This guide is split into Four Parts
What is a role play game?
How does it work?
How much does it cost? Are RPGs expensive?
What is a ROLE PLAY GAME any way?-
At it’s heart it’s a collaborative story usually led by a story teller* who knows the rough outline as well as secrets yet to be revealed. You the player play or control one character. The success of actions are usually based on the abilities of the character you are playing but with an element of chance in the form of dice**
You normally work together as a team to achieve a mission like rescue some villages or uncover a secret. Normally they are fully cooperative with the Story teller providing the details of the world and the characters you meet.****
RPGs are very social and can be done in person around a table, online using voice, video sharing or specialist software or by posting your action into a forum or chat thread.
There are many settings from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Alien horror, Fantasy, Modern day supernatural, My little Pony, the fantasy worlds established in Dungeons and Dragons and by Games Workshop like Warhammer Fantasy role play.
Another way of thinking about an RPG is you are making a film together, the Story teller is the director and each of the players are controlling an actor. This a nice way to think about it as you can imagine each scene and it helps to think about describing the visuals. The only note for this analogy there is no main star every player and their character is equally important and need a time to shine. It is the duty of both the Story teller and the players to make sure this happens. RPGs are a team event work together to make sure everyone has fun!
On top of the setting you will have a set of rules you follow to define how stuff works, these can be very light to very complicated. I go into more details on rules in section 3.
Creativeness and control vary hugely, some settings you only control your characters other systems may involve some time in the beginning where the players and the story teller craft the world together! So where do you live? who is the ruler? How tall are halflings? In creative systems you may also get to describe some of the locations as well, rather than the story teller describing everything.
Content is what happens during the game, for example violence, horror, gore, spiders, spaceships. It is very important to discuss this before the game starts to make sure you are all onboard. I personally love grim dark scary games where there is periods of tension and fear to add to excitement for example creeping around a dark spaceship hiding from xenomorphs, but you can also have happy fun and light settings where there is no death or pain just adventure. Make sure you know about the game and what it is about.
RPGs are a lot more personal than board games even though you are all playing characters you do get to learn a lot about your fellow players. Every RPG is different, the system, the setting, the story teller and the players all mix together to make a unique game. How serious, how silly, how focused on fighting / exploring / diplomacy (the three key areas in an RPG). Try more than one group and system to see what suits you.
RPG: A role playing game (not rocket propelled grenade although they are fun too) is an interactive story with the action usually dictated by dice rolls, and is defined by a setting and a rule system. A setting could be Middle Earth, a dystopian future, the world of Forgotten Realms from Dungeons and Dragons or Lovecraftian 1920s. The rules might Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition or Call of Cthulhu 7th edition or Warhammer Fantasy Role Play fourth edition. It is worth noting most of these rules have versions and are revamped and rewritten so check with version of a rule system is on offer. Often theme and rules can be mix and matched or modified (home brew), discuss with you DM if you have any questions.
*Story teller / Games Master (GM) / Dungeon Master (DM) :
The person running the game, providing the overall story and the people and monsters you meet (Non player characters NPC).
Some systems will call them thematic names like game mother (Alien) or keeper (Cthulhu). I prefer Story teller it is a non gendered term and it also sets the scene of a joined up story and removes confrontation / dominance from the name.
Randomiser cubes and shapes! Traditionally these are 6 sided cubes as found in monopoly, but also come with other amounts of sides to allow you roll a number between 1 and 4 and 1 and 20. Some systems may use other randomisers for example drawing cards, pulling jenga cubes, or spending points from a limited pool. A few RPGs include no randomess.
You, the human sat on the chair or behind the computer screen, you will mostly like control a single characters
The thing / actor you control during the story. It could be a human fighter, an alien named xorb, a colonial marine named Hicks. You make the decisions and act like your characters, their abilities are more important than yours. Xorb may have more arms than you and Hicks may be a much better shot.
The most important thing about RPGs is remembering what your character know is key act like they will. YOU the player may know the next room is a trap as other players have already seen it. Your character doesn’t yet.
You may have heard ‘private’ conversations and know Alphonse is a traitor your character doesn’t.. yet.
Where does the story take place? Middle Earth, LV2146 colonial moon, Altdorf or down town chicago in the 1920s.
The rules how stuff is decided, for example Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, you will use 20 sided dice and these rule books.
***Attributes / Characteristics / Statistics:
The mental and physical abilities of your characters. Are they weak, strong, smart or dumb? These will affect the success of varies challenges giving you better / more dice to roll or bonuses to add.
How good is your character at stuff, are they are great engineer, a terrible shot, do they have a bronze swimming certificate? These will affect the success of varies challenges giving you better / more dice to roll or bonuses to add.
Traits / Talents / Personality / Qwirks / Edges:
Things which round out your character, brave, asthmatic, a noble, secrets. Sometimes these will add to the dice rolls other times just to guide you on how your character should act.
Generally Role play games are cooperative the characters are a team working together and fighting or stealing from each other is banned.
Some games support secrets, personal missions and attacking enough but those tend to be very specific to certain settings and systems.
How RPGs Work, The dice and what not?
The rules i.e. how you resolve actions and see how good your character is at it varies vastly as well. I am going to highlight some of the common ways RPGs works.
Generally your character will have Attributes*** which cover your Smarts, your physical prowess and your people skills
These can be as few as four or as detailed as 16 different numbers. Normally the higher the number is, the better.
Dungeons and Dragons for example has Strength, Dexterity and Constitution covering your physical skills,. Intelligence and Wisdom covering your mental and Charisma covering your charming and talkiness.
For Dungeons and dragons for a normal creature these range from 3-18. With an average human peasant be 10 in everything.
Below are a variety of different character sheets and your characters attributes.
In game play you normally decide what your character would do based on what they know and how they are feeling. (You the player may have a lot more knowledge but it’s what your character knows that is key) For example your character is a brave warrior and is surrounded by bandits, you decide to draw your sword and charge them to wound / kill / scare them off to protect your fellow characters. That’s it. That’s how you play a RPG. Think like your character and describe what you want to do!
How you do this will vary by which rule set or system you are using. Most systems have either a move and an action, or two actions or even action points, often you can pick from a shopping list of actions. For example In Dungeons and Dragons above it would be a move and then attack. For new players just describe what you do and the story teller will help you.
OK so you now are face to face to with the baddie sword in hand, now what? Roll some dice! In most systems you roll some dice modified by how good or bad at the thing you are doing.
Continuing the Dungeons and dragons example. I’m really strong so that’s plus two and I am expert fighter which is another plus 2 on top of the standard 1d20 roll (20 sided dice). If you roll OVER the target number you succeed. The target number is normally defined by the enemies armour or a number set by the story teller. Once the action is successful you may roll for armour, damage, and other effects like stuns or fear.
Lets work through a few different ways that dice are used in various systems.
1d20 plus plus attribute and skills aiming HIGH.
1d100 rolling UNDER your stat.
Rolled 2d6 plus attribute and skills aiming high
Roll d6s (based attribute and skills) looking for 5 or 6s
Roll one or more pools (groups) of dice (based attribute and skills) and match symbols or colours to see the remainder
Roll a pool (based attribute and skills) and pick ONE DICE
Some specifics from above
DND, Roll 1d20 plus your Attributes bonus plus your skill- HIGHER The better. Then roll damage based on your attack / weapon.
Warhammer, Roll 1d100 and roll under your Attributes + skill. The opponent also rolls and you take the difference in rolls plus weapon damage.
Cthulhu, Roll 1d100 and roll under Skill. If the difference is important you can see if you roll is ¼ or ½ of your skill which is a hard or extreme success.
Tales form the Loop, Roll D6s equal to your Skill + ability. Every 5 or 6 is success, you need a certain number of successes based on the difficulty any spares allow you do extra stuff
Alien. Roll D6s equal to your Skill + ability. Every 6 is a success for harder or easier challenges you may be asked to roll more or less dice.
Cortex Roll DIFFERENT Sided dice depending on good your characteristic and Skill is. A very strong person who isn’t a skilled fighter may roll a d10 for strength and a d6 for combat. You add these together. This is an opposed roll with the enemy so you count the difference. =OR do you pick one dice…. i cant’ rmemeber…..==/ Altered carbon. Basically the opposite you use smaller dice so D4 for strength and want lower.
Dungeon world. Roll 2d6 plus you Characteristic. 2-6 you fail, the story teller advances the story, 7-9 you succeed BUT some bad happen, 10 you succeed totally.
Red markets, Roll two pools of dice, one made up of good things like stats and Attributes one made up of bad things. They cancel each other out and you look at the remainder.
FFG Star wars and Warhammer Third edition, Roll custom dice (how many and which dice based on Attributes, abilities and conditions) Different symbols are the dice are crits, successes and failures, match and cancel to see what remains. Good symbols may be on bad dice and bad symbols may be on good dice.
That is highly simplified and there the dice may be used slightly different in combat, vs out of combat vs defending yourself (Saving throws). There is also how critical success and failures work and the way in the system in which plays can adjust how badly the fail or success.
Don’t worry about the details of the dice, firstly be your character and do what they do, enjoy the story, as you get used to RPG you will get a feel for the kind of world and kind of rules you like. If you do start a campaign rather than a demo game or one shot it is normally polite to work up having basic knowledge of the game and specifically the cool things your character can do.
The terms again
Attributes are your characters natural abilities, for example strength or Charm.
Abilities / Skills, are thing you can do normally learned, Like stabbing with a sword or hacking a computer
Modifiers are things happening around the story teller might apply like darkness or being scared or having someone assisting you.
What do I need to RPG? /Are RPGs expensive?
They can be like most hobbies, you can jump in deep and buy all all the books, dice, models but it can also be cheap.
Potentially you only need a friend or three. There are plenty of free or very cheap rule sets and adventures and dice rollers apps can be used. Playing online the free version of https://roll20.net/ is good enough and you don’t need fancy maps or tokens.
Roll20 is an online gaming system which rules and characters sheets for many systems, you can buy rules maps and more on it. Foundry is an alternative with a one time fee but more powerful than the paid Roll 20 subscription which includes more features than the free mode
Playing in person you don’t need maps, miniatures, painted scenery or fancy lights. Doodles on papers and random chits, stuff borrowed from board games or lego figures are all you need. I have a stack of white, grey and red mini poker chips i write on to represent, Friend, Foe and Neutral.
As a player all you need is a set of polyhedral dice (ideally) and a willingness to try Playing online you need nothing! But perhaps glance at the rules or player aids if expected.
Beautiful painted scenery with lights and smoke effects are wonderful as are detailed online maps with visibility and fog of war and can help set the scene, but they can also limit creativity, let the players use their imagination describe the scene making sure you use atleast one more or two additional senses. Describe how the air is moist or dry. The silence is oppressive or these is an annoying groan of machinery.
Most often i don’t use maps both online and in person i will use figures to represent the rough location of the characters who is in front of who but i keep it loose and narrative.
We have two RPG starter sets in the game library which include everything you need. RPGS are like board games you can spend all the money or you can keep it simple. The important part is to stay within your means and have fun. I am a fan of props and scene setting but i tend to keep a balance and don’t enjoy painting the minis so they stay unpainted or i buy them pre painted. I can share the bits and pieces i use another time.
Playing online is even easier most systems are free to players and some are free to the organiser. Roll20 is free for the basic mode, Foundry VTT is a one time cost. With online platforms you may have to rebuy the adventures even if you own the paper book of pdf.
OwlbearRodio is new and free and you can use various other systems. You can just use basic maps and draw on the ‘screen’ or full details maps with lights shadows and line and sight and more. You can upload the art and images yourself or you can pay for modules which bring in everything.
Role play and games nights are precious time and you can also have fun with props, food, lighting, ambient sounds and you can even get scented candles which smell like anything from dungeons, taverns to stables.!
Here are some of the props we’ve used from time to time. These aren’t required but they can add a lot to the experience.
We have more information in our code of conduct
Master glossary https://herefordshireboardgamers.co.uk/why/glossary/