Geek Advice – How to Get Your Friends to Try Tabletop Role Play

Dear Pink Hair Girl,

It’s been a really long time since I played any tabletop RPGs. I used to play D&D back in my high school days, and I’m dying to try my hand at Pathfinder or even pick up 5 when it comes out.  The problem is that none of my friends are into tabletop gaming at all. They see it as crossing the line into a level of geekdom from which we might never return. But they are happy to sit around and play board games or card games, so it’s not like gathering around a table can’t keep their attention. Generally what happens when I bring it up is that someone mentions that if they wanted to play pretend, they’d rather do it playing Madden. Then no one takes the idea seriously.  Is there a good way to convince them to give it a try? And if not, is there another way to scratch the itch?

Long Lost Bard


Bards can be awesomeDear LLB,

You roll a Bard?  …well there’s your problem!

Pink Hair Girl

Just kidding. I love the bards. <3

But so far your song hasn’t been too enticing to your party, hm?  Lament not!  For a simple change of tune might be all you really need to get the gaming started. When it comes to convincing non-role-playing types to try their hand at a story telling game, there are some tried and true approaches, as well as some new and exciting options!  And should none of those tunes inspire your friends, I’ve got a few suggestions for how to play without them.

Take a trip with me.

Single them out.  Pick out the friends that you know might be slightly more interested or a little easier to convince, and approach them one on one about it.  We like to think that peer pressure among our friends is lame, but we all fall for it.  One or two guys in the group think D&D is for losers, and suddenly the rest of us aren’t so keen to stick our necks out.  We’re geeks, honey. Most of our life stories involve keeping our heads down and blending in, at least in situations where we’d rather just relax than be bothered. Of course, I’m just making an assumption here, but I bet at least a couple of your friends aren’t that nuts about Madden.  Whatever tactics you decide to try, convince those friends first.

Don't go over the top or people will tune you outDo NOT geek out too hard about your past experiences. Do express that you had a lot of fun and that everyone around you had a good time, but avoid going into long monologues detailing your character’s exploits. I know we all do it. I know it’s super tempting to try talking about how this one time, your bard was in a dungeon with your group, and then came along this goblin and waah waah waahhaww wahhahhaah waawaa wawaaa waaa. That’s what you sound like to them. It’s not cool to them because they weren’t there; so try to resist the urge. The best thing you can do is to inspire them to think about adventures that THEY can go on in brand new stories, and to do that, you need to get some of their creative brain gears turning.

Try sneaking in some story telling games that aren’t necessarily all-out RPGs. The notion of something like D&D is a big step, especially if your friends are convinced it’ll cause them to carry the stigma of being those geeks.  The dice rolling kind. But as you mentioned, they don’t mind card games and board games, and that’s a great start!  I suggest bringing up some games that are either story focused, have a great atmosphere, or focus on interesting characters.  Here are just a few games that either I or my friends have tried and can verily lead to a fun night for all:

  • Gloom – This is a card game that looks hella cool because it’s printed on transparent cards. In this game, you’re a member of a family that’s full of woe and misfortune. You stack your deck and try to one-up each other with how bad your life sucks.  The outcomes are pretty hilarious, and your friends get a taste for imagining characters and telling stories about them. Quick and easy to learn and to play.
  • Munchkin – Ok, so maybe it’s not really a story-telling game, but the original munchkin deck was created to make light of D&D games. Even if Yay Munchkin!your friends have never played D&D, they’ll still get a laugh out of the tropes that make this game funny. Not to mention you’ll all be so busy screwing each other over they won’t notice that they’re learning some of the in-jokes and character types common in tabletop RPGs. Play it with some of your more open minded friends and it might get them to see that the idea of role playing games can be light-hearted and makes fun of itself in a good way.  Really quick to learn, but can last all night if you’ve got more than 4 people playing. That’s not a bad thing!
  • Mansions of Madness – This one requires a considerable amount of resources on your part, but if the stars are right, it can be a gold mine. First, if you want your friends to play this, they have to have at least some appreciation for horror and Lovecraftian themes. Second, you’re gonna have to spend HOURS learning how to set this game up and play.  Your friends will have to also be willing to take the time to understand the rules.  This game can last 3+ hours. The reason I suggest this one is because it creates an engrossing atmosphere, gives you a Game Master position, and has a good narrative. Your players aren’t necessarily role playing–they’re given characters with personalities and skills. However, they get to choose where to go and make decisions for their avatars that move them through the game. There’s a board, cards, place holders and yes, dice. But it’s still a board game!  There’s also the Arkham Horror game made in the same vein, but it’s more free-form; MofM has a clearer story.
  • Descent – This one is great because it’s clearly a dungeon crawl, hack & slash style campaign turned into a board game. Your players don’t have to pretend to be a character if they don’t want to, it’s just about them vs Overlord (you), so this is another game where you take on the role of the leader.  It requires a decent amount of setup and learning from you but the mechanics should be pretty straight forward for your players. Best of all, if they like it, there are tons of expansions that can eventually lead to story telling and actual role playing opportunities.
  • Neverwinter Nights – So this is a video game and not a board game. Sue me.  If your friends are more comfortable with gaming on a PC than they are with board games, then give this a go. It’s got a robust multiplayer system, based on D&D lore and lots of its rules. There are even options for you to take on a GM role and guide your friends on campaigns if you like. What’s great about this is that it introduces the world and concepts of group playing, but it’s less intimidating because they get to sit behind a screen. They can build their characters by picking from an option list of reactions (ala Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars The Old Republic Games, etc…) so it gives them a sense of owning the characters without the pressure of having to play them out. I’m sure you can see the appeal of this option if you’re trying to warm them up to actual tabletop RPGs.

Even Ponies like tabletop gaming OK?Mix tabletop plans with the promise of beer/pizza/My Little Pony.  Or whatever your friends are into. After you’ve gotten at least a couple of your friends on board with maybe just looking at the rules, invite them to a night of brainstorming. Let them know you’ll be throwing around ideas for adventures and they’re welcome to talk about what kind of characters they’d play if a game got off the ground. Keep it low expectations and low commitment. A fully blown game doesn’t have to result from these plans. And give them an out, so that if they all get tired or over-saturated with game talk, hanging out can revert to whatever is more familiar and comfortable for everyone.

Yes, you’re going to have to be the Dungeon Master for this. I know it’s not the same as playing. And taking up the Story Teller’s mantle is intimidating if you’re not experienced with it. But right now, it’s the only way to get your friends introduced to the idea. If it looks like some of your friends might actually bite and follow through with playing a game, then bone up on all the rules and on how to lead a game. There’s gonna be some trial and error, but at least you’ve got an arsenal of internet tips and advice now to help you learn how to get up to speed.

If all else fails, get your fix in other ways. Try joining existing online groups on Neverwinter Nights. Go to and either find a role playing group near your town, or start one. It’s also useful to find gaming groups that do board game nights, because someone in that group is bound to know how to roll them dice, or know some people who do! You could also go to your nearest hobby store and ask the clerk if any local groups have games they advertise there; if not, start one!  And of course there are also some online lit-based RPGs where you interact with other characters via writing, in case you’re into forum based play-by-post stuff.

I do hope I’ve proved to be a useful muse for you, my dear Bard. The world could always use more good stories, adventure, and excitement. And getting your friends’ heads up into those brain-stormy clouds is the best way to get your next campaign off the ground. Go and be creative! Weave a song of whimsy and wonder that will leave them begging for more!

Pink Hair Girl

P.S. Stock up on Mountain Dew.

Ask Pink Hair Girl for geek advice!

Pink Hair Girl

After her DNA was spliced with that of a jelly fish, Olivia became known to all as Pink Hair Girl. She also gives advice to geeks all around the world.


  1. My experience probably isn’t your typical experience. But back in 2000 I was threatened with physical violence by two older schoolmates if I refused to play D&D with them, and I’ve been playing PnP rpgs ever since.
    I’m not advocating violence or bullying, but I am about to start a new game in a group with one of the previously mentioned schoolmates in a few days. So try being creative.

  2. I’ve noticed that many people who resist roleplaying are afraid of the rules and mechanics more than the concept.

    An approach that has worked for me and for some of the master GM’s from my past is to focus them on the storytelling not the rules. Set up the game such that they can say what the character would do and you as the GM converts this to rules and dice rolls and then relays back the results in the form of story and not just stats.

    Eventually new players start to figure the mechanics out, but to start with they get to have fun telling spectacular stories about a character that they have designed from a personality perspective.

    This also means that character creation is more tedious than normal for the GM because they have to translate between what the player wants and rules in an interactive session to craft the character and likely will have to continue this process when the character levels up but it can really help new players get into the game in a way that isn’t frightening.

    I am the sort of geek that loves rules and rolls and stats but when I first started I just didn’t get it. Thank goodness that my first GM was very skilled at focusing people on telling the story which allowed me to play while I learned the rules.

  3. My advice is DON’T PLAY D&D with them. Try out one of the other thousands of games. Take them to see The Avengers and then get them to play a super hero game. Any of them like anime? Try Big Eyes, Small Mouth or Exalted. Do they like horror movies? Play Hunter: the Reckoning. D&D has a ton of cultural stigma (which is idiotic) but you can get around it easily by not mentioning it.

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