Tabletop role playing games (RPGs) were originally an expansion on war-games. Taking those miniatures and creating whole worlds for them to interact with. Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson with the original Dungeon & Dragons (D&D). By the early 80’s it had become mainstream with many replicators to follow. Many video games played now are based on the same player statistics and variations. Developing playable characters (PCs), race & class distinctions, experience points with leveling up and turn based combat all pored out of the classic D&D experience.
It is also an example of the problems a company can have when it becomes too big for it’s britches. Founder Gary Gygax was forced to leave his company and new management took over. They tried to advance the game into digital territories. It was very expensive and after creating a few million dollars in excess inventory the company was almost forced to close in the early 1996. Luckily the company behind the ever popular collectible card game (CCG) Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of The Coast, stepped in and saved the day and the world of D&D.
Today role-playing games are experiencing a new level of growth. The idea that only geek boys and demon worshipers play D&D was a myth but one the public believed. This belief is being eroded and it is taking it’s place as a main-stream hobby. Critical Role, a group of voice actors that play D&D online, are one of the hottest properties on the market. Games, books and movies using D&D mechanics are at an all time high.
Many people of the LGBTQ+ community have embraced tabletop RPGs for it’s ability to role-play their desires in low-pressure ways. Wizards of The Coast has been noted for being one of the most inclusive workplaces on earth. It’s great that the player base is finally becoming representative of their staff.
The popularity of D&D created many imitators, most were very derivative of the source material. Many that aimed to do their own thing had many issues with functionality. The majority of RPG’s that came out to replicate D&D’s success failed, although many still exist in this day. Traveller, RuneQuest and Warhammer all came out of these days and are all fun plays with varying mechanics that mostly work. Role Playing is not only a buzz in gaming now, but also in workplace simulations and psychology.
Most Role-playing games focus on a singular game master or “dungeon master” (DM) and Players Characters (PC’s). They interact with other non-player characters (NPC) created by the DM. Although the themes and mechanics may change, this is an essential concept that changes the game to the players whims. The replay factor on these games are extremely high because of it. Many stories that have made it to the big screen started as a role-playing adventure.
In the majority of cases these games come down to everybody rolling a lot of odd dice. Dice checks against character statistics are used To check if they are successful on their actions. The fun comes from learning about your fellow PCs (in and out of game) and a whole lot of talking. You will be forced to think on your toes, solve problems and be a team player. Wheaton’s Law holds up in advanced social gaming, although a most memorable Orc campaign ended with two friends pushing each other over an edge of eternity.
In fact, if you can think of a theme you can find an RPG for it. Beside the obvious D&D/Lord of the Rings fantasy many games let you do almost anything!
Want to see if you can keep honor among thieves?
try Blades in the Dark
Want to be Bruce Lee in a John Woo movie?
try Feng Shui 2
Want to be the freaking power rangers or replicate Steven Universe?
Try Mutants & Masterminds
Want to engineer spaceships and travel an immersive galaxy?
try Traveller (Which spawned the Firefly universe)
Want to have the players actually generate the universe?
try Fate Core
Want to ditch the DM?
try Dungeon World
Want to play in a well known universe?
try Star Trek Adventures or DC Heroes
Many advancements in character tracking have allowed a lot of the difficult work of character management to become automated. This is probably why it has grown so quickly lately. It is now easier to create a character and be a GM then ever before. More over many games can be played over telecommunication programs such as Skype and Google hangouts.
Improves Mental Acuity – Thinking on your toes and visualizing crowd created concepts is amazing. If you are a RPG player use the lines “Quick Thinking, Problem Solver and Team-Player” on your resume. Storytelling is one of the best ways to improve creativity. Doing so with others forces the story to show elements many would not originally think about.
Improved Social Ability – Many studies point to tabletop RPGs adding a whole new level of social navigation. This in turn makes us more comfortable in odd situations. In a RPG setting the pressure to conform to social norms lessens and we can learn by discovery.
Increased Escapism – Many play game to escape. Game players get the same sense of flow achieved threw martial arts or meditation while immersing themselves in a game. Role-playing games are more likely to bring this feeling to the forefront.
RPG’s are a pretty amazing thing. The first DM that really made me care about playing D&D told me something I think should be a rule written somewhere.
“You can play without anything, we could literally play just talking about playing.”Freaking Dave Man
In reality a good DM is likely what will keep you coming back. Typically the DM is the one who know all the rules and is getting the group together in the first place. If your DM is off-putting or doesn’t care to introduce you to the mechanics you should find a new one. My first few times playing was with a slightly racist DM (as in he really liked dwarfs, and making fun of gay people) which really put me off of the main points of tabletop RPGs growing up.
Here is a RPG that I made using the idea of games anywhere! The entire mechanic is built around rock paper scissors.
The DM is called “the Hand” a mostly ghostly entity. He is trying to stop players from getting to the bottom of his tomb, full of riches.
The DM makes up a trap and forces the players to check if they survive it. Each player and the DM throw 1 hand of rock paper or scissors.
Anybody who ties the DM withstands the trap,
Anybody who loses is injured but can be healed,
Any players who beat the DM explains how they got out of the trap and then can heal.
Injured players can not heal others.
If an injured player is injured again they are eliminated.
If every player is injured the game is over.
At each level the number of traps increase. At level 1 their is 1 trap while at level 6 their is 6 traps.
The goal is to get to level 7 where the gifts of Agartha await!
And that’s kinda the point, you can really do anything in an RPG, which makes it an amazing social experience. Even playing Traveller online with a group and a friend has brought me much closer to all of them. Bonding on that level is hard to find in most online gaming experiences.
Will you like it?
Theme is typically high and replayability is almost infinite. Functionality is the main rating of a good RPG. The ability to “do anything” has to be balanced against a logical explanation of what you can or can’t do. Personal and group achievement and gaining then using your abilities in interesting ways give an enhanced fun factor. Gravity is extremely high you will need to learn a lot. Typically starting an RPG is a commitment and most people will be heavily involved with their character. This can lead to very depressing moments when your character does die, but makes sure the stakes are stronger.
The main downside involved with most RPG’s is the amount of time required to play. Most players will have to read at-least a basic explanation of their character. Then they learn mechanics that may seem odd at first, (or might just be odd). Many times after learning the mechanics I begin my own journals or make art while waiting for my character to actually do something. Graphics are typically going to be imagined by the group and the games mental involvement is high many levels.
To get somebody hooked on gaming, the worst thing to do is bring a full fledged RPG. Want to play a game and not be have to study than Role Playing Games probably aren’t for you. I personally enjoy role-playing for the mood elevation and varying game mechanics.
If you interested on starting your journey into RPG’s but don’t know a strong GM I might suggest a few games. These focus on the mechanics of an RPG without having to do all the heavy lifting yourself. My first love for in-depth games was HeroQuest, a simplified Runequest. My D&D group still uses the miniatures and building all the sets and rooms was great-way for my super nerd to come out. The fact you only need a “pseudo” DM makes it easy for the players to stay interested.
HeroQuest is a little rare these days so as a replacement I’d suggest anything from the D&D adventure system. It uses an awesome random tile draw to create a dungeon of bad guys while having a pre-made story. For the younger gamer having the combination of the books based around The Legend of Drizzit and the game where you can play those characters is a great starting point that encourages reading and teaches basic RPG mechanics.
May the rolls be forever in your favor!