What is a Role-Playing Game?
For those who have never immersed themselves in one, the concept of a tabletop role-playing game, such as Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons (DnD), might be a little confusing. Where is the computer screen? How do I control it? Do I have to read all those books?
Tabletop role-playing games, or RPGs, are social experiences that people share with their friends. Tabletop RPGs are offline experiences. There are no electronics required; the game is played in-person, with a few things, and the imagination of the players. Tabletop role-playing games generally consist of a few books that explain the rules, some dice, possibly a game board, character sheets, and, most importantly, the players.
They are not all that dissimilar from the more basic concept of the classic board games, such as Monopoly or Clue. The significant difference is that they generally involve a lot more imagination on the part of the player, and thus have a great deal more potential as far as replayability. The possibilities with tabletop role-playing games are pretty much only limited by the imagination of the players.
What is the goal of a tabletop role-playing game?
Well, that really depends. As with most games, the goal is to win. However, what that win looks like can be very different from traditional board games. With most tabletop role-playing games, the goal is generally to survive a battle with monsters, avoid traps and obstacles, find a specific item, or uncover the plot of the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) without dying. The play area of an RPG is generally customizable or player-drawn, meaning that there is no standard game board that needs to be used. There is also no one particular scenario.
For most tabletop role-playing games, plots are purchased in the form of published books by the games creator or manufacturer. These books will have all the information you need to carry out the scenario, including rules, items, enemies, and nonplayer characters (NPC). On top of this, though, players are traditionally able to create their own situations. This means that the potential for scenarios in a single tabletop RPG is pretty much unlimited. You set your goals, and players strive to complete them.
Traditionally, tabletop role-playing games will have a game master (called a Dungeon Master (DM) in DnD) that guides the game along and communicates the scenario to the other players. The game master can also often come up with the situation on their own terms as the game goes along.
How do you play tabletop role-playing games?
To start playing a tabletop role-playing game, you will usually need several items to get started. However, if you would like to try out an RPG as a player, you really only need a set of dice and character sheets. Then, once you are sure you want to get more into the game, you can get the player rulebook, in the case of DnD.
If you are looking to take on the role of being the game master, you are going to need a lot more. The rulebook for the game master, a scenario, some amount of dice, character sheets that allow the individual players to keep track of their characters, and a gameboard. The board can be made out of manufactured pieces that can be customized in regards to the scenario or can be drawn out by the players or leader in advance, either on paper or on a whiteboard.
A tabletop RPG uses various types of dice that differ in the number of sides. Many role-playing games will have at least one die that features 20-sided or the D20. Each die has a different purpose. The die can be rolled to decide the outcome of an event, whether that be how much damage a monster inflicts on a player or how much efficacy a player's attack has on their opponent. It can also determine other matters of chance, such as hidden items or treasure, or even specific player statistics such as strength and defense.
While tabletop RPGs have a good deal in common with one another, some differences can change how the game is played and may affect how much you like the game. The rules are generally pretty in-depth and expansive and may take up whole tomes. However, as a new player, you do not need to understand and memorize every rule before you play. The game publishers often have quick guides to the rules that can help you get started. Also, your GM or other experienced players should be able to help you with getting started.
Many games will have customizable pieces that the player must create that will be their avatar on the board. There are also often pre-manufactured pieces that can be bought that will represent either the player or enemies. However, not all RPGs are played on a table with boards and figures. Instead, the game is played in one's mind, known as the theater of the mind. Whether you play on a board or in your mind, all comes down to the players' preference. You can invest a lot into getting all the figures and game pieces to make a more immersive experience, but that is not needed. One single tabletop role-playing game can provide a lifetime of enjoyment for you and your friends. There is near-infinite potential.
What are some of the best tabletop role-playing games?
Obviously, DnD is the most popular tabletop role-playing game on the market. It is a great and shining example that anyone can point to illustrate what precisely a tabletop role-playing game is. However, it's not the only one, as there are many more tabletop role-playing games in existence.
You can find everything from a Star Wars RPG to a My Little Pony RPG that is just about as in-depth as DnD. There is an incredibly popular role-playing game based on the Cthulhu mythos of HP Lovecraft called "The Call of Cthulhu" where you can encounter eldritch horrors, ancient demons, and monsters as if you were yourself immersed in the horrors of an HP Lovecraft story.
On top of the many tabletop role-playing games based on existing properties, there are many more that are totally original and come from the imagination of the creator. The options are pretty much unlimited, and you can find tabletop role-playing games that are as mundane or fantastic as you can possibly imagine. If you play enough tabletop role-playing games, you may even get some ideas for your own! All you have to do is come up with the rules, the world, and the style of play.