What Is Roleplaying?

What is roleplaying? Here are some possible answers.

Roleplaying is…

Basically? A group of friends, sitting around a table, pretending they're different people in a different world. One person moderates the game, arbitrating the rules and providing the backdrop; the rest each play a "character", and deal with the adventures that the moderator presents. A set of rules provides a logical structure.

…"let's pretend" for grownups. The key element is imagination.

…a great way to have fun, ranging from casual good time to an incredibly involving and exciting experience.

…an inexpensive, extremely flexible, and fully interactive way to be social and have a lot of fun.

...a great way to play the part of a hero or villian in a world of imagination.

...many things; there are as many different kinds of roleplaying games and campaigns as there are people. Every one is different.

How you play:

  1. Get a small group of people together (almost any number is possible, but four to six is ideal).
  2. Decide what sort of game it should be: the system of rules, the setting, etc. This isn't a terribly complicated thing to do; you can simply all agree that you want to play in a Swords & Sorcery fantasy world, for example. Or a space-travel adventure. As for systems, there are lots to chose from.
  3. Depending on the game you've chosen, you might need dice. And some or all of you may want to buy game books.
  4. Work out who wants to run the game. That person (the Game Master, or "GM") will have a more responsibility; he'll need to prepare an adventure, either creating it himself, buying one, or downloading a free one from the Internet. In any case, he'll need to be familiar with the adventure before the game begins.
  5. Each player creates the character that they want to play. This usually involves rolling dice to determine their personal characteristics (things like Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence), and figuring out skills and abilities. When you're done, you have a sheet of information that lets you know what your character can and cannot do. As you go through adventures, your character learns more and gets more powerful.
  6. Play! The GM starts you off with the situation that you face, and your character (called a player character, or "PC") meets other PCs. Together you meet challenges and puzzles of all kinds, and, with luck, overcome them. Although the GM portrays the world for you, and chooses and runs the adventure (also called a scenario) that you face, how you deal with it is up to you.
  7. If you had fun, and you want to play more, you arrange to meet again and continue playing -- either with the same characters in a new adventure (in which case you'll get the benefit of whatever skills or powers that your character has improved), or or try entirely new characters in either the same or a completely different setting—it's up to you. You can always come back and take up play with old characters again if you wish.

There are all sorts of games; serious ones, silly ones, games set in the world of a favorite author, TV show, or movie, original games that are unique to the imagination of the creator, games that focus on drama, games that focus on puzzle-solving and cleverness, games that focus on hacking and slashing monsters...literally any kind of game can exist, because if you can't find the kind of game you want, you can easily make one.

What Isn't Roleplaying?

Roleplaying is not devil worship, Satanism, immoral, or anything of that sort. It's a game, and is no more harmful than a book or magazine. When people talk about spells or monsters in a game, it's no more real than talk about warp drive or aliens in Star Trek.

Some Common Terms and Abbreviations

Roleplaying Game = RPG

Fantasy Roleplaying = FRP

Gamemaster = GM (different games used different titles for the same role, including Dungeon Master (DM), Keeper, etc.)

Player Character = PC. A group of PCs make up a gaming party

Non-Player Character (i.e. an "extra" controlled by the GM)= NPC

Scenario = An adventure which is run for a game group. Often takes anywhere from one to dozens of sessions to complete. Some scenarios are commercially published, others are created by the GM.

Campaign = Many scenarios using the same PCs. For example, a single episode of Star Trek would be a scenario, while the whole series is like a campaign.

Looking for more answers? Here are some other articles about roleplaying:

Role-Playing game (Wikipedia)

Foxfire and Afira's Handbook to Roleplaying

There are many thousands of pages online about roleplaying games. Surf around and find some answers you like. Have fun!

If you have any questions about roleplaying, or would like to make suggestions about this or any other part of my site, please write me!

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[email protected] Copyright 2000 by Peter Maranci. Revised: June 25, 2008. v.1.1