Everything you need to know about Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs)
Everything you need to know about Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs)
We are in a moment where almost everything we do involves technology. From talking to somebody to paying for groceries, we can do nearly any kind of task through our phones or computers. That is why it is so fantastic to see that games that are played in real life, in front of people are so popular right now. One would expect a game that involves physical interactions, gathering with friends, and doing things apart from the screens wouldn't be a trend. Still, Tabletop role-playing games are fainting those expectations.
But, what is precisely a tabletop role-playing game? RPGs don't have a specific definition due to their complexity, and the form the members of the game interact with each other. Talking about "storytelling with rules" just gives you a vague idea of what they are but forgets about other elements involved and the way the stories are developed. The best way to understand what they are is through example.
Think about a regular tabletop game you've played before, for example, monopoly. When you're playing monopoly, each player chooses their figurine, roll de the dice and play according to the rules. There is no story involved, there is no background relationship between the players, there are no changes in the scenarios, and you just play according to the rules. Well, RPGs are almost the opposite, they do have rules, but there is cooperative storytelling that guides the game through different scenarios, situations and makes the players form alliances and relationships between their characters. It's almost like regular games follow a "script" in which no one has to change anything, just play, and, in RPGs, the players are writing the "script" as they play.
And we know, you may be thinking about those games that you see on TV shows and movies, where nerdy kids are shouting and dressing up with costumes, and they can be like that, but RPGs have so many genres, and systems than the average RPGs you see on media are just the tip of the iceberg.
Overcoming that "nerdy" stereotype, RPGs are gaining a lot of popularity now, actually more than they had in the past few years. It is fantastic because sitting in a room, in front of people with no screens involved, and building stories through creativity and imagination is an excellent social exercise. Tabletop RPGs are now more popular than their online counterpart. Today we're going to talk about everything you need to know about Tabletop role-playing games and see if you may find a new hobby or only a new option for game night!
Tabletop RPGs: part by part.
What defines a role-playing game? What are its elements?
Tabletop: This may sound too obvious, but there are other ways in which you can play Roleplay games. Tabletop means not only that you play on a table, but that game consists of verbal and non-verbal interactions, face to face with your other playmates. RPGs in this form are also called "pen and paper" RPGs because they involve the use of sheets of paper (we'll get to that later) and pens to write about the characters, campaigns, and the storyline.
Storytelling: As we mentioned earlier, storytelling is the main feature of role-playing games. Cooperative storytelling is the fuel that keeps the game going on, as players are the ones who guide the game toward its development. There are many forms in which storytelling is used in each game, some have a more "structured" script, and players can mold and change it while other games don't even have a script, and players have to build the story almost by themselves. However, the storytelling part is what makes a specific game an RPG; the rules that players have to follow are unique in each game. Still, the main idea is to build together the stories, scenarios, challenges, and results.
Role-Playing: Thanks to the fact that storytelling is needed to play, players get to think and build relationships, motives, and even personalities for their characters. When playing a regular game, players don't have to think about the reasons why their characters do what they do or what the relationship is between one character and another. When Roleplaying, players get to choose how their characters look like, what they do, what their abilities are, and they even have to write it on a piece of paper and play based on what they decided. They also get to cooperate in building the story and the quests they will be facing, and commonly, all players have to work together to achieve a common goal. That is why the characters and the game itself becomes very personal; in the end, players get involved with their characters and their story. The use of costumes or silly voices is not required; however, any player who wants to take a step further into characterization is free to do it if they like it.
Sessions: This is a bit self-explanatory; a session is a gaming session. A specific period of time in which players can develop their story and actions. Most of the time, a session ends when a particular goal is achieved, especially when that particular game can be played in just one session (AKA a "one-shot"); however, there are games and players who prefer longer stories that get divided between sessions. That is what we call a campaign.
Campaign: A campaign is a long story that needs more than one session to be completed. Some games require a shorter campaign, while others have campaigns that last for a year or more. Think about sessions and campaigns as TV shows; some have individual episodes that are not related to the others; each episode has a different story that begins and ends in the same episode (session). Still, other shows have longer stories that require many episodes, even seasons, to finish all the storylines, those would be campaigns.
Something very essential when talking and learning about RPGs is that everything is customizable. Even when groups of people play the same game, the way they play, and the stories they develop are entirely different. That is why there are no rules or specifications on how long should sessions or campaigns last or how players have to play. Everything relies on how people develop the stories they represent.
Game Master: The GM, also known as Dungeon Master, is the referee of the game. A game master (GM) is one of the players who act as the storyteller while the other players act like their characters. The GM is in charge of developing the game's world, constructing scenarios and challenges, enforcing game rules, mediating player decisions, and so on. Think about GM as the narrator of the events. However, he is not the one who decides each action, but more like the one that tells the players the consequences of their actions. The role of the game master is complex and may vary from one game to another, as some games have more defined rules than others. Also, keep in mind that not every RPG needs a GM; in fact, many games are entirely gamemasterless.
If you are a beginner, you may find all this information a bit overwhelming, and we understand that. One thing about RPGs is that they are easier to know when you sit and play, rather than reading or listening to explanations. The whole world of RPGs is vast, and you can find all sorts of genres, systems, and games for you. Let's talk about how to begin in RPGs.
Finding a genre: Think about book genres. There is fiction, non-fiction, horror, romance, fantasy; you name it. Well, just like in books, RPGs also have very similar styles. Dungeons and Dragons are the epic fantasy that everyone talks about in RPGs, is the most popular, but it isn't the only one. If witchcraft and sword adventure is not your thing, try with sci-fi, horror, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, or even a detective story! There are many genres out there, so you may find more than one for you.
If you're a big fan of some famous TV shows or movies, chances are you may find RPG about them, like Star Wars themed RPGs or even Game of Thrones.
Finding a system: Every RPG has rules that set the course of actions and the story. Still, there are some differences regarding the number of rules of one game and the way the players have to work with each one. There are "Rule heavy systems," "Rule light systems," and "one-shots." The lasts we already mentioned them, for both rule-heavy and rule systems, you have to read about them and see which one fits you better; their main difference is the number of rules they have and how they affect the development of the game. Usually, rule-heavy systems include player's handbook, game master handbook, and more story that the rule light ones.
Finding people to play with: This one may be easier than you think. Thanks to the internet and social media, we're now closer to each other than before, and we can even select which searching tool we want to use in which specific geographic area. There are a lot of RPGs communities on the internet in which you can find a group of people to play whichever genre, system, or game you may want.
But, if you prefer the old tried and true methods, you can search for people in your local comic store or places where you can buy the games. There are always people looking for new teammates.
Getting into Role Playing Games may take some time, but not that much if you're lucky enough to find a good group of people who are willing to guide you. If you already have a group of friends who want to start playing, the best advice we can give you is just doing it, and you'll get the hang of it as you go. Of course, try to choose games you're genuinely into, don't go for the trendy ones if you don't feel like they are your thing.
Giving RPGs a try is a fun thing to do, but if you are not fully convinced yet, or are a bit skeptical about losing your time, check out the benefits of playing RPGs:
They cultivate creativity: as storytelling is the fuel of the game, creativity makes its big appearance during RPGs. From the answers you give, your reaction to a specific problem, or even the characteristics and powers you give to your character, RPGs let you create whatever and whoever you want by just imaging it.
They level up your social skills: Let's start with the fact that there are no screens involved and that people gather together and interact face to face. But seriously, RPGs are based on the interaction and cooperation of individuals, and even the shyest person has to talk and direct the story for a moment, that makes you level up your social skills. In the end, communication, cooperation, and bonding are the keys to human relationships, and you put those in practice when playing RPGs.
Playing encourages teamwork and cooperation: the vast majority of RPGs are based on partnership, you have to make alliances and work towards a common goal that will teach you skills that are necessary for severe aspects of the real-life, like work and studies.
Playing teaches problem-solving skills: facing particular challenges and finding the solution for them, while considering the course of events and the possible reactions, is an excellent exercise of problem-solving skills. That has a lot to do with logical thinking and even math, as problem-solving is the base of rational thought.
Some people may find RPGs as childish or "freaky" due to the media stigma that some games have. Don't pay attention to that! Remember that different people have different tastes and interests, and RPGs are just as valid as liking sports or music. It is a hobby that makes you have fun, and there is nothing wrong with it. Let the adventures begin and enjoy your time playing!