>Choosing a system part 1

>Roleplaying is supposed to be a fun thing to do with friends, and if everything is going correctly it will be. However, how do you decide which game is right for you and your particular group of friends?

Well, that depends a great deal on whether you, personally, will be running the game (or whether you’re able to bribe someone you know into learning the rules well enough to run it). If you aren’t, you may be stuck with whatever your group is doing. I know this has happened to me often enough that I finally decided to learn how to run the system I actually wanted to be playing in – more on that later.

First, a few more of the basics for those who haven’t already learned them the hard way. A typical roleplaying session has two kinds of people at the table; the players form the larger group, and the role of ‘storyteller/game master/judge/etc’ (depending on which book you consult) is the second group. By him/herself. It’s a big job, but it can be very rewarding.

The players control the PCs, or “Player Characters”, also known as the protagonists of the story. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! The game master (GM from now on) provides the NPCs – “Non-Player Characters,” or the entire rest of the cast; the extras, the antagonists, the monsters, and the cannon fodder– um, I mean, evil henchmen. Yeah.

The game master tells the players what’s happening to them, about the villain’s schemes, dastardly plots, and so forth. The players say what they’re doing, dice are rolled, and conflicts are resolved, hopefully with the players having managed to come out on top. The real secret here is that the GM wants the players to succeed, and have fun doing so – he has fun from knowing that the players had fun. If all goes well, the players are drawn into the story in a way that just can’t happen in film or even literature.

But how do you decide what kind of story you want to be drawn into? And which books should you be looking for in order to do it?

Well, like I said, that’s something that depends a lot on the needs of your group. And whether you’re willing to run it yourself. If you are, you have a lot more choices. If you aren’t, then you’ll be stuck with whatever you can find a group doing already. The plus side to the second option is that you’ll have a group of people who will be willing (and able) to help you learn to play that much faster, which is great.

If you want something fast and easy that you can do once at a party or something over pretzels and soda, I’d recommend a game called Risus. It’s fast, easy to learn, and most importantly, free. Yes, that’s right, free. The only thing you need is the download from the website, pencils, paper, and some d6’s (in case you’re wondering where to find these, just open your copy of Monopoly – nearly every house has one). Oh, and you’ll need a silly idea for a story. Risus also has the advantage of being able to do pretty much anything with a minimum of effort (not unlike another good system I’ll mention later). It’s a great way to introduce a friend to roleplaying for the first time without boggling their minds with all the numbers involved in ‘crunchier’ systems right away. It’s really, really simple (so easy a drunk man could do it!) – if you don’t believe me, just download it and see for yourself. It’s also probably not a bad idea if it’s your first time trying to run a game.

If you want something a little more long term or serious, then you might be looking for one of the books you find in the store in the roleplaying section.

If you like medieval fantasy, you might like one of the many flavors of the old classic Dungeons and Dragons. The two biggest flavors of the moment – being the most recent – are 4th edition (controlled by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic: The Gathering and the Star Wars trading card game), and Paizo’s Pathfinder. Both have merits, though 4th edition is probably a little easier to get into if it’s your first time. The biggest downside, though, is that this isn’t the cheapest game to get into. If you’re a player, you’ll need the handbook, several kinds of dice (d4’s, d6’s, 8’s, 10’s, 12’s, and of course, the d20), and sometimes miniatures (though it’d be pretty easy to just use your Lego men for that). Either can be fun – while I haven’t played the Pathfinder variant myself yet, my good buddy and partner for this blog has, and swears by it. I can tell you that 4th edition was a blast.

However, it isn’t always the most flexible beast, and it doesn’t quite flow like many of the stories I’ve ever read. But it is fun, and it’s not a bad place to start. It’s also the most popular system by a wide margin, meaning if you’re looking for a group to join, this is probably the easiest one to find. D&D is also the grandfather of the roleplaying genre, and as such deserves honorable mention in any list like this one.

Honorable mention goes to Warhammer Fantasy, which I have not played and therefore can say very little about. My co-conspirator, a longtime player of Dungeons and Dragons and practically everything else that involves dice, has this to add:

“A few cool things about Warhammer Fantasy are: it’s percentile based, which only requires you to bring 2d10. Leveling is gradual, which means characters gain experience and skills in a more realistic way rather than all at once. It’s profession based, so rather than playing a fighter or such, you play a fisherman, a ranger, a miner, barber, or so on, which adds depth to the character creation process. It also has a more realistic tone when it comes to healing and taking damage, which adds a bit more of a risky feeling to the gameplay. However, we still managed to avoid having any characters die.”

Hmmm. . . I’m not really sure how to put that in any clearer English, so I’m just going to keep moving in the hope that that didn’t scare you off.

There are far too many options out there list in a single post, and many more books to give a moment in the spotlight, so I’ll be doing this in a series. Part 2 of this set will cover my personal favorite, Steve Kenson’s Mutants and Masterminds, and how it relates to the games I mentioned already.

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