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.
  • There are rule sets for basically all ages or interests, and a wide selection of "generic" rule sets for creating a game in any setting.
  • The worlds created by Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, and the like have spawned numerous books and launched the careers of such authors as Margaret Weis and R.A. Salvatore.


Collection Development



  • Cloud Dungeon - “It’s designed to be parent+kid friendly. It has permanent consequences and interesting group decisions to make, but is forgiving. It’s easy to get into. It’s all about making unique characters, coloring/drawing, and customizing. It’s an incredibly fun and creative experience that appeals to anyone who likes to make stuff.”
  • Hero Kids - A fantasy RPG designed for players aged 4 – 10.   Rules are simple and adventures are designed specifically for the age group it was designed for. Available through Drive-thru RPG. 
  • No Thank You, Evil - “Great fun for kids as young as five years old. But it’s also great fun for the rest of family—adults included!—because the scalable rules adapt easily to the abilities of the player. After a game or two with the grown-ups, a twelve-year-old might even run games for the other kids! The gameplay rules are easy to grasp for novice or young players, but nuanced and flexible enough for older kids and grown-ups to enjoy just as much.”
  • Stuffed Fables - A hybrid RPG-board game “in which players take on the roles of brave stuffies seeking to save the child they love from a scheming, evil mastermind. Make daring melee attacks, leap across conveyor belts, or even steer a racing wagon down a peril-filled hill. The game delivers a thrilling narrative driven by player choices. Players explore a world of wonder and danger, unlocking curious discoveries. The chapters of Stuffed Fables explore the many milestones of a child's life, creating a memorable tale ideal for families, as well as groups of adults who haven't forgotten their childlike sense of wonder.”
  • Tiny Dungeon 2E - “With streamlined mechanics that utilize only one to three single six-sided dice on every action, characters that can be written 3x5 notecard, and easy to  understand and teach rules, Tiny Dungeon 2e is great for all groups, ages, and experience levels!”

Teens & Adults


  • Call of Cthulhu - An RPG set in the world created in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, where insanity and grim ends tend to await characters
  • Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) - 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: the Player's Handbook (Basic rules of character creation and the mechanics of the game), the Dungeon Master's Guide (Used to create the world and adventures the players face) and the Monster Manual (Gives you enemies to throw at the players)
  • Fate - A very rules-light system that can be adapted to any setting.  There are two versions: Fate: Core, which is the fully-featured version, and Fate:  Accelerated, which has even more streamlined rules. 
  • Fiasco - Fiasco works along different lines than traditional RPGs, with all participants, including the nominal GM, contributing to make a Coen Brothers-style story in which bad things happen to flawed people.
  • Numenera - Set in the far, far future of Earth after the collapse of multiple civilizations, Numenera features characters in a transformed landscape eking a living from the scraps of technology that remain.  
  • Old School Hack - A simplified, more humorous set of tabletop RPG rules, available for free.  Very approachable and fun, and conducive to short gaming sessions with new participants each time, as library programs tend to go. 
  • Pathfinder/Starfinder - D&D 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 D&D 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. Starfinder transfers modified Pathfinder rules into a science-fiction space opera setting.
  • 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. A newer version is available that uses the Savage World RPG system and updates the game world in some great ways.
  • 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.
  • 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 RPGs use dice, so have a lot on hand - one 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. 
  • Library 3D printers can be leveraged for making impressive miniatures cheaply.
  • 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 Game 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. Fit the game to your group.
  • There are many pre-generated adventures available online - many can be found for free. See the resource 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 pre-generated characters ahead of time and have players pick one they like and tweak it to save time.
  • Ensure that adventures are episodic because you may not have the same players each week. Short, one-shot adventures let you add and remove players as needed.
  • Set aside at least three hours per session, if possible. Combat can be especially time-consuming, so encourage players to pick out their moves ahead of time as much as possible.



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. 
  • Fate, as mentioned above, can be used in basically any setting.
  • Savage Worlds is another system that has been adapted to all sorts of milieus, including World War I, the Rifts Universe and traditional fantasy.

Web Resources

  • Bundle of Holding - This website features ebook bundles that come and go on a regular basis, and is a great source for cheap ebooks for programming.
  • Critical Hits - News and reviews for RPGs and tabletop games generally
  • Critical Role - This popular show features seven popular voiceover actors diving into epic Dungeons & Dragons adventures, led by veteran game master Matthew Mercer.
  • D&D Adventures (free) - Here are a selection of pre-generated adventures for download
  • D&D Beyond - Official digital content (core books, supplements, and adventures), online character sheets, forums
  • D&D Character Sheets - Free blank character sheets for download. 
  • DriveThruRPG - a great online store for purchasing ebook files from a wide swath of games.
  • Dungeon's Master - A resource blog for Dungeons and Dragons, specifically.  Has a useful pre-generated character library. 
  • The Escapist - Has a good section on tabletop gaming, with news and reviews.
  • Gnome Stew - a blog for game masters
  • Initiative Tracker - a free tool for keeping track of initiative order in battle
  • Mercer’s Magnificent Mind - A Matthew Mercer fan group where members share RPG tips, tricks, and ideas
  • Random Encounter Generator by Ian Tolz - for the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons
  • RPG Net - "The oldest & largest independent roleplaying site on the Internet," and a good source of reviews and resources.

Books, Journal Articles, & Webinars

Ammann, Keith. (2019) The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters. Saga Press.

Kaylor, Stefanie L. B. (2017) "Dungeons and Dragons and literacy: The role tabletop role-playing games can play in developing teenagers' literacy skills and reading interests." Graduate Research Papers, 215.

Lowder, J. (2007). Hobby games: the 100 best. Renton, WA: Green Ronin Publishing.

Sich, Dan. (2012) "Dungeons and downloads: collecting tabletop fantasy role-playing games in the age of downloadable PDFs,'' Collection Building, Vol. 31 Iss: 2, pp.60 - 65.

Thomas Vose. (2012) "Creative Tabletop Gaming:  Dungeons and Dragons and Libraries (Oh My!)", School Library Journal, March 2012, pp. 24-24.

Donation Sources

  • Tabletop Loot - Request dice for kids programs at schools and libraries