The dice age cometh: A beginner’s guide to tabletop RPGs

(Image courtesy of Marlese Lessing)

Are your Saturday nights depressing? Do you find yourself not spending ludicrous amounts of cash on strange-looking dice and strategy books? Are you a complete and unforgivable nerd? I have a solution for you!

Dungeons and Dragons (along with other tabletop Role Playing Games such as Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Changeling and others) is a great way to meet new friends, unwind and flex your creative muscles. It’s improv theater, war strategy and storytelling with a bit of math thrown in; what’s not to love?

Now more than ever, RPG’s are making a comeback. Millennials discover their parents’ old Advanced D&D books from the 80’s and decide to give it a try. Technology and sites like Skype and Roll20.com make it easier to connect with fellow tabletop enthusiasts, and shows like “Stranger Things” bring the once-ostracized activity into the limelight.

The basic premise of tabletop RPGs is that you play as a specific character with certain stats, traits, strengths and bonuses. Your character has a name, a backstory (which can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be) and ideals, goals and weaknesses that shape their personality.

This character interacts with your fellow players, completes quests, fights NPCs (non-player characters) and moves about in a world, narrated by the person running the game – the game master.

Your GM (Or Dungeon Master, if you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons in general) makes the story. They control NPCs, narrate action scenes and more or less create the world you’re playing in.

A good GM will create an immersive narrative that takes player’s backstories and personalities into account, establishes goals and quests the characters want to go on, and provides obstacles (such as monsters, puzzles or traps) that are both enjoyable and challenging to overcome.

The beauty of Dungeons and Dragons lies in overcoming these obstacles – with roleplaying games, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity. In a video game, if you come across a locked door, usually there’s only one or two solutions – find the key, pick the lock – because of limitations in coding.

With RPGs, however, you can test the limits of the narrative. Your characters can burn down the door. Your charismatic bard can charm one of the locals into handing over the key. Your barbarian can smash the door, or you can just ignore the door entirely and find a different way around.

While the possibilities are endless, there are limitations: the roll of the dice. Nearly every skillful action your character attempts includes rolling the d20 (20-sided die) in order to determine how well that action is executed. Want to burn down that door? Roll. Trying to stab that goblin? Roll. Fell into a pit? Roll to avoid the spikes at the bottom.

How high (or how low) you roll determines if you succeed (or fail) in a task. If you roll a 18 on trying to burn down the door, for example, your character would succeed in sparking their tinderbox and setting the wood alight. If they roll a three, however, they’ll fail.

Rolling a critical hit/success (natural 20) or a critical fail (a natural one) can have extra consequences. If you roll a 20 when your bard is trying to sweet-talk a villager for a key, for example, they’ll be so articulate that the villager agrees to join the party as an ally. Roll a one?  You, by sheer accident, managed to insult the villager’s mother-- and now you have a new enemy to contend with.

Of course, role-playing is still king. Even if you roll badly, getting into character and navigating a situation through strategy and tact can save your character (and your party) from an untimely end.

All in all, roleplay games can tear you away from your phone screen, bring you closer to your friends and immerse you in engaging and fantastical worlds. Check out your local gaming store, or join a gaming club if you want to form a group. You can also roll for initiative yourself and go to http://dnd.wizards.com/ to check out character sheet and campaign ideas. Like I said, the sky’s the limit. Happy gaming!


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.