Role-Playing 101: A Crash Course

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Greetings, dear reader. What you hold here is a collection of thoughts and ideas on the topic of roleplaying games.

There are many facets and features of games which can be good or bad. When encountering a new game, the first thing perceived is the rulebook. There are many games and therefore many rulebooks. Personally, my favourite is the one for Deadlands: The Weird West; it gives a view of the rules ending with the theme and setting information.

After exploring a rulebook, we encounter mechanics – the part where dice come into it. Most games use dice rolls to manage skill tests. The first system utilises modified d20 (which is my most disliked system, due to an increased fell of luck-dependency). The next system utilises percentile dice (this system feels equally luck-dependant although there tends to be more cohesiveness between skill values and skill targets). Deadlands improves on this, using a dice pool where only the highest value of each separate dice is used, reducing the feel of luck-dependence even more.

Character creation is important; making the right character can make or break a game for players.

Two methods for this are rolling stats and point-based. Rolling stats gives less control over character creation which allows for the creation of characters with more humanity – they might not be best suited for what they do stat-wise but endeavour to defeat challenges, nonetheless. Point-based gives much greater control, allowing players to build characters according to favoured skills and abilities. I am a fan of both methods.

Shadowrun has an interesting system. Using point-based creation from a priority grid, players first select which aspects of their characters gain the most points for creation. I like this system although it can be confusing at first. I like the option for merits and flaws during creation as it gives options for small bonus abilities and roleplaying features.

The theme can be the most important aspect of a game. Two common themes are fantasy and science-fiction (with many subgenres for these). There are many options for a fantasy theme: high, low, dark and more. High fantasy can create a wonderful setting full of interesting characters and locations, think Lord of the Rings. Dark and low fantasy create a darker setting, often closer to a medieval than fantasy – (I prefer dark fantasy as it creates a setting full of intrusive and subterfuge).

The main benefit of science-fiction is the great flexibility of locations, characters and equipment. This allows a game to remain interesting after a long time; a new planet can be rather refreshing if done well. One subgenre is modern fantasy. This is a theme which can be variable depending on how it is done: it adds the fun of managing a modern life while fantasy elements play with the world. A final theme is Western. This allows for a fun game playing out spaghetti-westerns, fighting outlaws and rail barons. This theme is a favourite of mine and is the setting for my favourite games.

Most rulebooks contain background information on the setting which can expand it. In most cases, this is useful as it allows the setting to be easily assembled by a game master however a book can give too much setting. Eclipse Phase, for example, contains an intimidating and overwhelming amount of background. It is useful when a setting is described but, in most cases, it is easy enough to create this information yourself.

Supplements and expansions can expand a game world in many ways, giving access to more classes, archetypes, equipment, races and more. My favourite supplements are those that either expand the game world or present expanded rules for certain aspects of games. I find that often the core classes and races are enough to create varied and interesting characters. The best rule expansions, in my opinion, are those which offer more custom action for equipment, vehicles and more. I enjoy having customised equipment as it gives a greater feel of a character being individual to a player.

After all of this, the quality of a game comes down to the quality of the group: a game is made by the players, a truly enjoyable game being swung by players. In my experience, a game should be only three quarters playing and the other quarter is taken up by random chats and enjoying the company of the other players. There are games where little has happened due to chatting but these have been enjoyable sessions.

So, if all of these aspects are done well, a rather enjoyable game can be created. After this review, I am wondering about endeavouring in the task of creating a roleplaying game. It would be an interesting experience but I would request readers not to hold their breath.

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