of Eclectic Gamers and Interactive Storytellers
Bridging Gamers. Building Worlds
are Role Playing Games (RPGs)?
are Role Playing Games?
versus Computer RPGs
are Role Playing Games set up and run?
do People play RPGs?
you're interested in getting started in RPGs, get
in touch with us so we can help you get the most enjoyment from
the hobby in the quickest time.
ARE ROLE PLAYING GAMES?
define what a role playing game is we first look at what it is
to play a role, what a game is, then tie the concepts together.
played cops and robbers?
played cowboys and Indians?
pretended to be something else be it astronaut, fireman,
policeman, soldier, monster, singer, actor, superhero, knight,
teacher, your mom or dad, or whatever else?
attended a party in costume?
said "If I were him I'd do it this way
answered the question "What would you like to be when
you grow up?"?
acted in a skit, play, or movie?
played a computer game like Sim City, Civilization, Counterstrike,
Baldur's Gate, The Sims, Flight Simulator, The Need for Speed,
Warcraft, Star Trek, Gabriel Knight, etc?
imagined you were a character from a fairy tale, novel,
you've ever done any of these you have already played a role.
The very essence of playing a role is simply pretending that you
are someone or something else in an imaginary world often other
kids play cowboys and Indians you will all too often hear "I
shot you!" to which comes the reply "No, you missed!"
and the argument continues. When in a costume party or pretending
to be an astronaut one's pretense usually serves no particular
end, the fun is simply in being. When acting in a play one is
bound to a script.
Unlike acting in a play Games give players the freedom to take
the character where they wish, in which case it more resembles
improvisational theatre. Unlike the aimless play in costume, Games
have a point or objective whether it be the achievement of a goal
or simply the telling of a compelling narrative. Unlike the cowboys
and Indians of younger days, Games come with rules to determine
success or failure of actions.
Putting it all together: a Role Playing Game is an interactive exercise where players pretend to be their characters, making decisions
regarding their character's actions in order to achieve an objective
or tell a story. Rules assist in resolving actions and defining
the imaginary world, be it realistic or
fantastic, that the characters inhabit.
VERSUS COMPUTER RPGs
The above description sounds very much like computer RPGs and
rightfully so. Computer RPG mechanics were derived from the rules
of tabletop face-to-face (F2F) RPGs. For example, "Pool of Radiance"
and "Baldur's Gate" were derived from Dungeons and Dragons. Many concepts now taken for granted in computer games owe their existence to tabletop RPGs and/or war simulatons (see side bar). Examples are: skill ratings, ability or stat ratings, hit points, damage capacity, attack power, and combat mechanics in general. You can also find these and other concepts making their way into simulation games and even into sports games like NBA or FIFA. At its very core RPG rules are a means of modeling and abstracting an imaginary world to reflect reality or an alternative kind of reality.
Computer RPGs for the most part capture the mechanical or numerical aspects
of role-playing games.
Scripted and limited branching quests and storylines can also be implemented. Unfortunately these computer games still possess limited
possibilities in story creation or authorship and do not promote deep social
interaction among characters.
There have been advances in the
social aspect in games like Everquest, World of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, Star Wars Online, and other MMORPGs* where players
can communicate with each other through typed messages and the game world does develop a society of sorts. There
are online games where the story can be set up by a referee.
Computer RPG games
create immersive audiovisual experiences that free the players from having to imagine described scenes. Combat and other action resolutions are also handled at computer speeds. The first limitation of computer RPGs is that a character's actions are limited by what the programmers of the game chose to include, whereas actions in a tabletop RPG are limited only by imagination and plausibility.
Despite the advances, computer RPGs are also still a very long way from achieving the story flexibility and depth, and character interaction that are available in tabletop RPGs.
A contrasting summary of what a player gets:
Computer RPGs have: action resolution speed, graphics, sound, convenience. MMORPGs add social dynamics with their larger playerbase.
Tabletop F2F RPGs
have: story co-authorship, unlimited variety in responses to non-player story characters, intense and deep interactivity arising from having a smaller group, and nearly unlimited variety in available actions.
ARE ROLE PLAYING GAMES SET UP AND RUN?
At its simplest,
an RPG needs a Game Master, Players, the rules, the characters,
and the story or objective setup.
Game Master. This is the person responsible for setting
up the game's story, objectives, selecting which set of rules
will be used, and later arbitrating the game and furthering its
story. The Game Master also takes the role of all the other characters present in the game world. This person depending on the game publication used is sometimes
referred to as Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Referee, Administrator,
or Host. To make an analogy to movies, the Game Master serves
as a collaborative director, part screenplay writer, set and production
designer, cinematographer, props, sets, supporting cast, and extras.
Players. The players play the characters involved in the
game. They use the character's abilities and play out the character's
personality and make the character's decisions in order to achieve
the objective or further the story. Players in the movie analog
are the actors and by their play serve also as co-screenplay writers.
The Rules. In the hobby this is referred to as the Game
System. It is a collection of descriptions, definitions, probability
tables, and resolution tools to help the Game Master and the Players
maintain consistency in the fantasy world. The Game System defines
what is, what can and can't be done, and what determines an action's
success or failure. Dice and sometimes playing cards are used
to generate the random or partially random numbers to make the
The Characters. These are the player's "playing pieces"
in the game. Game Systems have sections defining how characters
are created. The characters are usually created by the Players.
Sometimes a published adventure will have pre-generated characters.
Sometimes the Game Master will pre-generate the characters. The
facts and figures that define the character (e.g. strength, skills,
etc) are written on paper. These facts and figures work with the
game system in resolving actions.
The Story or Objective Setup. Characters can't just exist.
They need a world to inhabit. They need things to do in that world.
The Game Master is responsible for creating the impression of
the world around the characters and making it react accordingly.
Having a story to unfold or an objective to achieve gives the
character purpose in its world.
The Game Master designs his world, selects the game system to
use, and puts the story elements in place. The Players select
or design their characters according to the game system and whatever
conditions the Game Master has set for his story or adventure.
After all that is done, the game can begin. Mechanically the game
consists of a series of dialogue and action. Here is a simple
example of how play could go.
1 (P1): A human fighter, named Michael
Player 2 (P2): A dwarf fighter, named Durag
Game Master (GM)
The players P1 and P2 have their characters stuck inside a cave.
They find a rather straight crack in the wall and P1 suspects
that there may be a door there.
to GM: "I look in my backpack for the rusty spike I picked
GM to P1: "Ok, you found it."
P1 to P2: "Durag, lend me your hammer."
P2 to P1: "What are you going to do with it?"
P1 to P2: "I think there's a door here. I want to drive the
spike in to pry it open"
P2 to GM: "I look where Michael is pointing and I study it."
GM determines that the dwarf has a chance of seeing something
the human does not and he asks for a die roll (dice are used as
randomizers for probabilities).
rolls (gets a good die result)
(whispers to P2 so P1 won't hear): "Durag notices that the
stones in the area flanking the passage are rather unstable."
to P1: "Michael, I'm not sure of this. This may be a trap.
Or at the very least we might cause a cave in."
P1: "Now what do we do? We've been stuck in this cave the
P2: "We can risk it. But why don't we try someplace else
first? I just don't like the feel of this place."
(reader participation, fill in the blank with what you would say
or do as Michael)
you stepped into Michael's shoes and found something appropriate
to put in the blank, welcome to role-playing!
the play goes on.
DO PEOPLE PLAY RPGs?
do people do what they do? Ask several people the same question
and you'll get a nice variety of answers.
play for varying reasons too. Usually they play not for one reason
but a combination of them. Also, they might play one game for
one reason and play a different one for another.
are some of the reasons an RPG player plays:
Character or Setting
player's thrill comes from playing a well-known character or in
a well-known setting. He may be playing Marvel Superheroes' Spider-Man
or DC Heroes' Superman. Aside from comic book superheroes some
other characters and settings that have made their way into RPGs
are those from Conan, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Bubble
Gum Crisis, Sailor Moon, Macross, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
Pendragon (the Arthurian Legends), and Lord of the Rings. In these
game settings the players can of course choose not to play the
established characters and instead make their own.
player likes to experience a different aspect of realism. He may
be a student or maybe a manager at a company but would like to
imagine what it's like to be British SAS on covert operation.
This kind of player likes having game rules or game systems that
can simulate reality accurately. While most game systems might
group guns simply as pistols, semi-automatics, and rifles a simulation
player likes the systems that go into more detail so he can specify
HK-MP5, Glock 17, 9mm Beretta, or the like.
Some refer to this as deep role-playing. The player derives his
enjoyment from stepping into the personality of his fictional
character. This kind of player immerses himself in the world,
emotions, and outlook of his fictional character during play.
Like actors do, this kind of player likes bringing the character
to life in mannerisms, speaking style, emotion, values and preferences,
joys and wishes, fears and flaws.
This kind of player plays the game for the thrill of overcoming
obstacles or unraveling a mystery all within a fantasy setting.
Almost the polar opposite of Method Acting very often in this
kind of play the personality of the character takes a back seat.
Succeeding is the point in this kind of play.
This kind of play is usually the result of the game master's efforts.
The objective of the play is to make a viable story with proper
progression through exposition - rising action - climax - denouement.
A happy or tragic ending are viable options as they are in movies.
[back to top]
IN THE END
Setting up a tabletop, face-to-face role playing game does look like a lot of work, most so for the game master. But after one experiences the extent of the possibilities, it will not only make the efforts worthwhile but extremely rewarding. Like a great movie a well-run and well-played game will yield stories to tell, praises to heroes, and laughter from anecdotes.
A Role Playing Game is an interactive exercise where players pretend to be their characters, making decisions regarding their character's actions in order to achieve an objective or tell a story. Rules assist in resolving actions and defining the imaginary world, be it realistic or fantastic, that the characters inhabit
YOU KNOW THAT...
Role playing games had their roots in the war simulation games
played by military officers in training. Two teams would occupy
separate rooms. Dice would be used to resolve actions such
as firing. Referees and arbiters would shuttle between the
rooms in between battle turns to update the players' maps
and playing pieces.
most RPGs use dice as randomizers, some use cards or some
other method. The RPG "AMBER" is noted for not requiring
any randomizers in its resolution system.
and speaking of dice, there are many new shapes of dice today.
The original dice set, though, had five types of dice, 4-sided,
6-sided, 8, 12, and 20-sided. These shapes are called polyhedra
meaning having many faces. The five put together are referred
to in geometry as the Platonic solids (named after the Greek
philosopher Plato). A platonic solid is a polyhedron whose
faces are all regular polygons (equilateral triangles for
4, 8, and 20-sided polyhedra, squares for 6-sided, and regular
pentagons for the 12-sided) and whose vertices (points) define
a bounding sphere. Their names in order of increasing number
of faces are: Tetrahedron, Hexahedron (cube), Octahedron,
Dodecahedron, and Icosahedron.
most gamers and many game systems refer to the dice by the
number of faces, d4 refers to the 4 sided die. The others
are d6, d8, d12, and d20
if you have to roll five six-sided dice, the game master will
call for a roll of 5d6
the first non-Platonic solid-shaped die to become popular
is the 10-sided die. (d10).
two d10s (of differing color or makings) are rolled together
to get percentlile results.
in keeping with the Victorian flavor of its milieu. R. Talsorian's
game "Castle Falkenstein" uses playing cards instead
*MMORPG = Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game