Tabletop Fantasy RPGs | The Gaming Life

Tips for introducing role-playing games in your library

Fantasy role-playing games (FRPGs) utilize a set of rules for a group of players and a game master (GM) to create characters and tell stories in fictitious worlds that are provided in the game or created by the group. During actual play, the GM describes the surroundings and the players explain their character’s reactions to the setting.

Most role-playing games (RPGs) can be divided into two overarching groups: rules heavy and rules light. The first group includes games like Dungeons and Dragons, Reign, and Exalted. These games have complex sets of rules and a fairly steep learning curve (though no more so than most console or PC games). Games such as Princes’ Kingdom, The Zorcerer of Zo, and Faery’s Tale have less complex rules. Many of the rules light games are independent, or indie, games (not produced by a large corporation). Indie RPGs are typically more collaborative in nature, and usually have fewer statistics and less complex mechanics.

RPGs in Libraries

A strength of RPGs is that they allow players to examine real issues within the context of a game. By playing these games, students can develop many important life skills, such as teamwork, leadership, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and math and literacy skills. RPGs also engage players directly in the experience, making them active rather than passive participants.

Genesee Valley BOCES Library System has produced a landmark document ( that relates board gaming to the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st-Century Learner ( While these standards were established for board games, the document should be used as a model for making a case for tabletop RPGs. Each of the four standards can be directly addressed by playing RPGs. Players think critically and analyze information, make informed decisions and apply knowledge to new situations when interacting with the game’s setting and cultures, share knowledge and weigh moral consequences of their actions, and participate in creating stories that last beyond the end of the session. By addressing these standards and demonstrating the direct link between gaming and learning, RPGs can gain support from administrators and teachers.

There is no rating system for RPGs. Most of them are written for teen or adult audiences. Publishers are cognizant of their audiences and place disclaimers on the back cover or the first pages of the book. When considering using a RPG with students, follow the same criteria you use in deciding if an adult book is suitable for young adult readers.

Getting Started

The quickest way to get started in RPGs is to visit a gaming store or bookstore and browse the titles. Find one that appeals to you and begin reading the book. Don’t attempt to read all of the rules in one sitting or you will be overwhelmed. Get a group of people together and start playing a short introductory adventure and then small segments of the game. In just a few sessions, you will have a firm grasp of the rules. Keep in mind that many RPGs might not fit into a class period, but would be a perfect after school activity or club.

The Internet has helped gamers form communities, share ideas, and collaborate on numerous projects. There are many Web sites where fans can discuss RPGs, ranging from wide coverage, like, to very focused coverage, such as or the publishers’ forums. is an excellent primary site for librarians and teachers because it has an active forum, regular columns and articles, and reviews of RPGs, including actual play reviews.

The RPG industry is small and the release of some games can take years, accounting for older dates for some of the games reviewed here. The games below are very popular among various RPG communities.

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th ed. Wizards of the Coasts (wizards.dom/DnD). 2008, Ages 12+.

This is the most popular fantasy RPG in print. An average session assumes five players and one Dragon Master and is four hours long, with each encounter lasting approximately an hour. Wizards of the Coast publishes adventures that can be used for long term adventuring; they also have shorter Dungeon Delves which break down into four one hour encounters, allowing for a more episodic style of play. There are two price points. The less expensive path is to purchase the D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set ($16.99) which contains quick-start rules, chits for players and monsters, and a map to play on. This is a good way to see if this is the right game for your library. The other option is to purchase the three core books needed to play the full game: Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual ($34.95 ea.). With these books, a group could play for years. There are also setting books like Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide ($39.95) and books that expand on character classes like Martial Power ($29.95).

Exalted, 2nd ed. White Wolf Game Studios ( 2006. Ages 14+.

This game departs from the standard Western European roots of most FRPGs, drawing from classical and Asian mythologies, as well as from modern manga and anime sources to create a very cinematic RPG. The game includes some mature subject matter, including slavery and political and religious controversy. It also deals with alternative sexuality, making it a unique RPG. In the core rule book ($39.95), users can play Solar Exalted, the chosen of the Unconquered Sun, who have been magically imprisoned for years and demonized by the current rulers. There are books that expand the types of Exalted to be played (Manual of Exalted Power: the Dragon Blooded, $29.95), and detail setting elements (Compass of Celestial Directions, Vol. 1: The Blessed Isle, $24.99). All of White Wolf’s games are also available for purchase in pdf format from

Faery’s Tale Deluxe. Firefly Games ( 2007. Ages 6+.

This is an excellent introduction to fantasy role-playing for children and adults playing with children, and can be played in any timeframe available. Players take on roles of the small faeries and adventure through the realm of Brightwood. What makes this game noteworthy is that, like Princes’ Kingdom, combat is an option for players but is not emphasized. The paperback version can be purchased from Green Ronin Publishing ($19.95), and the pdf is available from Indie Press Revolution ($20).

Princes’ Kingdom. CRN Games ( princes_kingdom/index). 2006, Ages 6+.

Designed for players between the ages of 5 and 12, this game is played in shorter sessions (one hour maximum) than other RPGs. It is set in a vague location consisting of a huge archipelago where the characters’ father is king. The characters set out to survey the kingdom and aid its subjects. Players help the GM in creating conflict on various islands for them to solve. The system is designed for simple and elegant conflict resolution, and (unlike many RPGs) nonviolent resolution of problems is emphasized. The main book is available from Indie Press Revolution in both pdf ($9.99) and paperback ($19.99).

Reign. Greg Stolze ( 2007. Ages 14+.

Independently published by creator Greg Stolze and designed to be played in four hour sessions, this game takes a new tack on the traditional FRPG. Unlike other RPGs where players begin as competent but unknown adventurers, the characters here begin as leaders of groups ranging from bandit tribes to entire nations. The focus is on political relations and the governing of large organizations with the rules supporting the resolution of these encounters on a group scale and at the character level. The game’s setting consists of two continents that are actually two deities lying next to each other in an ocean. Reign is available as a pdf or in print through (hardcover, $50) and Indie Press Revolution (paperback, $37). There are ten free supplements covering rules expansions and setting information.

The Zorcerer of Zo. Atomic Sock Monkey Press ( 2006. Ages 8+.

This game is designed for younger players to tell stories set in worlds similar to Narnia, Oz, and Redwall. The book doesn’t include its core rules, but those are available online. The game is very light on rules and includes an extensive amount of advice for the GM. The book is available in pdf ($15) or paperback ($30) from Indie Press Revolution. A prospective GM will need to download a free pdf file of rules which is available from Atomic Sock Monkey’s Web site.

Cason Snow is a librarian at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb (

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