A PARENT'S GUIDE TO ROLE-PLAYING GAMES
This page is designed to help parents understand what Role-Playing Games (RPGs) are about. It attempts to help diffuse some of the myths, and to help parents talk to their children about making intelligent gaming choices.
What are RPGs?

RPGs fall into several categories and subcategories. In general, any game in which a person creates a character and pretends, through various mediums, to be that character can be classified as an RPG. RPGs are similar to acting, though there is no script.
Why would anyone want to play RPGs?

RPGs are cheap entertainment. You can go to the store, buy a $20.00 book, and never have to spend another cent. It is entertainment which can actively involve a group of friends. It encourages using one's brain and creativity, and is dynamic, ever-changing, which is something which books cannot offer. TV and movies do not offer the kind of active entertainment that an RPG does. RPGs allow you the chance to, for a time, play the "leading" roles in an adventure.
What formats are RPGs found in?

* The traditional "table-top" RPG, in which one person, the Game Master (also known as the Storyteller, Dungeon Master, Referee, etc.) tells the players what is happening. The players then make a decision.
Simple Example:
GM: You walk down the hallway and it branches off. One branch leads to the right, the other to the left. The one on the left seems darker.
Carmen (playing Dominica): Gripping my sword, I go down the left hallway. I'm also listening closely. I don't want the kidnappers to catch us by surprise or harm the princess before we get there.
Nick (playing Jarred): I follow her, mumbling, "Why do you always get me into these situations?" I'm checking for traps, and have a hand stretched out, ready to grab Dominica and stop her if I spot one.


* Live Action Role Playing. In LARP there is no GM. However, one player will serve as a mediator. The activities are generally along the lines of improvisational acting. Whereas in table-top skill tests are determined by rolling dice, LARP tends to use quick games such as "paper, rock, scissors." Players are not allowed to touch one another, bring real weapons, or play outside of a designated area during a designated time.

A gentleman named Geoff Bottone contacted me about LARPs and had this information to share:
"Fantasy LARPs are played worldwide, and have existed long before the creation of the Mind's Eye Theatre LARP game. They take place over a weekend (from Friday around 10 to Sunday around 1 or 2 in the afternoon). Players are appropriately costumed as their characters, and possess a variety of skills that allows them to do things in the game (lock pick, back stab, throw spells, etc.).

Combat is resolved using special "boffer" weapons, which are made from CPVC pipe, thick insulation foam, and duct tape. Wizards hurl small beanbags, called spell packets, to deliver spell effects. Combat happens in real time, without the traditional MET "I quickly hit you." If you want to quickly hit someone, go right ahead.

Safety is a big concern at all LARPs. The weapons are checked at the beginning of each weekend to ensure that they cannot cause injury. Players are put through introductory training so that they know how to hit and how not to hit. Because of this, and because the players tend to run around in the woods at night, all LARPs have an insurance waiver. For this reason, you must be at least 16 to play most LARPs.

In spite of what I have said, Fantasy LARP combat is very safe. The only time I've ever been injured at a game is when I ran full-tilt into a pole. Ow. But I've never been injured in combat.

Fantasy LARPs are very intense, very cool experiences where you get to dress and act like your character for an entire weekend. Generally, you dwell in a town with the other players, and help defend the countryside from monstrous attacks, while learning forgotten lore and doing other cool things.



* On-line RPGs. These are either held in chatrooms, or on special programs accessible through a telnet client. They are usually called MUDs, MUXs, MOOs, or MUSHs; the name depends on the program that's being used. MUD's are the oldest and include automated stuff for people to run around killing. They are generally the least sophisticated and least respected. MUXs and MUSHs tend to focus on RP more, where as MOOs apparently run the gamut. Any number of players can log on at one time and RP together. You are not bound by the constraints of getting a game group together as someone is nearly always on. Skill tests are resolved through negotiation with other players; players generally have a lot of leeway as long as they remain "In Character." A good way to get a feel for an online RPG is to read the logs on that game's web page (see below for examples).


So Just What Myths do you mean, anyway?

MYTH: Only social outcasts and people who can't accept "reality" play RPGs.
FACT: Most RPers are very intelligent, creative people. They come from all walks of life, are of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds. Dungeons & Dragons (TM) and Other Fantasy Role Playing Games says "Players are usually in their teens to early 30s, who may be above average in intelligence, creativity, and imagination. (Perhaps persons with these qualities naturally drawn to the games; perhaps playing the game develops these factors)."
MYTH: Roleplaying encourages Satan worship, drug use, and involvement in the Occult. Roleplayers cast "spells" during their gaming sessions and engage in violent acts.
FACT: There are a few horror stories, but most of them are not true, propoganda by various anti-gaming organizations. I will not attempt to quote all of the statistics, but the Religious Tolerance web pages have some of the best research. No actual spells are cast during games. No gamer believes that he actually becomes his character. Most RPGs, with the exception of only a few, emphasize playing the "good guys," making the majority of them about as harmless as your average game of cops and robbers. There is no proven connection between drug use, suicide, or Satan worship and RPGs.
From "Concerns Christians Should Have About Dungeons & Dragons:" Any claim that role-playing games are physically or psychologically dangerous is just flat wrong. It is a misconception, or worse, a lie. The mainstream media created a delusion and certain small groups sold it, with considerable embellishment, to the fundamentalist community. The claim that fantasy games are dangerous alone demonstrates a wililngness to ignore the truth and the evidence rather than admit to being wrong, duped, or used. The sale of this claim in pamphlets and fliers is the sale of a lie, usually in Jesus' name.
MYTH: God hates RPGs.
FACT: Is it rolling colored dice and telling an interactive story that you find Biblically objectionable, or the content? Parents who are dubious about the fantasy motif of many RPGs might find a compromise with their gamer children by asking that they play the many, many RPGs out there which include no magic, such as Science Fiction, mystery, or espionage games. There are also Christian and Christian-themed RPGs which you could encourage your child to play. Some are even geared towards using RPGs to further Christian education. (A complete web listing may be found at the end of this article). For my Biblical approach to RPGs, click here.
MYTH: Gamers start to confuse fantasy with reality.
FACT: Confuse is really the wrong word. However, something parents should know is that RPGs in any format can get addictive. The key to defeating an addiction is prevention. Talk to your gamer child. Discuss limiting game time and find ways to keep him interested in the "real world." Some gamers go to RPGs because they are frustrated, bored, or unsatisfied with "real life." If you can find out if this is the case, you may perhaps remedy the situation. Gaming should be a hobby, not an obsession. I myself started gaming out of a sense of helplessness, a conviction that I could do no real good in the real world. Playing heroes excited me, and still does. But finding volunteer work gave me an additional outlet, so that I did not have to wrap myself up so totally in the games.
MYTH: RPGs have no value whatsoever.
FACT: RPGs are a good way to explore real life issues in a non-threatening atmosphere. Psychologists sometimes use role play to help settle disputes, and drug prevention programs like DARE and I CARE offer a version of LARP to teach kids the best way to say no to drugs. Most GMs have a moral or lesson they want to impart in their game, which achieves similar ends.
Guide to the Games: Age Suggestions for Various RPGs.
This is not a comprehensive listing by any stretch of the imagination. There are over 300 RPGs on the market. This deals with a few of the major ones. I have played every game on this list and will add others as I play more. This is also a subjective account, based on my experience with these games. Other gamers might well have different experiences; you should keep this in mind as you look through these. These are suggestions only.

D20 (Wizards of the Coast): I love the d20 system, its ease, and its flexibility. But its impossible to make an age rating on "d20." With the advent of the system I even enjoy the traditional Dungeons & Dragons game (see below) as it seems to open up more possibilities for character interaction. D20 is simply a system, not a game world, so take each book individually when trying to evaluate. That said, I've played d20 D&D, d20 Modern, and d20 Wheel of Time. I can't see anything in these games that anyone 13 or over couldn't handle. However, certain books, like The Book of Vile Darkness, meant to provide villain fodder for aspiring game masters, already has a parental advisory that I recommend heeding.

Dungeons & Dragons (TSR): Here I speak of 2cd Edition. It contains violence, though the violence is very unrealistic. Its focus is not really RP oriented: most of the game seems to involve running around fighting monsters and getting treasure. A good Dungeon Master broadens the scope of these games quite a bit however, so don't judge how fun the game might be from my rather biased description of it. In general, this game is okay for just about anyone over 13, unless you are concerned about the violence factor.

GURPS (Steve Jackson Games): GURPS stands for "Generic Universal Role Playing System." This game is appropriate for any age group, as you can make it into just about anything you want. GURPS was actually one of the very first systems I played in. Each book will have its own content, but I've never seen anything that was less than clean from this company.

Vampire: The Masquerade (White Wolf): This is a game designed to explore, in a mature manner, your own dark side. As such, I would recommend it for players 17 and older only.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse (White Wolf): This game, centered around battling the forces of darkness in an increasingly dark world, contains a lot of violence. It also has a strong spiritual side which can make for a very good, deep game. Or it can make for a lot of gruesome angst. 16 and up is probably okay for Werewolf, just watch it. Some of it can be pretty gross.

Mage: The Ascension: (White Wolf): The themes of this game is possibility and the hubris that threatens when one can manipulate reality. The themes are very complex, as are the rules, and there is no particular emphasis on acting "good." 17 or older for Mage, as the rulebook contains sex scenes.

Shadowrun (FASA): This game is pretty violent, as games go. Players are inevitably a part of the underworld, even when they are good people. However, the Powers That Be are very very corrupt, allowing something of a Robin Hood mentality with the right game group. Still, this game is most appropriate for older players, 17 and up.

RIFTS (Palladium): Quite, quite violent, but like D&D, the violence is unrealistic. The game itself lacks substance, IMHO; every one I've ever played in involved doing nothing but rolling dice and taking out our aggressions on imaginary creatures. Still, unless you're bothered by the violent content, I'd say this game is okay for anyone above the age of 13. This was, in fact, the very first RPG I played, at the age of 14.

Heroes Unlimited (Palladium): Surprisingly, though it shares the same system as RIFTS, I thoroughly enjoyed this superheroes game. As it is a superhero game, it is probably fine for any age group, as it pretty much keeps to the tone and theme of your average comic book.

Changeling: The Dreaming (White Wolf): A beautiful game about childhood wonder and magic, this game is fine for any age, though it may take a younger player to truly appreciate it! Which I mean as a compliment.

Star Wars (West End Games): If you don't object to your child seeing anything Luke Skywalker did, then there's probably nothing wrong with any age group playing this game. In fact, there is actually a "kid" template character.

Aberrant (White Wolf) : This is White Wolf's excellent Super Heroes game. All of the fun of comic books with the hint of gritty realism that White Wolf is so good at. This game is pretty much okay for any age group -- though more "adult" themes are easily incorporated, younger gamers will likely stick to what they know.

Trinity (White Wolf) : An extremely cool sci-fi game, there is again nothing here that should alarm parents. It does deal with psionic powers for those of you whose beliefs say such things are wrong. Any age is appropriate, though older gamers might enjoy Trinity more than younger.

Hunter: The Reckoning (White Wolf): I truly love this game, but it is not for children, at least, not unless you want to see the world's most violent little gun fest ever. To get the true value and depth of this game, players should be at least 18. Furthermore, subject matter includes some swearing and what I consider to be mature content.

In Nomine (Steve Jackson Games): I adore this game. I just got introduced to it this month. A game of angels and demons fighting a Holy War, it should appeal to a Christian Gamer. There are rules for playing demons but of course like any gaming choice a game featuring demon PCs is easily avoided: just don't run one. (Unless of course you want to explore Falling and Redemption as your themes). I'm kind of uncertain where to assign the age limits here, but I'd say around mid-teens and older, depending on the maturity of the gamers, is most appropriate.

Against the Darkness (Tabletop Adventures, LLC): Those who want Christian themed content will find an extreme gem in "Against the Darkness." Players take on the role of "Justicars," devoted to ridding the world of demonic influence. However, I would not recommend this game for younger gamers. Quite simply, the suggested style of game play as written in the book is extremely dark and gritty, and in my opinion if done right somewhat nightmare inspiring. That said, they do offer lighter alternatives.

The following is a comment I received from Dariel Quiogue, a role-player in the Philippines. I have a rule that I only post games that I have played. However, as he found for me two games that were appropriate for children under the age of 10, something I was unable to do, I made an exception.

"There are two RPG's I'd like to recommend for your Guide to Games section: Toon (Steve Jackson Games), where players play cartoon characters a la Roger Rabbit or Bugs Bunny, and Teenagers From Outer Space (R Talsorian Games), where players play wacky teeners in a future where even the aliens are sending their kids to school on Earth. Both are rules-light, high-comedy games that should suit even 10-year olds or less."

As I'm taking his word on it :), Carmen Hudson does not take any responsibility if the content of these two games does not match the recommendation given it. (That said, I think it is probably safe to go with it). Here are more Reader Recommendations.



LARPS: I have only played in one LARP, and it was Vampire: Mind's Eye Theatre from White Wolf. To me, the whole thing seemed pretty harmless. However, because you are far more "into" your character during a LARP than on table-top, I would suggest that this sort of RP only be undertaken by the mature -- 17 or older.

MUSH's, MUX's, and other MU*'s: I've played on many of these. A parental guideline is difficult, however, since much of your experience depends on who you play with, and there's no way to predict that. However, from watching my 15 year old brother fumble about and get into trouble, I'd say this depends on the MUX and the relative maturity of the player. I'd also suggest that younger players only be allowed to play someone in their age group or younger: the code of In-Character behavior will keep them from getting into situations which are too old for them. Nobody plays out a violent bar fight, seduction scene, or other scene of mature, questionable content when there is a six-year-old present. Parents can judge a MUX first by the theme; a World of Darkness MUX is going to closely resemble the White Wolf games they are based off of. Games based on the Pern novels, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, Star Wars or various comic books are going to stay within the tone and theme of their selected venue. Most MU*'s have a "news policy" command which often outlines what the game administrators themselves feel the age-appropriateness of the game is.

That said, I can honestly recommend a "Kid Friendly" MUSH. Hogwarts Express, located at this link , is a Harry Potter themed MU* set during the 1970s. What is unique about this MUSH out of others I've played on is that most of the player base is under the age of 18. It actually seems to be divided primarily between high school students and older players with kids of their own! (That's not to disrespect the awesome players on the game that fall into other demographics). There are several high school students on staff. The staff is VERY sensitive to the fact that minors play there and take every step to make sure the content remains minor-friendly and appropriate. Of course, if you've objections to Harry Potter this won't work for you, but the endorsement is there all the same.
If you're still concerned...

1. Talk to your child. Communication is absolutely essential.
2. Ask to sit in on a game session. Realize that if you don't like what's going on, it could very well be the game group, not the game. If you and your child agree this might be the case, you could suggest finding another game group, or having the child act as Game Master in order to bring more positive aspects to the game.
3. If your child already has mental health problems, talk to your psychologist about the possible effects of RPGs. You may find they can be positive as well as negative. If your psychologist seems to be talking out of media hype, please refer him to this page before continuing discussion. You might also send him to this web page where he will find a bibliography of some studies done on RPGs which might prove helpful.
4. If your child starts discussing his characters more than his real life, or begins foregoing eating or sleeping in order to roleplay, get concerned. This could actually be a sign of depression. The games are a very easy respite from the pain and confusion clinical depression can cause. I speak from experience. The games really can become harmful when used to escape depression.
Links:
Resources:
Dungeons & Dragons (TM) and Other Fantasy Role Playing Games
Sources About Role-Playing Games
Christian Gamers Guild


MUX Logs:

Hogwarts Express has their logs listed on the Live Journal community he_logs, located here.

Christian RPGs:
Dragonraid

E-mail the creator of this page with questions or comments.

Note: While some comments, questions, or bits of information sent in by commenters do reach these pages, not all of them will. I also do not promise that they will reach these pages in anything approaching a timely fashion. :) Things that will never be included are:
1. Arguements over my game recommendations. These are my impressions of games I have played with the exception of "Toon" and "Teenagers From Outer Space." (The only reason those two made it to the list despite my lack of experience with them is they had the unique quality of being appropriate for ages 10 and younger, something which I was unable to offer). Other games might make the list but arguments over my impression of existing games never will. However, you may see Reader Recommendations below. However to save space I will only include one recommendation per game.
2. Links to conventions. There are other, better places to get this information. I may, if someone out there has it, include a link listing many game conventions.
Things that are more likely to be included:
1. Information, especially if my information is inaccurate or incomplete, such as in the case of the LARP information included above. Information that closely duplicates mine is less likely to receive consideration for inclusion on this page.
2. Resource links such as the ones found above.
This isn't to be a hard nose. I simply don't want those people whose much appreciated comments or suggestions for additions that did not make this page to feel in any way slighted. I wanted to make my reasoning clear for what I did and did not include.

Other items of interest are below.

Because I'm curious:



Last Updated: 12/02/07. Added my review on Against the Darkness.

Requests: Is there a gaming topic you'd like me to address? Please let me know.

I try to answer all emails that come my way. You can also report broken links this way. My time is limited, so it might take me awhile to get around to fixing them, but please do report them.

Carmen Hudson is a gamer of 16 years and a mommy.



Reader Recommendations

Reader Name: Robert Elliot

Recommendation #1: Harn, by Columbia Games. Harn is a very little known game that aims for strict realism. It's farther from fantasy and more toward reality, where a common phrase in a game with 4 or 5 characters might be,"Hey look, two orcs with axes and some leather armor... Quick run away before they see us! Ah! Too late, we're doomed!" Typical characters start as farmers or craftsmen, generally working whatever job their parents did, but somehow get involved in various political or more rarely mystical encounters. A must for anyone seeking a more mature campaign!

Recommendation #2: Amtgard (LARP). It is it's own game with it's own rules, but in effect it is a modified D&D where combat is resolved using what people would generally call "boffer" swords. It's all over the US now and seems to be growing rapidly... Look out for crazy foam-swingers in a park near you.

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