Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7 Reasons To Role

By Julian

Roleplaying games (RPG’s) are strange beasts.  In their instructions, they don’t start out with how to play or what’s different about this particular RPG from another.  They literally start out with an explanation of what the heck an RPG even is because if you’re new, they expect you probably have no idea.  Can you imagine starting up a game on your Xbox and instead of being confronted with a tutorial about how to play this game, you get a tutorial about what makes a video game a video game?  Not “press A to jump” but “by the way, pictures, called graphics, will display and move about on the television and you can interact with them by pressing buttons on a controller!”  It may sound absurd, but this type of explanation is right there at the front of the D&D player’s handbook even on the most recent edition.  This is not because RPG’s are anything new.  Dungeons and Dragons, granddaddy of the entire genre, has been around since 1974.  Having come out just 2 years after Pong, that means RPG’s are older than post it notes, cabbage patch kids, and personal computers.  But, despite their long history, RPG’s remain a fringe genre of games and they are absolutely a unique experience.  You just can’t explain them well.  Wikipedia tries to liken them to a radio play.  A recent article in the Oregonian newspaper called D&D a classic strategy game.  My old “go-to” explanation used to be that they were like video games except instead of a computer you have a person running the world and telling you what’s happening.  Which makes RPGs sound like video games with no graphics!  Not a great sell.

I guess these are similar?
So I say “Bah!” to metaphors and detailed attempts at explanation!  RPG’s are simply games where you go on adventures with your friends.  Rather than blather on trying to make you understand what they are, I would rather tell you why you should play them if you have not already.   Role-playing games are an entirely unique and wonderful experience that I would recommend to anyone to try out at least once in your life (particularly with the right group of friends).  RPG’s are my absolute favorite type of game.  Here are 7 reasons why.

Everyone loves a good story whether it’s a gripping novel, an amazing movie, or your favorite television show.  RPG’s are often most associated with the fantasy genre because of the popularity of D&D, but there is a RPG out there for any genre you like.  Swashbuckling, horror, old west, steampunk, cyberpunk, space adventure, spies, super heroes,   or any other type of adventure story you can think of.  What’s more, you actually get to go through and control a character on of these stories.  Now it’s true, video games offer much this same variety and the ability to control a character.  However, I feel the best stories in a RPG are for more engaging and memorable because you have something that no video game can provide, and its reason to role number 2.

This is my favorite aspect of RPG’s.  Board games have strict rules about what you can and cannot do.  Video game characters cannot take any action that was not programmed into the game from the start.  However, in a RPG, you can do anything you want.  That doesn’t mean every choice is a good idea or that it will even work, but you can try it.  I have seen players raise entire armies, solve impromptu murder mysteries, and fend of brigands by chucking fresh fish.   All of these were completely unscripted scenarios that resulted from players decisions.  RPG’s can handle this type of choice because they have the best AI ever, an actual person making decisions about how the story will react to you.

Some people have the misunderstanding that the game master (GM) running the world of a RPG is out to try and get the players.  Worse, some people think that the GM doesn’t really get to play the game because they have to run the game.  In truth, all the players work together to tell a great story and have fun.  The game master isn’t out to kill the heroes of the story; they are there to make sure the story is exciting.  The GM doesn’t play one of the heroes (usually), but the GM gets to play all the rest of the characters: the funny sidekicks, the treacherous villains, the scary monsters, and the shady shopkeepers.  It’s a strange sort of magic, but a game can be incredibly entertaining even when no one is really trying to win.

Now this might sound silly, but it’s fun to play a game that lets you pretend to be a different version of you.  Most people think that a RPG centers around everyone being a rampaging do-gooder that smiles with bright white teeth and sings “here I come to save the day!” …or something like that.  However, RPG’s let you try out any personality you want.  Want to act a little more sassy?  Ever wanted to just lie straight through your teeth?  Want to be an insufferable know it all?  Slick?  Charming?  An intolerant religious zealot for an absurd cause?  All these and more can fit into a heroic archetype and you can try them all on for size.  It can be fun to play a heroic version of yourself, but sometimes it’s even better to play as someone completely different.

One of the reasons Magic the Gathering players like magic is that it provides a lot of entertainment even when you aren’t around your friends playing the game.  You can search through your cards, build decks, and think through different combos and strategies.  RPG’s provide a similar mode of entertainment.  It can be fun to just sit back and read through an RPG book and imagine the stories you might have when you play.  Some RPGs have highly detailed character powers and advancement methods so in the off time you can spend hours thinking about how you want your character to level up, what powers you want to take, and what treasure you want to get your hands on.

You may have heard that playing an RPG takes a long time.  This is often true.  Most of the time a single session takes at least 4 hours.  I have played as long as 14 hours in a single sitting (this is highly atypical and not at all required to play an RPG).  On the face of it, even 4 hours can sound like quite a commitment, but then that’s missing the point.  Every session of a RPG is an event you look forward too.  It’s something you and 3 or 4 of your friends set aside an afternoon to do.  You coordinated schedules, people bring snacks, there may be a dinner plan involved and you all look forward to it for weeks (or at least days if you’re in a weekly gaming group).  You wouldn’t whine about spending hours and hours at a rock concert, a play, a day at the fair, or an afternoon picnic with your family.  If you enjoy the RPG you are playing, you won’t whine about it taking so long either.  You will feel grateful everyone could set aside the time to have so much fun.

I love games, but to be fair, most of them don’t generate strong memories about the game itself.  I will recall a great night of gaming with family and friends.  I will remember that I had a wonderful time.  I will remember, vaguely, which games we played and maybe even who won.  But even 1 year later I’m unlikely to be able to tell many of the specifics that happened during the course of the game.  However, I can report with great detail the time that, years ago, my friends and I explored the Bane Warrens or saw all four corners of the world in The Diamond Throne.  I still lament and laugh about the time in Junior High that our entire party followed a stupid paladin into a watery deathtrap.  These aren’t just movies I watched or games I played.  These are things my friends and I did together.  We haven’t gone crazy or tricked ourselves into believing we really saved a magical land from disaster.  But the way you feel when you play a RPG that you love is something beyond a satisfying game or a good story.  You feel a sense of accomplishment.  You feel that you and your friends, in some way, went on a journey together.  You will remember those journeys fondly and forever.

Anything I missed?  Leave a comment and let me know why you love to role-play.  Or...if you don't role-play, leave a comment about why it hasn't appealed to you.


  1. To be clear, I thought that the water trap was a dumb idea.

    1. I do remember your complaints, but you still dove in with us. :) I'd say we all failed our intelligence checks that day. (Just some more than others)

  2. I love this article. It captures quite well the various aspects of role-play gaming and why we do it.

    1. Thanks! Any reasons you love to role-play that weren't on my list?

  3. Julian, buddy...

    You forgot how educational they can be. (Okay, I admit maybe that's not something EVERYONE looks for in a game!)I'll say this though, I happen to know more about the world history of the 1920's era, medieval political science, and how to survive in the wilderness than I could have ever learned in a traditional classroom setting, let alone any old boardgame, and I had FUN FUN FUN learning it too!

    You see, anything that your character needs to know for the story you are playing is enhanced greatly if YOU know it too. So I make it a point to study hard in between game sessions, and I know other players do also. Plus I learn by doing it in the world we're creating together AS WE PLAY! RPGs make learning fun and memorable.

    Nice article!