If you have been a part of the so-called ‘nerd culture’ for some years, you have probably at least heard of pen-and-paper role-playing games (also called tabletop role-playing games), or you might have heard it from friends, family or whatnot. In case you know what are we talking about here, skip this part, but if you are interested to learn more about this more-fun-than-video-games thing (there, I said it), stay a while and listen…
Ever wanted to be a dwarven fighter swinging his axe at a monster in a dungeon, or swindle some fine goods and run away as a thief in a fantasy setting akin to Lord of the Rings? ‘I can do it by playing such a video game, stupid’ you say, but video games have limits and boundaries. Their vast open worlds are still too small for some and the mechanics are limiting what one character can do. The words ‘role playing game’ are easily used today, but most of the games that have RPG elements are hardly RPGs in their core nowadays. Traditionally, role-playing is just that – you take up a role of a certain character and you become them. In this act of ‘becoming’, you are basically an actor in a play that usually doesn’t have such a tight script, and you have lots of freedom.
Now you wonder, but how do I know what I can do? Every game has a game master, or in case of Dungeons & Dragons game, a dungeon master. This person is basically your server and a developer, to put it in gaming terms – he/she crafts the setting in which your characters will be adventuring in and acts as any character that the players meet. This person usually leads the game and tells stories through it with a certain set of rules (every game has to have certain rules, right?), so while the players have imagination as their limit, they also have some guidelines. It would be no fun if you could do everything, right? Having a character with amazing strength, intelligence, charisma and being able to cast powerful spells and at the same time be a master swordsman would be just boring. What fun is to have a Mary Sue play a game? Everyone should have their strengths and weaknesses, and certain character traits which they try their best to act out.
For example, if I was a human wizard, I could cast spells, but lifting that iron gate is just impossible for me physically. This dwarf fighter standing beside me, though, has enough muscle to lift it just enough so that we can roll beneath it, and our rogue can find a way to throw him a rope from the balcony above later. I just presented you a simple situation in a pretty standard RPG session, but can you see the difference here and in playing a game? I’ll help.
So let’s start over for a second: let’s say that you are one of the players, this human wizard from the sample. You are sitting in a room with several friends. One of them is the game master and he talks to you about the ghost town that lies in front of you, an ancient and abandoned place. You are the other players are listening to him and react accordingly. Now what’s different than playing a video game? Firstly, you are basically hanging out with friends. Usually there are lots of snacks and drinks around so nobody is yelling that he would like for you to get killed in real life, like in most multiplayer games. Second, this ‘problem’ that is in front of you in the form of an iron gate that serves as an entrance to the city is surmountable in numerous ways. You would have one or two ways in an RPG game usually, but tabletop game lets you have tons of options. Do you want to use a spell that summons a powerful ghost, or lift it by strength; do you want the rogue to climb and find a lever inside; do you maybe dig under it with your pet, a large mole (hey, I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s the point; the possibilities are endless); maybe your character is so powerful that he will disintegrate part of the bars and you’ll walk right in, who knows!
See what the point is? By hanging out with friends, you traverse this fantasy world that your game master has crafted and you usually spend hours upon hours in these adventures. The feeling of living through these moments can be greater than any that you have seen in a video game. Some players aren’t that friendly, and get into a conflict with a party member or hell, the whole party. Clashes happen, betrayals aren’t that uncommon, and friendship blooms both in and outside of the game. You spend lots of time discussing your next steps with your fellow players, drinking in fantasy taverns with them, fight monsters and among each other, overcome curses and dangerous landscapes, and run like hell from haunted castles together. All of this in your own imagination. There is nothing beside a sheet of paper, a pen and several dices that you need to be playing these tabletop role-playing games.
So if you have a few friends who are interested in this, grab them and enjoy some great sessions spurred by your own imagination! This time I will not go into more details, as we have already spent a lot of time talking about the basics, but expect several more of these articles in the future, and then we can talk about different types of these RPGs and stuff such as figurines, dices, different systems and the like. We will also delve into the history of these tabletop games and will give you an example of play, but that needs our full attention, so stay tuned and have fun with some dungeons until then!