First-Time-Players Guide to Role-playing Games

First-Time-Players Guide to Role-playing Games

Various published role-playing games.
Photograph provided by Raleigh Table-top RPG meetup.

Welcome to the fun an exciting world of role-playing games. This information packet has been created to help new players understand the main concepts involved in role-play games and help them have a positive first experience with this creative hobby. This information has been assembled for the Raleigh Tabletop RPGs (RTR) Meetup members. If you do not live in the Raleigh area, has many other gaming groups listed throughout the country. Gaming groups are everywhere and finding a group is the first step to playing.

To begin with, let’s define what a role-playing game is. This packet will discuss table-top role-play games, also known as pen-and-paper role-play games. These games are very social activities involving a group of creative and interactive gamers who work together to create an interesting story. This is interactive fiction at its finest. Unlike a book or a movie where you are transported away to watch the action, in a role-playing game you get to participate in the scenes and affect the outcome.

Players participate in a role-playing game by taking on the role of a fictional character. These player-run characters (called PC’s for short) usually work cooperatively to complete an adventure together. The group may be on a quest to rescue someone, to find a specific item in the world, to defeat a villain or discover secret information.

One participant is chiefly responsible for the way that a particular game is run – the Game Master (who may also known as Dungeon Master or Story Teller). The GM runs all of the other characters (non-player-characters or NPC’s), villains and monsters in the fictional world. The GM also uses the rules of the game and common sense to make decisions about the success or failure of difficult actions attempted by the player-characters. The GM provides the players with information about the game world and the consequences that occur based on the actions of the adventuring characters. Some of the information is secret and may or may not be discovered by the players and their characters during the game. Basically, the GM runs the world that the players use their player-characters to explore and adventure in.

Getting Ready for a Role-play Game

Talk with the Game Master at least a day before the game session. An open and honest dialog about the game is necessary for everyone to have accurate expectations and a mutual understanding of what is going to be happening during the session. The following topics are things you should discuss with the Game Master beforehand.

  • When and where will the game take place?

Find out where the game is located and get driving directions if necessary.

  • Is there any information he would like you to read on your own before the session?

Ask the GM if he would like you arrive early so that he can teach you the basic rules of the particular game you will be playing beforehand.

  • How long will the game take to play? Will we be taking any breaks?

This is important to know so that you can make sure to be available for the whole game.

  • Is this a regularly scheduled, recurring game? If so, how often is the game played?

Make sure that if the game is on-going that you are able to commit to showing up on a regular basis. Ask the GM if there is an attendance policy. The game may go on without you if you can’t make it. Is there a phone number or email address you should use to contact the GM to let them know you won’t make it to a session?

  • What do I need to bring to the game?
 Many times you will only need to bring a pencil (mechanical with extra lead and an eraser is best) and a notebook to your first session. Your GM can tell you if you will need to buy a copy of the game’s rule book, a set of gaming dice or any other supplies.
  • Am I allowed to bring a beverage and snacks?
 Most games are played in private homes. The homeowner may not wish for players to eat in their living room and may require covered beverage containers. Other homeowners may allow eating during game play. You may be expected to bring snacks to share (pot luck style) or chip in $5 for pizza. Knowing ahead of time what is expected is important to avoid unwanted surprises.
  • Will there be scheduled breaks and how often do we take snack/smoke/stretch breaks?
 If you have a medical concern requiring extra breaks, make sure to let the GM know.
Gamers playing a table-top roleplay game.
This photograph is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You are free: to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work.


Game Play

Participants usually conduct the game as a small social gathering. Many times the games are played as players sit around a table (but not always). The game includes challenges for the characters to overcome through play, such as traps to be avoided or adversaries to be fought.

At the start of many games, the players create characters whose roles they will play in the game. As well as fleshing out the character’s fictional background, they assign numerical statistics to the character; these will be used later to determine the outcome of events in the game. Together, these notes tell the player about their character and his or her place in the game world.

The GM will then begin the game with a short introduction which introduces the setting and the characters. The players describe their characters’ actions and the GM responds by describing the outcome of those actions. Usually, these outcomes are determined by the setting and the GM’s common sense; most actions are straightforward and immediately successful. For example, if a player has their character look around a room, the GM will describe the room; if they have their player leave, the GM will describe whatever they encounter outside the room. However, the outcomes of some actions are determined by the rules of the game. This usually involves rolling dice and comparing the number rolled to their character’s statistics to see whether the action was successful. Examples of actions that might be governed by a game’s rules are: climbing a tree, jumping over a chasm, negotiating a deal, listening in on a private conversation, etc.

You should take notes as the game goes on. The Game Master often gives clues and important information during the game. It’s also important to keep track of the events that happen to your character. This will help you portray your character accurately. If your notes are good, you will be able to read them quickly before the next session and remember where your group left off.

Example Game Play

James, the Game Master: Cardinal Richelieu stands at the top of the stairs at the north end of the courtyard as he cackles loudly. In his left hand, a ribbon shimmers. He has the diamond studs! Count de Rochefort, the captain of Cardinal’s Guards steps in front of the cardinal to stand between you and His Red Eminence.

The Game Master rolls some dice behind the screen to determine which of player characters, if any, notice the spy in the balcony above the courtyard. Only Annette spots him.

James, the Game Master: Jenny, Annette notices someone spying on the situation from a balcony above the courtyard.

Katie, playing Gwen: Gwen will scowl at Richelieu and tell him, “You’ll never get away it!”

Mark, playing Jean: I’ll unsheathe my sword and bound up the stairs after Rocheford.

Jenny, playing Annette: Annette will head back south, out of the courtyard and look for a way to get around inside the palace to get up to the Balcony. She’ll get her pistol ready but keep it hidden in her jacket as best she can.

The Game Master: Ok, Annette will try to find her way around in the place. It will take a few minutes. Roll your dice to see how well she has hidden her gun.

Jenny rolls a high number and feels confident that none of the palace guards will notice the gun Annette is secretly carrying. She tells the DM what her roll was and won’t know for sure if anyone has seen her carrying the gun until the DM tells her. He may tell her now, or later in the campaign.

The game continues in this manner until the characters meet the last challenge, as determined by the GM at the start of the game. In this case, the player-characters are attempting to get the diamonds away from the ruthless Cardinal. When the final confrontation is over, the GM then describes the consequences of their actions on the game world, and the game ends.

At the end of the game, many Game Masters will Summarize what has happened during the game and award character bonuses to the players based on the group’s adventure.

Useful Terminology

Role-playing Game – a game in which players portray fictional characters living in a fictional world. These games are highly social and interactive.

Player – a real person who joins in with other players to participate in a role-play game.

Character/Player-Character/PC – a fictional person who lives in a fictional world. The character has his own personality, history and statistics.

Non-Player-Character/NPC – a fictional character that lives in the fictional world and is being played by the GM. The GM controls many, many NPC’s to make the world work.

Game Master/GM/Dungeon Master/DM/Story Teller/ST – the person responsible for making the role-play game work. They control the NPC’s, the Monsters, the Villains and make decisions about events and actions in the fictional world.

Genre – a broad description of the style of world that a role-play game is set in. Examples include: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Super-Hero, and Historical.

One-Shot – a short adventure lasting a few hours. This style of game usually happens just one time to try out a new game, new character concepts or a new world. The Raleigh Tabletop RPG’s Meetup posts this style of game on the calendar as a Try It Out! session.

Campaign – a long running game that players meet regularly to have their characters adventure in. Characters continue on with their adventures and the story lines become more detailed. This style of games is usually scheduled at regular intervals, such as once a week or twice a month. There are two styles of campaigns commonly found on the Raleigh Tabletop RPG Meetup calendar: House Games and Campaign Launch.

House Game – A continuous series of games that are individually played in a single session, calendared through the Raleigh Tabletop RPGs (RTR) Meetup, and open to all the Raleigh Tabletop RPGs (RTR) Meetup members. Different players may be playing each week. As long as an open seat is available, any member can sign up to play.

Campaign Launch – a special event where a GM is looking to start a private game where players are meeting regularly and using the same characters for a long-term campaign. The Launch is scheduled on the Raleigh Tabletop RPGs (RTR) Meetup . Once the campaign gets going, open seats will not be listed on the RTR calendar since the same players will be meeting for each game in a continuing fashion.

Raleigh TableTop RPG Meetup – a website where role-play gamers in the Raleigh area organize games and events. This is a great group to meet people who are interested in gaming! If you live outside of the Raleigh, NC area check for role-play gaming groups where you live.

First Role-Play Game Worksheet

Game Master: ________________________________

Game Location: ________________________________

Time: _____ to _____

How often does this game run? ___________________

What do I need to bring?



Dice? (May be optional, ask GM)

Rule Book? (May be optional, ask GM)








Food/Beverage/Break Situation: ________________________


Additional Notes: _____________________________________