What is a Roleplaying Game?

What is a role-playing game?

A roleplaying game is a game in which players take on the roles of imaginary characters and experience social situations and adventures in an imaginary world.

Role play is the telling and experiencing of a story together. Roleplay is to guide a character through an imaginary world and experience fantastic adventures with him.

For a roleplaying game you only need a group of players (at least 2 persons, a group of 3-5 is ideal) and a little imagination.

Most role-players, however, like to have a fixed set of rules from a random element (mostly dice) and a given world to help. These tools make it easier for the Game Master to create a consistent world in which players know or at least can guess how the world reacts to their actions.

What is an Adventure?

Adventures are the stories that all players experience together with the game master. The game master knows the storyline and the secrets of the adventure already at the beginning of the game. During the course of the game, the players first have to explore what is actually involved in the respective adventure.

The game master gives hints and plays all involved game pieces that do not belong to the player group (i.e. all non-player characters or NPCs). Adventure can be bought or invented by yourself.

A simple adventure would be: The player characters are imprisoned in a castle and have to flee. Only the game master knows with which hurdles this is connected, who helps them if necessary with it, which led to the imprisonment. Players must use their creativity and seek solutions to escape or just find out what put them in this situation and what to do with it.

What's a Game Master?

The term “game master” refers to the narrator of a role play. It describes the universe (including all characters that are not controlled by the other players) and gives the characters hints and incentives to experience adventures in the fictional world.

He doesn’t play any character himself, like the rest of the other players, not really “with them”, but not against them either. Rather, it controls the action and moderates the adventure that everyone can experience and design together, similar to a film or a book.

The game master represents all persons and figures in the game that are not represented by players, the so-called non-player characters (NPCs) or also “monsters” (but not all NPCs are monsters).

What is a Character?

“Characters”, in some systems also called “heroes”, are the characters or roles players slip into in the imaginary world. Players determine and describe how their character looks, acts, talks, and influences their environment.

Player Characters (SCs) are represented in rules and regulations with the help of different values that describe how well a character controls a certain skill. In this way, the particular strengths and weaknesses of the character are determined. These values are required for cube samples that provide information about the success or failure of actions and intentions.

What are Dice Rolls (Tests)?

A dice test, also called a test, determines whether the action or action of a character that his player announces works. The values or attributes of a character describe its potential (e.g. swimming 4), the result of a dice test shows in each individual case how well a character could actually master a certain task (e.g. swimming through the wide river).

The game master determines how difficult the specific task is for the character (swimming through the wide river 6) – the player rolls the dice and must reach or exceed this difficulty with the result of the dice in order to be successful.

Characters have values in different talents and characteristics that influence these dice rolls and change the result of the action – for the better or for the worse.

Actually the game master could always decide everything without a dice test – but in order to bring an additional tension (fate) into play, the game master must also take dice tests for actions of his NPCs and accept the results of all dice tests in the game.

What is Game Balance?

Players must make sure that their characters behave as their environment would normally expect in the game world. If they just do chaotically and leave what they want, it destroys the illusion of reality and also destroys the game for the other players.

Game masters have the difficult task of giving players challenging tasks, but they don’t work against the players – their goal is not to defeat or constantly fail the group of players. They must not confuse the power they have as game leaders with the power that the NPCs and opponents they control have in the game world.

A game master has several roles, which he is not allowed to mix, otherwise the group of players has no chance from the outset. If he makes the adventure too easy, if he gets bored, if he makes the tasks too difficult, it quickly becomes frustrating.

Who's winning?

Nobody. Or all of them. The goal of a role-playing game is not to triumph as an individual over the other players, but to overcome challenges together and to experience exciting stories, which are largely actively shaped.

Although there are plenty of opportunities to shine with good ideas and let the character perform well, the goal is not to outdo the other players or to win some imaginary prize. Role playing does not follow the competitive rules of other (better recognized) hobbies.

You’re not in the choir or orchestra to play louder than the others. Or just getting solo parts.

“If you have fun, you win.”

Myths about role-playing games


Role-players are nerds

That’s right, so what? A biochemist or atomic physicist is often also a nerd. A specialist in a niche area who perhaps attaches less importance to outward appearance and consumption. He may be invited to the parties a little less often, but he has a group of real friends and experiences things that others can’t even imagine.

If only the world were made up of powerful football stars and astronomers with glasses, it might be a lot easier.

Fortunately, there are also muscular astronomers and small footballers who have to wear glasses in their free time – and lots of other great people.

Girls don't play RPGs

That’s not true, but it’s true that the proportion of female pen & paper roleplayers has always been very low.

This is certainly also due to the origin of the role-playing games (strategic tabletop war simulations) and the design and artwork, which is usually extremely tailored to male buyers.

Unfortunately, it is true that role plays are often sexist in concept and graphics. This already begins in the Middle Ages with the image of the “Virgin in Need”, which must be saved by the heroic knight. This basic motif is still used today in many role plays, movies, comics and books.

Role-playing games offer the freedom to do it differently. Boys and men can slip into the role of a woman and vice versa, they can play their figures traditionally or sometimes completely differently. The game master can change the rules and create a game world in which women have the say or the sexes consider themselves equal. It’s up to the players themselves.

A 1999 WotC study (which has been controversially received) found that 19% of respondents aged 12-35 were women. That’s almost one in five players.

That's how I always dress in winter...

Role plays are like acting

Not necessarily. The players decide how they want to play their role-playing game. If everyone wants to dress up and recite the words of their characters in medieval language, fine. Most don’t and don’t need to. Neither do you need tons of painted tin figures or similar accessories. Chips & chocolate are much more important.

LARP (Live Action Role Playing) usually takes place outside and is more like a big costume party with lots of walking around and the swinging of plastic swords.

Cosplay is not about playing at all, the focus is on portraying familiar characters from comics, anime, computer games etc. as convincingly as possible with elaborate costumes and make-up and (hopefully) being photographed.

Cosplay & LARP
Sometimes words don't help...

RPGs glorify violence

While combat occurs in most role-playing games, it is (almost) never presented as the only answer to everything. Conflict is an integral part of our history and role-plays reflect that. But role-playing games offer much more than just Hack’n’Slay… if it weren’t for the diversity of role-playing books.

There are books about other cultures, people, races and traditions, all interacting in any number of ways, but combat is just one option.

If role-playing were the equivalent of an egoshooter like Quake, role-playing books would be few pages strong.

Roleplayers are occultists

Role plays often use a system of fantastic magic, far removed from witchcraft or occultism. There are some games designed to appear “more real” and the authors have used occult sources for their game world, yet you cannot learn how to cast spells by playing a role-playing game. Neither do you learn how to fight with a sword or ride a horse.

The magic used in role-playing games is only imaginary, it exists only in the game world, is never directed against real people and does not cause any effects in the real world.

By the way: there is no magic in the real world either.

Magic duel
They're harmless, they just want to play...

RPGs encourage obsessive behavior

It is strange that a loyal sports fan who can talk about little more than tables and statistics is not considered “obsessive” by most people, but a role-player who plays a few hours a week is.

A person who spends a lot of time role-playing is just a person who would spend a lot of time doing something else if there were no role-playing.

Personal responsibility and maturity are the real issue here. Role playing does not encourage obsessive behavior more or less than any other hobby, it just requires more mental effort than most. Maybe that’s why many critics fear role-playing.

Role playing is for children only

Role-playing can be as simple as playing a game of robber-and-policeman in the backyard or an intense session to play the “angry leaders of the city-states on the brink of war”. Slipping into roles and imitating is the most natural form of learning.

Essentially, it is always the same type of game, but for most of us changes with increasing maturity as we play. An 11-year-old never gets tired of hunting dragons and collecting treasures. An adult will eventually start to look more closely at the character, develop a personal story and pursue higher goals.

Most players are between 25 and 35 years old (WotC study).

Note: Commercial role-playing games are not automatically suitable for children of all ages! The graphic representations of things that are not real promote the imagination, but can also intensify fears. However, role-playing games can easily be adapted to suit children of all ages.

Kids' Dungeon