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Roleplaying 101: What, Why, How and Where?

Updated on February 11, 2014
Who didn't got involved in an old Pirate vs. Ninja duel?
Who didn't got involved in an old Pirate vs. Ninja duel?

Everyone Roleplays

Roleplaying is embedded deep in our life so subtle it's very difficult to notice. Since our early days we learn a game called "pretend-to-be-a" pirate, ninja, knight/princess, mom/dad, doctor, firefighter, among others. We called it game because we enjoyed playing the role of a hero, but it is actually one of our basic instincts as humans in which we learn through repetition. Later in life we find ourselves daydreaming on things we like, how we want our adult life, and the boy/girl that pumps up our heart rate. Even so, there is also an adults only roleplaying that transforms people completely.

One of my favorites popular sayings is "fake it, till you make it", which in a few words means to imitate confidence, which will produce to success, and finally it will generate real confidence. Kind of a virtuous cycle in which you generate new abilities as time goes by. The "fake it" part is a type of roleplaying that will help us later to "make it" and be prepared at any given time for the original purpose.

So by now I really hope it is clear that we are not unknown of roleplaying, we do it every day in the most subtle way and we did it in our childhood for fun. But this arises new questions such as: Why should I "lose" time in something I already do? What's the benefit of it? Will I think I'm a knight/wizard/jedi/gunfighter and go completely nuts? And how can I try it to know if I like it?

What is a Roleplaying Game?

That being said there are a few reasons that you are here. First, I wanted to prove that roleplaying is part of the everyday life. Now that it's clear, you either know somebody who started/wants to play a roleplaying game (RPG from now on); or you are interested in the hobby. Either way, lets bring out in the open what the fuzz is all about.

So here we go. First, an RPG is as simple as the name states and as complicate as the playing rules can get. And there are millions (probably not exaggerating here) of rule sets from the classic Dungeons and Dragons to the simple and casual Fiasco. There are a few RPGs that are classified as live action which also encompass the famous historical reenactments of battles of the Civil War. But for the purpose of this hub we'll stick to the tabletop variation.

Most of the work is done by imagining actions the in-role character you play, but there are rules to make the game more challenging. For example, lets say you are playing a game set in the 1940's. You and your friends play a group of an archaeologist party trying to uncover the mystery of the Mayan pyramids. The group consists of 4 people: Dr. Paul Forrest, his assistant Judy Moneypenny, the muscle in the operation Jack Harland and a local young guide named Pedro de la Rosa.

Imagine living in the world of Indiana Jones, but being the hero!
Imagine living in the world of Indiana Jones, but being the hero!

Each of the players assume the role of the characters. Now picture this, they are trapped inside a chamber of the pyramid because one of the door closed when they tried to grab a treasure belonging to a dead Mayan King which activated a trap. So they have to pull together their wits and abilities in order to get outside the chamber. Lets see how will they play out this one:

  1. Dr. Forrest has a pretty big knowledge base of the Mayans and their structures. So he lets the rest of his party know... "Hey! Maybe we can get out of here! I just remembered the Mayans always build escape mechanisms an hid them so they could get out in case something went wrong".
  2. With this information Ms. Moneypenny starts looking around and finds in the ceiling a small shaft barely visible and yells: "Look up there! There is a small shaft in the edge of the ceiling... Maybe there is where the builders left the escape mechanism. I think Pedro could be able to climb and get inside".
  3. Pedro de la Rosa starts climbing without any trouble and gets inside the shaft. With his lantern illuminating the hole, he starts describing to his companions in his sexy latin accent what he sees: "There are a few carvings in the wall! The first one shows the chalice we took and the pedestal it was on. The second one looks like a door and the third one is the pedestal lying down!".
  4. As soon as Pedro finished, Jack started unbuttoning his shirt to the dismay of Ms. Moneypenny and grabs the hammer from the tools and with the muscular guy's swing of the pedestal falls leaving behind a cloud of dust and debris instead. "There, that's how we do it in the Lonely Star State!". The door immediately opens and Jack continues with his heavy southern accent towards Pedro "Come down kid, its time to collect fame and fortune!"

And that is what is called an encounter. All the actions and phrases that the characters make are the job of the roleplayer, but the failure/success of such actions is determined by the rules usually with the help of dice/coins/cards. Attacking someone or something, remembering important information, realizing there's a shaft in the ceiling, climbing up are all actions. The outcomes of those actions constitute an encounter. Which in turn is part of an adventure or campaign.

One of the most important parts of an RPG is the Game Master.
One of the most important parts of an RPG is the Game Master.

With the aid of the rules there is a special player which is designated the Game Master (GM), he is the one the will tell the character what happens if the lift the chalice, what's behind the stone door, describe the world to the characters and plays the part of characters that aren't controlled by the rest of the players. There are a some game, though deemed the exceptions, that doesn't use the Master and actually have a story panned out.

Why give it a try?

There are quite few adjectives that are quite popular among people who have never give it a try which pejorative to genre: worthless, stupid, childish, nerdy, Why should anyone be interested in something that has these tags all over? Well first of all, most of these tags are cognitive bias from people that don't understand the hobby, and with this hub I hope to change somebody's mind about tabletop RPGs for the better. Second, although it doesn't necessarily train you to be a better (insert profession or trade here), it can help you get into the mind of someone you know and understand him/her better or train virtues that you want to acquire. And finally, because it accomplishes what every game should: Fun!

Wait, wait, wait, did you just said it can help you understand someone better or acquire a virtue you wish to have?! Why yes, I did, dear beloved reader. A few weeks a go a player, which for the purpose of this story we'll called her Jen, shared that he played a recovering alcoholic in the RPG he is playing every week. And by the second month she understood better his mother and why his mother did the difficult decisions she made, which in turn enable Jen to help her mother in her struggle and create a closer relationship with her mom. Needless to say this was a hard work Jen imprinted on her character, so she really give a deep thinking on the actions her character was going to do.

Another concept you could train is modern chivalry if you're a guy
Another concept you could train is modern chivalry if you're a guy
And portraying a strong confident woman that leaps every obstacle.
And portraying a strong confident woman that leaps every obstacle.

The same principle can be applied to the virtue part. The first character I've played was a humble honest wizard who put everyone ahead of him and had a hard time telling a lie. I didn't really mean to improve my own personality but after the sessions were over I found myself doing selfless acts and being on average being more honest with my errors and areas of opportunity a side that was practically invisible for me. It is important to remember to leave behind every flaw that you don't want in your life in the game and keep the values you wish to have in your everyday.


How and Where can I play?

The easiest way to play is to look up in Facebook, MeetUp, or Craigslist for "tabletop RPG in (city name)". Meet them in an open place like a coffee shop, a open park or a hobby shop; this should be done in an environment you feel comfortable and safe. Also the hobby shops (the ones that sell comics, cards, and figurines) are good ways to start your search. This groups usually play something in the fantasy/science fiction genre, so if you want another type of game maybe this wouldn't be the places to look for.

If you have this issue where you want to play a more casual, simple game the best option is to invite your friends over for a roleplaying game and host the session in your house. Be the game master or look for a game that doesn't require one. If you're introducing yourself and your friends to the genre and plan to have a Game Master use a beginners version of the RPG. And finally there is an RPG for every taste so if you're into weird stuff, don't worry someone else already made a game for you!

Types of RPGs

Type of RPG
Examples
High Fantasy
Pathfinder, D&D, 13th Age
Science Fiction
Star Wars Edge of the Empire, Numenera, Warhammer 40K Roleplay
Superhero
DC Universe Roleplaying Game, Mutants & Masterminds,
GM-less
Fiasco, Archipelago, or Western City

Fisco done by Tabletop

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