Confessions of an RPG Nerd

By Christine Martin-Resotko

RPG – three harmless letters that lead to looks of confusion on the faces of many librarians. Is my staff member asking for books about rocket propelled grenades, and how is that appropriate for teens? It’s a game, but where are the pieces? Dungeons and Dragons – isn’t that the one kids play in their basements? Here is some clarification for the non-RPG nerds out there.

I have been a RPG player since I was in college, and I still remember the odd looks I would get from non-players. Over the years, I have come up with this explanation.
• A tabletop role playing game (RPG) is where you and a group of 4-8 people
cooperatively tell a story that you make up as you go along.
• You have books with rules to guide your play, dice to help randomize the results of any action you wish to take, and one person who takes the role of the Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM), the person who guides the whole process.
• The whole thing takes place in the imaginations of the people playing. No, you don’t typically dress up (though maybe on Halloween), and yes, some people use miniatures. All you really need is a rule book, dice, paper, pencils, and a group of friends.

Sounds a little weird, right? Luckily, you can watch some fun games on YouTube now. They give you a good idea of how a game is played, and what a GM does during a session. My favorites are Force Grey and Titansgrave. “Wait – those two games are nothing alike! One is a fantasy game, Dungeons and Dragons, and the other is a sci-fi game, Titansgrave. You mean that there is more than one genre of game?”

When I started playing, back in the dark ages, I learned four different game systems in my first year: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Champions, and Runequest. The genres for those were (in order) fantasy, cyberpunk, superhero, and fantasy. There is a genre for everyone, and I mean everyone. I will go over some of those in the next post, but here is a good place to get started.

There are some important things to consider when picking out your first game system:

What genre is your group interested in? I started my teen library group with good old Dungeons and Dragons 5e and Doctor Who, because they are popular due to current TV shows. For my upcoming adult group, I am starting with Leverage, because many of the adults in my area can more easily imagine being part of a Robin Hood-type heist in modern day than being a wizard in a fantasy realm or a time traveler.

How much structure do you need? Does your group need lots of rules to guide how they play, or can your group ad-lib like an improvisational theater troupe and don’t need much structure? My teen group loves the rules and figuring out how to use those rules to their advantage. In the adult group I assist with at another branch, most of our group is up for anything and rules aren’t as necessary.

What supplies do you need? You will always need pencils and paper, but the dice or randomizer you need will change from system to system. There are specialized dice for specific systems, dice with a number of sides from 4
to 20, or even playing cards. The systems will always tell you which you need right at the beginning of the book, usually in this format: d# where the # is the amount of sides the die has. An example would be d6 for your standard six-side die we all know from our Monopoly days.

I know this is a lot. I remember having to ask loads of questions about what to roll and what to add and “what does this thing on my character sheet mean?” My friends were patient with me, and I will be with you. It is a whole new world that you will be entering, and it is fantastic. The most important thing to remember is that this will be lots of fun.

What questions do you have about RPGs?

Christine Martin-Resotko is a Library Assistant with the Mason Branch of the
Capital Area District Libraries in Michigan. She has been a lifelong nerd, starting
when she saw Star Wars at the age of 5. She started playing RPGs when she was
in college, and within 4 years was invited by a gaming company to run their game
at GenCon, the biggest gaming convention in the country. She has run games in
over a dozen systems, and personally owns more than 30 game systems at this
time. Christine created the CADL Adventurers Club for her library system, which
encompasses a teen chapter at her branch which she runs and adult and kids
chapters at another branch that she assists with. Christine has a B.S. in
Anthropology from Michigan State University. She lives with her husband, son,
and their crazy cat.


  1. Great article! I’ve worked in libraries, and I’m an educator. I get the same reactions about RPGs: there are people who have no idea what it is, people who think we dress up, and people who think it’s like a miniatures war game. I think the best thing about RPGs is that they can be tailored to fit the group!

    I’m thinking about trying some new RPGs in the coming year. Most of my players are used to D&D 5e, but we have a successful RIFTS game running. I have been considering a GURPS, Fate system, or maybe even Starfinder. Do you have advice for getting a group interested in new systems? I’m a little worried with how much I’ll have to learn as a GM, and I’d be new to the system, too!

    1. The best way that I have found to try new systems is to look for a QuickStart. They typically contain a streamlined version of the rules, 4-6 pregenerated characters (need more, just use multiples of what comes in the packet), and a 1-2 session scenario. I have run them for Earthdawn, Modern AGE, 7th Sea, Shadowrun, and others. They are typically free, and you can download them either from the publisher website or Also, keep an eye out for when Free RPG Day is (typically early June). They have tons of QuickStart adventures, modules, and sneak peeks at systems. Last year, I volunteered to run one of the modules for a local game store on Free RPG Day in exchange for one of each free item. They even let me snag them early so I could look them over and prep. I hope that helps.

  2. Hi, we’ve been running D&D for teens at my (public) library. Have you ever dealt with accessibility issues for players?

    I’ve found resources and articles for physical impairments but little that addresses dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, ESOL. I know there are other, less language-heavy RPGs out there but D&D is the one our teens recognize and thus, what they want to play.

    1. We have some ASD people in our groups, and each one needs a different kind of help. Some need a little hand holding from the GM or one of the players, like reminding them what to roll and what to use on their sheet. Some need a bit more help with keeping focused, so we do mini recaps for them when we change to combat or to social encounters. I did find this website,, which has a great list of accessibility resources and ideas for all types of needs. The Unfamiliar Heroes series, in particular, seems to be the one with information on how to make things more accessible for a more neurodiverse group. If you want a somewhat simpler system that will still allow for a very D&D-type of experience, take a look at Fantasy AGE by Green Ronin. The mechanics are very streamlined, but you can still be anything you find in D&D, and more. There will be a bit more work for you on the GM end if you want to move over the D&D races, but there is quite a lot of depth of racial possibilities between all the Fantasy AGE products out there (Blue Rose, Dragon Age, and TitansGrave) if you don’t want to try to recreate the D&D races exactly.

  3. I’m going to start an RPG program for teens and possibly a second one for adults at couple of our branches. Most of the people I have asked for advice have started similar programs with a group of players already playing at their library, building around that existing group. I would be starting cold–we don’t have anyone playing already. I’ve played AD&D since the early 80’s, so I will start with 5e since it is more familiar, but will hopefully branch into other games as things move along. Do you have any advice for getting something started from scratch like this?

    1. I started from scratch. To help promote the program, I did a display of our RPG books and books from genres that inspired the games (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.). I made up posters and took them to all the local gaming stores to post on their bulletin boards. I was lucky with this, as we have 5 stores scattered around the area. I also talked up a lot of people when they went to the display or brought up items related to gaming.
      Another thing that was really helpful to patrons was typing up a “What is a tabletop role playing game” sheet to leave in the display. I talked about materials, genres, and educational/social benefits of gaming. I made sure to hand out one to every parent of a kid who looked excited at the thought of D&D. I assured the parents that they were welcome to drop in on the session and see what was going on, if there were any concerns.
      The last piece of advice is to gauge your area. At my branch, the adults seem somewhat hesitant to try a fantasy game. When I proposed a heist type game (Leverage), there was a lot of interest. Another branch had requests for D&D specifically, and that is where we started.

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