Role-playing Tutorial

What is Role-playing?

Have you ever read an adventure book and imagined that you were the story’s main character? You lived in the same setting, experienced the same events and overcame the same obstacles that that character did. You suspended reality for a time to live in another world. You were imagining yourself in another role.

Role-playing is very much like that. In a role-playing game (RPG) however, you are free to choose the game setting yourself instead of having a book decide the background. You can choose another time or another place in the real world in which to live, or even create your own imaginary world if you like. Science may give way to magic and potions, or be enhanced through the addition of star flight and time travel. Fantastic creatures, robots or alien races may exist side-by-side with Humanity.

The world in which you imagine yourself determines the types of characters you might choose to play. In a historical setting, your character will be one that actually might have lived then, a gladiator in the Roman Empire or a Viking in the days of Eric the Red for instance. No matter what the setting however, you can generally choose to be a hero or a villain and be strong and healthy or cunning and wise. You might even be of a non-Human race or possess super-human abilities.

Regardless of who you are, you are the one who determines your own fate. You are not bound to the text in a book, but write your own story. You make the decision to try to save the damsel in distress or start the war or point your ship toward another star system to explore it. Perhaps you will gain wealth and power and prestige or end up marooned in uncharted space.

In an RPG, you usually play only one of several characters, where each interacts with the others, help each other and work toward the same goal. One character might be the captain of a starship, and others might be engineers, navigators and other crewmembers, for instance. Or one might be a noble warrior leading an army, while others might be infantry, archers and cavalrymen.

How players have their characters interact with the others in the game depends on their characters’ background and beliefs. An elf might prefer the company of other elves and distrust dwarves. The British sea captain would act differently when among pirates than he would his own crew. Many times, interaction amongst the players is at least as much fun as finding that buried chest of gold at the end of the adventure.

And this is the best part; a book will run out of pages, but the role-playing game doesn’t have to end when the adventure is over. That chest of gold might be cursed or a Spanish galleon might intercept the ship on the way home, giving the characters new goals that lead to other challenges and possible rewards.

At the center of the game is the storyteller, the game master. He is the one who guides the players on their adventures. He determines the difficulties that the players face, as well as the rewards that they might receive. He doesn’t force the story in any particular direction, but paints the background that makes it complete. The game master usually has a great deal of experience with the game system and seamlessly hides the mechanics of the system in order to let the players focus on the story… and the fates of their characters.

More on getting into the fun in my next article, maybe ...

Enjoy your stories, wherever they lead you.

David Washburn
RPG Columnist


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