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!



Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

I pulled this post out of my drafts and gussied it up both because I think it’s important advice (especially for libraries with fewer resources) and also because I’ve been quite busy preparing for a presentation and haven’t had time to craft something new. Enjoy my words of wisdom!

The past couple of months have been a learning experience for me in several areas, but the one I’ve been working hardest at (and becoming the most improved in) is asking people for stuff.  Libraries don’t have infinite resources, but because we endeavor to use our powers for good, there are many amazing people and organizations out there that are not only willing to, but happy to lend aid or assistance to libraries for free. All you have to do is ask!

Asking for help can be hard. There’s an instinct to couch everything in apologetic terms (“I’m sorry to ask, but…” or “I hope I’m not be an inconvenience…”) that’s frankly unnecessary – I’m not saying be rude, but the fact is that A LOT of organizations provide support for libraries and educational institutions!  I have a couple of programs that I run which don’t DEPEND on the generosity of others, but donations and support are certainly going to make them better than I could on my own.  And that support means I have another cornerstone to advertise with, which means I might get more and a wider variety of attendees than I would otherwise.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t just apply to material goods – speakers and presenters don’t have to break your budget either, you just might have to explore different avenues than the most obvious ones.  Local talent is the best source for this, as they won’t have high (or any) transportation costs and are usually excited to help out and support their local library.

Some examples of things I’ve asked for:

  • Program support from Paizo, Inc. for starting up a Pathfinder roleplaying group: I was fortunate enough to be able to introduce myself in person to Paizo’s community manager, but her contact information is easily found by going to and clicking on Contact Us. She was able to send us a Pathfinder Beginner’s Box, a core rule book, Gamemaster Guide, and Beastiary to get our group up and running. It is not crazy to imagine that other publishers might have similar support for libraries!
  • ARCs from different publishers: I’ve sent out the most requests and gotten the most negative responses, but it’s worth it for the publishers that do end up sending books. I’ve had success with Penguin Random House and Orca; cast this net wide and see what you pull up!
  • Free presenters/speakers: Local authors, cosplayers, comic artists, you name it: if they’re driving distance from me and responsive to e-mail, I’ve asked them to speak at the library. Our mini comic-con this past January was incredibly successful partially because our guest speakers were SO great; and all of them were more than happy to come for free. (I’m gonna go ahead and plug Paul Erickson, Casey Renee, Dean McQueen, C. Spike Trotman, and Brendan Detzner as being some of our amazing speakers.)

New Year, New Goals

Hey y’all. I was working on a post with my ten favorite graphic novels that I purchased for the collection this year, but it got stalled and I’m having trouble finishing it – let’s just say that Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh; Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, et al; Buzz! by Ananth Panagariya and Tessa Stone; and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson were some of my absolute faves, and you should absolutely get them for your collection if you haven’t already.

So! 2015 was a pretty good year for me, professionally. I started officially doing teen services stuff, I did my first school visits, planned some great big-ticket programs, and went to my first professional conference. I started more aggressively looking for ways to develop professionally, which will continue into 2016 when I give my first conference presentation (!!!!). I’d like to pay more attention to this blog, and make an effort to update at least once a week, even if it’s just to let you know how a program turned out or what excellent comics I’m reading.

(A friend and I also came up with the #52comics2016 challenge, where you pledge to read 52 unique comic/graphic novel titles this year, and you can follow my progress on my tumblr at that hashtag.)