This is the first in what I hope will turn into a regular column here at Functional Nerds. I’m going to be talking about role playing games (RPGs). Before I delve too deeply into the nuance and history of this wonderful style of gaming, I figured I would start off by telling you what RPGs are from my point of view.
Role playing games are a style of gaming in which the players around the table assume persona’s that are usually drastically different from their own, real-life personalities. There is one exception to this statement, and that is the game master (GM). The GM is the person you usually see at the head of the table or behind a screen to hide notes and (sometimes) dice rolls from the players. While the players are in charge of a single character, the GM is generally in charge of everything else. He sets up the setting, world, characters not run by the players (aka: non-player characters or NPCs), monsters, traps, challenges, treasures, rewards, and so on. We’ll dive deeper into these concepts in later posts.
For now, think of a player as a single character in the world at large, and the GM gets the honor of filling in the blanks around the cadre of characters being run by the players. If done properly, the world building is a collaborative effort between the players and the GM, not just pure fiat of the GM’s imagination.
RPGs can be played with a wide variety of systems, ideas, dice, cards, approaches, genres, and skill levels. While Dungeons and Dragons (originally created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson at TSR and now owned by Wizards of the Coast) is the grand-daddy of all modern RPGs, there are many more systems out there that can scratch anyone’s creative itch. All of the popular fiction genres have at least one (if not dozens) of RPGs dedicated to them.
I’ve seen RPGs cover some of the craziest genre mash-ups out there, and there are “generic” role playing games (like GURPS and Hero System) that can be applied to any concept a person can dream up. There are also RPGs based on popular television shows, books, and movies. If you’re not the type of person that enjoys pretending to swing a sword at a dragon, but would rather shoot a laser rifle at a Lovecraftian Elder God, I’m sure there’s something out there for you.
One question I’m often asked by folks is, “How do you win?” It’s easy. You win by playing. The point of the game isn’t to defeat everyone else, but to enjoy the journey, experiences, camaraderie, and tight friendships that are formed around the table. The true joy of role playing is the discovery of new and fantastic things through the guise of a game. Think of role playing as an enabler device for creativity and cooperative storytelling. While it may appear that the GM controls the game since he’s in charge of pretty much everything, I’ve had many of my GM-driven plans thrown out the window by a simple choice of one of the players at the table. The best response from the GM is to roll with it and keep the flow of the story going.
In short, RPGs are a social game in which everyone gets together to have a good time and pretend to be someone (or something) else for a few hours.
Stay tuned for more posts as we jump head first into some of the deeper topics of RPGs in the upcoming months.
J.T. Evans morphed into an avid role player at the tender age of ten with the release of the Dungeons & Dragons red box set. The vision of a warrior fighting a dragon on the cover of the box caused a new passion to leap upon J.T.. He's explored more worlds, planes, star systems, and settings than he can remember. When J.T's not tossing dice around the table with his friends, he works on his fantasy novels at his home outside Monument, CO.