Role Playing Games – The Old School Way

Back in the days when only Cpt. Kirk and NASA had computers role play games where played very differently from the way most experience them today in the Internet age. This genre of hobby was the purview of the kitchen table and the local hobby shop; a universe in which the monsters and heroes found their courage flowing from uniquely numbered dice and the pages of a book. In the beginning Role Play Games or RPG’s refereed to any game in which the participants assume roles, often as fantasy characters in a scenario that develops as the game progresses. The first widely known game Dungeons & Dragons originally by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, first published in 1974 by TSR was set in a mythical medieval world. Since then the genre has grown to encompass a wide variety of games that take place in an endless number of settings future, past, and present that have a similar means of play.

The basic aspects of what makes up an RPG can best be described by braking down the different game elements. The first is the “game world or universe” and comprises the physical aspects, realities and relative era in which the game takes place. Each RPG game exists in its own universe where certain unique realities govern the various scenarios in the games scope. The second is “game mechanics” and refers to the system of rules and die rolls used to determine the outcome of player actions. Most RPG games have a similar approach to game mechanics as far as die rolls but vary widely in player character options. The third is the game scenario which is usually made up of a back story, location information, and lists of hazards and treasures relative to the adventure being undertaken by the players. There is generally a goal to any given scenario to give the players a rational for undertaking the hazards involved.

Tabletop Role Play Games (sometimes referred to a pen and dice RPG’s) are universally run by a moderator often referred to as the game master who is both the administrator of game rules (who must possess copies of the rules texts) and a story teller. The game master takes on multiple roles playing (acting out) the parts of the characters and monsters that players encounter in the adventure. The game master will utilize scenario texts to describe the scenes to the players keeping certain information confidential until the players actions warrant discovery. This can best be illustrated by a simple scenario where there is a room that contains a secret (hidden) closet that contains an item of value. The game master would describe every detail of the room as the players enter but not reveal the hidden closet until the players actively search for it; and then only if die rolls (as required by game mechanics) indicate they have found it. It is not the game master’s job to trick the players or engage in adversarial play rather it is their job to utilize scenario texts to lead the players on an adventure.

The players of an RPG take on different persona’s based on possibilities presented by the game universe. In most games they have the choice of playing mythical creatures such as elves, dwarfs, or humans who possess skills such as sorcerers, thieves, or warriors. The players, utilizing the game rules, create player characters using die rolls to determine specific physical attributes such as strength, intelligence, magical ability etc. They then equip these characters with basic clothing, armor, and weapons as well as provisions and tools in preparation for upcoming adventures. The goal of the player in any RPG is to advance their character in ability and wealth through the undertaking of hazardous quests. The same player character will usually have many adventures in many different scenarios within a given game universe becoming more able to face greater challenges for greater reward as time goes by. It is quite common for players to identify with their characters as they become experienced through continuous game play. Over time players and game masters become ever better at the role playing aspect (acting out your character) which in turn makes the games an ever more immersive experience.

The appeal of tabletop RPG’s is both escapism and social interaction with a group of like-minded friends. Unlike the on-line versions the tabletop RPG gamer comes together with friends and family on a regular basis to experience adventures in strange magical lands. Many groups dress up in costumes or meet in a special room they have decorated to set the mood. Still may more simply game at the kitchen table till the wee hours of the morning battling dragons, saving the universe or unlocking the ancient secrets of fantastic treasures.

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