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  • Writer's pictureJames Shade

RPG: Roleplaying Guru of Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games are a unique oddity in our modern society; they combine 1 part storytelling with 1 part acting with 1 part social experiment with 1 part game. I have never experienced anything else like it in my lifetime. Granted, it can be awful or it can be wonderful, just like anything else. But the potential for awesomeness, the bonding with friends, the comedic/memorable moments and the creative expression are what keeps me coming back for more. A lot of hobbies might become tiresome after a while but this one has held my interest for nearly 40 years. So, what is this magical creature you ask? Let me tell you…

In general, a roleplaying game is where a group of friends get together and take on the role of a fictional character that they create with random dice rolls and/or their imagination. Those characters are then taken through a series of stories filled with trials and tribulations by a Gamemaster (GM or DM). The GM, having read the rules and knowing how the game mechanics work, lays out the setting, describes the situation and the players/characters react to what is going on around them based on their abilities and personality types. Rolls are made with a variety of funny little specialized dice to resolve any situations where the outcome is in question. If the characters succeed through cleverness and talent (or just plain luck) they are generally rewarded and the story moves forward. Having learned from their experiences and conquered the challenges placed in front of them they generally become more skilled in their particular areas of expertise and can take on bigger challenges in the future as they gain more confidence and abilities. The story goes on for as long as the group wishes it to (subject to real world limitations) and if a character meets a grisly demise the player can always make a new one, though he will typically have to start off as a greenhorn again. Characters are traditionally written up with paper and pencil but a lot of folks these days save them digitally for ease of transport and protection against loss.

A roleplaying group can be anywhere from 2 people to 20 people or more, though higher attendance makes it more difficult to organize schedules, fit them around the table and keep everybody happy. Games are usually played in person but can be run through the mail or online as well. Roleplaying sessions can last anywhere from 1 hour to 1 whole day or more! Each session is typically 1 chapter of an adventure scenario and it may take several sessions to play out that whole scenario. Several adventure scenarios strung together can form a campaign which is an epic tale with a consistent story arc. Campaigns can last anywhere from 1 month to 1 decade or more! It really all depends on how frequently everyone is able to play and how much story gets told in each session. My groups tend to have 4-5 people and my campaigns typically last about 6 months (playing once a week or so), though 12-18 month campaigns are not unheard of. I prefer to keep it on the shorter side in order to give the players a feeling of completion and to prevent them from getting burned out on any one game.

Different games have different rules and game mechanics; some are very complex and some are rules-lite. If the game designer has done his job properly the game mechanics will reflect the type of game that it is, ie. if it is a superhero game, the rules should allow for a lot of fast and furious action, or if it is an apocalyptic game the rules should make it very easy for the character to die. Some games base their character’s potency around their skills, while other use a level-based system, your level being an ever increasing number that sums up the effectiveness of your powers and abilities overall. I prefer level-based games myself as it is much easier to understand a character’s potency with a glance at this single number.

Most games use dice to resolve conflicts or to accomplish difficult tasks, while some use cards or chips. There are even some games that use no dice at all, focusing simply on the storytelling aspect of the game. But the cool polyhedron dice have always been my favorite method, and there are six standard types: 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided and 20-sided. They come in all sizes and colors and I know people that have literally collected thousands of these things. They can be addictive…

Roleplaying games come in a variety of flavors too. There is literally a roleplaying game for any and every genre you can think of (and even some in genres all to themselves, things that you would NEVER have thought of). Fantasy, scifi, superhero, apocalyptic, horror, comedy, cyberpunk, pulp, westerns, vikings, pirates, samurai, spies, steampunk and everything in between. Nowadays, mash-ups are popular too; want to play a combination of 3 or more of the aforementioned genres? No problem! There’s a game for that. There are also quite a few game makers that create a generic system (rules and mechanics) and then publish genre books of every type to be used with that system. GURPS is one, as well as Savage Worlds and several others.

Some examples of the more well-known RPG’s:

Fantasy – D&D, Pathfinder, Warhammer, GURPS, Saga of 5 Ages (coming soon), Conan, Legend of the 5 Rings

Scifi – Star Wars, Star Trek, Traveller, Alternity, Fading Suns, Star Frontiers, Galaxy Prime

Superhero – Marvel, DC, Villains & Vigilantes, Champions, Silver Age Sentinels, Brave New World, Powers Beyond

Apocalyptic – Gamma World, Twilight 2000, Aftermath, Countdown Earth (coming soon)

Horror – Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, Call of Cthulhu

Comedy – Toon, Ghostbusters, Kobolds Ate My Baby, Paranoia

Dark Future – Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Judge Dredd

Historical - 7th Sea, Indiana Jones, Boot Hill, Heroes of the Pulp Age (coming soon)

For the veteran players out there, this article has probably stated nothing that you didn’t already know but hopefully you were able to learn something new. And I can’t stress that word enough: NEW. There are so many players (and GMs) out there that get into the hobby, find a game they like and play nothing but that. So I implore you…TRY SOMETHING NEW! There are so many games out there that it is a crying shame to miss out on them. Each one is an entirely new roleplaying experience, whether they are 30 years old or hot off the presses. And there are better systems out there than the one you probably play all the time. Trust me on this! I hear so many complaints about games that have too many rules or mechanics that are too complicated. So find a new one! Don’t be scared. You don’t even have to spend the money to buy a new game, just find a group playing something different and join in. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The Game Guru Hath Spoken.


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