What is a roleplaying game?
A roleplaying game is a fantasy role-playing game created and originally published by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax who founded the Tactical Studies Rules Association (TSR) in 1973. It was an evolutionary step from earlier war games or military simulations. The game was first marketed 1974. It gained great popularity among teens and young adults. Rights to the game were later obtained by Wizards of the Coast. Random House began distributing the game in 1979 and now owns the game's copyright. Dozens of other companies have since published hundreds of similar games under a variety of titles, such as DragonQuest.™, RuneQuest™, Tunnels and Trolls™, and Villains and Vigilantes™. The games fall into many genres:
fantasy games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons™)
horror games (e.g. Call of Cthulhu™)
science fiction games (e.g. Traveler™)
cyberpunk (e.g. Cyberpunk 2020™)
comic book (e.g. Champions™)
historical games (e.g. Boot Hill™)
Generic games (e.g. GURPS™).
These allow you to learn a single set of game rules and apply them to any setting.
These games are played by groups of two or more people; 4 to 7 are typical. One player is commonly called the Game Master (GM) who defines the imaginary environment in which the game is played. Sometimes the GM is referred to as Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Referee, etc. He/she creates a make-believe world through which the players will move and have their adventures. The players each create a single imaginary character, defining their shape, race, intellectual and physical powers, armament, protective devices, supplies and materials. The GM decides what traps, obstacles and encounters the imaginary characters will meet. Sometimes the GM holds the post for a long time; in other groups, the job rotates among the membership.
Adventures may include play-acting the rescuing of people, the quest for money, treasure, power, knowledge and sometimes even survival of the pretend character. Each player makes ethical, philosophical, physical, and moral decisions on behalf of her/his imaginary character as the game develops. The GM describes the environment, the events and the actions of supporting characters (also called non-player characters or NPC's). The players describe their pretend character's actions and reactions. The GM then tells them the results of each event. Many games use the rolling of dice in order to resolve conflicts and to determine the results of various actions (e.g. trying to disarm a trap or leap across a chasm, etc.). Future sessions begin where the previous session quit. Games can continue for years.
A few gamers use a system called Live Action Role Play (LARP) in which the players actually act out the roles of their characters. Sometimes, they dress up in costumes as if in a live play. Some regular gamers do not view LARPs in a positive light.
The society in which Dungeons and Dragons is played is typically pre-scientific. Weapons are at the spear and crossbow level. Some characters may be imagined as having telepathic powers, others as being capable of casting magic spells. Other fantasy role-playing games are set in the wild west, in the far future, etc.
Who plays fantasy role playing games?
Players are usually in their teens to early 30's, who may be above average in intelligence, creativity and imagination. (Perhaps persons with these qualities are naturally drawn to the games; perhaps playing the game develops these factors). Many younger players will meet for a game once a week; others once or twice a month. The session might last about 6 hours.