What are role playing games

Role playing games, or RPGs, come in several varieties. The three most common types are table top RPGs, live action role playing (LARP) and video game RPGs.

In general though, every role playing game is a ‘grown up’ version of the children’s ‘let’s pretend’ games, like cops and robbers. However, since everyone remembers times when a game of cops and robbers devolved into ‘You missed!’ ‘No I didn’t!’ ‘Yes you did!’ . . . well, rules had to be made. What the rules are depends on the type of role playing game.

Table Top

Table tops are the original role playing games. Dungeons & Dragons was probably the first role playing game. It was designed to combine classic war games with a Tolkien style fantasy world. A table top game is played sitting around a table with the players describing what they want to have happen.

Most table top role playing games use a ‘dice system’ to set the rules. In a dice system, when a player decides to do something (the cop tries to ‘shoot’ the robber for instance), the player rolls one or more dice to determine if what the player wants to happen, does happen (in many systems the higher the roll, the more likely to succeed.)

Understanding the dice systems tends to be confusing for people who are unfamiliar with RPGs. However, listening to players talk about their characters can be very confusing as well. Depending on the game, role playing terms about characters can include:

  • Paladin – a holy warrior in D&D
  • Changeling – A human stolen to the world of faerie who escapes and comes home in World of Darkness
  • Cleric – a priest in D&D
  • Splicer – a computer hacker in Shadowrun
  • Attribute – generally things like strength or intelligence, normally rated on a scale such as 1 to 5 or 1 to 20
  • Skill set – what things a character is skilled in (computer use, science, martial arts . . . )
  • Hit points – a way to measure health, how many times a character can be hit before he or she dies
  • And quite a bit more.

Basically, all of these terms have to do with how a character is designed – the first four terms are different types of characters from three different systems, the last three terms ways a character is described in numbers so that a dice system can work.

Table top RPGs include:

  • Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) – fantasy
  • World of Darkness (WoD)- urban fantasy and horror
  • Gurps – multi dimensional anything goes
  • Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) – anime
  • Traveler – science fiction
  • Paranoia – Orwellian humor

Live Action Role Play

A live action role play is basically a table top role play that has rewritten the rules so it can be acted out, rather then played sitting around a table.

Almost every major table top RPG has a LARP version, in addition to the variety of independent LARPs.

Video Game RPGs

Thanks to EverQuest and World of Warcraft, video game RPGs are very well known.

There are two basic kinds of video game RPGS:

Single person – console and computer games such as the various Star Wars computer games.
Multi user games – generally played over the internet, this genre includes EverQuest and World of Warcraft, as well as many others.

Whether single player or multi user, video game RPGs involve using a computer program to generate a character, and moving that character through quests, challenges and combats.

Reasons People Roleplay

Role players, also known as ‘gamers’ can be pretty obsessive people. While the stereotype of the 13 year-old D&D fanatic does exist, some of the most committed gamers have been buying alcohol legally for years, and have 13 year-olds of their own. Why?

RPGs are a Group Activity

Not everyone wants to join a bowling league, and board games get . . . well . . . boring after a while. Role playing games are a great way for a group of friends to have fun together.

Table Tops Have Something for Everyone

While the best known role playing games are sci-fi/fantasy, rpgs exist in pretty much every genre, from Indiana Jones-type adventuring, to film noir mystery and even comedy.

Role Playing Games Are Escapism

A good role playing gaming offers the same thing as a good movie or a good book – a chance to forget your own problems, and get away from it all for a few hours.

The Role Player is in Control of the Story (sort of)

Role playing games are sort of like those ‘you choose the ending’ adventure books. Tired of watching the dumb blond in horror movies go down the dark alley alone? Decide that this time the not-so dumb blonde is going to pick up a bazooka first, or maybe she skips the alley all together!

Role Playing Games: A Different Kind of Brain Academy

Role playing games make the players think, problem solve, plan, and make split second decisions when the plans fall apart. All while trying to think like a different person entirely. Role playing games are a great way to get the brain in gear.

Cheap Entertainment!

Five people go to a store, they spend about $30 on a book, and $5 on dice. They stop and grab a couple of spiral notebooks and some pencils for another $5. Dividing the tab, each person has spent less then the cost of the average movie ticket.

They go home and for the next 6 months have a Friday night get together for nothing more then the cost of a couple pizzas. How many other ways can five people have 4 hours of entertainment, and food, for about $20 a night?

Kid Friendly Entertainment

Alright, everyone knows parents need a night away from the kids sometimes, but finding a baby sister isn’t always easy.

RPGs can be played while the infant sleeps, the toddlers cuddle on parents laps (over sized dice keep them really happy), and older kids watch movies in the den. Or, they can be a family night. With a little bit of care, role playing games can be played so children as young as 5 years-old can join in.

Entertainment that’s Never the Same Twice

Watching the same movie every week is watching the same movie every week. Playing the same game every week is never really the same. Tired of storming the castle? So go hunt down the wizard instead. Never mind whatever fun surprises the Game Master has in store.

‘Live’ the Fantasy

Alright, so it’s only in the imagination, but for everyone who has every wanted to rescue the princess, save the world or solve a whodunit, rpgs can be the way to do it.

Role Playing Games are Fun!

Who needs a better reason? Role playing games are fun – the side discussions that take over (tangent!) can be almost as fun as the games themselves.

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