What is a Role-Playing Game?
There have been many, many attempts to explain what a pen and paper role playing game (RPG) is, none of them really showing how the games works out once you get into it.
Anyhow, we shall give it a try. The world being as it is, let’s assume that you’re familiar with computer RPGs, like Fallout, The Witcher or World of Warcraft.
Now imagine that a human – the so called Gamemaster – plays all “monsters” or non-player characters (NPC’s), tells you what your character sees and hears and develops the story you experience. Other humans – the players – take the role of companions with which you experience the world.
Instead of using a mouse and keyboard to control your character, you use words. Instead of computer generated graphics and sound, you use your imagination. Instead of pre-generated stories written for the lowest common denominator, you and your gaming group will invent your own stories, your own world.
Gaming this way not only improves the enjoyment, but gives incentive to learn and think about life and morality, technology and history, politics and emotion.
Pen and paper role-playing games, as a concept, do not require a gaming company to run, and thus make you independent of other’s commercial interests, often lackluster story writing skills as well as balance and difficulty problems that plague most computer games.
One can spend money on commercial publications such as rule books and adventure books, but one doesn’t have to. What you don’t buy, you can create yourself with little effort or formal skills needed and actually have fun while doing it.
Why “Pen and Paper”?
Why is it called “pen and paper”? Because, at least in the past, it was played like any board or card game, sitting around a table, using pens and paper to keep record of the game, draw maps, develop tactics in fights and so on. The name stuck, even though many players today don’t actually use pens or papers or even sit around tables anymore.
The game can be played via internet, using voice and maybe video communication or one of several whiteboard applications just as well. Some additional information on that is given on pages 280 and following.
What will I experience?
With a human instead of a computer playing the NPC’s, the game world is much more flexible, plausible and rich in detail than any computer game could manage.
If you ever got frustrated because a computer game didn’t allow you to do what you wanted, you’ll see what makes pen and paper RPGs so great. If you want to sneak instead of fight, or attack that one really annoying NPC, or just blow up the building instead of killing all the guards one by one, you can do that here.
Also, getting creative together usually sparks a lot of good jokes that’ll keep you chuckling for years.
How does the game work?
The freedom and creativity a RPG allows doesn’t say that one will succeed with every approach. Just as in most computer games, your character has stats to display his or her abilities, the game world has rules – similar to laws of nature – of how it works and reacts. These are the game rules.
Game rules differ from game to game, such as Dungeons & Dragons™, Vampire™ or Shadowrun™. Certain concepts are common to most game systems, such as using dice to determine the outcome of uncertain events like shooting at someone.
Freelancer tries to keep the mechanics simple and fast paced. This is to reduce the amount of research and busy-work necessary to run the game.
Playing with humans instead of the computer allows to truly play and flesh out your character – and have him or her act accordingly.
The decisions your character will make should be based on the character’s knowledge, background, abilities and motifs. This will be an enjoyable challenge, and you’ll train your ability to put yourself into some else’s position and see the world through another’s eyes.
Facing a dystopian world, the players and character will face controversy on every turn. Both players and characters will have to decide how to deal with moral dilemmas, and you’ll probably learn more about yourself.
The second major aspect is a bit of acting. Most players like to give their characters a fitting voice, speech pattern, favorite expressions and so on, and do a little acting while impersonating the character.
That usually doesn’t include getting dressed up or showing up with a gun to the gaming group, but is a fun opportunity for some playing “pretend” and actually learning how to control your voice, your behavior, your appearance. Many role players get pretty good a putting up different “faces” as needed, and playing the tough guy in negotiations, the sly guy when explaining a plan and so on.