Escapist > Projects > Young Person's Adventure League > Factually Answered Queries

 

An Escapist project of introducing young people
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Here are the questions you should be asking about role-playing games. Lots of websites have a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section, where they answer questions that may or may not be frequently asked, but are usually the ones they want you to ask. Here at the League, FAQ stands for Factually Answered Queries - these are the questions you should be asking about the subject. If you have any further questions, feel free to send them via electronic post to , and if they become frequent enough, I will consider adding them to this page.

What are role-playing games?

Most of you are likely familiar with the term role-playing game from the many video games that use it. When a video game is described in this way, it usually means that the game allows the player to interact with the game world in almost any way they choose, and as they play, the elements of a story are revealed.

The type of role-playing games that are discussed on this site, however, came before that kind of RPG. These are played with books, dice, and sometimes miniature figures and maps.

Most everyone remembers playing make-believe as a little kid. Some even continue to do it when they get a little older, and others never really stop. Playing a role-playing game is a lot like a game of make-believe - when you play, you act out the role of a different person, and say and do things that you feel would be the things your character would say and do.

RPGs add some rules to that game of make-believe, then put a person in charge of the story to help prevent arguments and keep everything fun for everyone involved. Other than that, it's pretty much the same game of make-believe.

What kind of RPGs are available?

There are hundreds of RPGs available in many different genres. A genre (pronounced like JOHN-ruh) is sort of like the "flavor" of the game - it is the type of world that the stories told in an RPG are set. Star Wars would be a science fiction genre, while Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy (or heroic fantasy) genre. There are genres for different periods of history, horror, humor, superheroes, and even cartoons. There are RPGs based on popular books, comic books, movies, and television shows - even a few based on computer RPGs. There are even more RPGs that center around unique and detailed worlds and characters that cannot be found anywhere else.

Just like flavors, genres come in many varieties. (There isn't just one kind of chocolate, after all.) Star Wars and Men In Black are both science-fiction settings, but are two very different kinds of science fiction. There are historical RPGs that are designed to be historically accurate in every possible way - and then there are historical games that twist history around, such as adding vampires as key characters or changing the outcome of crucial moments so that the present day is very different from what we know.

Role-playing games come and go. Only a few of them stay constantly "in print," which means that a company keeps making copies to sell in stores. Hundreds of RPGs are "out of print," but can be bought used in stores, at conventions, or through online services (such as eBay or sites that specialize in out-of-print games).

What do I need to play?

A basic rulebook (most of the time), some paper and something to write with (often), some dice (usually), and a group of friends (always!). There are always exceptions to these guidelines. Some games, like Dungeons & Dragons, are more complete with a set of books instead of one (the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual). Others may not use as many dice, or possibly even no dice at all.

Who is this Dungeon Master person?

A Dungeon Master or Game Master (DM or GM for short) is the director, producer, and sometimes even the author of the story that is played out in the game. It sounds like a daunting task, and it does require a lot of work, but in the end the GM has about the same amount of fun as the players do.

(Dungeon Master is a term used in the Dungeons & Dragons RPG. Other games use different names to describe the position, but most rely on something simple and universal, like "referee" or "Game Master." Just to keep things from getting too confusing, Game Master will be used in the rest of this FAQ page.) 

The GM prepares a story, either by buying a book of scenarios (stories to use with the game) and reading through it completely, or by creating a unique scenario from scratch. Scenarios include details of the events, locations, people, items, monsters, and other elements that will be found in the story - how important they are to the story, how they interact with each other, where they can be found, and so on.

When the scenario is ready, the GM and players get together to have a whole lot of fun. As the story unfolds and the players react to the events, the GM tells them what the results of their actions are and acts out the roles of the other characters that they meet.

What do I do when I play one of these games?

You play a character in an RPG. It's very much like playing pretend with your friends, or playing a character in a play, movie, or television show. There are two important differences, though:

1 - You don't have a script. You get to decide how your character acts in any situation.

2 - You will have a set of numbers (or other codes) that tell you and your GM specific traits about your character - how strong he is, how fast he can run, how well he can swing a sword or drive a car or play the piano, and so on. These numbers will help determine if something that your character tries to do is successful or not.

When you play a tabletop RPG, you can create your character the way you want to, or you can sometimes choose a character from one of the game books and play it instead. When you create a character, you can decide how they look, how they act, what their likes and dislikes are, and any other details that would help bring that character to life in the same way that a professional actor or actress would. Creating a character can take up a lot of time, because it involves not only filling in these details, but also determining the scores and values that will be used during the game. More about those in a minute.

When you start playing a scenario, the GM will describe the setting for you - he will tell you where you are, what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. He'll describe your surroundings, tell you what is happening around you, act out the roles of any of his characters (often called NPCs, for non-player characters) or creatures or monsters that you might encounter, and frequently ask the same question of you -

That's your cue. This is where you tell the GM what your character is going to do. If your plan is to talk to a character in the story, you tell the GM whom you wish to speak to, and then talk to him as if he is that character - or if you're speaking to another player's character, simply turn to them and start talking. You can ham it up, using your character's accent and speech patterns all that you like. It's your part of the show, so do the best that you can.

(Author's note: If I've made you look up a word or two in the dictionary, or have to ask someone else what they mean, then I humbly apologize. I'll try not to let it happen again, but I can make no guarantees.)

If your plan is for your character to perform an action, then you tell the GM what you character is going to do. You don't have to actually perform the action - in fact, in most cases, it's best if you don't (especially when the action is swinging a sword around or diving across a table to seize a jade idol before your arch-nemesis gets his grubby hands on it). When you describe your action, you can be as creative as you like with it. In fact, the more descriptive you are, the better, because that gives everyone a clear picture of what is going on in the story. Don't just dive over the table to get that jade idol - make sure you explain how the goblets of wine on the table are toppled over, silverware goes flying, and lit candles fall, possibly igniting the tablecloth and making the situation even more interesting as you and your rival desperately compete for possession of your quarry.

When you announce an action to the GM, he will usually tell you if you are capable of doing such a thing - and if so, how hard it will be, and what dice you will need to roll (for games that use dice) to make it happen. We will cover that in the next question.

What's up with those funny dice?

Most role-playing games use dice to help determine the results of things. Some use regular, everyday six-sided dice like those you would find in many boardgames. Others may use only ten-sided dice, or a variety of different dice. Below are descriptions of the types of dice you will usually see at a role-playing session:

The four-sided die, nicknamed the d4, will have its numbers on either the bottom edge or around the top point. All of the numbers will be the same along the edge or point, so that no matter which way it faces you when it lands, you will always see the same number. The d4 can roll a number between 1 and 4.
The six-sided die, also called the d6, is the one that most everyone recognizes. These can be found with numbers on the faces, or dots (called "pips") in place of the numbers. The d6 can roll a number between 1 and 6.
The eight-sided die is also known as the d8. You're probably starting to notice a pattern here by now, aren't you? The d8 can roll a number between 1 and 8.
The ten-sided die - you guessed it - is often called the d10. It is usually numbered from 0 to 9, rather than 1 to 10. When only one d10 is rolled and a 0 comes up, it is usually counted as a 10 instead. Ten-sided dice are numbered this way because of another way you can use them to generate numbers from 1-100. This sort of roll is called a percentile roll, d%, or d100. To do it, you would roll a d10 twice - the first roll will be the 'tens digit,' and the second will be the 'ones digit.' So if you rolled a 4 followed by a 2, your roll would be 42. A roll of 0 on the first die would give you a single digit number - 0 and 6 would be a 6 - and any roll of double zeroes counts as 100. You could also do this with two d10s of different colors, and decide which color will be the 'tens die' and which will be the 'ones die' before you roll.
The twelve-sided die, or d12, can roll a number between (say it with me!) 1 and 12.
The d20 - the twenty-sided die - is the die that is most commonly recognized among gamers, possibly because it gets a lot of use when playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. It can roll a number between 1 and 20.

MORE ABOUT DICE
(if you're really interested...)

Along with the nicknames for each die (d4, d6, d8, and so on), there is another form of shorthand that lets a player know how many of the dice to roll, and if they should add or subtract anything from the result. A number in front of the die name tells how many dice should be rolled and added - so 3d6 means to roll 3 six-sided dice and add the results together. A plus or minus with a number at the end tells you if you should add or subtract anything from the final result. If a rule told you to roll 4d8+5, and you rolled a 15 on those four dice, the +5 would turn that result into a 20.

There are many other types of dice available, such as d16s, d30s, and even d100s that could be mistaken for golf balls - but none of these are very common, and few games actually use them, so they have been left out of the discussion.)

So what are all of these dice for? Why are gamers so interested in rolling all of these random numbers? Glad you asked...

In role-playing games, the players face many situations and obstacles that they will need to overcome, and one purpose of the dice is to help determine if they succeed or not. For example - a character wants to jump across a fault in the ground that has just opened up from an earthquake. In the rules of the game the players are using, feats such as these require a d20 roll, and the player must roll over a certain number to succeed in their attempt. The gamemaster tells the player that he'll have to roll 15 or more on the die, or his character will fall into the hole that has opened up in front of him. The player reminds the GM that his character has a Jump skill of +4, which adds 4 to his die roll. He rolls... and gets a 12, which raises to 16 after the Jump skill modifier is added. His character makes it by one - the GM describes the ground crumbling away under his feet as he just makes it across.

Different games use different rule systems. Some only use d6s, d10s, or d20s. Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy of all RPGs, uses a full set, but the d20 gets used the most. Any RPG that you choose will let you know in the first few pages how many and what type of dice you'll need.

 

 

How can I get started?

The best way is to get together with friends or family who already know how to play, and see if they would be willing to teach you. Don't be too shy to ask around - you will probably be surprised how many people that you know are gamers, and some of them may even be looking for new people to play with.

If that doesn't work out, the second best way is to find an outside gaming group that is willing to teach an inexperienced player. The problem with this method is that meeting up with strangers is often a dangerous thing to do. That's why the safest way to approach it is to visit your local gaming shop and ask if they host regular role-playing games in the store, and if they have any sort of program for beginners. They may be able to help you find a group that will show you the ropes. You may also consider checking with your local libraries. Some may host a regular gaming meeting, or even be involved in the Afternoon Adventures With Dungeons & Dragons program (and if not, perhaps you can suggest it to them!).

You can also check for any gaming conventions that are held in your area. Gaming conventions are great places to meet up with other gamers and try out new games. There are several large cons that are held around the world, and thousands of smaller cons that are hosted by colleges and game stores and clubs. To search for game conventions in your area, try visiting Jenga's Game Convention Site.

Remember: always, ALWAYS meet with new people in a public place with lots of other people around, and never, EVER agree to go to someone's home or even get into their vehicle. You should always check with your parents before getting involved in any gaming group, and make sure that you have safe transportation to and from any meetings.

If you don't have a local gaming store or convention, or you're not comfortable with meeting up with new people, your best way is to read through the rules of a simple game, gather a group of good friends together, and try it out all on your own. You probably won't get all of the rules right on your first try, but you'll probably end up having a lot of fun - and that's the most important part.

Where can I find out more?

There aren't a lot of gaming websites that are completely family-friendly, but the list below should be a good start:

Kids-RPG Group - A discussion group hosted on Yahoo! about playing RPGs with young people. You'll need a Yahoo! account to join up, but those are free and easy to get. Most of the discussion here is between parents and teachers who play RPGs with young people, but kids are certainly welcome to participate. This is a great place to find out what games are best for young people.

Dragonkin Podcast - A digital internet wireless radio show (what will they think of next?) about kids and RPGs, including interviews with kids who play them. Highly recommended.

Wizards of the Coast - Makers of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as many other RPGs and board and card games. Go here for lots of D&D goodies and updates about new books and products.

The Escapist - The parent site of The Y.P.A.L., this site is devoted to educating people about role-playing games and showing the truth behind some of the nasty rumors that have been spread about them. A good site to share with people who have concerns about role-playing games. Due to some of the articles available for research, you should view this site with your parents.

Remember to always check with your parents before going to any new websites (including this one!) and let me know if you discover more family-friendly gaming sites in your cyberspace travels -

Why would I want to play one of these games instead of playing one on a computer?

Computer and console RPGs have advanced to such a level of complexity and sophistication that playing a paper and dice RPG might seem silly to some - Why play make-believe and imagine a fantasy world in your head, when you can see all the vibrant details of the environment all around you, hear the sounds of it in digital audio, and even have all of the rules and number-crunching of combat done for you by the computer?It's a good question. The truth is, playing a traditional RPG is not for everyone, and there are some who will never like it, no matter how hard they may try. (There are others who will decide they don't like it without ever trying it, but they are another story.) Because of that, any reasons you could list for preferring tabletop RPGs over digital ones will be meaningless to them.

For those of you who are willing to give tabletop RPGs a fair chance, however, here are some things to consider:

- You can play them most anywhere. You don't need a few open outlets and a wifi hookup to play them. You can play them when the network's down, or even when the power is out. You can play them in a cabin in the woods, on a beach, or even while on a hike (see Sherpa).

- You don't need to upgrade a computer or buy a new console every few years to try out a new tabletop RPG. The new books do cost money, but they're not quite as expensive as new hardware.

- You can customize them any way you like. If you feel your game doesn't have nearly enough ninjas and pirates who ride dinosaurs, then you can toss in as many as you like. If you've always wanted to play a time-traveling Benjamin Franklin who leads a band of other great historical figures in battle against ancient Aztec spirits who are bent on world domination, go for it. You might have to do a bit of writing, reading, and research to accomplish your ideas, but you'll be fine. None of those ever hurt anyone.

Sure, digital RPGs have lots of benefits over tabletop ones. This isn't about making digital gaming look bad - it's about encouraging more people to give traditional gaming a try.

Are these games just for boys, or can girls play, too?

Girls can play, they do play, and they're just as good at it as boys are. Sometimes better. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a big fibber. Simple as that.

Girls also make good GMs, and can create excellent stories to adventure in. In the examples above, the pronoun "he" is used to describe the things that a GM might do and say, but this doesn't mean that only boys or men can be GMs. Again, anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is fibbing. Tell them to quit it, it's not a very honorable behavior.

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