A Beginner’s guide to Pen & Paper Role Playing Games: Part 1–Research

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After reviewing 30 years of Adventures: A celebration of Dungeons and Dragons, I got to thinking. I haven’t played a good pen and paper role playing game in years, and I thought about how much fun it really was to play Dungeons and Dragons and other pen and paper role playing games.  I think what really clinched the idea  for me going back to Dungeons and Dragons as a main hobby was the book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms by Ethan Gilsdorf (review forthcoming), and then that got me really thinking. I have been out of the loop for awhile in terms of what is going on out in the role playing world,  so I start asking questions to my self how on earth do I get back into playing, what materials do I need and where do I find other players of all different skill levels. And as these questions came to mind, I started jotting them down. Than a thought  hit me, what if I was  a complete newcomer to the pen and paper Role playing scene, and I have all these overwhelming questions that needed to be answered. So I looked at my notes so far and after doing a lot of research I have decided to write a  set of tutorials for the Beginner “or like me the prodigal son returning to the gaming frontier “ based on my own trials and tribulations to help the beginner over come his obstacles, and get the most enjoyment that he can while learning a new fascinating hobby. I would also like to note that I will be revising these posts as best as I can as the gaming industry is ever changing,  so check back on these posts often for up dates. Also I would value your input as a reader to my posts, that if you have any ideas or notes and comments please post them, so that we can get the information out there to other beginner’s who are struggling to get into a fascinating and extremely rewarding hobby.


Part 1 Research

Before you want to get fully immersed into the wonderful world of role playing, you need to ask some really important questions.  The reason I say this is because Role playing is not an average walk into the local toy store Parker Brothers sort of game. There are a lot of add-ons, rules and entire cultures behind them, and it can become both time consuming and expensive for such a rewarding experience. So the best way to go about finding a role playing game  is to do some research before hand, that way it will save you the headache and hassle in the long run and get you on your feet sooner.  I would highly recommend that you have a pen and paper handy or better yet a small note book to jot down notes so that you will be able to refer to them later.

Now that you have your handy note book ready, here is a few questions that you need to ask not only to your self but to others as well.

  1. Who can and will play with you?
  2. Who is playing what role playing games in your area?
  3. Are you only going to be a Player Character or do you eventually want to host a game of your own (DM ing)
  4. What will be the over all cost of the game be to get started up successfully, So you can play more than just a few games? (essential products only, not add-ons and extras)
  5. Is the game easy to learn or is there a steep learning curve?
  6. What sort of game system is it ?(d20/d6) “see our role playing glossary for terms”
  7. What sort of genre would you our your group like to play?
  8. would you like a more storytelling (free form) or more combat based game?
  9. What sort of accessories, add-ons, and other media relating to the game interests you?
  10. Any other questions that come to mind

I am going to address a few of these questions in detail from my own experiences, just so that you get a better understanding of why to ask such questions. I have also added a Role Playing Game Glossary to our web site “which I will be updating as we go along” so it will help you with some of the lingo. Also if you get a chance have a look at our Roleplaying lists to get a bit of an overview on some of the more popular games.

It would also be a good idea to make a pros and cons list in your notebook, for each game you are interested in as well as a maximum budget list because before you realize it some games can eat a hole right through your wallet.


Addressing some of the questions

1. Who are you going to play with

Who you are going to play with is a huge question all in it self. This one question is going to dictate a lot about your purchasing choices. For instance if you are trying to introduce younger players to role playing games you might want to go for something with simpler rules and and easier gaming system. Or you might be fascinated by watching your roommates playing Dungeons and Dragons while in college and have asked if you can join their group.

2. Who is playing what games in your area

Another thing I found from experience is that some game purchases are dictated by who is playing what games in your area, and is there any gaming clubs in your area dedicated to the particular game that you would like to play. For example, I was really into Shadowrun, but the town that I lived in didn’t have much of a gaming culture. Most of the gamers that were in the said town only wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons. Why because because it was easier to walk into the local game store and bookstores and stock up on Dungeons and Dragons supplies (which they had ample of, but hardly any Shadowrun supplies) with out having to go on line. Because of that no body was really interested in trying these new games that were coming out.This actually happened before the whole Amazon thing was just starting to take off but I still feel it is relevant today, as gaming stores, comic and hobby stores is where other players hang out.

Don’t let that dissuade you though because a lot of people are now turning to playing online with one and another through Skype, and other chat devices. There is even webpages dedicated to playing certain Pen and paper role playing games world wide. So your campaign mates might be from Japan, Germany, UAE, Africa, Brazil, and have as much love and fandom as you will for the game. It is like the whole gaming world at your finger tips. I will list some of these websites later on in further posts, I just wanted you to know that there are always alternatives to some of these questions.

3.What is the cost for the essential start up

Dungeons and Dragons is a really good example to use here. When you go to the store, you eye a really cool red box called The dungeons & Dragons starter kit which is only 20$US/23$Cdn. The problem though is that this box is really good for a game or two if even that. You get with it a set of dice and some character sheets,tokens and some game tiles with a really introductory rulebook if even that). What most people don’t understand is that to play any “real” Dungeons and Dragons or to even advance you Player Character further you need to purchase the 3 core Rulebooks which are The Players Handbook, The Dungeon’s Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual. 34.95$US/44.99$Cdn each, or you can get all three in a set for 115$US/135Cdn Ouch your wallet says. (Don”t forget you still need the dice and character sheets and dungeon tiles, so essentially the starter kit is somewhat a necessity). Now you can get away with just The Players Handbook if you only want to be a Player Character, But what if you want to host your own Dungeons and Dragons game for your friends or get a new group of people interested in your game. And believe me most people I know want to eventually get behind the DM screen and run their own campaign (Dungeon Mastering), and for that you need the other 2 core manuals.The same thing goes if you want to look up the stats of a monster you just fought during a heavy game to get better insight in to fighting it next time around you are going to need the Monster Manual for that. You can see where the cost factor comes in. This is why you really need to research your game first. In the next post I am going to give you a few penny saving  tips and help you get set up with your purchase.

353556corerulebookMonster_Manual_540x706-dungeons-and-dragons pic497769_md dungeons-and-dragons-players-handbook

4.What sort of gaming system would interest you

Have you ever watched some one playing a version of Dungeons and Dragons and found it really interesting with all the different sided dice. These game systems are called D20 (named after the 20 sided die that is used). First created by Gary Gygax in 1974, Dungeons and Dragons was the first to use the d20 system which is still used today. Games like Pathfinder, which is essentially Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 (but with better rules) are based on what is called Open licensing agreement that allowed different games to use the same mechanics and gaming system as Dungeons and Dragons. Hence the reason a lot of D20 games like Pathfinder feel like you are playing and older version of Dungeons and Dragons. The down fall with the D20 system though is that it can be very rules based and very mathematical. Plus using all the different dice for different things can be quite intimidating for a beginner. That is where the D6 system comes in. D6 (named after the 6 sided die) is usually only played with 6 sided dice (but there have been some small exceptions) which makes every thing a lot easier game play wise, especially when it comes to the math. Some games even use only two 6 sided dice so there is practically very little in calculating scores, which makes game play such a cinch, and is highly recommended for younger players that are learning to play their first role playing games.


5. What genre would you like to play

Maybe Dungeons and Dragons is not your thing, you prefer to be a space pirate, or you want to immerse yourself in the world of steampunk. Better yet,you are a horror fan and want to go through the pits and perils of some of your favorite characters from a horror novel.Or the heck with it, you really want to be a vampire. Choose a genre that suites your tastes, as you will be spending a lot of time playing, reading and conversing about your favorite game. Now if you are not really sure what genre you would like to play or like I said above in (2.) {about my experiences with Shadowrun}, because not everybody wants to play sword and sorcery fantasy. Better yet if you want to try out a bunch of different genres,why don’t you try a Universal or multifaceted role playing system like GURPS (which stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System) for example.GURPS has so many different worlds from fantasy to steampunk to even a spinoff of the popular Vampire the Masquerade,Shadowrun and Deadlands roleplaying games that you never get tired of the same genre (and they are coming up with new game worlds all the time).I mean the list of worlds is unbelievable, it is like a giant open sandbox gaming system.

Here is the actual GURPS collection of Game books. Now that is a lot of books!!!

Here is the actual GURPS collection of Game books. Now that is a lot of books!!!

6. What Accessories are you interested in (we are talking about non essentials here)

Once again I am going to use my beloved Dungeons and Dragons as an example. Maybe you are like me and like playing with miniatures and Dungeon tiles. Or you found that even though you purchased the core books for Dungeons and Dragons you were enchanted by the novels and campaign settings of the Forgotten Realms and the Neverwinter series. it might even be that you are a huge visual person and love maps and want to spruce up your game with them. Accessories believe it or not can also make or break a game and has a huge effect on your purchasing choice and your wallet. It would be a good idea to know before hand what accessories you would like. Now let me throw out an interesting thought here. If you are a artistic and crafty person think of what sort of ideas can you come up with to make your own accessories at a cheaper cost and more personalized feeling. For instance I have seen people make outstanding Dungeon tiles and maps using simple graphics manipulation programs like GIMP and Photoshop only to print them out on a home printer to use. These tiles are like works of art. They look so much better than what you would pay for in a game store. I know of one person who went to a dollar store and bought plastic ninjas for a game and painted them up to look realistic and it was pretty amazing. Just have a look online at the amount of people that have made personalized dice bags, I am going to make one myself. I even have the fabric all picked out, so don’t feel pressured to purchase that 40$ tile set ok.

 People playing Dungeons and Dragons

People playing Dungeons and Dragons with miniatures and a homemade Dungeon tile battle grid.

Some Tips for your Research

-look for Role playing game groups in your area by using websites like meetup.com




-Look online or through the local yellow pages for the local game shop (some times it will mixed in with either a hobby shop, or comic shop) and talk to the sales guys about what is out there and what is good to play. Nine times out of ten most sales people in game stores are huge players themselves and can be a wealth of information.


-If there is a gaming group in your area, Go and observe(don’t actually play yet, just watch and when the game is over ask other players questions if you are comfortable). Things to note, watch how other people play the game you are interested in. What is the system like, does it look like a hard to play game with a lot of rules, can you see yourself playing this game?

-Check out publishers websites, like Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons and Dragons, SJ Games for GURPS, Paizo Publishing for Pathfinder, or any other publisher of Pen and paper games. Take a good look at what the essentials are for these games and what accessories cost. See if they have any online tutorials or PDF files about their products that you can get more information about the game you would like to play. SJ Games has a ton of PDF files for it’s GURPS system and even an online magazine about their games. Wizards of the coast also have a few free articles from their DnD Insider website called one called Dungeon and other called Dragon as well as useful tips on playing Dungeons and dragons.

-Check out other forums like RPG.net, and other fan based websites and forums. Do a Google search, trust me you will see a ton of them. Read the posts and message other gamers and fans and ask lots of questions.




-Check out the local library, sometimes they have books and reference materials exclusively for role playing games, and gamers

-Get inspired, read books like Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf, as well as any of the popular Dungeons and Dragons fiction out there. Or make that any kind of fantasy genre that you are interested in.


Stay tuned for my next post where I will discuss purchasing your game and help you slowly get set up to play,

So until next time,


Happy Questing.



Posted on August 3, 2013, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Very cool and helpful idea. Here’s my insight.

    1. Is going to determine a lot. There’s a big difference in everyone being new to P&P RPGs or joining an established group/veteran players.
    2. As stated, with the emergence of the internet marketplace this is of less concern. Unless you need to find prospective players because you don’t know any. I wouldn’t limit myself to the stores because unless they are an actual gaming shop my experience has been most RPG selections are incomplete and mediocre at best.
    3. Whoever runs determines the system, one of the small rewards of running games. If it’s you and a bunch of newbies you’re going to run, it was YOUR idea after all 😛
    4. If you’re joining a group dice is all you need. People will have miniatures and all other accouterments you can borrow. I say if you are with a bunch of fresh faced newbies buy a starter box or there are less than legal digital copies of stuff. Silly to blow hundreds of dollars on something 20 minutes in everyone may decide they hate.
    5. If you have the luxury of choosing a system for the group (not joining an already established group) choose an introductory system so you can follow what’s going on mechanically at the table.
    6/7/8. I find this one unimportant. Assuming you know nothing about the hobby there’s no sense delving into the mechanical theories of the games before you ever roll any dice. Answering questions 7 & 8 should render this question moot anyways.
    9. I found this to be an organic progression. Experience will lead you down the different roads pretty naturally. Or you could just ask some fellow players what they enjoy and why.
    10. Find someone to answer your questions. FLGS is helpful for this.

    Game Systems recommendations for those just entering the hobby:
    – Sword & Shield play test (I wrote a review on my page, we played it with elementary school aged children and they handled it easily).
    – Savage Worlds. General RP system to handle different genres with relative ease. Very low intro price point and the main book will keep you entertained for a long while.
    – Dragon Age. Great intro to the hobby for anyone familiar with the video games. Unfortunately not a ton of replay value at the moment. But it’s something different than D&D.
    – D&D Next play test. A pretty simple intro to the d20 rules system and it’s free so… yeah.
    – GURPS Lite. Condensed version of GURPS for an intro to another genre-neutral system.
    – Gamma World. A frenzied, simple, post apocalyptic intro to D&D 4th Editions mechanics.

  2. Currently it seems like Expression Engine is the preferred blogging platform out there right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

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