What Is Role Playing?
By Mark Lamki - homepage & e-mail

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This is the most common question roleplayers get asked by non-roleplayers; what is it all about? The thing is, it's not easy to explain to someone who's never tried it, but if you want a brief description, try this; have you ever read a book/seen a film where a character did something REALLY STOOOOPID and you thought "No! Don't do that! Do this! If it were me, that's what I'd do...". In roleplaying games it IS you. It's kind of like improvisational acting, but it's also a game where you have fun with your friends; absolutely ideal for all those of you who'd like to try your hand at acting as a hobby but can't be bothered with learning scripts etc.

In (nearly) every roleplaying game - RPG for short - you create a fictional character who is placed in outlandish situations. You play the role of that character, just like an actor, but there's no script; everything is ad-libbed according to the situation and the personality and background of the character. How much you actually perform the character's actions depends on the game and on personal preference; usually you just describe actions, and only conversations are actually played out.

Each character has traits (basically, a bunch of numbers) which tell you how good he or she is at doing various different things. One player, called the Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master, StoryTeller, Referee or whatever, plays the part of the "director"; he or she sets up adventures, encounters etc. for the players, plays all the other people they meet - villains, witnesses, passers-by and so on, and generally keeps everything running smoothly.

But why, ask some people, is it all about weird things like dragons and vampires and monsters and stuff? Roleplaying is firmly grounded in the fiction of the fantastic. Almost every RPG is inspired by Fantasy, Science Fiction or Horror literature - sometimes all three. I'm not entirely sure why, but my guess is that it's because roleplaying is an inherently escapist pastime. You forget about yourself for a while and play a heroic (or tragic) character with abilities far beyond your own. After all, if you played a perfectly normal person in a perfectly normal situation, what would be the point? You can have that all day every day!

Originally RPGs were based on "Conan"-esque fantasy, where you were The Macho Hero Beating Up The Minions Of Evil. Actually playing a role took a back seat to getting treasure and fighting everything. Rules were of prime importance and loads of dice were used to create a random element. (You try to screw in the lightbulb. Roll 3 million dice and consult the lightbulb-screwing table). This gradually changed as sophistication infiltrated the hobby. Now there are games which have no dice at all, Some use playing cards instead, and in others the GM just decides whether you succeed or not. Others keep dice-rolling as a lesser part of the game and concentrate on roleplaying. These days, we even hear of roleplaying as an "art form" - although this has led to accusations of pretentiousness from many roleplayers. Too many people seem to think RPGs MUST be either hack-and-slash blood baths or fine expressions of the soul's inner torment. Anyway, whether as a work of art or just a bit of fun, roleplaying is definitely very popular. I like it, anyway!

Finally, I think I should tackle the issue which has been raised over and over again; the accusations that RPGs are in some way "evil". Please don't be put off by this; it's simply not true. In fact there are many Christian roleplayers. You may think there's no smoke without fire, but people are always ready to condemn what they don't understand. Roleplaying is widely misunderstood, that's why I'm writing this article. For the record;

No-one has ever committed suicide because of RPGs, no matter what you hear. Of course roleplayers, just like all sorts of people, have committed suicide, but the evidence in fact suggests that roleplayers are LESS likely to commit suicide than non-roleplayers.

No-one has ever killed anyone because of an RPG. Psychos who go out and kill total strangers do not do so because of a game.

Most RPGs expect players' characters to be good and heroic, fight evil etc., and stress the triumph of good over evil. Players are usually given the option of playing evil characters, but this should not be seen as wrong. Most actors love playing evil characters; it's cathartic. By being evil in a fictional context where no real harm is done, you can work off your frustrations. Ultimately, it's about escapism. Like I said at the start, it's a game and it's supposed to be fun. I never met a roleplayer who didn't understand that.

Back to my main page.

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Copyright 1996-2005 Robin Connor. All Rights Reserved.