How to Start Role Playing

A boardgamer said they really wanted to give role playing a try, but didn’t know where to start. They wanted to give it a go, but they only had their partner to play with – so, was a 2-player game even practical. Did the role player community have any kind of advice, a detailed session report or an informational video they could offer to provide some kind of context? How can you get into role playing when you don’t want to spend any money up front or make a tough decision on a game without knowing whether you’re going to like it or not?

I responded…

It’ll definitely be worth fishing around and finding more videos to watch and audios to listen to. Very few RPGs involve “2 people taking turns reading out of the book”, you’ll be glad to hear.

Personally, I’d recommend:

(1) Working out between you what sort of game you want to play. If you have a favourite TV drama/serial, film, book or similar, that’s a good place to start. RPGs cover most genres, from scifi and fantasy to court dramas, police procedurals and Japanese schoolkid antics. Personally, my wife loved playing Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness boardgames, so we opted for Trail of Cthulhu.

(2) Decide who will run the game and who will play. The person running the game has to do the preparation/reading.

(3) Find a free (or cheap) roleplaying game that will allow you to play the game you want to play. People will often mention Savage Worlds at this point (as a really cheap game) or free games (too numerous to mention). So, for example, if I hadn’t already owned Trail of Cthulhu, I could have used Cthulhu Dark or Cthulhu Dice: The RPG (and I have used both of these under other circumstances). A game like Savage Worlds will cost you $10 to pick up, but that’s phenomenally cheap for an RPG and gives you all the essentials to get going.

(4) Play the game. This should work a bit like a 45-minute TV drama series with a single episode rolling out over the course of your play. You have a bit at the beginning that sets the scene – like uncovering the crime scene at the start of a police procedural or finding that weird Uncle Morty is come to stay at the start of a situation comedy – then go through a few different scenes that develop the story (investigation, analysis, a scuffle with the bad guys, things go wrong, escape the bad situation, another scuffle), finishing with a conclusion, or perhaps a cliffhanger if you’re running a long story and you run out of time. With two people playing, you may want to run something more interactive and heavy on story-telling over reliance on dice and chance.

In the case of my wife, I opted for an adventure from a game supplement called Monophobia – which includes adventures specifically intended for one player and one person running the game. You will want to opt for something that suits the game you choose – an introductory adventure or something for low level characters/beginners. Better yet, if you have a clear story in mind, improvise. You could get a copy of a playset for a game called Fiasco and use the tables in that to create a random situation. It allows you to create relationships, a place, an important objects and things like that – and playsets cover many different types of setting from horror, to fantasy, to mystery, and so on.

Experiment and take your lead from what you see in the videos or listen to on the audios. Worry less about getting it right and more about having fun. If in doubt, think about a time when you were a small child and you decided to make up a story by yourself or with friends. That’s what you’re doing here – making up a story and having fun. If you use an adventure, that adventure should guide you into a sort of story to play and offer up many details – but it shouldn’t restrict your imagination or make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if you don’t follow everything to the letter.

(Originally posted at RPGGeek, but re-posted here ’cause I spent a while typing it and I hope that it might be of some use to other people who have heard about this thing called role playing but they’re not sure where to go with it or how to get started. Worse yet, they’re concerned they only have one other person to play with and that they might not do it right – which, it has to be said, is unlikely but you can understand why it might cross their minds…)

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