & Serenity movie. A must if you’re a browncoat.

    -Paranoia, a different sort of experience set in a dystopia run by The Computer (who is your friend!) where everyone (including the other players) is out to get you and failure is always an option. Very tongue-in-cheek, and a lot of fun with the right group.

    -Alpha Omega, future-Earth tech fantasy involving alien beings who are the source for the human concepts of angels and demons.

    -Exalted, also from White Wolf, involving mortal combat and courtly intrigue between the partially divine rulers of humanity in an anime-inspired fantasy setting.

    -War Machines, role-playing combined with tabletop miniature war gaming in a setting the combines steampunk, magic and mechs.

    There’s also the GURPS system, which allows you to build any characters and settings you would like, several superhero oriented systems, 7th Sea (pirates!), Deadlands (wild west), and Call of Cthulu (mind-shattering horror), and many, many, MANY more.

    Now that I’ve practically written an essay on the topic (many apologies for the length) the most important piece of advice is HAVE FUN!!!!! We’re all geeks here, so we know how easy it is to get overwhelmed by minutiae, a definite risk with this pastime. But wherever, whatever and whoever you’re playing with, make sure you’re enjoying yourself, and always be willing to try something new because, chances are, something out there will be the optimal experience for you.

    Happy gaming!

  • I echo Dindrane.

    Easiest way, by far, is to find (a) friend(s) who has/have done it before and start playing with them… because they’ll be the ones to get you through the basics of the books (“you need this player manual to start out. If you decide you love it so much you want to run your own game, THEN you buy the dungeon masters guide, the creature manual, the scenarios manual… and all the same version of your players guide”), the gameplay, the character creation, the first little campaign where they will be nice and try not to kill your character… etc etc.

    I just feel bad because I have played a few times, really enjoyed it, and then found myself outside of college and too busy to actually spend the weekend-and-a-half setting up a campaign of my very own.

  • Hey Kim. I will take it easy on you for while in doling out damage to you. Until you can “hook up” with Dindrane and Doc you really need to find a game store opposed to a comic book store. Most game stores have areas set aside for gaming. Saturday afternoons are full with miniature players. But there will always be someone role playing.

    I know people who game several times out of the week. I have cut my gaming down to once a week on Thursday nights.

    Do not sweat the mechanics. This ALWAYS someone who is a rules lawyer at the table. If there is a woman at the table most lawyers are willing to help out players. Getting a good group is very important. It helps if they are your friends. You really should think about if you want to role dice in combat all night (we have one in our group) or role play with having more lines than “I waste him with my crossbow.”

    I have been playing RPGs since the first boxed set of D&D. I don’t care for 4th edition and I refuse to read the books. But it makes for great gaming in my circle.

    Like Savage has said there are RPGS on any interest.

    I run Call of Cthulhu or CofC I make my players use these old characters someone made up in the 90s, they scanned them put them on the interweb. Horrifically fun. I have also run a Scooby Doo version of CofC with guests, Jerry Reed and Mama Cas. (I like guest in my games) I will be up in my group to run soon.

    Castle Faulkenstein is a good alt reality, Steampunk game. GURPs made a version of that. Cyberpunk and Shadowrun. Shadowrun is Cyberpunk with magic. White Wolf’s not very popular Changeling (Liked it in a very Charles deLint kind of way) I have created a modular called the Tooth Fairy run and Step on the Magic Star and See Santa. (Guest David Sedaris)

    Oh yeah, I forgot I got stuck in an anthropomorphic RPG game at a con once. It was creepy.

    GURPs by Steve Jackson games has DISC World. I would love to play or run but here is where having people who kind of know the world would enhance playability.

    If you have time at Dragon Con you can always drop by the gaming area and just look in on a session or too.

    The games are limited only by your imagination. And you need to go to this place. The website has not been updated but there is a map.

  • I am delighted at all the response here!! Lots of good advice. Din, I would LOVE to play with you. The next time we’re in the same state, yeah? Find me on email or chat and we shall discuss. :)

    As for genre, I am pretty open… I have had some experience with the sort of freeform online RPG that is really just concerned with characters and how they react to certain events – almost collaboratively-written fiction. I enjoy that. But I do also like leveling a character for certain purposes (as in, say, KOTOR or Fallout 3).

    So looks like the next step for me is to find someone local who is running a game and wouldn’t mind a Special Guest or two.

    …(hint, hint…)