Lawner - The 7th Plane Of Existance
Role Playing - What is it?

Role playing is first and foremost a Game.

Role Playing is a way for gamers who wish to expand their imagination beyond that which they currently have. A role playing group is dedicated to the playing of games that stimulate the imagination and encourage teamwork and social skills. Those who do not know of Role Playing, would do well to imagine a boardgame. Picture a table surrounded by people of different ages, and sexes, from any kind of background or culture. Imagine them enjoying the game, laughing and rolling dice to see the outcome of their playing piece as it travels around the board.

Now think what happens with many boardgames when they have been played many times, the group now sits more listlessly, knowing the outcome of every card, every square on the board, and probably knowing just which player will be shrewd enough or lucky enough to win the game. Now we will take the board and firstly do away with it! Then we take the idea behind the game and instead of following the same set pattern, we change the goal of the game each time we play it. We change the playing pieces so that they each have different affects on the game, again altering the game each time it is played.

Now we add one more element to the game, instead of squares or cards which tell us what we have to do when we land on a certain place, we have one player as a Decision Maker or a Judge, they will think up the goal of the game, set out the scene to the players and ask them what their Characters would like to do! Ask the Player what they would like their playing piece to do at any one time. Think what it would be like if you could turn your Monopoly Dog around and chase after the Boot, passing GO the wrong way, or instead of your Chess Knight ‘Taking’ a Queen, they instead asked the Queen, “How do you do your majesty, would you care to pass?”

In a Role Playing game YOU take the ‘role’ of a character, along with other player’s characters and together try to get through, figure out, over-come, and succeed the many obstacles put in your way by the Decision Maker, often called a DM for short. By also acting in the way your character would, you ‘personalise’ your own character, and with groups of as little as two or as many as twenty-two, the many characters ensure no game is the same. Also characters develop by means of the rewards they gain from their adventures, and with experience get better at doing certain things as they ‘grow’ with the game. In essence Role Playing is an interactive tabletop game using the imagination, dice to decide on outcomes and scenery, of the train-set kind to determine the positions of the characters and their problems.

The game types include Fantasy, akin to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings saga, or Science fiction, like Star Trek or Star Wars, or even action games like James Bond or The A Team. Whatever the imaginations of the players can produce can be played. 

The skills and qualities gained by these two types of imaginative play are considerable. Role Playing gives people the chance to socialise with others of different ages and social groups, it encourages teamwork and diplomacy, thinking out problems and creating bonding between the players in their efforts to succeed. It improves the artistic ability, with drawing and painting and model-making often a necessity. Improvement with reading, writing and mathematics have all been noticed by some members of the group, as is a general building of confidence, many players begin quietly, but soon get into playing their Character and the element of taking on a different ‘role’ allows individuals to try new sides to their own demeanor which perhaps they never knew they had. In all it improves friendly relations with the other members and a good laugh to boot.

Role playing is different for each individual in what they get out of it. Some love the problem or puzzle solving, others the pure mental escapism, some the chance to pretend to be something they are not, or do things which they could not do in reality. Some love the chance to relive or become their fictional heroes from books or film, others just enjoy the very sociable aspect which any group activity promotes. Role Playing is a mental game although it can have physical aspects, usually in the form of 'PhysReps' (Physical Representations) or costumes, or even locations where the game could be played. Okay, that's enough waffle, now the proper answer to What is Role Playing?

One person is the DM (or Referee, Judge, Decision Maker, Storyteller, Game Master, Dungeon Master or more colourful expletives. I shall use the term 'DM' from now onwards). This person acts a little like a referee from a football match or net ball game; they adjudicate and keep the Players within the rules. The DM also has the hard job of reading and learning all of the system and rules and as much of the background as they possibly can (lots of reading!) or create, design and record their own made up home-grown settings and rules (as I said; HARD work!). Once the DM has created or learned the system, they then have the unenviable task of coming up with a scenario in which to put the players, or learn backwards a ready made one, sold in shops, and designed to go with the system they are all playing. Some DM's buy scenarios they like the look of and convert them if they are for different systems to their own, but I digress. Once the DM has an adventure, or scenario they need 'Characters' to go through it with, this is where the players start to do a little work.

The players have to create their individual Characters, a bit like Cluedo or football players; each has their own abilities and luck, and each (normally) has to help the rest of the group get through, and if there is an objective, be successful. The players have to generate or take pre-made characters. Recorded on sheets of paper (or disk?), the Character sheet records all of the characters attributes (intelligence, strength etc..), skills (ranging from sowing to global diplomacy), equipment the Character owns and/or is carrying, description of the Characters appearance, as well as notes taken throughout the course of the game. Dependent on the system being run, maybe such things as special abilities (Luck, magic powers), drawbacks (odious personal habits, fat, unlucky etc..) as well. This Character creation, or generation (your choice or word) is carried out with either dice rolls, point allocations, or some other way of creating the statistics needed for the Character, some are totally random, others give far more control, and as I said some systems come with ready made Characters, and all they have to do is copy the sheet and they're off.

Right once the DM is ready, and once the Player Characters, (Player Characters - the Characters being played by the it? often called PC's, no not computers! I will refer to Player Characters by the term PC from now onwards), have been generated what next? ......Oh yes! Play begins.

The DM usually does a brief introduction to set the scene, the time line, place etc. so that the players know just where their Characters are supposed to be in relation to each other or the locale in which the DM has set them. Often this begins with a summoning or hiring of the Characters by someone who wishes some task performed, of which only the Characters have the ability, or are too stupid enough to realise that the task could result in their loss. The DM has to 'Voice' the Non-Playing Characters, (NPC's to us Role Players - Non-Playing characters are every other character, creature, or robot etc. that is encountered throughout the game and are played by the DM; hence Non-Playing). By Voice I mean try to sound and talk and do the mannerisms of the NPC as they would act, i.e. if the PC's meet a grumpy old man along the street and ask him the way to the nearest town, the DM has to act like, sound like and talk as a grumpy old man would. The players also have to do this in character when they ask the man for directions also. I think perhaps a dreaded example of play is now needed.

Imagine (that's the core to Role Playing) a Saturday night, around Sue's house, where Fred, Tom, Jane and Jo arrive to play a game. Seated around the kitchen table, they have their Character sheets all prepared, the DM being Sue, sets the scene......

"You have all traveled from the town called Lon Don, and headed south looking for stimulation and some adventure to find you. It is dull as the rain pours down and although you have been friends for a long time, the weather has made you all feel very grumpy. With your coats pulled tightly around you, you trudge onwards" Sue stops and asks the group "everyone has got a coat haven't they?" The players quickly scan their character sheets and nod in unison.
"Good!" Says Sue. "You notice through the rain a shuffling figure coming your way along the road, it looks sad and miserable in a dark brown long raincoat and is wearing a tatty old hat, dripping water onto the now obviously old man's chin. What do you all do?"

The group now faced with their time to act all shout out at once. "One at a time please" says Sue. "You first Fred, what does your Character Jock do?" Jock is Fred's character's name and is supposed to be Scottish.
"Erm!...Jock is going to go over to the old man and ask him something." Replies Fred.
"Okay...what about you then Tom?"
"Well, seeing as its raining and I'm fed up, not a lot, just keep on going on."
Tom answers.
"Right, Jane...your Character?"
Jane is looking through her equipment list on her character sheet.
"Gus (she is playing a male character in this game) is going to go over to the man and see if he will tell us the way to the next town. Gus has got a bag of sweets, he's going to offer the man one in the hope that it will make him more amenable."
"All right you can try. Jo what's your character doing?"
"Nothing, keeping well away from the shifty looking man. Can I use intelligence to figure out if he's a pervert or lost like us?"

"Sure, roll the dice."
Says Sue.
Jo rolls the dice, looks up sadly and says "no failed, I didn't get what I needed."
"Right then...I'd say that your character does not know what sort of a man he is, pervert or not. Right then as two of you go over to the old man he stops and glares at you both."
Sue pulls a grim looking face at the players and says in a deep, gruff voice. "What you want? I 'ain't got nothin', clear off!"
(In Character now, Fred says) "But sir, we only need directions to the next town, is it far?" Fred speaks in a Scottish accent and gestures with his hands, as he might have, if he really was asking an old man the question.
Jane speaks up, using her normal voice as she can not mimic a man however hard she tries, "would you like a sweet?"
Acts Sue and swings her arm threateningly. "The old man swipes at your bag of sweets Jane. What's Gus's Dexterity?"
Jane consults her Character sheet. "60%" Answers Jane, "did I see it coming?"
"All right make an initiative roll."
They both roll their dice and look to see who succeeded. "The old man won somehow, obviously Gus was not expecting it. The old man hits your hand with the sweets in, and they fly out of your grasp and onto the road, spilling out."
"Wait, Gus has got luck as a special ability, can I use that?"
"Yes, roll it"

Jane rolls the dice again. "Got it, what happens?"
"Well in that case as the man had hit them and as you did not quote the special ability before then, you still lose the bag, but they land on the road but do not spill out, if your quick you might be able to pick them up before the rain on the road spoils them."
"Right I pick them up then."
Jane looks angrily at Sue "there was no need for that, you nasty old man."
Sue again puts on the gruff voice "Away with you all! Says the old man as he storms off up the way you've come."

As you can see, each player had to act and speak 'in character' as they would imagine that person speaking and acting as if they really existed and in that situation. As it happened the old man was in fact an escaped clown from a nearby circus and was seeking refuge in the town of Lon Don. The group was asked to find him by the Ringmaster and asked to bring him back as the children missed him, but they turned down the task and went off for dinner instead. Odd scenario!

Anyway as the Characters continue throughout their lives they have many adventures, many containing action and battles (not all games have to have fights and bad feeling in them), and as they go, they gain either wealth, experience or some other reward, and grow. If played long enough the Characters may even settle down, have families and then the players will perhaps play their descendants. The point is the game doe not have to end like a game of monopoly, more like sport where the characters are like a football team, which moves up and down the league, sometimes gaining places at the top and winning, sometimes losing and falling down again. Usually the characters, if they survive their harrowing experiences, become equivalent to super heroes or experts in their fields. Game time is different to real time. The DM could say "Okay an hour later your group reaches the town of Green Witch", or "you rest in your hotel for a week, seeing the sights and eating in expensive restaurants, before it comes the time when you decide to move on." The DM could even send them into the future or the past. Anything is possible in Role Playing, it is all up to the DM (who designs the adventures, with what the players would like in mind) and the players (who although must be willing to accept defeat sometimes in their adventures or even death, which means generating a new Character from scratch), will only play the games run by the DM's which they know will create the sort of games they should enjoy. Winning and losing is all part of Role Playing, it is non-competitive and is not the DM versus the players, the DM must give fair and just decisions and adventures. Not all NPC's are nasty old men. Dependent on which style of game you play i.e. Science fiction, horror, fantasy King Arthur style games or a contemporary setting, it can be as realistic or as fantastic as you like.

The other good thing about Role Playing is unlike sport or chess, there is a variety of systems, settings and styles, similar but more varied than say card games. Card games always consist of cards and different values or suits, Role Playing can be totally vocal; no character sheets or dice; just dice and character sheets; all the books and sheets as well as metal miniature figures which represent your Character, complete with miniature trees, floor plans and roads mapped out, to full scale, dressed up, costumed players running about a real castle, hired out for the day, hitting each other with foam swords saying stuff like "20 point hit!"; "Half stun!"; "ARRGHH!" and falling to the floor. Its all up to you. (Personally I don't do the foam-sword-thingy stuff anymore, not that I want to demote it at all its just not me anymore, I got too old).

Well there it is - Role Playing is a group of weirdo nutters imagining like crazy, occasionally rolling dice and making notes on disorganized sheets of paper, squawking in strange voices, pretending to be everything they are not...Freud would have a field day!

Do you disagree? Have you got an opinion? Then lets hear it, if its not too rude or silly I might just stick it up here for others to have a different opinion! Also any questions gladly answered from:

[Anyone insulted by the item above I duly apologise (especially to any old men in the rain, in long raincoats).]


Role Playing

Last updated: 4th July 2001