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Why play a tabletop RPG over a console or PC RPG - and where do I start?

Updated on July 7, 2011
Ah, the eternal struggle...
Ah, the eternal struggle...

Which system will I like?

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Where I'm coming from...

So, I've played the best MMORPGS and CRPGS: World of Warcraft, Diabolo, Baldur's Gate, XII Final Fantasies, Anarchy Online, Mass Effect, Fallout, AdventureQuest, Daggerfall and Morrowind, Lost Odyssey, Zelda... The list goes on, but for me none of it compares to good old-fashioned tabletop dice rollin'. Here's why:

  • Story. PC/console RPGs have a fixed storyline. Personally, I always thought Daggerfall was superior to Morrowind, for example, as the storyline was much more flexible, with random quests thrown into the mix. Frontier: Elite II was an amazingly immersive game because it had no story other than the path you carved for yourself. A good Game Master can spin things to include players' own interpretation of the story, and allow them to have a real input to their game.
  • System. GMs can run whatever system the players like - and add "house rules" as they please - as opposed to being fixed and open to...
  • Cheating. Come on, admit it: You've somehow cheated or exploited the system or loopholes in a PC/console RPG - even if it's looking up item locations or optimising your skills. Tabletop RPGs aren't about one person winning or losing.
  • Social. Playing with my friends beats pick up groups or random strangers every time.
  • Replayability. Starting a new character never means having to play those same few intro quests/missions to get them up to speed.

Real male and female gamers talk about tabletop roleplaying:

OK, you've convinced me - where do I start?

This is controversial, and will no doubt raise a few eyebrows from hardcore roleplayers, but I'd point people towards 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. D&D should be pretty familiar to anyone who's played Baldur's Gate - or most CRPGs, in fact - and the new edition plays very much like a video game. The books are high-quality and the system is easy to get in to, and there are plenty of ready-made adventures for new DMs - even including monster stats. It's where I started, and I've moved on since, but it made the transition easy.

The fantasy genre is pretty easy to dive into for roleplaying, as everyone's got some idea about the setting.

The main drawback for new gamers is that D&D's a bit of a money sink - you only really need a Player's Handbook and a Dungeon Master's Guide as far as books go, in fact I'd recommend keeping it simple - but you'll find yourself buying a gaming mat, miniatures, dice sets, possibly dungeon tiles...

Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds is a pretty easy to use "rules light" system, and as such would make a good introduction to tabletop gaming. The core rulebooks are not only cheap - $10/£5 or so - it's also pretty easy to get started playing a fantasy campaign for free.

I'm currently planning a campaign using the Deadlands setting book, and the thing I like about the Savage Worlds books is that rather than outlining an adventure, as D&D adventures do, they outline the world and drop plot hooks here and there to allow a GM to weave their own story. This is perfect for my group as they have a habit of going off on tangents!

SW has a variety of setting books, from fantasy to futuristic, wild west to pirate, and will definitely feature in my campaigns in future. The core Savage Worlds rulebook is available to download too, which is a bonus if you live outside the US (like me).


The long running Generic Universal Role Playing System - also in its fourth edition. GURPS is more complex than D&D in many ways, but simpler than others. It's incredibly customisable - as you'd expect with a name like that - and the many, many GURPS sourcebooks are incredibly detailed and well worth buying for whatever system you may play due to the sheer wealth of information there.

GURPS can be played with or without miniatures, so you might save some money here too. There's also a free "lite" version to try before you buy, and a very good introductory adventure available for free.

We're currently playing time travel GURPS as it's pretty easy to switch between worlds and timelines on the fly - the scenario in the 4th edition Campaigns book centres around world hopping - and pretty much any character you could imagine is possible under the system.

Unfortunately, all this generic universality leads to information overload - there's much more content to skip over than you'd use for any one campaign. Ploughing though superpowers, extra head/limb rules and secret kung-fu knowledge to find the rules for "Gullible" gets old.

Help me out here!

What would you recommend to newbie gamers?

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    • Wanado profile image


      3 years ago

      My Dad got me intro D and D (1st edition rules!) and personally I think its far better than anything I've tried online. Great hub!

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image

      Andy Miller (aka Max_Writer) 

      6 years ago

      Great segue game is Call of Cthulhu or Basic Roleplaying in general (both from Chaosium). Quick character creation, easy and intuitive rules system (very lite), and a focus on role-play over rules and roll-play. Perfect for new gamers.

    • eternalsandwyrm profile image


      6 years ago from Maine

      well every one has covered mostly every from gurps to world of darkness( where i started over 21 years ago). but Star Wars Sagas should be screamed about, it is 3.5 D&D with light sabers and telent trees. i have been running games out of this book for over a year now i find the rely incorperate the feel of roleplay a jedi or sith. but alas wizards has lost the right so they can focus on ship battles.

    • William157 profile image


      6 years ago from Southern California

      Great hub. I don't typically see Savage Worlds AND D&D mentioned in the same space. As a Savage myself, it's refreshing. Also, the first link under the Savage Worlds heading doesn't work anymore.

    • profile image

      James mike 

      6 years ago

      Pathfinder all the way it's what I started on and I have moved on to other RPGs like savage worlds and castles and crusades but I still love to play pathfinder!

    • Barnsey profile image


      6 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      I agree. Pathfinder also has taken steps to fill some of the gaping holes left by D&D like Daemons! 4th edition is an Epic Fail!

    • profile image

      David A. Hill 

      6 years ago

      As someone that has played RPGs from the very "three little tan booklets" beginning, I would recommend Pathfinder. Having looked at 4e D&D, I can no longer support "Wizbro's" efforts for D&D and would prefer to remain with D&D 3.5.1, i.e. Pathfinder.

      The D20 system was a fine attempt to standardize the AD&D system and get everyone on the same page. 3.5 felt rushed and remained somewhat broken (according to myself and the majority of players I've spoken to). Pathfinder goes a long way toward retaining the sense and structure of D20, without taking the feeling of adventure and roleplaying from the game.

      4e D&D has been compared to MMOPRGs and even CCGs in a number of reviews and articles - and I can't help but concur. Pathfinder feels more like a true tabletop RPG experience to me and I feel it will be the last D&D system I purchase.

    • La Pit Master profile image

      La Pit Master 

      6 years ago from On Your Tabletop

      Comprehensive! Do you prefer to play or run the game?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'd point people towards Pathfinder as a starting system, because It is a lot more robust then 4th ed, and has a lot more books available for it. It is compatible with all of the D&D 3.0 and 3.5 stuff out there.

    • sweetchai profile image


      7 years ago from South Florida

      Depending on their interests I'd either suggest something like Earthdawn or one of the WoD games since both are easily streamlined into a less mechanics, easily digested version of themselves without too much. You can still get out the pen and paper and still get a lot of good RP time in as the system (at least a few of the WoD) worlds are so rich in background.

    • profile image

      Morgath Mondomor 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      I played a lot when I was younger. I purchased many systems and liked them all for the most part but I kept going back to AD&D 1st edition.

      I like all the weird little bits of the rules. They're like the eccentric uncle that most people find off putting but once you get to know him you find out he tells great stories and is a load of fun. Plus I think the rules can be easily adapted to just about any genre.

      I'd go back to playing it but my kid just loves the Heavy Gear system, so what can I do, right?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Also, one strong advantage of tabletop RPGs is that you are "getting inside the players heads" and customizing the experience for each of them. Does a certain player want more combat? Travel to odd realms? Role-playing interaction? The amassing of power and political influence through intrigue? Maybe they want you to inject more humour. ("The wand slipped out of his hand, and landed on your head. You're now...a duck, because you didn't.") A good game-master keeps alive the storytelling skills of old.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Star Wars 1st-edition was really, really good because it combined info on playing and game-mastering, had simple rules and a recognizable background. But the licence was taken over by the same people as D&D and reworked into the "d20" rules like Dungeons & Dragons (one ring to bind them all? Toss the latest edition into Mordor!)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      D&D began to die with 3E and 4E. Video games should have nothing to do with table top games...besides the D&D game for the Sega Genesis lol

    • Earl S. Wynn profile image

      Earl S. Wynn 

      8 years ago from California

      I used to run a bunch of 2nd ed games when I was a teenager, but lately I've been using Cortex to get new players involved. It's new and there isn't a lot of support, but It's got that universal approach that GURPS does without being so crazy on the details. Plus, there's a Serenity/Firefly RPG that goes with it. :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Lately, I've been starting people out on Monsters and Other Childish Things by Arc Dream. Character creation is quick and easy, the system is fast and simple, what you can do with your character is limited only by your imagination, and the emphasis is on playing a character rather than mindless objective completion. I strongly recommend it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Over the Edge, without hesitation. The rules are simple. It's set in the modern world (but with a strong weird wibe) so it's pretty easy to get into. It very quickly teaches you to play the game instead of min-maxing.

      ...but really, I would recommend any game that the GM feels excited about, and can get the players excited about. Choise of a game isn't a huge choise -- at least as long as you are aware that (1) there are different games out there (2) they really aren't all the same (3) setting and rules are two different things.

      So I'm going to toss in some names that haven't been mentioned yet:

      Barbarians of Lemuria.


      Trail of Cthulhu.

      HeroQuest 2.0 (ok, it was mentioned already -- but it's really quite nifty, but OTE might be easier for a first-time GM.)

    • starvagrant profile image


      8 years ago from Missouri

      I am familiar with over a half a dozen table top rpg's and I like every one except Dungeons and Dragons. I think the D and D setting, with its 6-8 character classes and 6 all humanoid races leads to boring generic fantasy. If you want to introduce people to roleplaying I'd start with a near diceless game like Teenagers from Outer Space.

      Role players don't just need to learn systems, they also need to learn how to make fun characters and how to interact in the open ended and social world that is table top role playing. Teenagers has few numbers/rules and provides a setting with which most people are familiar (high school). Quick single sessions are easy to make and play.

    • deltamonk profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the comments guys - I'm going to try to get this page cleaned up and add some of your ideas to it!

      Nice to see you over here Tourq! :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'd Recommend Hero Quest 2.0. It's the latest version of what was originally Hero Wars. Robin Laws has distilled the system down to a single core mechanic.

      For people new to the hobbie, it isn't a daunting read at just over 100 pages, I believe. It is also very flexible depending on how they decide to tackle it. You can approach it narratively with single die roll representing a broad range of actions instead of a series of rolls. You can get so specific as to describe abilities in a GURPS-like fashion with 50 skills.

      The only problem with the game is its lack of publicity and availability. Many players will not have access to the game as it is only available to order online. They aren't likely to come across the game by chance but if they do, I'm sure they'd be hooked.

      If anyone else hasn't checked out Hero Quest 2.0, I highly recommend it. Especially if prefer a less tactical game and more of a collaborative story.

      As much as I dislike 4th Edition D&D, you're right that it is probably the easiest game for new players to get into. The new Pathfinder d20 might be a good option as well.

    • profile image

      Elber of Torou 

      8 years ago

      The LORE (Lightweight Omnipotent Roleplaying Engine) by Gregory Weir. It's free to download as a PDF (google Lore and his name). It has a very simple dice system, diceless character generation, and no excess information at all (hence Lightweight). It can be used for any genre at all.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Some play "hack-and-slash" with certain games. I play hack-and-slash with certain game systems - d20 comes to mind.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I started with World of Darkness and thought that was pretty easy to learn - not much math to do since the stats are kept to generally small numbers, roll a bunch of dice and look for numbers over 8.

    • deltamonk profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the comments guys, and it's interesting to see the difference of opinion about 4e DnD.

      Call of Cthulhu looks a great game Seth - I've read through the starter adventure for the current ruleset - but it's such a departure from the "norm" for my players. Ah well.

      As far as the d20 system goes, I've never been much of a fan. I can feel some more hubs comin' on about other systems...

    • Porshadoxus profile image


      8 years ago from the straight and narrow way

      I wonder if the many votes for D&D are because there are may fans of D&D, or because it truly is easy to understand.

      I began way back when with the Hero Quest game. It was simple. easy, and gave a taste for the bigger and better. I've not tried Hero Scape, but I imagine it is a similar easy-for-beginners experience. Also, a small board game requires fewer dollars for the inexperienced to decide if they enjoy the RPG experience.

      I echo Post Modern Man: I miss my old D&D days. Last time I played was under 2.0! I've recently had a chance to check out 4.0 and the d20 Open Game System. I would not want to recommend either to an RPG newbie, unless there was a talented tutor available the ease the learning process.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm just now getting into GURPS, and I have to say my expectations are pretty high. My group is pretty young, and we started with D&D 4e, which we quickly got tired of. I've DM'ed a few d20 campaigns, and a few of my group (including myself) are knee-deep in a Call of Cthulhu campaign under another DM (or Keeper, in this case). I'd say for beginners, either D&D 4e or 3.5 would work, personally I'd recommend 3.5, owing to its rules compatibility with other d20 products. CoC is definitely NOT for beginners but is great for the jaded roleplayer who is used to soaking up the damage. Getting one-shotted by a sneaky cultist is a real slap in the face!

    • deltamonk profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Jeff - my group had a bad 4e experience, but I've had similar comments on my blog that make me think we should maybe try and patch things up! I couldn't agree more about GURPS too - although it was a bit too unwieldy for my lot.

      I'll see if I can get hold of those others - I'm always keen to play new systems.

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 

      8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      I gotta say, you're right about 4eD&D as a good starter system for beginning gamers. And hey, it's even fun for experienced gamers. The rules (while they're totally designed to make the tabletop experience more like the online experience) are internally consistent, and they /work/, which is really all I can ask for in a tabletop system.

      That said, when the beginner is ready to take off the training wheels, I recommend GURPS for those who have a more realistic view toward gaming. The folks at Steve Jackson Games do reality checks for their rules, and regularly get (and listen to!) feedback from gamers and real world experts. Downside, GURPS only has four stats, and is more prone to min/maxing than some other systems.

      If you're interested in a more cinematic style game, I recommend West End Games' 1e Star Wars, the Roleplaying Game, if you can find it. The players' rules and GM rules are in the same book. All you really need are that book, a willingness to go with the flow, and about a million 6-siders.

      Or you could use Alderac's 7th Sea, a pirate-y swashbuckling game that's ever so cinematic. Alas, it too is out of print, but worth its weight in gold.

    • deltamonk profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks, It's never too late to come back... ;-)

    • Post Modern Man profile image

      Post Modern Man 

      8 years ago

      Great hub, I miss my old D&D days.

    • deltamonk profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for voting - keep 'em coming!


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