Plenty of io9 readers are already obsessed with role-playing games; to you guys, we say take five. It’s the rest of you that we’re talking to, those who might be looking to get into the hobby but might be a bit daunted by the rules and the guidelines and the sheer number of games available. Don’t worry! We know exactly how you can safely (and enjoyably) enter the world RPGs.
If you’re worried that everyone plays better than you do, like that nightmare where you’re taking a test only you forgot to study for, it’s best to get a few warm-up rounds in first. That’s why we’ve made this list of some games that can help inexperienced players dip their toe into different aspects of role-playing games. These include improvisation, dice and card-play, and character building—everything you’ll need to begin your role-playing journey.
1) Fiasco: A Game of Powerful Ambition & Poor Impulse Control
Description: Fiasco is a role-playing game where players create and enact stupid, disastrous crime capers through the roll of a dice. Players take turns establishing their character relationships, conflicts, and responses. Usually, things end up going from bad to worse.
Why it’s good RPG practice: It’s a great way to establish and practice improvisation, which is a key element in role-playing games. There’s no Gamemaster (GM), so all the players rely on each other to establish the scenes and move the story forward. Every player becomes part of a support network, and it sets up a level of comfort and safety to practice character acting. There are plenty of expansions, including free versions from eager fans.
Game you could take on next: Polaris
2) Android: Netrunner
Description: Android: Netrunner is a card version of the video games Mirror’s Edge or Remember Me, where two players play opposing sides in a cyberpunk war of information. One player takes on the role of the “netrunner,” a rebel trying to steal secret agendas from the other person, who plays the nasty corporation.
Why it’s good RPG practice: There’s a rules bell curve. This game has a lot of rules to memorize, so it can be intimidating. But since you’re only having to learn them with one other person, you’re less likely to worry about embarrassment if you get confused. Plus, it’s perfect for anyone wanting to learn how to explore card deck-focused games. Netrunner is always growing, including its first narrative campaign expansion, Terminal Detective, which comes out soon.
Game you could take on next: Call of Cthulhu
Players: 2-7 (best with 5 or 6)
Description: A ghost tries to communicate with a group of mediums in order to have them solve his murder. The mediums work together, using silent clues from the ghost (in the form of illustrated “vision” cards) in order to uncover the person, place, and weapon, and give the spirit closure. Mysterium is basically Dixit and Clue’s love child.
Why it’s good RPG practice: This game is all about expression and collaboration, with the added twist of non-verbal communication. One player takes on the role of the silent spirit, giving abstract visions to the other players in the form of cards, and it’s up to the other players to interpret what the ghost was trying to tell them. That especially makes it a great choice for any players wanting to start a regular RPG group together.
Game you could take on next: Pandemic
4) One Night: Ultimate Werewolf
Description: One Night: Ultimate Werewolf is a fast 10-minute bluffing game where everyone is secretly given a role as a villager or a werewolf, and it’s a race against the clock to see if any of the werewolves can be discovered and lynched.
Why it’s good RPG practice: It’s a great way to become familiar with playing in larger groups, since that can be one of the most overwhelming aspects of role-playing. Since the game is easy to learn and has a lot of repeat playability, it’s a way to prepare for interacting with a lot of different players— handy for anyone wanting to experiment with dinner party murder mysteries or even LARPing. For anyone wanting to take it a step further, there’s the longer version, simply called Ultimate Werewolf, which accommodates up to 75(!) players.
Game you could take on next: The Resistance
5) Risus: The Anything RPG
Players: Varied, 4+GM is recommended
Description: Risus is the “anything goes” game that was designed in the early ‘90s to cope with Dungeons & Dragons burnout, it’s an easy pen-and-paper RPG for single-night gameplay. There are few rules and even fewer restrictions; players simply get together and do whatever the hell they want.
Why it’s good RPG practice: It’s an excellent introduction to character building, which is one of those things I still have trouble getting with RPGs. Each new game can let you build a new character without feeling “behind” the other players who have more experience. There are few limitations on your character’s abilities, called Clichés, so long as other players are cool with it. Plus, the best part is it’s free, and anyone who has trouble coming up with their own storylines can use the dozens of fan group resources to get the ball rolling.
Game you could take on next: Mouse Guard (see below)
6) Mouse Guard
Players: 3+ (can play solo or 2 players)
Description: Mouse Guard is the gold standard in practice RPGs. Based on the comic book and graphic novel series by David Peterson, this pen-and-paper RPG has players take on the role of the Guard, forming patrols, heading up missions, and defeating enemies.
Why it’s good RPG practice: There are a lot of RPG-lite games involving mice: Mouse Guard, Redwall, Mice & Mystics. But there’s a reason, and that’s because they’re really fun and effective. This game takes players step-by-step into how to engage in a tabletop RPG, preparing anyone interested in taking on something more complex. It’s a perfect intermediary.
Game you could take on next: Dungeons & Dragons