What is a Roleplaying Game?

roleplaying-gamesWhat is a roleplaying game?

A roleplaying game is similar to other types of tabletop board games in that there are dice, rules and sometimes even game pieces to represent your character. The basis of the game revolves around your character undertaking some sort of adventure or quest and overcoming challenges and enemies along the way. Unlike most board games, rather than trying to beat or win against the other players, you’re trying to work together toward a common goal.

An example of a roleplaying game in progress including dice, the rulebook, figures, a character sheet and a playing map. Image Copyright 2016 Radiant Gaming Systems

A table top or “paper and pencil” RPG like this is based on a very simple premise; you have a fictional character in a fictional world who’s actions and choices are yours to decide to accomplish heroic (or villainous) deeds and create a new story. Your character may have special skills or abilities that enable them to do things most others cannot. However much like a person in real life, your character will be less skilled in some areas and may even have some particular weaknesses.

Have you ever watched a major sci-fi movie and wondered what you would do in the main character’s place? Have you ever thought that you would have made different decisions? This roleplaying game lets you do just that.

Unlike computer RPGs with impressive graphics, voice actors and sounds, the story and action in this type of game takes place in the collective imaginations of the players.

To do this, one of the players takes on the role of the Gamemaster (or GM). Rather than playing a single character, the GM plays all the other characters and establishes the setting for the rest of the players. The Gamemaster creates the challenges and story that the PCs (Player Character or Party Character) will face.

Gameplay then involves the Gamemaster describing a situation, you describing what your character is going to do, and the Gamemaster using the rules, his or her wit and common sense to determine the outcome of your character’s actions. Unlike other types of games, you can have your character attempt anything that would be reasonable as if it were real life.

Most RPGs use dice to determine the outcome of certain actions much like many other types of games. It’s a way to add a sense of chance and uncertainty during the game while also being impartial.

Most roleplaying games use dice. Some use the fairly common six sided or “D6”, and others use less common or even uniquely shaped dice.

A roleplaying game works like this- imagine yourself as you are now with all your different skills, unique talents, quirks, possessions and network of friends. If you were to jot some of that down on paper, it might look like this:

Howard Lee
Sales and Marketing Professional

Good at Math
Good Public Speaker
Good Negotiator
Beginner at Martial Arts

Photographic Memory
Can do Actor Impersonations
Can be condescending

$5,000 in bank
$34 in cash
$2,000 limit credit card (with a $1200 balance)
Four door 2006 Honda
Several expensive suits
Multiple changes of casual clothing
Entertainment (Flat screen, player, stereo, blu-rays, etc.)
Pocket Knife
Misc. Personal Possessions and Memorabilia

Father, Scott Lee, Doctor MD
Best Friend, Randy Grove, Accountant


Based on this, we get an idea of what Howard Lee is good at and not good at. His daily life isn’t super interesting compared to what you might see in an action flick.

But let’s imagine that all of a sudden, several thugs break into Howard’s apartment while he’s home and he has to fight them off. Can he use his beginning Martial Arts skill and pocket knife to do so?

Let’s assume he fights them off, and he finds out they’re members of a local crime gang that for some reason wants him dead.

Maybe he decides he wants to leave town in a hurry. He won’t have any use for his day to day possessions like his stereo and other memorabilia, so that’s removed from the inventory. Maybe he wants to use his money to buy better weapons. He can probably negotiate well with a gun dealer based on his Good Negotiator trait, but maybe he botches it since he’s under pressure and Can be Condescending. Maybe the gun dealer will make Howard jump through too many regulatory hoops.

Would Howard want to pick up his dad since the crime thugs might use him to get to Howard? If travelling and Howard gets wounded in a future fight, Scott Howard might be perfect for tending wounds.

Now let’s imagine that instead of being a Sales and Marketing professional, Howard Lee is actually a man in the future living in a sci-fi setting. He has similar skills and traits that have allowed him to be a successful interstellar trader. Maybe instead of regular thugs, Howard might be at risk of being attacked by Space Pirates. Knowing this, Howard has invested time and training to learn how to use different firearms or even laser rifles!

Now you’ve gotten the gist of what a roleplaying game is and how it works. It’s a very fun type of gaming and a unique hobby. Grab some friends and get started!