Tabletop Roleplaying 101


If you’re an Illinois librarian, you may have gone to the Illinois Youth Services Institute conference this past weekend. And if you went to the IYSI conference, you may have come and see me and Steven Torres-Roman (author of Dragons in the Stacks: A Teen Librarian’s Guide to Tabletop Role-Playing) give our presentation on tabletop role-playing in libraries (I hope you did! It was a great presentation!) For my first professional presentation, I feel really good about how it went (and if you were there, please, tell me how I did in the comments!); we had great questions, a good sized audience, and the demo we ran played out as well as I had hoped.

However, if you didn’t have the chance to attend IYSI, I thought I’d take a moment and give you the bullet points – why you should care about RPGs, why they belong in libraries, and how easy it is to incorporate RPGs into your collection and programming schedule.

1. Tabletop roleplaying encourages teamwork, socialization, and can bring kids together via a common interests

Tabletop roleplaying games are, by their nature, group activities – you succeed or fail together, solve puzzles and work through obstacles together. Socially awkward or shy kids united by common interest learn how to contribute to a conversation, take the lead or defer, and learn how to meet new people in a safe environment.

2. There’s a game for every genre

There’s a game for every genre – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, historical fiction; if you can read a book about it someone has written a ruleset for it. Additionally, there are games based off of a ton of fandoms, including Dr. Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Lord of the Rings, Cthulhu, zombies, and more.

AND, if you CAN’T find a game that works for your kids’ interests, there are systems out there that are made for customization – to start you out, let me link you to Risus, the Anything RPG, a system specifically designed to let you create your own worlds and stories.

3. It opens the door to readers advisory opportunities

Related to the above, there are MANY tie-in opportunities to introduce read-a-likes to your audience based on game genres they enjoy. Running a successful Shadowrun (sci-fi cyberpunk) group? Time to break out the William Gibson recommendations. There are even whole series of books based on or related to some titles, such as Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, Cthulhu, and Star Wars.

4. You can get started at little to now cost

Yes, core books and supplementary rule books can be expensive. The cost of maps and minis can stack up. But many games make it easy to try before you buy – three big ones; Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Fantasy Flight Games line of Star Wars RPGs; all have something called a beginner’s box available. This is a kit with rules, pre-written and blank character sheets, dice and maps ready for you to run a low level adventure designed to teach you how to play the game. These are priced way below the complete rule books, and can be converted into kits or sets that you can circulate (I also learned how to gamemaster by running some teens through the adventure in the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box, so it’s a great learning opportunity for you, as well).

5. Programming is as easy as setting up a monthly session

Tabletop RPG programming for me looks like: two-hour campaign sessions every other Friday for the ongoing game, and a two-hour new player orientation and character creation on the last Saturday of the month. I run a game cobbled together from free modules I get from the Paizo, Inc. website and my own story ideas, and I use a random encounter generator quite liberally. The biweekly games are designed to be easy to rotate in and out of (because teens have busy schedules), but new players must come to an orientation meeting before they can jump into the weekly game – two hours simply isn’t enough time to teach people how to play and also get into the story.

The best part about all of this is that now my teens are starting to get into GM’ing themselves, so when something comes up for me they can still meet and play. In fact, one of my recent high school graduates is going to be running the games all summer because I’ll be tied up with summer reading.

If you have any questions about RPGs or gaming in your library, or just want to chat about gaming or share ideas, please leave me a comment!