Role Playing Games (RPG)… No, it is not what you are thinking.
Imagine this, you are stuck at home on a Saturday night, out of money and longing for some fun. One of your friends suggests a board game. What is your reaction? Is it a cry of happiness or despair?
If you are leaning towards the latter I ask, have you ever tried a pen and paper role-playing game?
An RPG is a game where players assume the role of a character and play through a story constructed by a Dungeon or Games Master (DM or GM) – the title differs depending on the system. Players take control of a character and solve puzzles, fight monsters and interact with non-player characters. For all intents and purposes, players are the characters they embody. Each particular character must react to situations using only the weapons, skills and personality that the character is equipped with. Dice rolls against a specific character skill are used to determine the effectiveness of each action.
Scenarios can be anything, from fighting off a pack of zombies to a Sherlockian inspired mystery. It is all up to the DM to decide in which direction the story goes. But if they do not wish to create their own story, they can buy a module, which is a totally self-contained scenario published by the creators of the game.
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was the first commercial fantasy-based RPG released in 1974. Since then, other RPGs such as Trail of Cthulhu (based on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos) or Rogue Trader (set in the Warhammer 40K universe – a dark distant future of our own galaxy) have set player’s imaginations free. Fans have spent countless hours enjoying fictional worlds and outlandish interactions. Sadly, RPGs have never appealed to the mainstream; historically they have been the preserve of what the rest of the world deems nerds.
Tom Cadogan, a player of RPGs, acknowledges that his interest in games and fantasy define him as a nerd. But he points out when interviewed by The Newsroom, popular culture is only too happy to reference and embrace that alternative world in popular films and television shows. For instance, D&D made an appearance in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even The Simpsons.
Despite the lack of mainstream following, there have been many notable celebrity players such as Robin Williams and Vin Diesel (who wrote the foreword for the 30th-anniversary D&D book).
So now that you have heard what an RPG is, do you fancy a roll of the dice to work out what kind of adventure awaits you?
To take that roll there are a few things you will need though. Depending on the system, these will vary, but for the most part you will require: A) Rulebooks. B) A Dungeon Master Guide. C) Two or three, 6, 10 and 20 sided dice, for rolling a myriad of things – from how much weapons will damage an enemy to how successful your efforts to flirt with a captor are. D) A play area, this can simply be a number of maps on printer paper or a hand drawn expanse on canvas, beautifully detailed with hours of work. E) Models to Symbolise your character and the monsters you will fight. F) Someone willing to be a DM. G) Players. H) Imagination.
To most this will sound rather expensive… and it can be; with most books costing upwards from $50, and models ranging any where from $15 to over $100. However, there are cheaper ways to play. Using a site like Roll20, lets players create a shared play area, as well as having live video calling and dice rolling features built in. These websites let you cut out the cost of models, dice and a map; as for the books, some RPGs will have a brief free-version of the rules published to their websites that is targeted to new players, allowing them to enjoy the game before shelling out hundreds of dollars on full versions of the rules.
After you have everything you need, the progression is usually the same, starting with character creation, followed by the DM introducing the scenario.
Sam Jenkins, a seasoned DM, told The Newsroom, “If you have a good, fun group you have some shenanigans at the start, after that you are given a problem and you have to solve it, you make a, plan with your group but no plan ever goes to plan, something always stuffs up or something odd happens.”
Now… it is time to take that roll, to create a character and to run rampant in a fictional world. But what reason is there to actually roll the dice and dive headlong into a game. The reasons are rather simple and when Tom Cadogan was asked this very question, he told The Newsroom, “You get to step out of the boundaries of ordinary life you can do pretty much whatever you can think of.”
Scenarios and the player’s reactions can be simple or downright ridiculous, with some tales even making it into RPG legends such as the tale of Old Man Henderson. Consequently there are websites with sections dedicated to telling these tales from the table, whether they be funny, dark or just interesting.
For the more art inclined player there is a hidden piece of enjoyment, the ability to create model representations of the characters, both player and non-player, as well as monsters. Many of these models will be created or re-purposed using products from Wizards of the Coast (the publishers of D&D) and Games Workshop (the creators of Rouge Trader) as well as any number of hobby shop model kits.
But in the end, the real reason to play an RPG is that players once again have the chance to play make-believe, as though they are children once more; from battling dragons to flying ships through the dark of the galaxy, players are able to set their imaginations free and as Vin Diesel once said, “[RPG’s] are training grounds for your imagination.” – Ben Atkinson-James
Top photo taken by Lauren Croft