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Pen and Paper: Frequently Annoying Questions

Updated on March 3, 2013

As someone who has played pen and paper games for years, I've run into a few questions from others. These questions tend to come from friends who have never played or seen a tabletop campaign in action. I've even had cases of them sitting and watching a game go down, but they still look at me cross-eyed and having the same old questions.

Now, I don't think it's wrong for those inexperienced with roleplaying games to ask questions, but some are just plain annoying. And frequent. Hence, my new FAQ. In all honesty, most questions people have can only be answered by sitting them down with dice and letting them go headfirst into a game. But, there are a few I can answer right here and now.


Rules! Delicious rules!
Rules! Delicious rules!

So, you can just do whatever you want?

This question is the most frequent and annoying of them all.

For those asking the question, the simple answer is no.

The longer answer is no because there are many, many rules. When a group of friends decides to start a tabletop game, they need to decide on a system of rules. These systems come in the form of books and, depending on the system, a lot of them. Dungeons and Dragons, for instance, requires a Dungeon Master's rule book as well as it's companion, the Player's Guide. You will probably also want one or two of the Monster Manuals, if you need some heavy enemies to hit.

These books are rules. Pages and pages of rules. No, a player cannot do whatever they want. Just like there are certain rules of science that cannot be broken in the real world, there are rules that cannot be broken in the game world. A character can only fly if the rules align to his character in a way that allows flight. Next time you're over a gamer's house, take a look at his bookshelf and you might begin to understand the order of it all.


Find it first.
Find it first.

But, if I want a sword that kills everything...

You cannot just say you have it.

Characters in roleplaying games are represented by information on their character sheet. On this sheet, you'll find their physical stats such as strength and dexterity. You'll find their powers and skills. Their hit points, eye color and name are all on this sheet.

They also have an item list that tells you what they have. As you find equipment, you can take it and your character has it. But if it's not on the sheet, forget it. It's like a video game. Mario can, in theory, shoot fire. But only if he gets the flower that allows for such acts of super heroism You can't just press a button and BOOM, fire power.

Also, I've yet to find such a sword.


I guess that makes Drew the GM...
I guess that makes Drew the GM...

The guy running the game is just making stuff up!

That's not really a question but I'll answer it anyway.

The guy running the game (Dungeon Master, Game Master) isn't just making stuff up. He's got a huge campaign with a great story and lots of adventure ready for the players. The problem is that players never follow this story. So, the DM may have it planned that the players encounter a tribe of ogres once they exit town. But, the players decide not to leave the town today and start up a gang. Now, the DM has to figure out how to get those players and ogre to collide.

Yes, he's now making stuff up on the fly but he has a set goal. And the players will find ways to keep screwing up that goal. Just like a football team has a play ready, they may need to improvise once the ball is thrown but the goal is still in the same direction.

Sure, some DMs plan more or less than others, but, in truth, if anyone is making the game up as they go it's the players.


Legolas need not apply.
Legolas need not apply.

It's just elves and dwarves, right?

Not all the time. The reason you think this is because Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular roleplaying game in the public's eye. While D&D is great and the grandfather of roleplaying, it's not the last word. Elves and dwarves are fun, but after a while, it's time to find something else.

All those rule books I mentioned? Well, depending on the system you get, they take place in different worlds. Gamma World takes place in a post-apocalyptic mutant-fest. Champions is a superhero universe. Traveller is space based and Legend of the Five Rings is samurai action. You can play westerns, horror, underwater or pulp crime if you want and sometimes in the same game.

Not that there's anything wrong with elves and dwarves.


Are you going to argue with Felicia Day?
Are you going to argue with Felicia Day?

Why don't girls play?

They do.

Not as many as guys, sure, but they play. Like most things in geek culture, roleplaying has earned a reputation for being a boy thing. But, like video games, the rules have been changing for years. Girls play.

In fact, I've only ever played one or two long-running campaigns without the opposite gender.

You want to get on someone's case for not having girls? Watch the MLB.


That's a dragon.  Not Satan.
That's a dragon. Not Satan.

You're in league with the Devil, aren't you?

No, Grammy.

To some, this question might not be annoying but humorous. As a Christian, it boils my blood. Tabletop and roleplaying games are no more evil than Stratego. Like all things, people bring into it what they will. If someone is socially disturbed and troubled, they're going to bring that into the game. It's only the bad news that makes headlines.

"Local gaming group has great night and fun adventure; consumes high quantity of Doritos"

That's not going to make the news.


Maybe just a little...
Maybe just a little...

So, it's just like that one episode of...

No.

No, it's not.

Except for that one episode of Freaks and Geeks.



I don't know; did you like this?
I don't know; did you like this?

Do you think I would like it?

Well, I play. So, yes I do.

Also, you've probably done this type of thing before. Remember running around as kids with sticks or playing cops and robbers? That was just live action roleplaying without as many rules. Today, you're probably playing video games that are borrowing from tabletop gaming. Skyrim, which everyone in my dorm had been talking about, was roleplaying without others around. RPG-elements are finding themselves in everything these days.

Honestly, tabletop gaming is just like playing a board game, except it requires more imagination than Monopoly. And, like most things, you won't know until you try.

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    • Amy Livingston profile image

      Amy Livingston 3 years ago from Highland Park, NJ

      Part of the problem with that first question is that, well, it kind of depends. I mean, yes, of course, there are lots of rules. But DMs vary a great deal in just how fast and loose they like to play with them. My first DM completely threw the book out the window when it came to character races; we had, at various times, a (good) drow cleric, a half-ogre fighter, and a sprite mage. Another DM felt that the players, not the DM, should be the ones making up the story; he would literally set the scene and then ask, "So, what do you want to happen next?" So if you were watching that kind of gaming session in progress, you might easily get the impression that this game is total chaos. Only when you're more familiar with the way these games are played can you see the method in the madness.

    • Amanda108 profile image

      Amanda 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

      No experience with tabletop gaming here, but I'd know better than to ask any of these annoying questions! And nice use of Felicia Day!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, this brings back fond memories of my first two years after college (25 years ago), when my fiance and I (now my wife) played D&D under the rule of a DM (female) named Mac (a church-going Christian, by the way). Boy, she ran a mean game!

      One time, we all got transported to Ancient Greece and ran afoul of a few gods who were familiar to us, but foreign to our characters.

      Voted up, interesting, and funny.

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 4 years ago from New England

      It's funny how much I used to have to tip-toe around the subject at Church. Most Fridays, my friends and I would go to youth group and then play Savage Worlds at home afterwards. People are silly.

      Thanks for reading!

    • William157 profile image

      William157 4 years ago from Southern California

      I loved this. Very good information. I especially liked the part where you say that the game isn't in league with the Devil. As a fellow Christian, I'm often asked that question.