Free RPG Day

I hope some of you will go to your friendly local game store this Saturday for Free RPG Day. That’s right — free games for the asking. Just what a library gaming budget calls for, right?

Seriously, check with your local hobby store. This isn’t something you’ll find happening in the big chains, and not every store everywhere is participating, but many do. There is a retailer-locator available here.

Plan to spend time gaming when you go. The stores participating usually make an extra effort to welcome newcomers during this yearly event, and you will have an unmatched opportunity to meet players and try out games you might never have seen before. The sponsors who donate the games want people to find out how much fun the games can be, and in the end, I’m sure they hope to attract new people into the hobby. It’s a perfect time to get introduced.

Besides, you get to take home a brand new game, for nothing.

As a condition of the promotion, every store must agree to hand out at least one game to anyone who asks, free of charge and no strings attached. These are new games, often mini-adventures or “quickstart” versions of big games, made especially for the event by some of the strongest names in the tabletop hobby games industry. Wizards of the Coast is offering Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Supplement. White Wolf has a World of Darkness quickstart. Green Ronin has a Dragon Age quickstart. Paizo offers an adventure for Pathfinder, the first new RPG I’m aware of to be giving D&D a hard run for its money. And many more companies large and small.

Tabletop role-playing games have a long track record of being engaging and highly social. Some of these gameworlds have been played in, played with, for decades … no flash-in-the-pan trendiness of the latest hottest video game, played through and discarded for the next hawt property.

That said, it can take effort to ramp up to learn to run a tabletop role-playing game like some of these. Play is easy — bring your imagination and maybe some dice. Running a game is a different story.

Most RPGs are modeled on a social group dynamic where one person is the story-maker leading the game, and a handful of players participate in a kind of extemporaneous, live theater-of-the-mind. “Cooperative storytelling” is one of the best descriptions, because while the game master (story-maker or at least the person utilizing the pre-published adventure module) handles the plot and setting, it is the players’ interactions with each other and with the game master’s framework that brings the story alive.

A good game master is a joy and a wonder, regardless of the rule set in use — clever storyteller, fair judge, able to balance competing demands from a variety of players with different play styles, skills, and aims. If you, as a librarian unfamiliar with the games, take on that mantle, you might find yourself a little out of your depth at first. I hope many of you will make the effort — it’s extremely rewarding.

If you don’t feel up to it, or want some experience as a player before stepping into the shoes of the game master, make yourself a regular at your friendly local hobby store. I’ve recommended this before, as a way to hear about new games being released and to discover the devoted hobby gamer crowd. See if some of them might be persuaded to bring their hobby to the library, and introduce new players to the games they love.

In any case, Free RPG Day shouldn’t be missed. Go. Have fun. Game on!