Published on September 25th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Top 5 RPGs For Beginners
Roleplaying games are one of my all time favorite types of tabletop games, and I’ve played dozens of different games over the years. I like introducing new people to the hobby of roleplaying games and I’ve found that some games really are better for learning (and teaching) than others.
Two years ago I wrote about this topic, but since then the scene has changed a bit and I’ve had the opportunity to introduce new people to the hobby via different methods. I feel like most games have something valuable to bring to the table, so the following games are not necessarily my favorite games, though I like each of these a LOT. Instead, these are the games I feel are most valuable for people new to RPGs to play first.
An RPG by game designer Ben Robbins, creator of indie hit Microscope, Kingdom puts you and your friends in the roles of influential people within a community. The community is whatever you want it to be: a colony ship voyaging into space, a wild west town, a gated community, a family of medieval bandits. The most important element is a ready source for conflict from within and without the group.
Kingdom is a great RPG for beginners because its structure allows players to follow their creativity without being overly hampered by rules, while at the same time giving very strict limits to what kind of narrative control they have at any given moment. Basically, the rules are light and mostly stay out of your way and only exist to create interesting situations and decisions for the players.
Kingdom’s rules are less traditional than rules from other RPGs, and you won’t find any experience points or advanced character options here. Sessions are usually self-contained, and ongoing campaigns aren’t supported in the rules. Kingdom is best played with at least three people, though it can accommodate as many as six or seven, depending on how long you want turns to be.
FATE Core / FAE
The indie RPG hit from Evil Hat Games, FATE is one of the most popular setting-neutral systems on the market. One of the things that makes FATE so popular is the modular nature of the system. The rules are very open to manipulation, and the books (especially the FATE System Toolkit) give you advice on how to tweak different parts of the rules to customize the feel of your game. Apart from that, FATE has two aspects that will help players new to RPGs: it’s action oriented, and player characters have defined reasons to work together.
In FATE every character should be a person of “Action!”, there is no room in FATE games for the person who stays at home and lets everyone else take the spotlight- that character is an NPC. One of the main character attributes in FATE are player-defined stats called Aspects. These often take the form of goals or motivations, or at least imply the existence of important NPCs or factions. This usually results in characters that have a strong drive to get something accomplished, which helps drive the game.
During FATE’s character creation, there is a phase where players come up with a past scenario in which they worked together. You’re encouraged to give it a title from a Pulp novel or action film, “Character X and the Marzipan Golems” as an example. Then you hand your character sheet to another player and they add in the part that their character contributed to the story, which you get to use to develop your character’s stats. It’s a fun way to make sure everyone’s characters fit together well for the story, and it starts you off with some background.
For more info on FATE, see my full review of this amazing game here.
The last ten years have seen a lot of new ideas and mechanics come into the RPG scene, and Dungeon World is a prime example of this rebirth. Dungeon World is the answer to the question, “What if D&D were an Indie RPG?” and it does a good job of selling itself. It is the fantasy rules version of the game Apocalypse World, but Dungeon World draws equally from games like FATE (for rules) and 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (for feel).
Like FATE, there is a focus on rules that influence the story in a meta capacity or mechanics let you control the narrative in a more abstract way than D&D does. Don’t let the FATE references give you the wrong impression though, Dungeon World brings a lot of ideas of its own to the table. Most importantly, the rules of Dungeon World are shaped around a very specific old-school play style, but use modern rules and game design to achieve that stylistic goal. It also has the advantage of being very easy to modify/hack to add in your own elements.
Dungeon World is built to introduce people easily to the D&D-style gaming experience. There is a strong emphasis on the 1980s, 4X style of D&D play (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) and rules exist for setting camp, keeping henchmen in line, exploring, etc. Dungeon World breaks what seems to be a cardinal Indie RPG rule design by keeping races and classes from D&D, which does a lot to help it keep its essential flavor.
If you’re new to RPGs and you want to play a dungeon delve, skip D&D/Pathfinder and get Dungeon World.
While Fiasco is also not a role playing game as its usually defined, it is a game based on character roles you adopt in which you act out a story. Fiasco is a game in which everything inevitably goes horribly wrong. Think of the movie Snatch or Pulp Fiction, where the characters are constantly getting the short end of the stick and nothing seems to go right, one might say that everything ends in Fiasco.
Each time you play you pick a scenario, there are several great ones in the book and also many free ones for download via the website. The scenario gives you a theme, usually based around a movie or TV show. Then dice are rolled and a kind of drafting system is used to determine which of the elements in the scenario are going to be focused on in this session. Elements can be places, things, relationships between player characters or occupations. Once everything is set up, every one gets into scene and essentially start out acting out the roles you make up to fit the scenario.
While this isn’t a “traditional” RPG, it serves the base function of one very well and again, is a great game to use for beginners as it teaches the importance of character roles, improvisation, and how to let go of your attachment to a character if the story needs them to die to make it more interesting. If everyone started role playing with Fiasco and Microscope then the entire role playing community would be better off.
Dr. Who: Adventures in Time & Space
For those Whovians out there who would like to dive into roleplaying, but want a pre-made setting that you already know, there is an RPG for you! The Dr. Who RPG is a straightforward system meant to introduce new players to the hobby.
The Dr. Who RPG is balanced around the idea that players are typically companion-level characters, though there is support for Time Lord characters. The way that these characters are balanced is through technology or drama points. Essentially, if your character is less powerful than the Doctor then they get “get out of jail free” type points they can spend to make themselves useful to the plot.
Adventures in Time & Space has plenty of character options without being overwhelming, and I found making the character I wanted was very easy. One of the game’s selling features is its initiative system which lets players who want to reason with someone or run act before anyone gets to attack. This really reinforces the feeling of the TV show where the Doctor prefers talking to fighting.
Our own group of time-and-star-crossed heroes consisted of the 6th Doctor (the one everyone hates), Leela (the barbarian girl from the 4th Doctor’s run), Jackson Lake (the Victorian man who thought he was the 10th Doctor) and a single character not from the show: a space station DJ with a love of the bizarre. Adventures in Time & Space is an amazingly well put together product that ties all eras of Who together in a way that feels right.