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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Roleplaying games

Most of you reading this probably won't be into roleplaying game, never have been, and never will be. Some of you won't even know what roleplaying games (RPGs) are, and some of you will only know them as those activities you get up to in your bedroom. And really, that's where we'd rather you keep them, so please DON'T tell us about it in the comments section. For those of you who have been a little sheltered, let me give you a bit of background into what roleplaying games are.

You've all heard of Lord of the Rings, haven't you. Of course you have. (If you haven't, you must be an African shepherd or something. You won't get much out of this post, so you might want to go somewhere else.) Well, Lord of the Rings, written by J R R Tolkien, inspired roleplaying games. In fact, it inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the original roleplaying game.

Roleplaying games, as the name suggests, are games where you play the role of someone (occasionally something). The attraction for most roleplayers is the creative challenge of playing a character in ways that make sense to them (but often make no sense to others who are playing with them!). How many movies have you seen or books have you read where you've groaned in agony and frustration at the stupidity of the characters in those stories? How many times have you thought, "If I was there in that situation, I SO would be doing something better than that!"

Roleplaying games allows you to exercise your creativity and have you playing characters involved in various situations run by a game master (GM) that force you to make decisions for your character that affect its future. Like life, the game only ends for that character when it's dead. During the course of its adventures, it (you) interacts with other characters run by the other players (player characters, or PCs), and also with non-player characters (NPCs) that are played by the GM. The goal, apart from the goals of the scenario its involved in, are to grow, to become more powerful, to be a bigger 'fish in the sea'.

I've been roleplaying ever since 1988. The very first roleplaying game I played in was a James Bond game, being secret agents. I moved from there to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition), which is a fantasy game with warriors, magic users, clerics, rogues, etc, along with all manner of creatures including orcs up to the most powerful dragons. In my time since then, I've played that game on and off, as well as a number of science fiction games including Cyberpunk (based on the Neuromancer series of books by William Gibson), Star Trek, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Werewolf.

I've even run a few games of my own, creating entire worlds around the creativity in my mind, having the players play their characters within the stories I create for them. My favourite genre was Cyberpunk, but I've also mixed a few genres, with Cyberpunk, Vampire and Werewolf being a very popular mix. Imagine a war between Vampires and Werewolves (the movie Underworld, if you've seen it, was inspired by the roleplaying game of Vampire and Werewolf) that takes place in the near future, around 2020, with advanced technology, etc. The future in Cyberpunk is often dark, dangerous and depressing, which lends well to vampires and werewolves running aroud them.

I was very pleased that Deidre's also a roleplayer. She used to play D&D in college, but never got back into it until she met me. She came with me to the roleplaying group I'm part of (which also includes my friend Garry, whom I've mentioned previously), and took over a character that had been left by a player who'd left the group. Nawen, a fighter.

In the time that she's been playing this fighter, I've had about 4 different characters, each of the first 2 dying for various reasons. The first one was a knight who ended up as a pincushion for about 20 javelins thrown by a horde of lizard men. The second one was a gnome mage who was slightly evil. The party couldn't pin anything on him though, but they ended up voting him out. The third was a Paladin, a holy warrior, who got ripped apart by a tiger. The 4th, the one I'm playing now, is a pacifist priest who abhors violence and tries to promote the philosophy, "Can't we all just... get along?" She's an interesting challenge, as she tries to keep everyone alive - good and bad (except for the pure evil or nonreasoning creatures that just want to eat her and her companions - she doesn't want to keep them alive!) - and that often goes against the party's goals.

This is an example of the type of conversation that happened after she joined the group and she was confronted with:
"Listen up. We're the good guys, and they're the bad guys, and if you start helping them, you and this here sword are going to get real acquainted, real quick."

"Right. And you're the good guys, right?"

"That's right, you better believe it."

"And if I help the 'bad guys', you're going to kill me, right?"

"Hey, now she understands! Yeh, that's right."

"Right. So... you, being the good guys, will kill me if I help people."

"Yeh...."

"You did say you were the good guys, right?"

"Shut up. Just don't help the bad guys."

"I'll help whoever I want to help. If anyone is injured, I'll be helping them. If you don't like it, you're quite welcome to kill me now for wanting to HELP people, Mr 'Good Guy'."

"You better just stay out of my way..."
Getting back to the mechanics of the game....

Interaction, similar to what I just described, is 'acted' by the players using verbal acting only. We sit around a table and discuss our plans, or talk to each other as if 'in character', which is what the above represents. It's roleplaying, remember?

In D&D (and most other genres) If you want to engage in any kind of action, you first have to be skilled in it. If you have the skills, then you have a skill rating of sorts, that shows how good or bad you are at it. If you don't have a particular skill, you may still be able to do it if you have some other skill or attribute that could allow you to do it, but with a penalty. So, if you want to, for example, hit someone with your sword, you would roll a dice to see if you hit. The result of the dice is modified according to any bonuses you might have due to skills or attributes, and this result is then compared with the number you need to hit your opponent, which in itself is a result of their own skills at dodging, or the armour they may or may not be wearing.

If your roll is equal to or greater than what you need, then you have successfully hit them with the sword. You then have to roll another dice that represents the damage, and add any bonuses (or penalties) to that roll. The result of this is then taken from the 'hit points' of the opponent. Hit points are a reflection of the health and stamina of a character. The more they have, the harder they are to kill, and the higher they advance, the more hit points they get.

Magic users are often the weakest characters, getting only 1-4 hit points per character level, not including any bonuses due to a high constitution. Fighters are the strongest, getting 1-10 hit points, and they often have constitution bonuses on top of that. However, where fighters have to be stronger because they're most often engaged in hand to hand physical combat, the magic users are often at the back, avoiding being hit, and casting their spells.

Along with fighters, clerics and magic users, you can also play rangers (specialists with nature and bows), thieves, holy warriors, and others. You can also be human, dwarf, elf, etc. There are many combinations that can be chosen from, with all kinds of character combinations able to be created. The only limit is your imagination.

Roleplaying games are limitless in how they allow exploration into character concepts, ideas, and plans of action. If you think you would just love to play someone like Aragorn, Gandalf, Neo from the Matrix (pure Cyberpunk), or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are roleplaying games out there that allow you to play any kind of character you want, in any kind of genre or setting. The only limit is your imagination.

The adventures of the group I'm playing with are being recorded here: The Group. It's only new, started a few weeks ago, and it doesn't have the many years of history in it that should be there, but everything has to start somewhere, right? The purpose of the website is to record the roleplaying adventures of 'the Group', as they experience various adventures and advance in power and experience.

It's a lot of fun to play, and I've been doing it a long time. I plan on doing it a lot longer. I play it every week (except when it's cancelled due to one or more of the players unable to play for that week), and thought I'd just relate it a little bit in here. Maybe you've learnt something new, maybe you haven't. Maybe I've bored the hell outta you. Sorry about that. Go read something else then. :-)

Roleplaying can also be done on the internet, through online games, or even through email roleplaying games. I used to run a Star Trek email roleplaying game between 2000 - 2005. Go here if you're interested and click on FAQ. I don't run that any more, but I may get back into it again future. The website was all my own design and creation. I'll be keeping it there, for when the game starts back up again. (Hey, let me know in an email to me if you'd like to play on it, and you might convince me to start it up again sooner....)

Very soon I'll be posting a story that I created as a future timeline / adventure within the Star Trek game, that was never played out. I thought I'd post it in here as a possible story, which I might just develop that way.

I better go now... I've been at Starbucks all afternoon, and I now have to go home to pick up Deidre and we're going out to see Serenity tonight. Everyone else has seen it, it's our turn now. I'll review that in a post maybe tonight or tomorrow. I promised my friend Emily. :-)

Posted on 11/19/2005 05:03:00 PM Backlinks


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2 Comments:

Anonymous lee pletzers said...

I used to read those 'choose a path' books quite a lot when I was younger.

11/20/2005 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

Me too, Lee. I used to read them when I was at school. They were my first intro to 'roleplaying games'. Weren't anywhere near the same as the real thing though. :-)

11/21/2005 06:33:00 AM  

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