Role-Playing Games

Talking Points

  • RPGs encourage socialization, creating a sense of camaraderie among players. 
  • These games are very inexpensive, requiring little in the way of materials - primarily a rule set, paper, pencils and dice.  The time investment for preparation is more of an issue, but pre-generated adventures can be found easily online. 
  • Since play largely exists in the imagination of its participants, an RPG campaign is great for encouraging inventiveness and developing storytelling skills.
  • The worlds created by Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, and the like have spawned numerous books in their own right and launched the careers of such authors as Margaret Weis and R.A. Salvatore.

Model Programs

Allen County Public Library - Ian McKinney is a pioneer in this field and has been running RPGs in the library for a long time.  He wrote a very useful article on his experiences here

Perris Library - Ran Dungeons and Dragons adventures every other Saturday for two years, and many participants went on to start their own adventures. 


Collection Development

  • Dungeons and Dragons - While requiring significant time to prepare and a single player as the Dungeon Master, D&D is a storytelling experience that can be easily tied to literacy goals.  The newest edition (5th) makes the process much simpler for new players.  There is a basic starter set available for folks who just want to dip a toe in at first.  The standard rules are found in three core rulebooks:

  • Old School Hack - A simplified, more humorous set of tabletop RPG rules, available for free at  Very approachable and fun, and conducive to short gaming sessions with new participants each time, as library programs tend to go. 

  • Pathfinder RPG - Dungeons and Dragons made a number of controversial changes when it transitioned to its fourth edition (most of which they walked back in their fifth edition).  Pathfinder was developed as a way of continuing the older "3.5" rule set, and has a large following.  While there are a number of books to flesh out the world and the options available, only one core rulebook is necessary. 

  • Call of Cthulhu - An RPG set in the world created in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, where insanity and a horrible end tend to await characters.  Grim, but very well done, and has "Library Use" as a particularly important in-game skillset.

  • Shadowrun - Currently on its fifth edition, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk RPG heavily influenced by William Gibson's works, with more than a dash of magic thrown in to boot. 

  • Warhammer 40,000 - Set in a grim and far-flung future, Warhammer 40K is very popular, but heavily reliant on miniatures, and as such might be too labor-intensive for library programs.

  • Rifts - An utterly amazing mishmash of technology, magic, mythology and anything else you can imagine in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  If you want to be a cybernetic ninja riding a magic dinosaur, this is the game for you.  A bit old, and has some broken mechanics, but enjoyable. 

  • Some RPGs have rulesets so streamlined they fit on one or two pages.  Here's a list of some that are available for free:


Helpful Advice

  • Most games use dice.  Have a lot on hand - a set for each player, ideally. 
  • 1-inch graph paper is extremely useful.  Easel pads of it can be bought at an office supply store, and are excellent for drawing maps. 
  • You can make tokens cheaply by shrinking down pictures found online, printing them and cutting them out. 
  • Use your smartphone's camera to take a picture of the map's layout at the end of each session so you can set things up easily the way they were next time.
  • Most games have a core rulebook (or three) and a series of additional books which, while not required, help fill out the world and give players additional options for their characters. 
  • Remember - the Dungeon Master is in charge, and can change the rules, or add house rules, as they see fit.  If a rule from the books isn't working out, feel free to change it. 
  • There are many pre-generated adventures available online - many can be found for free.  See the links below. 
  • Programs using RPGs will not generate huge numbers of patrons, and that's OK.  A single DM generally won't be able to handle a party of more than 4-6, and large parties become more of a problem than a boon.  If demand becomes high, have multiple sessions for different parties, running the same adventure for both.  In addition, encourage them to form their own groups!
  • Add the books to your circulating collection.  Keep a reference set on hand so patrons can run their own games in the Library. 
  • Creating new characters is very time consuming.  Make a wide variety of blank characters ahead of time and have players pick one they like and tweak it to save time. 
  • Ensure that adventures are episodic - you may not have the same players each week.  Short, discrete adventures let you add and remove players as needed. 
  • Set aside three hours per session, if possible.  Combat can be especially time-consuming. 


Game Design

Playing an RPG essentially involves designing a game as you go using your imagination.  In addition, RPGs exist for pretty much any fictional universe, from Firefly to Star Wars to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It is, however, entirely possible to create your own rule set. 

  • GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) is a good way to start.  It provides rules that can be applied to pretty much any setting, and is highly customizable. 


Books and Links