Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boardgame as RPG First Session

Paul Thornton over at Shortymonster put up a post talking about his love for boardgames and talked about Fantasy Flight Games and the use of a character sheets in many modern boardgames.

I’m a big fan of boardgames myself – in fact, my friends got me Arkham Horror for my birthday last year, and we got to play it again this summer.  Since I’ve done so much table-top gaming, it seems pretty natural to me to have character sheets along with a game, but I know that for the board game community, this is a relatively recent development.

From an RPG player’s perspective, it’s a GREAT THING!  It means that the barrier to entry for RPG’s is getting lower and lower.  Think about it – there are now a lot of people out there who, through boardgames, have experience using a character sheet and interacting with a rule-set through it!    Paul also correctly notes that playing with a character sheet gets the player much more involved with the game as a story or narrative, which is very good preparation for traditional RPG play as well.

My brainstorm here is that you can lower that bar even further by using a character-sheet boardgame as the first session of an RPG!  The obvious one that comes to mind is Call of Cthulhu with an Arkham Horror first session.  Keep the same characters, and allow things like equipment, spells and skills to continue over into the RPG game.

If you really want to do something interesting – carry over the events of the game into the start of the RPG.  Make notes of some of the major monsters that appeared and what happened to them when the game ended.  Use the Big Baddie as the ultimate antagonist in the RPG game, track the PC’s interactions with things like the Silver Lodge or the Police, and make quick notes about activities that the PC’s got up to in-game – you can carry stuff through to the table-top game very easily.

Using Arkham also gives you a ready-made base of operations, basic character backgrounds and a shared experience for all the players.  Heck, you could even give out XP based on the results of the boardgame.  Suddenly, you’ve gone from introducing a new way kind a game to an easy-to-grasp continuation of a game you already started.

I bet that both experienced and new table-top RPG players would enjoy starting a game this way.  In fact, you don’t have to constrain it to just games with stat sheets.  You could play a tactical game, like the Game of Thrones board game or Lords of Waterdeep, and start as agents/members of whatever group won the game – or the loser, if they lost in a spectacular and interesting way.  Just make sure to carry the events of the game over into the RPG sessions.

As I said, Arkham Horror is an obvious one, but here are some others that you could try:
Castle Ravenloft (for 4e D&D or a Ravenloft game)
Lords of Waterdeep (for any Forgotten Realms Campaign)
Descent (for any fantasy rpg, really)
Mansions of Madness (for more Cthulhu)
Shadows over Camelot (Pendragon or anything Arthurian)
Last Night on Earth or Zombicide (any horror or zombie rpg)
Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel (Mutants and Masterminds?)
Warhammer Quest (Warhammer Fantasy RPG)
Battlestations (Rogue Trader or Traveller)
Vampire: Prince of the City (Vampire the Masquerade)

This thread here has some other ideas, too.

Worst-case scenario – you’ll have a fun time playing the boardgame and have some neat plot/adventure hooks for when you RPG next.  Best-case?  Awesome board game that flows directly into awesome RPG, and you introduce some new players into RPG’s in a cool way.


  1. Glad you liked the article mate. And thanks for adding to the list, now all I need is the money to buy them all.

    1. My friends went into a boardgame store a while ago and straight-out told the clerk they were going to buy 5 or 6 games. Then they made him print out the top 100 games from boardgamegeek.com, went through the store with the list and picked out a pile. Then they asked for a discount because they were buying so many! They got 6 excellent games for less than $300 - and we've pretty much been set since then!

      I also find that asking for an expensive game like that as your only birthday/christmas present is a good way to go - people are happy that they don't have to shop around, and you get one or two cool games a year!

      Also, Shut Up and Sit Down at PATV is a good show about various boardgames. http://penny-arcade.com/patv/show/shut-up-sit-down

  2. Great idea and good list of suggestions! I've tried this with the Dungeon! boardgame as a way to get into D&D or Swords & Wizardry. The big stumbling block was just scheduling.

    I'm actually hoping to do the same with a scifi game I'm looking at getting and following it up with a X-plorers RPG campaign.