April 12, 2024
5 min read

What is a Tabletop RPG?

What is a Tabletop RPG?

What is a Tabletop RPG and How Does It Work?

The great grandparent of the RPG genre. But by no means is it an old relic of the past. Today there are still plenty of people still playing or just starting to enjoy the TTRPG genre. Is it worth it? Well, let's find out!

What is a tabletop RPG?

Tabletop RPG is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a board game, usually played on a table in your parents basement. 

Well, that’s how a lot of “original” players started their journey into TTRPGs. You can play them on any surface, obviously, the “sessions” are bound to take a… while though. Picking a comfortable location is definitely something to plan ahead. 

The board game part, well, depending on who you’re playing with, you could literally have nuts and bolts to represent player characters, while a piece of paper with drawings to act as the map. 

You see, TTRPGs and regula tabletop games are (mostly) about imagination. 

Of course, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to play it in a minimalistic way. 

There are some absolutely cool miniatures that you can get, along with some crazy dice designs. 

The main point is that, while TTRPGs can come with “manuals” or “instructions” as to how they should be played, there are going to be plenty of games that use “homebrew” rules due to the freedom these games offer.

Let's take a step back and actually focus on the concepts relevant to the TTRPG genre and how you actually play them.

How do tabletop RPGs work?

TTRPG at it's core. Character sheets and dice. Probably some junk food out of shot...
Source: lootcrate.com by Nicole Campos

For a game of TTRPG to work you need two things. 

The Dungeon Master (DM), the name comes from the very popular Dungeons and Dragons franchise and ,of course, the players themselves. 

The DM is basically a storyteller. DM is the creator of the “campaign” and with the assistance of dice, character sheets, ruleset, manuals etc. it is DMs “task” to immerse the players into the setting. 

Second ingredient is the players themselves, no story can be complete without the characters to participate in it.  No matter how good a DM or savvy player you are, for a game to take place, you’ll need both. Which can be a problem to organise on a consecutive basis… 

Interactive storytelling

As mentioned before, players are tasked with creating their characters. This can include their race, class, backstory, alignment (good, evil, lawful, chaotic or similar sense of their moral system), starting equipment etc. 

Once decided (and agreed by the DM) the players then “role-play” their characters. Basically if you’re a chaotic neutral rogue that grew up on the streets, you’re meant to act in a way that your character would. 

It doesn’t mean you’re stuck that way throughout the whole game though! 

Player characters interact with each other within the setting of the world constantly. Your rogue could be teamed up with a group of “do-gooders” and become enticed to act less selfish. Or he could do the exact opposite to get back at them! 

Freedom of choice

That is the best part of TTRPGs. You are not bound by tight game mechanics of the video game world. 

There isn’t a dialogue tree that you have to follow, there are no predesigned cutscenes you have to go through. You are an active participant of a story. A story where YOU are one of the main characters and your choices affect the story itself! Ideally…

Since the flexibility of the story is of course in the hands of the DM, the storyteller. 

The DM is a human (allegedly…), so there’s a limit to how flexible a story can be. 

There’s a reason why people play TTRPGs even today. There’s still no video game that can reach that level of freedom and personal touch, unfortunately. 

Picking a genre

This is what late game sessions can feel like. A pure power fantasy.
Source: dicebreaker.com by MCDM Productions

But what kind of setting would someone even choose? Well, it depends on what you’d like to do in the game.

Want to be a powerful warrior clad in armour fighting dragons and saving princesses? A powerful spellcaster turning his enemies to loyal slaves or cinder? A “Dungeon and Dragons” or “Pathfinder” could be your go to. 

Or maybe you’d rather be a newborn vampire in the 21st century Earth, trying to maintain the masquerade and secrecy from humans, while facing supernatural foes and betrayal from your fellow kindred? The “World of Darkness” has plenty of supernatural genres. 

What about being a distinguished member of a Rogue Trader group in a dark grim future of Warhammer 40k? Space faring between systems, securing prosperity for the glory of the God Emperor and the Imperium of Man. The grimdark setting of “Rogue Trader” can help satiate your space exploration hunger. Or help you realise the horrors of what lies out there…

Each has their own interesting setting, lore and systems used to determine actions of your characters. There isn’t a best genre but there are ones that can fit your own individual fancy more than others. It’s up to you to discover your favourite one!

Picking a system

The system or a ruleset is how your character interacts mechanically with the world. 

To give an example: 

You’d like to inspect your surroundings after entering a dark cave. You’d check your relevant stat (perception) and then add modifiers from a governing attribute (intelligence). Then depending on DC (difficulty) and extra DC modifiers (no light source or darkvison) you’d roll a 20 sided dice to determine success or failure. Rolling a natural (premodifier dice roll) 1 or 20 means critical failure/success. 

The DM would then describe what you see, like traps, enemies, some flavour description of the caves etc. 

Each system can have different ways of how your character interacts with the world. Some are quite “rules heavy” while others can be “rules light”.

Might as well just talk about both of them now!

Rules heavy systems

These rely a lot on what players can and cannot do in the setting. 

The restrictions are in place to maintain the realism of the setting and give the sense of pride from creating both mechanically impressive and narratively interesting characters. 

There are quite high requirements and knowledge necessities to run successful rule heavy games. Both for the DM and the players. 

The DM must create a world that’s bound by all the rules but still fun and balanced enough to enjoy. While the players must create “sensible enough” characters and keep them alive against the challenges thrown at them without being constantly “saved” by the DM. 

There’s a very considerable amount of time spent on each session. Some stories spanning over literal years. That is of course due to weekly/bi-weekly/monthly scheduling for each session. Plus preparation from the DM to keep the story flowing after each session. 

The highly acclaimed rules heavy systems are:

Pathfinder, GURPS, Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun.

Rules light systems

For those who enjoy the roleplaying part a little bit more than all the maths and min/maxing their characters. But also those who enjoy a “faster” game. 

TTRPGs can be a considerable time sink as mentioned before. The “rules light” systems give players a more lenient and a much relaxed experience in comparison to “rules heavy” ones. 

You probably still shouldn’t attempt to “seduce” a dragon (don’t be “that guy”) but there’s going to be a lot less mechanics involved if you do attempt it (seriously though, don’t). 

These types of games are mostly for casual fun and entertaining stories told in a specific setting. 

Thanks to that, both the DM and the players require a minimum amount of knowledge and preparation for a session to take place. Minimum meaning at least SOME experience within the setting of course, mainly for the DM.

For some rules light systems consider these:

Savage Worlds, FATE, RISUS.

One-shot games

Generally they’re meant to last a single session. 

Typically it lasts only a few hours but as it is in life, it can stretch out to 10 hours depending on the group. 

Very good source of learning the ropes for new players, as it can give a “full experience” of what TTRPG is. 

To speed up the process further, it usually involves pre-generated characters, giving each player the possibility to role-play characters they haven’t considered trying out before. Adding a bit of extra spice to the fun!

TTRPGs too time consuming?

Unfortunately, not everyone has time for an extensive adventure that is TTRPG. 

Our company Dreams Quest is currently developing an ARPG mobile game called “Origins: The Fall of Azoria” which will contain a fantastical world, intricate lore, intense combat and fun puzzles. You can play it on a more casual basis without much planning!

Check out our social media links to Twitter(x), Youtube , Discord and more at the bottom for all relevant info on its development!

FAQs about tabletop RPGs 

Is D&D a tabletop RPG?

Yes, Dungeons and Dragons is the world's first commercially available TTRPG. And one of the most recognisable TTRPGs in the world today. If you’d like to know more about RPGs in general, why not check out our article What is an RPG?

Is Warhammer 40k a tabletop RPG?

Grim dark future of 40k is definitely a worthwhile setting to explore. If you've got the time to do it...
Source: Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader by Owlcat Games

Warhammer 40k in its original setting is a tabletop wargame rather than an RPG. It’s more about competing against fellow gamers and a lot less about role-playing. There are some TTRPGs within the Warhammer 40k franchise though! Such as “Rogue Trader” or “Dark Heresy”.

Join our DISCORD channel

Get early access to latest news and bonus materials

join discord

similar posts