What is an RPG?
By: Ben van Laar. Translated and edited by Arjan Wardekker
Genre: Roleplaying

An introduction to role-playing games.
Mailinglist: Read the Close-Up on this item.

The term RPG stands for Role-Playing Game. From this, one can derive the base-characteristics of an RPG.
First of all, the word "Game". An RPG is just like Monopoly, Axis and Allies and other games like it, a game that is played with a group of people, friends, family, etc. It's all about being creative and having fun with friends. Here, we are talking about the "pen-and-paper" RPG and not about a game that is played on a computer. The RPG genre that is played on the computer (a CRPG) is just derived from the original form of the game (that is, "pen-and-paper").
Second, the word "Role-Playing". This clearly shows what a large part of the game is all about. It is a game in which you play a role, a sort of play with a lot of improvisation. Every player makes up an own personality and character. The player then plays the game with that character.

We will now try to explain the game itself. We ourselves play on saturday in the evening/night. Our group consists of roughly 6 to 7 persons, among which the DM or Dungeon Master (also referred to as the GM or Game Master). The is the person who makes up the world for as far as the characters can see it and beyond. He tells the players what everything looks like, what is happening and what the people (the non-player (controlled) characters, or NPC's) in the world are doing. The player characters (PC's) walk round in the imaginary world, created by the Dungeon Master. They ask the DM what they see and what is happening. The DM tells them what the personalities/characters see. So, in order to "see" the world, you will need a little imagination. Aside from a few maps (which sometimes need to be drawn by the players) and sometimes a few pictures, hardly anything can actually be seen.
Every player has some sheets of paper and a set of special dice. On the sheets paper are the characters's statistics, made according to the game-rules. For example: the characters strenght, intelligence, dexterity, wisdom, charisma, etcetera. It also says what race the character is. The race is the sort of creature (not a sub-group of humanity), for example a human, a gnome, an elf or a dwarf. The character's history, fobia's, proficiencies, traits, possessions and all kinds of other things are also noted on the paper. These things can come in really handy, in the role-playing game, in acting, because they determine the way your character can/should react to a certain situation. For example, if a character is very spoiled and haughty, he or she should act in that way during role-playing. Of course this does not mean that the player him/herself is that way.
The characters are divided in several different classes, like priests, fighters, thieves and wizards. Every class has it's benifits and drawbacks. For example: fighters are very good at fighting (battles do erupt quite often) but doesn't know anything about things like magic. A wizard is very good at magic and nows lots of powerfull spells. He wouldn't be able to handle himself with a sword, though. Through the many missions that your character gets involved in, he or she will earn money, find treasures and becomes more experienced, meaning that he or she will become better in what he or she does (like fighting, magic, etc.). The missions can be played in various environments. We play in a medival environment, that's what most people do, but you can also play in a futuristic environment, for example. Of course, the characters will usually have different abilities in different role-playing environments.

It may occur to you that role-playing is a strange fenomenon that occurs with a handfull of strange people who have nothing else to do, but this sort of fantasy-games are much closer than you think they are. If you would think of your past, a long time ago, you will probably have played role-playing games like cowboys-and-indians or cops-and-robbers. This follows the same basic principle: in both situations fantasy and imagination plays a big part and everyone plays a role in these games. These games sometimes ended up in arguments, because one said that he had hit the other for example, but the other disagreed to that. In an RPG, there are clear rules for determining whether or not you have hit someone, so there won't be any arguments over those things. This makes playing much more fun. Now it may seem that role-playing is a bit childish, but that's not true of course. Imagination and fantasy are an important part of human nature. That's what not only RPG's, but also books, movies and lots of other things are based upon. That also relies on the reader/viewer to use his or her imagination and fantasy.

Another important vision on RPG's is that they are like writing a book. The DM or GM is there to make up the environment and the side characters. He or she is the writer of the story. He writes this story with is main-characters, the player-characters. The difference with a book, is that the main-characters are not controlled by the writer, but by other persons (the players). This adds their creativity to the story.
It is not nescessary to actualy write down the story, although this is done quite often. It is not really part of the game, but it is fun. Many of these RPG adventures that where written down can be found on the internet. Our RPG adventures are also on the internet (red.: The Minas Elen Chronicles in the Bards College).
There are many books in which the events can be named "RPG-like" although they are not based on RPG adventures. This is basicaly the entire "fantasy" genre. One very famous book in this category is "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien (it is the follow-up of "The Hobbit", also by Tolkien) and it is well known and often read among role-players. In fact, there is an RPG based on this book: the "Middle Earth" RPG.

Some people are scared of role-playing games and call it all kinds of things. This is because it is very hard to really show what role-playing actually is. People often automaticaly start thinking all kinds of strange things of RPG's, because they do not understand it. There may be a few RPG's that are not completely OK, but the RPG we play (Dungeons & Dragons) is one of the best RPG's there is.

Back to Philosophers Guild