Written By: Mike “The Birdman” Dodd
Edited By: Cameron Allan
What if I told you about an RPG where anything is possible, that the only restriction is your own imagination and best of all, that you don’t even need an expensive console or a PC to play it? Odds are you’d call me a liar, and allow me to be the first to say that I am excitedly not.
One of my favorite past times of the last 20 years is something known as pen and paper roleplaying or “Tabletop gaming,” and luckily for us fans, it has its own special day dedicated to it coming up just around the corner on April 30th. So what is this strange thing?
Well, typically one person acts as the storyteller and you and a group of a few friends sit down and participate in a story that you help craft together. There are a set of rules, which help determine events in the game that your characters can and can’t do and decide how combat or social situations work out. You have a character that you create from scratch and bring to life, and you use dice of varying types to determine outcomes to certain actions. All this can amount to an amazing experience that allows you to express yourself creatively, and dive into some truly epic moments with your friends at your side.
The biggest game that everyone typically thinks of is Dungeons and Dragons. It was all the rage back in the 80s and its what people usually associate the idea of dice based role playing games with. Yet not all of them have to do with the swords and sorcery cliché. There are tons of games that exist today with a plethora of narrative frameworks, like cyberpunk far future, wild westerns, cultish horror thrillers and so many more.
I first began my RPG hobby in the early days of my 90s era youth, all the way back in the 7th grade. I played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition as a cleric and for some reason, I was being sent to kill Orcs because… reasons? The idea was equally as confusing as it was intriguing. It was certainly something different then the Super Nintendo I was playing at the time. I do remember wondering if there were more than just fantasy games out there. My dungeon master Jaime didn’t flesh out the world as much as I would have liked, but at the same time, he did get the spark of curiosity ignited.
The idea of being a part of a world that adapted to my actions really got my mind wondering as to the endless possibilities. I would later come back and start to explore the Forgotten realms, or the gothic horrors of Ravenloft, and even the forsaken sands of Dark Sun, but that would not be for many more years after this initial visit to the D&D world.
It would be a few years later, when I was in high school, that I once again was confronted with the tabletop RPG, but this time, it had music and blasters and old Jedi masters, it was STAR WARS! This immediately took my attention and put me in a world and a setting that I knew intimately well. I didn’t have to know if I was serving the God of Lawful neutral, or whether or not I could make the Kessel run in less then 12 parsecs. If you’re a true nerd, then you realized just how wrong that sentence sounded…
Many lunch hours would be spent flying X wings against the Empire, and it was a fantastic time that all who were interested could delve into with minimal investment. Depending on the game that you want to play, you don’t need a lot of resources other than the main rule book and some paper and dice. There are other player aides such as miniatures and the like if you want a more immerse experience, but it’s not always necessary. There are things called “supplements” which can add more flavor to the game world, or more materials for your players to have access to like weapons, armor and vehicles, but these are purely optional. There is usually a book for monsters, or bad guys, but generally, there is a monster manual of sorts.
All things considered, this hobby can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it when compared to console or PC gaming. I have invested probably thousands by this point when it comes to supplements and other books over the course of the last 20 years. I have a library of books ranging from every edition of Dungeons to Dragons to more modern games like Doctor Who and even Game of Thrones. You don’t need to always have the latest edition to play a game either, you find a game rule set that you are comfortable with, and go from there.
In this modern connected world that we have today, it’s never been easier to find a gaming group, and it’s become so popular that there are entire conventions dedicated to the hobby such as GenCon in Indiana.
The Internet has allowed us to use resources such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit to bring people together and to find people to play with. Internet communications allow groups to meet up via Skype, or Google Hangouts, or even specialized programs like Fantasy grounds, which can provide player and Dungeon master aides to the experience.
I recommend those who might be slightly reluctant to give tabletop gaming a try to check out their local gaming shops, and see if there is a place for organized play from a company who makes the RPG you want to try. Companies like Wizards of the coast, who make the new edition of D&D, have an organized play league and others such as Paizo, who publishes Pathfinder, and Chaosium, who publishes Call of Cthulhu, have organized play leagues as well. You can get introduced to the game by an individual who is there to help you have fun, and learn at your own pace. The cool thing about organized play is that if you happen to travel to another organized play place, you can bring your character with you and use them to participate in special events.
One of the Internet celebrities who has become the new modern face of the RPG community is Wil Wheaton, who you may remember as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek or the titular rival to Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. He really got people talking with his web series show “Tabletop,” which invites celebrities such as Felecia Day, Chris Hardwick and Seth Green to the nerd community.
RPGs have become so mainstream that shows like Community have had entire episodes dedicated to them, and recently, they have been featured prominently on the 1980 something comedy The Goldbergs.
Surprisingly enough, even huge Hollywood stars like Vin Disel are huge into D&D, with Vin actually writing the foreword to one of the iterations of the game. There is even talk from Hollywood that they are looking to revitalize the movie franchise that Marlon Wayans screwed up in the early 2000’s. Believe me when I say that the movie sucked and in no way represented D&D. In fact should you come across a copy of the DVD, do me a favor and burn it.
Keeping all this in mind, there has never been a better time to be involved, or consider getting involved, in the hobby than right now. It’s simply never been more accessible to anyone of any age or experience level with the tons of resources available at aspiring adventurer’s disposals. Many companies offer quick start versions of their games, which can be found for free or at a reduced cost to get you interested in the game before you commit to a full purchase. There are free player and game master resources like maps and even full adventures for you to get if you do some simple Google searching. There’s even a subscription service for RPG’s called “Dungeon crate,” which means there is no shortage of things available to you at a reasonable to free cost out there.
I encourage those interested to do a little bit of research, and see what tickles your adventuring senses. Perhaps you want play a caped hero like Superman in Mutants & Masterminds. Maybe you’d like to travel through all of time and space in a police call box, and give Doctor Who Roleplaying Game a shot.
There are so many choices that you’ll be overwhelmed, yet excited at the seemingly infinite options where your imagination is king, and ANYTHING is possible.
So this April 30th, will you take part in Tabletop day? Will you heed the call of the hero and engage in an epic, fun and creatively powered journey? If so, get yourself some paper, a pen and a pair of dice and strap yourself in. I guarantee it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime.