Never Done Pen & Paper Role-Playing? Try These For Size…

August 3, 2015 by brennon

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One of the most interesting and entertaining facets of our hobby, in my opinion at least, is role-playing games. I think, apart from a few skirmish games like Malifaux, Mordheim and Infinity, they give you the best canvas for being inventive and creative with story and narrative.

Nothing drags you into a Fantasy, Sci-Fi or Steampunk world for example like embodying a character and being guided through a story driven adventure.

Now, role-playing games aren’t going to be for everyone and that’s ok. If you haven’t given them a go then I thought I would give you a few suggestions from my own experience that I think could be a great gateway into this particular portion of the hobby.

As an additional note once again; these are games that I have played. I would love to recommend a lot of other systems from what I’ve heard and seen but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending the game without first playing it myself.

Dungeons & Dragons

Let’s start with the Owlbear in the room. Dungeons & Dragons has been through many iterations but I’m going to focus on 5th Edition right now. Not only is it the most recent and most available to gamers right now but potentially the best version they’ve done (eeek, Edition Wars much?).

D&D Book

Dungeons & Dragons not only has the Fantasy staples that people are used to like Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Goblins (not forgetting the Dragon of course…) but it has rich mechanics for moulding characters into what ‘you’ want them to be.

The new way in which they have added Backgrounds and the addition of more powers and abilities for everyone, even the Fighter, gives you much more of a canvas for creativity than before. It’s all also condensed into easy to follow structures so you know exactly where your character is going.

For someone new to Dungeon Mastering as well the game makes sure to hold your hand the whole way through. Veteran role-players might not be a fan of the way they control what monsters the party will fight but it helps out storytellers looking for a guideline.

Starter Set

Don’t be afraid to break the rules though once you’ve got a few sessions under your belt!

If you’d like to see an example of Dungeons & Dragons then I suggest the utterly fantastic Critical Role series from Geek & Sundry where a bunch of voice actors play through a long running campaign.

If all of this has drawn you in then consider going to Download The Rules too as they are free to check out. They also make a Starter Set to get you going too.

Dragon Age RPG

Sticking with Fantasy for a moment another great system, and one tied into a more mainstream intellectual property, is Dragon Age by Green Ronin Games.

Dragon Age Set #1

The world of Dragon Age is a lot more mature than that of Dungeons & Dragons, anyone who has played the games will back me up! However the system that sits behind the game is a lot simpler than Dungeons & Dragons and so that is where it pops up for me as an RPG to try out.

The main mechanic behind the game requires nothing more than 3D6. This means that combats are quick and brutal with very little number crunching. In addition the Stunt system not only gives more depth to the combat but also helps out new players by giving them a hand with what they ‘might’ want to do with actions.

In Set II of the rules they also included stunts for out of combat actions too so the helping hand really gave new players (in my groups at least) that cool factor when they did an action.

Dragon Age Art

This then boosts creativity in subsequent sessions and you’ll soon see players finding their own way and not needing the Stunt sheet for everything, coming up with things of their own.

Where Dragon Age falls down is that the mechanics aren’t as deep as some might want - combats at higher levels require a lot more reverse engineering and tweaking to make work - but as a starting role-playing game where more of your friends might be aware of the background it scratches that itch.

I’ve reviewed both Set I and Set II from Green Ronin if you’d like a more in-depth look at the game and how it works.

World Of Darkness (Werewolf The Forsaken)

If you’re looking for a game world that is more akin to ours and you aren’t a big fan of Fantasy then take a look at World of Darkness in its various flavours.

Forsaken 2nd Edition

White Wolf, and in recent years Onyx Path have worked on the settings for Werewolf, Vampire, Mage, Mortal (the core rules) and more for a long time and there are many flavours of WoD to play on the tabletop. I’d like to focus on Werewolf as I think it works out best for new players.

Werewolf The Forsaken and Werewolf The Forsaken 2nd Edition put you in the skins of a creature from myth and legend. Your pack will fight together, a collection of different tribes and auspices, to overcome creatures from the shadowy spirit world, hosts (spider people and rat people to name two!) and even other Werewolves.

The real gem within Werewolf is that it not only gives you a collective focus for a group (something that can plague other role-playing games) but also grounds itself in real life since all your characters were human once. The world is immediately relatable to our own.

Werewolf - The Change

One of the other big draws for Werewolf is that you get to be a big, bad, angry Werewolf. It might seem strange but the first time you change into your big snarling war form and start going all tooth and claw on your foes you will feel a distinct sense of power - it’s good for the ego.

The game isn’t all combat though and there are plenty of nuances to the role-playing side of things too. You can find just as much fun in doing a bit of investigating as you can ripping foes apart.

Vampire, Mage, Hunter and the other games are a little bit more complicated compared to Werewolf and don’t potentially have the same direction but they are worth a look for a few different options.

Warhammer 40,000 Deathwatch

Time to get a bit of Sci-Fi in there. Deathwatch has you playing as Space Marines from an elite group who are focused on dealing with Xenos (alien) threats around the galaxy of Warhammer 40,000.

Deathwatch RPG Book

The mechanics are simple, it’s all done with percentile dice and D10s, and it’s all based within a familiar setting which is known to a lot of people through the tabletop game and the various video games on PC and consoles.

One of the big things that makes this game great for beginners in this sphere of tabletop-ness is that there is once again (a bit like with Werewolf) a focus on what you need to be doing. It might not sound like much fun but getting your orders and being told to take out something on an alien infested planet is seriously cool.

This doesn’t mean you’ll basically be funneled down into a singular narrative. Deathwatch aren’t soulless killing machines and the variety of Chapters involved in the game leads to different approaches to situations. Just don’t think you’ll be getting to call down Exterminatus to solve your problems!

Deathwatch Art

Another big tick next to this game is that it feels awesome when you get into combat. Not only have the developed rules which make you feel like a Space Marine against singular foes but also ones that deal with massed combat.

The horde rules allow you to create huge cinematic battles against Xenos without much number crunching or the players getting lost in a host of initiative values.

If you’re looking for a game that has a bit more of an investigative aspect to it and allows you to do some more role-playing then I still suggest checking out the other games from Fantasy Flight, Dark Heresy and Black Crusade.

Fiasco & Dread

Last but not least we have two role-playing games that is more akin to a murder mystery but still involves a big slice of role-playing to make it work.


Fiasco works as you might expect by its title. You are all part of a situation that is going to end terribly. How it ends is entirely up to the choices you make throughout the story and what direction you push the narrative in.

There are no stats in Fiasco, just a series of connections that you build with other players. These then start to trigger interesting scenarios throughout the story and other players can vote using dice on how it’s going to end for you.

In the end you’ll be faced with some very interesting stories and as a one shot ‘adventure’ it makes for a fantastic nights entertainment.

Dread follows a similar pattern where the story is based on the inevitable deaths of everyone involved (or at least a sorrowful situation). The nifty trick here is that it also introduces a mechanics whereby you use a Jenga tower to do actions out of your characters comfort zone.

Dread RPG

This means that you have a visual representation of just how screwed you’re going to be as time goes by. If the tower falls, your character meets an unfortunate end and from that point on the fates of everyone else in the story are soon to be decided too.

Both of these games have been on Tabletop with Fiasco possibly being one of the best episodes they’ve ever done. I suggest giving that and Dread a watch to see the game in action.

Get Role-Playing!

I’ve played a lot of other role-playing games in my time too and while they have been fun these are just a few of the good entrance level games worth taking a look at with some friends.

I genuinely mean it when I say that, even if you’re shy and don’t like acting out things at the tabletop, role-playing games are one of the most engaging and entertaining ways to experience the Fantasy worlds we love so much.

If you have any role-playing games that you think would be good for new players list them below in the comments. I’d love to learn about them.

Drop your ideas in the comments below!

"I think, apart from a few skirmish games like Malifaux, Mordheim and Infinity, they give you the best canvas for being inventive and creative with story and narrative..."

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"I genuinely mean it when I say that, even if you’re shy and don’t like acting out things at the tabletop, role-playing games are one of the most engaging and entertaining ways to experience the Fantasy worlds we love so much..."

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