The best books for taking your first step into learning and running tabletop role-playing games

Why am I passionate about this?

TTRPGs are such a powerful medium for storytelling, and a tool that can be used by therapists to help their clients. Learning how to run games can seem daunting, these books have all helped me with learning how to run games more effectively. From thinking about stories, to exploring tropes, using storytelling techniques, and sharing the narrative with players this collection of books will help you on your journey of building worlds and telling stories. 

I wrote...

Tabletop Role-Playing Therapy: A Guide for the Clinician Game Master

By Megan A. Connell,

Book cover of Tabletop Role-Playing Therapy: A Guide for the Clinician Game Master

What is my book about?

Across the globe, therapists are using tabletop roleplaying games (RPG) such as Dungeons & Dragons as a part of their practice. This book provides an overview of what RPGs are and what makes them such an effective and powerful tool for therapy. By examining research on gaming, flow, immersion, and role-play, readers will gain a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings and how to skillfully and ethically use RPGs in their own practices. The author also looks at the history of RPGs, specifically focusing on issues of diversity and representation to help providers understand some possible pitfalls that exist within the medium. The book utilizes an example group to walk through everything from conception, planning, running, documentation, and termination of the group.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume 1

Megan A. Connell Why did I love this book?

Understanding story structure, narrative drive, and world-building are incredibly helpful when running tabletop role-playing games.

As you run games you will often find that the players do not do what is expected and as the Game Master (GM) you have to adjust the story as you go. Understanding common story tropes and character arcs can help GM’s with building their world, their campaign, and adjusting the story as needed.

Hickson uses examples from literature, anime, and popular media to help illustrate the different themes explored in his series. 

By Timothy Hickson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Writing and Worldbuilding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Writing advice tends to be full of 'rules' and 'tips' which are either too broad to be helpful or outright wrong. With over 35,000 copies sold, On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume Idiscusses specific and applicable ideas for your writing, from effective methods of delivering exposition and foreshadowing, to how communication, commerce, and control play into the fall of an empire. Volume II, a sequel with a host of new topics, released in December 2021.

On Writing Prologues The First Chapter The Exposition Problem Foreshadowing Villain Motivation Hero-Villain Relationships Final Battles The Chosen One Hard Magic Systems Soft Magic Systems Magic…

Book cover of The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

Megan A. Connell Why did I love this book?

For many Game Masters it can be difficult to understand how the monsters and adversaries in their worlds would act.

In his book, and its sequel, Ammann helps to provide guidance for how different adversaries might act towards the group of heroes. This book helps GMs think critically about the monsters in the world and can help with teaching how to provide a more dynamic and consequential experience for players.

Ammann also helps readers think in terms of a world with magic and how those living in such a world might think and approach problems differently than we do in our magic-free world.

By Keith Ammann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monsters Know What They're Doing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the course of a Dungeons & Dragons game, a Dungeon Master has to make one decision after another in response to player behaviour-and the better the players, the more unpredictable their behaviour! It's easy for even an experienced DM to get bogged down in on-the-spot decision-making or to let combat devolve into a boring slugfest, with enemies running directly at the player characters and biting, bashing, and slashing away.

In The Monsters Know What They're Doing, Keith Ammann lightens the DM's burden by helping you understand your monsters' abilities and develop battle plans before your fifth edition D&D game…

Book cover of The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide: Role-Play the Best Campaign Ever-No Matter the Game!

Megan A. Connell Why did I love this book?

Sometimes you might find you have a great idea for a campaign, or know what theme you want to explore but are struggling to understand how to bring those ideas together.

D’Amato takes you through building your campaign through both a discussion of storytelling devices as well as pointed questions you can use to help flesh out your ideas and turn them into a full campaign. This book also helps GMs learn how to make their world feel lived in through descriptions and building history.

This is the book you want to use to build a small idea into a full campaign! 

By James D'Amato,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Improve your RPG campaign with this comprehensive and interactive guide to making the most out of your gaming experience.

Whatever RPG game you play, from D&D to Call of Cthulu to licensed games like Star Wars, every detail is important. From setting the scene to choosing the right music or even adjusting the lighting to create the right atmosphere, every choice helps maximize your gaming experience.

The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide provides practical advice for everything from pre-game preparations and in-game improvisation to working out a plan of attack with your teammates to learning how to lean into the setting…

Book cover of Sly Flourish's Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master

Megan A. Connell Why did I love this book?

When I first started GMing I had pages and pages of notes that took hours to prepare.

It was unsustainable and I knew there had to be a better way. The Lazy Dungeon Master technique of session and campaign planning helps to ensure that while you are prepared for your sessions you are not wasting time planning too much.

Using the methods in this book, my session preparation time went from several hours to around an hour and I think my sessions improved as a result. 

Book cover of Kobold Guide to Plots & Campaigns

Megan A. Connell Why did I love this book?

This book is a series of essays from some of the most well-known writers and creators in tabletop gaming.

This book is filled with tips and tricks to help you build your world and create a compelling plot that your players will want to engage in. This book will help you learn how to use different storytelling devices effectively in an RPG as it is slightly different than how you would use such devices in a written novel.

This book really helped me to start wrapping my mind around how shared narrative stories can work and how as a GM I can steer the story without taking away the agency of my players. This is a great quick read for new and experienced GMs alike! 

By Michele Carter (editor), Wolfgang Baur, Clinton J Boomer , Zeb Cook , Jeff Grubb , James Jacobs , Kevin Kulp , Richard Pett , Robert J. Schwalb , Margaret Weis , Steven Winter

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kobold Guide to Plots & Campaigns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Best Role in Roleplaying

Whether you’re a new gamemaster or a seasoned vet looking for a new angle to shake up your game, these 19 essays by 13 expert gamemasters demonstrate ways to construct your campaign from the ground up and keep your players engaged until the dramatic conclusion.

Within this volume, masters of the art show you how to begin a new campaign, use published adventures or loot them for the best ideas, build toward cliffhangers, and design a game that can enthrall your players for month or even years. Want to run an evil campaign, or hurl…

You might also like...

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in RPG, video games, and Cthulhu?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about RPG, video games, and Cthulhu.

RPG Explore 29 books about RPG
Video Games Explore 95 books about video games
Cthulhu Explore 18 books about Cthulhu