September 1, 2020

All You Need Are Choices In Tabletop RPGs

Everyone is familiar with making choices. And some decisions are more difficult and/or more important than others. “What should my major be in college?” – for example – is likely a bit harder and more important than “What brand of peanut butter should I buy in the grocery store?”

But regardless of how easy/difficult or banal/important the choice, we all know what it’s like to weigh the various options back and forth in our mind. That decision-making experience is really all that’s required of new players when they first join their first tabletop RPG. If you can become comfortable making a choice in front of a group of friends, you’re going to fit in at the table just fine and have a great time.

So today’s Newbie Tuesday post digs deeper into the crux of playing stories: making choices!

Follow the Guide

Now admittedly, the choices you’re making when you play stories will likely not be about college majors or peanut butter brands. Perhaps you’ll need to decide whether you’ll fight, flee, or talk your way out of a sticky situation. Or perhaps two roads diverge in a yellow wood and you may only travel one of them. Or maybe a genie is summoned from a golden lamp you’ve just rubbed and gives you three wishes…choices are omnipresent in tabletop role-playing game stories.

To be clear new players: you will not prompt yourself with these scenarios. The GM (“Game Master”) or DM (“Dungeon Master”) is responsible for being the story guide for you and your fellow players. Most oftentimes, the GM sets up these situations, typically called the prompt, where they describe the context, what’s said, who is doing what etc. And this information empowers you, the player, to make that choice given the prompt.

So in the scenario, for example, where you’ve rubbed a lamp and a magical genie pops out, offering you three wishes, the GM would likely have also said if any of the wishes come with any caveats or consequences (i.e. you can’t kill anyone, you can’t make someone fall in love with you etc.). Listen to all of the story context and parse those details. Those details are akin to finishing the border of a puzzle prior to getting started on the middle (the choice itself).

So follow the GM’s prompt, listen to its surrounding details, lean on your experience in making decisions, and make that choice. That’s tabletop!

Working With Others

Most tabletop RPG groups have more than one player. So you’ll need to keep in mind that everyone else likely has their own thoughts on what to do next. Continuing the genie scenario, some at the table may advise you to wish to “Become a prince!” or “You don’t need wishes – just be honest with the princess!” or “Ditch Agrabah – we can find our own land!”

Yes, making choices involves taking in the GM’s prompt and surrounding context/details. But for tabletop RPGs with other players, you’re also free to take your fellow players’ feedback into account, to the extent you want to, when you make their choice(s). While meta-gaming can be an issue for more experienced players – another topic for another day! – feel free to get other players’ perspectives on your character’s decision-making process.

So new tabletop RPG players, not only will you not be “thrown to the wolves” when you sit down at the table for the first time, you’ll have all the setup & support you’ll need to get comfortable with playing stories with your friends. It’s all about making choices! If you’re feeling nervous, just dive right in – you won’t regret it.