Have you or your teen patrons jumped on the Dungeons & Dragons wagon yet? No teen program I have ever run has been as popular as my D&D club, even now, an almost-year after starting it. With the proliferation and popularity of Twitch streamers, podcasters, YouTubers, and voice actors gaming live for an audience, it’s easier than ever to get hooked. (Check out shows and podcasts like Critical Role; The Adventure Zone; Dice, Camera, Action; Acquisitions, Inc; and more.) Whether it’s a hobby, a lifestyle, a creative outlet, or a way to blow of real-life stress, lots of teens and young adults are looking to play.
Just like any hobby, though, it’s costly. Yes, there are a ton of free and low-cost resources online, but it’s natural to desire more in-depth resources once you’re committed to the game, especially if you want to be a Dungeon Master (DM). If you want to try out other tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs), it can be even more daunting.
Enter librarians. Even if your library never runs a D&D or TTRPG program, you can collect core rule books, supplemental guides, campaign modules, and more for a variety of games and make them available to your patrons for free. This is a special benefit to teens, who don’t always have the disposable income to collect hardcover guides (or pay digital subscription fees for online content). As a bonus: you’ll want them too if you host a library club.
Below I’ve gathered some information about popular games with a range of different genres and play-styles. I emphasized breadth over depth: it’s better to offer the core rulebooks for many different games than every single hardcover book published for a few. However, sometimes hardcover books are hard to find; as games get older, PDFs are more common. I’ve included ISBNs where possible, but check the game publisher websites, your library vendor, local game stores, and places like Amazon to find them.
Dungeons & Dragons 5E – http://dnd.wizards.com/
The big one. This edition was published in 2014 and is streamlined across three core books: the Player’s Handbook (9780786965601), for in-depth character creation and play rules; and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (9780786965625 ) and the Monster Manual (9780786965618 ) for those running the game.
Extras: Consider adding one or two supplemental books like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (9780786966110), which adds new characters, monsters, and more; the Tal’dorei Campaign Setting (9781934547847) for rabid Critical Role fans (I am one); and popular campaign guides like Curse of Strahd (9780786965984).
Pathfinder – https://paizo.com/pathfinder/rpg
Another popular fantasy-based game with a long history, Pathfinder uses a variation of D&D 3.5 edition ruleset. It’s much more complicated and rules-heavy than D&D 5E, especially in terms of character creation, which will appeal to some players. At the least you’ll need this massive tome, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (9781601251503).
Extras: Consider adding the Bestiary (9781601251831), the GameMastery Guide (9781601252173), and the Advanced Player’s Guide (9781601252463).
A word of caution: there’s a new edition launching August 2019, and it’s a tough call whether to buy the established version that is already widely used, or the new version.
Starfinder – https://paizo.com/starfinder
This is the science fiction follow-up to Pathfinder, based on the same ruleset with some gameplay updated and streamlined. The two games are also compatible to be used together. Like Pathfinder, you’ll want the Starfinder Core Rulebook (9781601259561).
Extras: Consider adding the Alien Archive (9781601259752).
Call of Cthulu – https://www.chaosium.com/call-of-cthulhu-rpg/
Based on the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, a “fictional cosmology of alien god-like beings and monsters”, this is an investigative game of mystery and horror set in the 1920s. Now in its 7th edition, you’ll want the Keeper Rulebook (9781568824307) for game runners and the Investigator Handbook (9781568824499) for character creation and play.
Extras: Pick up the Pulp Cthulu (9781568821597) addition, which sets the noir game in a more action-heavy pulp genre with slightly different rules and character adaptations.
GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) – http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/
Now in its 4th edition, GURPS is a universal system, meaning its rules of character creation, world-building, and play can be used in any setting, with any kind of story, making it a favorite of creatives everywhere. Because of its flexibility, there are tons of resources for applying the game to settings from space, psionic, steampunk, horror, pirate, fantasy and more. To get started, you only need the GURPS Basic Set: Characters (9781556347290) and GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns (9781556347306).
Extras: Honestly, there are too many to list, mostly available as digital (PDF) resources. If the system proves popular, find your gamers and ask what supplemental guides they’d most like.
Fate: Core System – https://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core/
Another flexible system that can be applied to a variety of storytelling genres, the gameplay is character driven and based on collaborative storytelling, emphasizing twists of fate in story development. Again, to get started, all you need is one book, the Fate:Core System (9781613170298).
Extras: Pick up the Fate: System Toolkit, an expansion with many ideas for advanced gameplay.
Fiasco is a game of collaborative storytelling based on “cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong”. Think Coen brothers movies. It’s designed to be played in a few hours with minimal preparation and no GM, making it a great pick-up-and-play party game. The Fiasco Game Book is the only one needed.
Extras: Pick up the supplemental guide, Fiasco Companion, for rules variants, advice on hacking the regular gameplay, and techniques for better gameplay
Vampire: the Masquerade – https://www.worldofdarkness.com/ and https://www.modiphius.net/collections/vampire-the-masquerade
Now in its 5th edition, this mature, dark, and violent game of the lives of and political intrigue between vampire clans is well-known for its deep lore and complex stories. You’ll want the Vampire: the Masquerade Core Rulebook.
Extras: There are two new important supplemental guides, sourcebooks for different vampire clans: Vampire: The Masquerade, The Camarilla, and Vampire: The Masquerade, The Anarch.
Monster of the Week – https://www.evilhat.com/home/monster-of-the-week/
This action-horror RPG, in which characters are tasked with hunting down monsters a la TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural, will be popular with fans of the hilarious podcast The Adventure Zone. The easy-to-learn system is light on rules and focused on story over combat, and the single Monster of the Week book has character creation, example monsters, and two ready-to-play stories.
Extras: Pick up the Monster of the Week: Tome of Mysteries (to be released in mid-May) for alternative monster-hunting movies, new Hunter playbooks, and many more detailed mysteries ready to drop into a game.
If you want to go the extra mile, and your library has a Library of Things, consider adding a few TTPRG kits. Several of the games above–such as D&D, Pathfinder, Starfinder, and Call of Cthulu–have starter sets that package quick-start rules and a sample adventure or two with a set of dice and other supplemental materials. Those can easily be packaged for circulation (just make sure to laminate included character sheets or any customizable materials).
Additional Links for TTRPG Digital Resources and Library-Run Programs
What are your favorite role-playing games and how would you add them to the library?
–Krista Hutley, currently playing D&D at the library and at home