I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that I’m both a Game Master1 (GM) and a player of Tabletop Role Playing Games (TTRPG), specifically Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (D&D) and Pathfinder 1st edition. But there’s a whole plethora of TTRPGs out there that aren’t D&D2, such as Shadowrun, Powered by the Apocalypse, Vampire the Masquerade, Deadlands, Honey Heist, Call of Cthulhu, and so so many more3.
I could go into excruciating detail on how each of these systems differs. I could wax poetic about how shared experiences at the table help form lasting friendships away from it. I could regale you with tales of the shenanigans that my library D&D group is getting up to trying to solve a murder mystery/stop a devilish pact4 while being entirely too chaotic for their own good5. Ask in the comments if you want some details, and I’ll see if the party is willing to share.
None of that is what you’re here for, though. You’re here for ideas on what to read and, maybe, because you share some of my decidedly nerdy hobbies. Or perhaps you see my name at the top and skim my articles, or you’re not reading this at all, you do you. If you do read the whole thing, the password is The Butler Did It. This won’t be important later; I just like messing with my players who I know read my posts.
So why am I talking about TTRPGs before launching into the reading recommendations? Because there are novels, comics, movies, TV shows, video games, and more based on some of the more extensive franchises. The recent Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie partly inspired this post, as both I and my fiancee, who has no D&D or TTRPG knowledge whatsoever, thoroughly enjoyed it (More on that in another post). This got me thinking about low-stress ways to introduce people to the hobby. I know that Stranger Things caused a whole lot of people to try out D&D, and I hope that Honor6 Among Thieves has the same effect. But for people who are more inclined to read than watch, I hope these books can inspire you to draft up a character, find a party, and write a story of your own.
Are you a fan of epic fantasy and world-saving quests? How about intricate party dynamics where everyone has a role to play, but the alliances can sometimes be tenuous? Then you really should get into a game of your own, but picking up any of the Drizzt Novels by R. A. Salvatore can introduce you to the Forgotten Realms, one of D&D’s most popular campaign settings. Drizzt is a Drow, or dark elf. An always chaotic evil race that ends up being a popular choice for players to make brooding anti-heroes out of. Drizzt avoids this stereotype, but can still be seen as a root cause of it, as he is portrayed as a noble hero who has rejected the evil ways of his heritage. You don’t need to play the game to understand the books, but they’ll set you up with background knowledge to make your first playing attempts more streamlined.
Maybe world-at-stake adventures aren’t your thing. Or perhaps you don’t have the time to invest in a full novel7. If either of those is true, give this Vampire: The Masquerade comic a try on Hoopla. You have no excuse not to if you’ve got even the slightest interest in vampires, political intrigue, maintaining a millennia-old secret, or just learning a bit about a less combat-focused TTRPG. And I mean no excuse; you can click on that link and borrow it instantly, so hop to it and read the high stakes8 undead action! Read Cecily’s tale as she gets mired in vampiric intrigue for taking in a mysterious stray, and track down a killer with an anarchic vampire cell.
You could also read a book that spawned a game. I mentioned Call of Cthulhu in the first paragraph, and it’s a system based on Lovecraft’s writings. Where D&D characters become powerful beings taking on whatever the world throws at them, and Masquerade characters build power and political influence, CoC characters do their best to battle the old ones and not go insane. Don’t get too attached to a character if you play this system; this is what you play to feel your insignificance in a vast, uncaring cosmos full of old gods who could destroy you in a multitude of disturbing ways.
Finally, a shout-out to the comic that got me interested in the hobby: The Order of the Stick. It’s a long-running webcomic that I’ve been following since high school. It started as a joke-a-strip comic about the foibles of D&D 3.5. It morphed into something with as compelling a plot as any high-fantasy novel out there, all told with simple stick-figure characters that have been refined to the point of perfection over the years. It won’t be for everyone because nothing is, but it’s amazingly accessible and highly entertaining.
That about wraps up today’s session. We’ll pick up next month with a look at other TTRPG media, so remember the password for advantage in the comments. Oh, did I say that wouldn’t be useful again? Never trust a Chaotic GM.
1 Or Dungeon Master in D&D terms, but that sounds like it could be something else entirely if you’ve never been exposed to D&D, and this is a family-friendly blog.
2 Or an offshoot of D&D like Pathfinder.
5 We don’t stream, but I wouldn’t be surprised to have a small audience if we did. It’s an entertaining train wreck.
6 Honour! Honour, honour, honour. Sorry, I had to get that out. That bloody American spelling keeps tripping me up.
7 If this is the case, I apologize for recommending a time-hog of a hobby. Please still give it a try, though!
8 As always, no apologies for the pun.