The concept of a roleplaying game is quite simple and one that can be enjoyed by two or more players. In a similar fashion to a computer game of the same ilk, roleplaying games are story driven scenarios that allow players to take on the parts of the lead characters. However, unlike a computer game (where the action takes place on the screen and is, somewhat, pre-determined), the action in a table-top or pen-and-paper role playing game takes place in the players’ imagination and, as a result, it has no limitations and anything is possible.
To participate, players will, generally, sit around a table and simply describe their character’s actions to each other. One player will become the Games Master (GM – in a sense, he takes on the job of the computer). It is his job to devise an interesting story, and then narrate and describe that story’s imaginary scenery and occupants to the other players The other players will then interact within that story by taking on the roles of its leading characters or heroes. Thus, a roleplaying game is much like reading a novel where all the action takes place in the imagination. However, there is one big difference: YOU create the story and YOU determine the outcome. How many times have you watched a film where the hero goes outside into the night to investigate a strange noise? And how many times have you wanted to scream ‘don’t go outside’ or groaned ‘at least take the shotgun with you’. Well, that’s the art of roleplaying. As a player, you will be the hero of the story and you will therefore have the control to make decisions as the hero. If you do not want to go outside into the night, you won’t have to. If your character is able to see the shotgun you can pick it up, should you wish to do so.
However, as a player, it is your duty to give as good a portrayal of the hero as you possibly can. Think of yourself as an actor in an open-ended play (without a script). As the actor you will decide which part you wish to play and will then set about portraying that person. Perhaps the part that you have chosen to play is that of a cowardly thief. As the player, giving your best performance, you might decide that such a coward would not wish to open the door and venture out into the darkness, but would actually lock the door and hide under the stairs with the shotgun. The choice is yours.
The player who chooses to be the GM has an immense but rewarding duty; he must prepare in advance of play in order to devise an interesting and exciting plot for the story. This could involve anything from a murder mystery, a dragon hunt or a trek into the unknowns of the universe; it is only limited by his imagination. In addition to this, the GM is responsible for roleplaying the parts of all the other Non Player Characters (NPCs) that the Player Characters (PCs) will meet along the way. These could be minor or major villains, monsters, a prisoner, or a victim of violence, plus all the other friends and enemies that the Player Characters will encounter during the story.
Before any of this can take place, however, the players must first decide who they wish to portray within the game or story setting. In general, the players are able to play any type of character they wish (within the constraints of the particular game setting). The character is then defined, using the rules presented, by a series of Manipulation scores, such as Physique and Intelligence. These will aid the player in his portrayal of the character. So, a character without magically enhanced superhuman strength will be aware that he has no chance of successfully wrestling an ogre to the ground, and would therefore be ill advised to try. A character with superior Intelligence is more likely to solve a mathematical riddle than his slightly slower gung-ho mercenary counterpart. In practice, he is likely to be the one in the library poring over the facts and linking the clues in order to solve the murder. The Manipulation scores, and a dice roll, are also used to determine the outcome of events that are not fixed, such as who will win a fight or race, how far a character can jump or swim, or whether the character can ‘hack’ through the computer security at the local bank.
Once the GM has designed his scenario, and the players have created their characters, you are ready to play your first game. The game will start with the GM describing the opening scenes. Let’s assume that the scenario about to take place is based on the characters being sent on a rescue mission. In advance of play, the GM has created his story: he has decided that a family of four has been trapped at their farmhouse. The farmhouse is a couple of miles from the town where the Player Characters are based, but easily accessible by road. A creature has risen from the lagoon and is currently wandering the perimeter searching for an entry point into the house. The family inside realises that they are doomed unless they can get outside assistance. Their only hope is to distract the creature at the front of the house, whilst little Johnny escapes via the back door and runs to town to find help.
The players’ participation in the story begins with the arrival of little Johnny. The GM must decide where the Player Characters are when Johnny arrives to tell his story. The GM must describe little Johnny: his possible age, his style of clothing and his mental state. The players will then act as their characters and decide whether or not to help (a smart GM will have studied his players’ character backgrounds and personalities and be able to make a reasonably educated guess as to their response).
Assuming they decide to help, the players, acting as their characters, will then decide upon their best course of action. They may take a car and go by road. If so, the GM may have already prepared a roadblock encounter for the characters, involving a fallen tree that blocks the lane to the farmhouse. He may also decide that the lagoon creature hears the noise of the engine and comes to investigate, attacking the characters by surprise as they figure out a way to remove the tree.
The object of a roleplaying game will, therefore, obviously change depending upon the scenario. In the above example, the object is to free the captives in the house. In another game, the player characters may form a team of investigators – where the object is to capture a villain. Winning a game can also, therefore, have many different connotations. In fact, it is often said that the only true winners of a roleplaying game are those that enjoy playing.
Finding Your Players
Before you can actually play a game you must, obviously, find players who are willing to play. The ParaSpace Role Playing System (PSrps) can be played with two or more players. However, different styles of play will work better with different amounts of players. Finding players does not have to be a problem. There are thousands of roleplaying clubs and meets – most of which are hosted on a weekly basis and have plenty of players all keen to try new games and give new GMs a chance. The internet has plenty of RPG sites and also provides an invaluable source for finding like-minded gaming individuals wishing to join a new, or additional, group in their local area.
If you’ve never GM’d before, or you’re completely new to roleplaying, don’t be afraid to give it a try with experienced players. Most roleplayers are decent folk and most have tried their hand at GMing at one time or another (and know it’s not as easy as it can be made to look). They will understand the value of the shared experience and will therefore be more willing to cut you a break and actually help you out.
If the above fails, ask amongst your circle of friends to gauge an interest. Try to get three or four people together for a trial session. If someone is genuinely not interested, don’t force them, they probably won’t enjoy it and that may spoil everybody else’s enjoyment.
Most RPGs work best with anything from three to six keen players but this will come down to individual taste and the players involved. If you really are struggling to make up the preferred numbers, play the session with the people you have. If all goes well their own interest will be perked enough for them to draft in the additional players.
The ideal place to hold a roleplaying session is around a table in a room where the group is unlikely to be disturbed or cause a disturbance to other occupants. Ideally, each player will have his own set of dice, a pencil and a sheet of paper for making notes; it’s always best to lay on some refreshments or get everybody to bring snacks and a drink to avoid unwanted stoppages during play.
Character creation is very important to the players; ensuring that they generate a character that they are happy and comfortable roleplaying. To obtain this status can often be quite lengthy and seemingly unimportant for newer players. So, if the game is intended as a one-off, or the group is new and unsure about roleplaying, it may be best to create characters well in advance of the actual game session.
The GM can do this for each player using the random dice results or you could ask each player what sort of character they want, and then generate it for them. Alternatively, each player could visit the GM privately, in advance of play, and spend some time generating their character. Another option is that the GM creates characters ideally suited to the adventure he has planned, thus ensuring that each player will have their character play an active role. If time is against you, ParaSpace has a number of pre-generated Archetypes included. Ready to play, their statistics simply need copying onto a character sheet.