Saturday, August 23, 2014


Illustration by Jackie Musto
for The Guide to Aegyptus
We haven't included a 'What is a Role-playing Game' section in any of of our products since Terror Network and Crime Network. There are several reasons for this. Mainly it is because we assume folks buying our products are already seasoned gamers who have little to no interest in our definition of roleplaying. The other reason is I am not overly fond of defining roleplaying for other people. I don't mind describing it to those who have never gamed before, but I am not interested in establishing a definition that tells others how they should play. So we have simply avoided the issue by not including a definition in our rulebooks. I think this has been a mistake and in future we will resume with a standard 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry. 

It occurred to me while I was discussing one of our games with someone who hasn't played an RPG that every rulebook needs explain what roleplaying means. Now, role-playing and its definition is actually something of a hot topic and there are plenty of arguments and flamewars over how it ought to be defined. I really have no interest in that. Personally I don't want to limit my gaming experience or the experience of others because of partisans on either side. Those are discussions people can have down the road as they learn more about the hobby. I am just interested in giving people a small launching point to start play, some indication of what it actually means to play an RPG so those who haven't know how to proceed. 

In that spirit, I went back and reviewed our 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry from Terror Network. Here is what is said: 
Terror Network is a pen and paper role-playing game—a form of interactive story telling equipped with a rules system to resolve conflict. A role playing game is played by a group of players and a Game Master (GM). If you are a player, you create and control a character called a player character (PCs). If you are a Game Master, you create and control the plot and setting. The plot is the scenario that the GM presents to the players. Think of the plot as a story from a book, movie, or television program, except as a player, you control one of the main characters (your PC). The setting is the world your PCs inhabit. Like the real world, the setting is governed by laws (game mechanics) and filled with other people called non-player characters (NPCs). The GM controls all the NPCs in the setting. The Game Master also functions like a referee, deciding which rules apply to a given situation. When players decide what actions their PCs take, the GM tells them what kind of rolls to make to determine their success.
We wrote this before we were even aware that online "story" and "plot" were regarded asloaded terms and part of an ongoing debate over the purpose of roleplaying. I still have no interest in that debate, I do understand why some may see those words as misleading if readers take them too literally, but I also think they help make the concept immediately understandable. We would certainly alter how we define RPGs in any upcoming book, because I think we are at a different place now. Still I don't think we will be offering a definition meant for those who are invested in internet debates about RPGs. Instead it will be meant for those who may not know what an RPG is yet and just need something to grab onto in order to understand it. Saying an RPG is like being a character in a movie, is a fairly easy way to convey the idea (though there is always the danger folks get too hung up on the analogy). 

To me a Roleplaying game gives you a chance to be someone else and exist in virtually anyplace. You can inhabit the figures of history and fend off plots of intrigue against great emperors, you can chase drug lords through the streets of New York as a modern day cop, you can ride a dragon into war and fend off the hordes who follow the Ice Lich in a world that only exists in your collective imagination. There is drama there, there is story and there is a world you go to that feels real. Now folks can debate what that all means and how you achieve it, but that really isn't what interests me. I'm not worried about the role of the GM, or what mechanics should be employed or ignored and to what end. I'm interested in playing a character and feeling like I am someplace else really exciting and new. 

That is what roleplaying means to me. I still don't know what our next "What is a role-playing game" section will look like. Will be contemplating it further. 

What does role-playing mean to you? 

1 comment:

  1. It is a game where players play individual characters interacting with a setting where their actions are adjudicated by a human referee.