What is a RPG
An RPG is a Role Playing Game where each participant is a Player in the story providing direction for one or more characters in each scene (or encounter) telling a cohesive story over a session (single play time) which is usually between 2 and 8 hrs long.
Each RPG is different, the most prevalent one out there is Dungeons and Dragons, which is based around strategic play both in and out of combat. You goal is to learn, combat evil and save the world your set it. The game has one of the players act as the guide to the gameplay called the Dungeon Master. They provide the narrative structure and setting for the storyline and all the different characters the players can interact with in the storyline.
The rules heavy game Shadowrun is a complex set of rules set in a Dystopian future where Cyberpunk is merged with Magic to create a beautiful if chaotic environment to tell stories about those people who fall between the cracks of society and live in the shadows. The rules can overshadow the story at times, so it is not an good entry level game for a new group to try.
The rules light game FATE is a simplistic set of rules based around story narration that can be applied to any setting, genre or story. The game mechanics are among the easiest to learn, can be learnt in only a few minutes but can be versatile, allow a high level of imagination and challenge the participants to tell a story compared to those which constrain around the rules itself. The freedom to take control of the story can be difficult to those used to a more structured style of game.
A mix of strategic and narration can be found in Star Wars done by Fantasy Flight Games (now Edge Studio) where it has a strong set of rules for playing the game with the ability to direct or change the storyline provided to each of the participants giving a more dynamic storyline.
There are other RPG’s that do not have need of a guide (DM) or share that role among the various participants.
While each of these are looked at from a certain point of view in this article, each game can be run differently, the style of the game can be unique to the table playing it and the participants on the night. This is what makes being in a RPG something that draws people back as they don’t know what to expect in the game beyond a broad overview of theme and character options.
Who organises a RPG
Not all games have a player act as the guide, and those that do can call them different things like Storyteller, Games Master, Narrator or Adjudicator.
This is not a role that has to be taken, and not an easy role to do. Some guide’s make the role to easy and others can make it feel like they are at war with the other players. But the important part of the role, is that it requires preparation, knowledge and patience. The person who sits in that position is the one who is made responsible for the enjoyment of the group for that game.
This is not actually true as all the players are responsible for the nights fun, but the guide is tasked with keeping people in line, getting them to the game, making sure they have all the resources they need to participate, with an ongoing list some days that the rest of the players forget that its not a PAID role, and they want to have fun too. (It is possible to pay for playing a game, but that is another discussion for another time).
Players should take time time be aware that just showing up on the night (physical or virtual) is not their privilege or right it is at the discretion of the organiser.
What can players to to help organise the game?
- Sort out snacks/food for the group
- Make sure who is attending the game with enough time for the guide (DM) to prepare a storyline featuring those players. If there is no notification of attendance then the storyline cannot be planned out in advance and the balance of the game may not be there in the session
- Help keep the non-game table talk to a minimum when participating so that those who are actively playing the story get to have their go. Not everyone can deal with multiple conversations at once and talking over the person who is playing is simply rude.
- Let the person running the game answer the rules questions, if they choose to defer to another participant to answer that is also fine, but the guide (DM) should be given the first chance to talk about the rules and structure of play.
- Take notes and pay attention to what is happening, including preparing what you want to do when its your chance to actively play in the scene, ignoring the game and waiting until your turn to have everyone else recap and repeat the story for you so you what is happening and then deciding what to do is not participating in the game or fair to the other participants.
- Suggest options to other players, but check to see if they want or need a suggestion, as we all need help sometimes. As the person running the game I tend to take player suggestions on what is about to happen into the story as most times it builds a better story and helps to connect the players more into the participation of the game.
- When you play and its your time in the spotlight, make it about the group, not just yourself, because in a group of four to eight participants, only referring to yourself is literally ignoring what makes RPG’s different from board games, computer games or card games. Your actions should include others. An example of this is simply talking to another player in character, referring to previous events (in game or backstory) and making them important in your own actions.
What is a Story RPG
A story RPG is what happens on the game session. It is the events that transpire, the interactions with each of the participants, environment and characters, the journey they take and the challenges they face. All RPG’s have a story, just that the story can be told in many different ways. Here are a couple of ways (not the only types) that your guide to the game can tell the story. Game sessions or sittings are where you play with a group of participants over a 2 to 4 hours (or more) single continuous playtime.
Rules Introduction – This is usually a mechanics heavy storyline that introduces the rules of play to new players, the story is usually very light, with minimal preparation needed. This is great for new campaigns, conventions, or stores where you are able to introduce a new set of rules to people who have not played the game before. The focus of rules introduction can be from many different styles. In a campaign I would use it for building the characters that would be part of the ongoing campaign, in a convention or store I would use it to teach the basic structure of the game and highlight how the rules impact the play.
One-Shot – This is a Story focused game that is meant to be played and completed in one sitting. What happens before the story is irrelevant as is what happens after the story. The game is what happens during the story while your playing. This style of story can be used in many different ways, the usual is that participant players are provided characters and run through a set storyline designed to fit into the time they have allocated to play. Though it can vary, as players can bring characters to these style of games, where they improve and learn from each of the previous one-shots they have used the character in but don’t reference those other stories as part of the current story. Many module based gameplay and campaigns can use this, as can Pathfinder Society or D&D Adventure League were you can join a random table each time you play with different people. They stories can be thematically linked, but participation in the previous ones are not required.
Ongoing Storyline – This is the bases for a campaign were playing in one game, has you returning to the next game with the same group of people picking up where you left off the last time you played. This is the bases of telling a story like a serial or series where what happened in the previous game is important to the current game. Playing in modules can take on this when it is not completed in a single session.
Serial Storyline – Playing Adventure Paths like Kingmaker or Wrath of the Righteous from Pathfinder are a series of linked modules that build on the previous ones storyline. Some Adventure League and Pathfinder Society modules build on previous storylines. Campaign books such as the D&D Curse of Strahd or Princes of the Apocalypse are also done this way. Many storylines created by the guide (DM) can also fit into this category. Most serial storylines are expected to have 6 to 20 sessions where character either have no progression, or progress at a rate of every session to 3rd session. Many players struggle with a game that does not have this fast paced advancement where you must master new skills every session or fall behind. This is the standard format for many D&D and Pathfinder storylines where a character is expected to have a playtime life of six to twelve months at the most before they are retired and you join a new game. These games tend to be rules heavy, as advancement is key, with players expecting to hit story milestones every session to keep advancing the plot.
Adventure Storyline – This is a storyline which is designed to last longer than a year, characters are expected to grow and learn, make mistakes, fail, fall and be replaced with the storyline continuing. Most of these games are using the character backgrounds with the advancement being around every five sessions on average making the Paizo adventure paths expand out to 50 to 80 sessions instead of completed in about 20 to 30. This give more time to interact with the setting, personalities and even enjoy the uniqueness of each section of the storyline. The downside to this style of play is that what may take 6 to 12 months to play becomes 18 months to 3 years and that is a lot of time to invest into a single story for most people.
Epic Storyline – This is the game told in many takes, that is the expectation of a journey like the Lord of the Rings, Belgariad or Riftwar saga. It is not about the rules, but about the story. Advancement is slow, and sessions may appear all about talking, all about fighting, a mix or simply a shopping expedition. But no matter what the storyline, each session builds upon the next and may hold a key to the end goal of the story. Characters may not advance in a story arc that may last a year or more and this give players time to learn the nuances of each step of their advancement instead of just expecting the next one.
Neverending Storyline – Unlike all the others, this storyline has no end in sight and will continue for as long as the participants are available, are enjoying the game, and have story left to tell. Characters may retire, have children and those children may become the on going storyline. This type of game is possible, but not easy to run, and can be very rewarding.
What are my current RPG’s
I have three RPGs currently running, though they are spread over six different games. Here is a breakdown of what they are with each running fortnightly:
Star Wars – An Epic Storyline starting with a group of Mandalorians who have lost everything as the first story arc where they learn the rules, and find their feet learning the trade of Bounty Hunting. The second story arc is a transition to law enforcement and character growth with the future of the story unknown but many larger plotlines growing each session.
Pathfinder 2 – An Epic Storyline told over two different groups of players (Wednesday and Friday) where they are members of the Pathfinder Society (in setting organisation) and have been trained up to be agents in the region known as Varisia to help discover and interact with the gods of sin. This is based around an amalgamation of 70+ published modules relating to the Runelords and has milestones set at characters leveling every six months in game, that has worked out to be every year in real time. They are averaging about 20 sessions per level. Both groups are part of the same storyline.
Dungeons & Dragons – An Epic Storyline build on a series of mini campaigns introducing each of the Nations and how they fit into the setting as a whole. This is told over three different groups of players (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday) where each has had an Phase One campaign based around their starting nation and levels one to five, then moved onto a Phase Two campaign based around an organisation like the Harpers of Forgotten Realms (Called Rheddrian’s Investigation Bureau – RIB) where they are investigators looking into strange changes in politics, religion and technology covering levels six to ten. The players know they are heading towards Phase Three covering levels eleven to fifteen with up to three more phases depending on how the players progress. Each character level covers a year in the game world, and takes about a year of real world time to play through. Each of the groups have part of the ongoing story and it is open as to when it will conclude. The concept of the setting is it is based around the World of Mystara, an existing setting where the five elements and spheres that dominate the setting influence more than just aesthetics. They are Air tied to Thought and Autumn, Darkness tied to Entropy and Transition between seasons, Earth tied to Matter and Spring, Fire tied to Energy and Summer, and Water tied to Time and Winter.
All of these campaigns are on my youtube channel and can be found via my Game Sessions page.
A Role Playing Game is at its core a Story, so make sure you help tell the story and be part of the experience. But most of all find the style of game you like to play in and everyone else in your group fits into that style so its fun for everyone.
And remember the guide (DM) is there to help everyone tell the story so learn what makes it easier on them to provide a better experience to all.
Concluding a Campaign: Star Wars
This site is constantly under revision, no blog posts are final as this is a work in progress place for me to develop my game settings and rules. Some posts might be placeholders for future content, so feel free to check back later for updated information.