So, You Want to Play an RPG? (Part I: Tips For Beginners)

Real Talk By: Haggy

So, you want to play an RPG?  But not just any RPG, one where you and your friends gather round a table, one of you GMs, and the rest of you go through a story or an adventure!  Table Top RPG, Pen and Paper RPG, Whatever you want to call it, these games can certainly be an exceptionally fun experience (I mean shucks, the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out in 1974, and it’s still kicking!)  However, there is a pretty good reason video game RPGs and other similar concepts have exploded in popularity and the classic DnD one has not… It’s daunting!

Seriously, before you even consider using most RPG systems, you will have to get over the fact that there will at least be some math involved, you will have to pour over some rule books, you will have to spend a lot of time to get this right, and all in all if your Game Master isn’t prepared or simply isn’t bringing enough to the table then all of this effort could be a waste of time since you would be better off playing something else.  However… with the right know-how, a good GM, and an imagination that can survive an afternoon you can make it all work, and all worth it.

After all, Video Games are, no matter how open-ended, much more limiting than an RPG.  As long as you can explain what you’re doing narratively, you can do it, this means you can almost literally do anything you’d want!  With that in mind however, it will be up to the Players and the GM to make a solid effort on crafting the experience, and hopefully this series will help get you started.

Tip #1: Look Into the World

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Whether it’s a classic Fantasy Adventure, a Space Pirate Run, or even a modern Day Heist story.  It’s always good for both GMs and Players to prepare themselves.  Take a look at similar media for inspiration, and to see what can be expected of you as a hero in that world.  So if your story is going to be set in a Western Frontier, than perhaps taking a look at some old Clint Eastwood movies could help.

Tip #2: Building a Good Character

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This tip is mostly for Player Characters, but GMs could also benefit from some points here.  When starting up a new RPG, the often most daunting part is the process of literally creating your character.  Some Games like Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG make it easy with the steps to follow quite easily found, but there are other games like DnD or Pathfinder that leave it a bit more difficult to input yourself.  Statistics aside however, once you figure out what kind of class/career your character has, and generally what they look like, you should begin thinking of how they act.  You should always try to give your character the following attributes:

A Motivation

A Character Flaw

A Brief History

A Moral Compass

A character doesn’t need to be entirely fleshed out, but if your character has a reason to be doing things, a shortcoming to their character to balance them out, a brief history in the GM’s world, and a public or privately set moral code that they will try to abide by, you’re on your way to an interesting, well made character.

Tip #3: Read Your Book

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This is one of the least anticipated parts of a RPG but it is certainly one of the most important:

For a Game Master, having a basic understanding of the Core Rules of the game, and having an easy access to any Monster/Enemy Collections is extremely important.  If a player needs a rule check, or if you need to suddenly spawn NPCs, it is your job to try to introduce these elements as quickly, and efficiently as possible.  Don’t strain yourself (After all, you’re supposed to be having fun as well!) but if you take too long, can’t find a rule, or even bring out a rule incorrectly, the whole experience will unfortunately take a hit.  It is a good recommendation to get a GM Screen for the game you are playing, but we will get into that further down.

For Players, your reading requirement is much less than the GM, but just as important.  Having a general understanding of the rules will certainly help you play the game more efficiently, but the GM should be at least able to help you out in case you need some refreshers.  What you should be well versed on is any special rules pertaining to your Character, your Items, or your Abilities.  You should try to either mark them down somewhere, or memorize them to the point where you don’t have to waste table space keeping a book open, or having to waste time trying to find some rules.

Tip #4: Prepare Yourselves

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Finally for a beginning piece, it is good to go over a few things you may wish to acquire/make before beginning.  These may take some time during set up, but the time saved during play is insane.

Players, a good thing to start your preparedness is some Note Cards.  I find that writing your abilities, rules, and Traits on these can make it much easier to use your rules and keep track of what you can do.  Next, making sure you either have a printed out sheet or a Pdf of it can be a life saver (Especially an Editable PDF that auto calculates for you… Seriously, those are amazing)

Game Masters, Your preparations are going to make or break an experience.  Thankfully, if you have everything you need to feel more comfortable, you should be able to make this grand.  First and foremost, a lot of the story is going to be up to you to make. but a lot of NPCs are going to be made as well.  Most of them can be made on the spot so you might be wise to create simply a list of names somewhere, and maybe some alignments somewhere to so when you have to introduce a merchant, a town guard, or something like that, they can be already mildly fleshed out.  Next, a GM screen would be an excellent addition.  Not only does it hide your materials from the players (Something you should always attempt for) but on the back of it is also a quick reference for rules, combat, general shop items, and sometimes more depending on the game you’re playing.

Next, having your books nearby wouldn’t be a bad idea as sometimes, you really do need to look in the books for something, just be sure that however you approach that doesn’t take too much time so feel free to put in book marks to certain pages with rules you may think need to be gone back to.  After that, you should at least look into getting models of some kind.  Even if you are doing a wholly narrative experience, it is nice to move tangible pieces on a board.

Tip #5: Just Have Fun With It!

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The most important tip to have when playing an RPG, for both players and Game Masters… is to have fun!  Seriously, this is the most important thing.  You should even just treat rules as guidelines in some cases, as long as more fun is had by all!  However, keeping a fun atmosphere means giving some credit to the GM for the experience, and making sure that you, as a player, aren’t stressing him or anyone out with a request that just can’t really be well accommodated at the moment.

More tips are to come, but these are a strong framework for making sure you have a solid foundation for your upcoming campaign, happy adventuring!

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