>What is roleplaying? And what is an “rpg”?
No, seriously, what is it? It must be complicated, right? Otherwise, every book on the subject ever written would not start out by asking the same question on the reader’s behalf. The number of people who don’t know the answer to that simple question is surprisingly high. You might even be one of them. If you are, don’t worry. You are not alone.
If you want to understand, you are in the right place.
Maybe you feel intimidated by terms like “d20” or “LARP”, or maybe you just got a book for your birthday and you’re intimidated by all the numbers in it. Maybe you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) who plays this strange game with his friends, and you just want to get it. Or maybe you just want to know what your kids (or grandparents) are doing in your basement.
For the record, I actually don’t KNOW anyone who plays in their basement.
“What is roleplaying,” you ask?
Well, I’ll tell you this much: it’s not rocket science.
Hopefully, some of you remember being a kid. A few more of you might even remember some of the games you played. One of my favorites was always, “let’s pretend.” You know the one; you’d grab a stick that happened to be nearby, and suddenly you were a mighty wizard like Merlin or Gandalf, or a noble warrior like Aragorn, or a dashing archer like Robin Hood. How many of you ran around with a towel tied around your neck at least once in your life, humming the Superman theme song? (Guilty). You’d slay monsters, best evil wizards in battles of wits, save the kingdom, rescue the princess, defeat Lex Luthor, and then your mom would shout, “dinner!” out the back door and you’d run back to your real life.
Ladies, I’m fairly sure most of you remember being the princess. Some of you might even remember being the warrior princess, or the enchantress.
Remember that? Have that image in your head? Congratulations! You were roleplaying. You just did not know it yet.
Let’s break down the word for a moment. “Roleplaying,” comes from the word, “role,” meaning a part or character in a larger story, like an actor’s part in a play – or yours in “let’s pretend.” “Playing,” is just what it sounds like. You are, by roleplaying, both “playing” the “role,” and also the game. Simple? I hope so – I really dislike confusing people. RPG? RolePlayingGame.
“Okay, so what are all the dice for?” you might ask.
If you’ve ever been in an argument with a friend over who’s “dead” because of who hit who with an imaginary arrow, sword, or spell, then you know the answer to this question: because there have to be rules. Rules are fair, if they’re designed well, and dice are impartial. They don’t cheat, they don’t play favorites, and unless you have a weighted set or you roll them where people can’t see they’re very, very hard to rig in your favor.
“What about all the numbers?”
You have skills, right? Strength? There are things that you are good at that no one else is. Or maybe you just are better at something. You’re smart, you’re good looking, a smooth talker. Maybe you really understand music, or art, or pottery, or religion.
So do characters. Superman is super strong and a skilled reporter, for instance; Batman is a master investigator and a genius. Gandalf knows a lot about history. Maybe you don’t have all those skills – certainly not the ability to shoot lasers from your eyes – but they do, and any character you make will have things that they’re good at. Numbers are a way of saying how good. They make things just a little more simulation friendly, and they really aren’t that frightening.
“Why should I be playing this instead of something else? I mean, I could spend my money on another video game instead.”
Don’t you remember how much fun you had as a kid? Besides, when was the last time you played a game where everyone won, everyone had fun, and you all learned better teamwork at the same time? Roleplaying games are a social experience, and if you have a good group of people they can be amazing. Plus, unlike video games, your imagination doesn’t become obsolete, and in the hands of a good group, imagination is the only real limit on play.
“Okay, what system should I be looking at?”
I promise I’ll talk about that later. Suffice it to say that it depends on your goals, and not all games are created equal. Not every game is for everyone. If you like medieval fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons might be good for you, but then again it might not. If you like dressing up in costumes, maybe you should try a LARP. If you like spooky things, maybe you’ll enjoy something from White Wolf. If you want something that plays like a comicbook or novel reads, then you should probably try Mutants and Masterminds. But, as I said, more on this later.
“Do you need a degree in math to understand this book?”
Probably not, assuming you passed elementary school. Most roleplaying games will demand, at the worst (or best, if you’re trying to teach your children math), that you are capable of addition, subtraction, and occasionally multiplication. If you can play Life, or for that matter walk and chew gum at the same time, you can handle this game. Maybe you just need someone to walk you through it, or point you in the right direction. A little imagination doesn’t hurt, either, of course, but as the saying goes, 80% of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
That’s part of the reason I’m here. With a little time, thought, and effort, you can be roleplaying with the best of them, and making characters that are not only interesting, fun, and compelling to hear about, but also are fun to play.
Even with all the funny dice.
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