Tabletop RPGs in the 21st Century
When I was a little boy, I loved playing pretending games with my friends. I had a fantastic collection of toy guns, and some great action figures from Star Wars and He-Man. We would get together and either take the guns outside, running around pretending to shoot imaginary bad guys, or stay inside playing with the figures. It was so much fun.
But sometimes when you play these games, you run into problems. Like when somebody wants to have a power or ability that is unfair. When little boys play these games we want to defeat each other, or defeat the enemy together. Arguments can ensue, and it is difficult to resolve the issues because there is no frame of reference on how to decide who is right or what is fair.
Then in middle school I discovered another type of pretending game called Dungeons & Dragons. Known as a Table Top Role Playing Game (TTRPG), it lets you craft a character and act out what that character’s persona would do. They have detailed rules about what you can and cannot do, and a Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM) who crafts the story and interprets and referees the rules. We had a blast because we could pretend to wield amazing weapons, cast incredible spells, and have wonderful adventures right from my living room. Once I got to high school, my schedule got busier and I stopped playing.
A couple of years ago I found myself wanting to play again, but not having any friends that played. I searched online and discovered great new resources that were not available in the 1980’s. The first was the virtual table top (VTT). These are websites like Foundry and Roll20 that let you run the game through a browser. The map of the world you are in appears on the screen, along with tokens representing the players that can be moved around, and controls to cast spells, attack with weapons, or do anything else you would normally do in the game.
The other resource was paid Dungeon Masters. Now let me warn you that some in the TTRPG community would find this controversial, because if you already have a group of friends that play the game you don’t normally pay a DM. One of the members of the group either prefers being the one that crafts the story, or members of the group take turns being the DM with each new campaign. But I have two reasons why I think paying a DM is perfectly reasonable.
First, as I mentioned before I don’t have a group of friends (local or online) that play the game. Sure I could go to a local game shop and try to find other gamers interested in starting a group, or post online looking for groups (there are plenty of Facebook groups for that). But I found using a service like StartPlaying to be an easy way to find a DM and group and start playing.
The second reason is that I get to support a creator and their work of crafting story and art. DM’s normally host one or two games per week, getting to play the game they love and supplementing their incomes. Others have transitioned to DM’ing as a full time job!
Take my DM Ned for example. Ned lives in Greece, and is an architect by trade. As a professional DM, he runs 10-12 games per week, making enough money to support himself and live comfortably. He has created his own world for his games to exist in complete with continents and countries, government systems, cultures, epochs in time, monsters, and special rules known as homebrew. This makes his games unique to the RPG world because everything outside of the normal rules was created by him. No other DM is telling the stories that he is telling.
While some old school gamers think playing online is weird, and don’t like the idea of paying to play, the internet has opened the game up to a lot of new players and allowed veteran players to get into more games, both without leaving their house. It has also opened players up to more TTRPG games because they can not only shop for them online, but also download the books and rules so they can learn and play without going to a store (however, if you like paper books I highly recommend you support your local game store).
If you are interested in learning about or playing table top role playing games, I have a bunch of recomenations for you.
Dungeons & Dragons
The Grand Daddy of them all. D&D is set in a medieval type world with dozens of races and character classes to choose from. There are also tons of campaigns to play, from fairly simple beginner campaigns to expert campaigns for veteran players with powerful characters. You can download the basic rules for free at the D&D website, as well as purchase other books and resources. Digital resources are distributed through D&D Beyond, which can be accessed from their site or on their mobile apps.
Pathfinder 2 from Kobold Press
Kobold Press has not been around as long as D&D, but they have created a great game system in Pathfinder 2. Set in a similar world as D&D, their system uses different rules for creating characters and performing actions during your turn. Digital resources are distributed in PDF format, or you can purchase books for shipping or from your local game shop.
There are lots of other games and systems out there, but these are the two that I am most familiar with and can recommend based on some amount of experience. Doing a search for “Table Top Roll Playing Games” will bring you lots of options to explore.
Finding a Game
Start Playing is my first pick here because it’s where I found Ned, my current DM. Here you can search for all kinds of games based on game system, type (campaign or one shot), dates, day and time, and more. You don’t actually play games on this site, but you can find games, rate DM’s, and manage your account. It’s a great way to find DM’s and manage your games.
Roll20 is a one-stop shop for finding and playing games because it not only has a search function for finding games, but Roll20 is also a VTT. Here you can find games that are free and paid, sign up and play. It also has built in video and voice chat. My only problem with Roll20 is that when I was first looking for a game, I could never find the button to sign up for the games I found. I was probably just missing it, or maybe it didn’t show up in the browser I was using.
These last two suggestions are a bit more general, but they can work. There is a Pathfinder Discord server which has a section for finding games, as well as discussion about rules and other topics.
For Dungeons & Dragons I don’t think there is a general Discord server, but there are servers based on location. I live in Ohio, and found an Ohio D&D Discord Server that lists games throughout the state.
Facebook has a number of groups where you can post to find a game. All Things D&D: Group Finder is a very general group where people post looking for games or looking for players. D&D 5e Online is another similar group. Finally if you are looking for a local group to play in person, look for a D&D group tied to your area. For me, I found Cleveland Dungeons & Dragons which lists groups in the NE Ohio area.
TTRPG’s have come a long way since they were born in the 1970’s. You can still play them the same way with books, paper character sheets, pencils, and physical dice around someone’s table. But as someone who loves tech, it’s great to see the amazing transition this game has made into the internet age. I think it’s one of the best parts of the social aspects of the internet. You can play with people all over the world right from your laptop, and make great new friends who share this interesting pastime with you.
“Dungeons & Dragons Online - Mikhai Rusemary” by Marco Hazard is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.