"What Do You Mean There's A Cube Of Jelly Following Us?" 10 Things I Learned As A Noob to Table-Top RPGs
It's with more than a little pride that I call myself a nerd. Even so, up until a little over 16 months ago, I had never tried a role-playing game. The reasons why are many and diverse: lack of time, laziness, lack of a group, ignorance of the expectations, and many others.
And then, a little over a year ago, a chance conversation informed me that there was a D&D group that had just started on a RPG/Board Game shop that I usually go to. So, I took the plunge. One cold January evening, I showed up. I knew a couple of the people already, albeit not very well, but I decided to have a go. And like Biff Tannen taking the Grey's Sports Almanac back to 1955 in Back to the Future II, it was one of those moments where timelines diverge. I’ve been going to games ever since, and its been amazing.
So, since then, I had time to think, so here are 10 things I learned as a noob RPG player:
1. It's like random theatre.
At its core, an RPG is a play, ran by one person - the Game Master. The play is designed to be pretty flexible, and the players (the actors) chose what they want to do, and announce when they do so. To mimic life's unpredictability, you roll dice. A high roll is usually good and means you did whatever you wanted to do. Bar much padding and complexity, this is pretty much it. Don't think you need to be the next Shakespearian actor, though, you can do as little or as much performance as you want.
2. D&D is a colossus.
Although there are as many games and rule systems as you can't even imagine, Wizards of the Coast's D&D is the standard. It's everywhere, it's easy to play, and it's continuously updated. I daresay that a lot, if not most, of playing groups groups will cut their teeth on D&D. The amount of resources is staggering, some of them fan-made and free online. I'll speak at some point about my personal favourite rule system(s), but as an introduction, D&D works splendidly.
3. It's (almost) free.
Well, kinda. It all depends on what you want to do with it. A total amateur or noob will easily get away with just the costs of a printed out piece of paper (the Character Sheet), a pencil, and some funny looking dice. If you want to simply show up and play, your costs are going to be minimal. It is recommended later on, if you wish to expand your involvement, to perhaps buy a few of the core (or rule) books. Again, this is recommended, and by no means a steadfast rule. Sure, some of these books might not be cheap, but again, it will all depend on how deep into the rabbit hole you want to take your participation.
4. The blasted polyhedra.
The dice. They are perhaps the most iconic aspect of RPG. Not content with the 'normal' cube-looking ones, most RPG games use a selection of dice. The reasons behind it are simple: if you roll a cubic die, you have 1 chance in 6 of any number coming out. One in six is a pretty high probability, if you're using that roll to see if you succeed on something amazing (like, say, punch a hole in a stone wall). So in come the bigger die. The 'D' stands for dice, and the number is the number of faces that die has. A normal game will use any and all of D4, D6, D8, D20, D12, D20 and D100. Most shops will sell cheap packs, with one of each. Get ready to hate your die, they will very rarely roll what you want/need.
5. Great people.
The people I've met RPG'ing come from all possible walks of life, and are, to a person, really great. It is a medium that thrives on being helpful and welcoming and it shows. Now I'm not pretending that my experience is universal, but I'll say that there are many many more good apples in RPG than rotten ones. Like any other field of human endeavour, to be perfectly honest. Go to your local shop/group, I can almost assure you that you'll be greeted warmly.
6. 'Listen! What was that??'
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, said once "There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." This is because your imagination is a billion times worse than real life could ever be. I've been scared out of my wits in RPG games, wondering what could possibly be making that horrible sound, drooling that green ichor in that manner, and oh boy, I still haven't healed from the last fight, and my wizard has the same armour as a piece of tissue. A good game CAN make you jump. A good monster WILL make you scared. Yeah, I hear you say, but I can also be scared in a computer game, when the final boss jumps out at me. Perhaps, but that boss will never be as unpredictable (see dice above) as a programmed entity with a tightly programmed behaviour range.
Hand in hand with the horror, paradoxically, comes the humour. Some aspects of RPG are designed to be funny, others, mostly by accident, simply ARE funny. From magic weapons with stupid powers, to monsters that make no sense, physical or otherwise, to spells that, frankly, didn't even make sense 30 years ago when they were written. Even before you come up with silly NPC's, some of the monsters out there will make you bend over double laughing...before they kill you. My favourite silly monster? The Gelatinous Cube*, a 10x10x10 foot cube of transparent jelly, that sits motionless in dungeons until some adventurer literally walks into them, whereupon it starts digesting the poor soul. From the outside, it's a silly thing, but when your character is inside one, and keeps failing the rolls to free themselves, and the damage from the digestion is pilling up.... Then it's less fun.
As mentioned above, a lot of RPG is about performing, and this leads neatly into escapism. There is nothing better to clear you head as a couple of hours of playing someone else, and having a lot of fun in the process. The amount of paperwork on your desk pales in comparison with the responsibility to rescue that caravan from raiders!
9. Stamp your mark.
One of the best things in this field is to make it your own, with really simple things. Make your character your own, make it unique, make him or her or it someone that people remember. Recently I've been playing a small goblin, whose weapon of choice is a huge steampunk rifle. Now that could have been it, but I've NAMED the rifle. Now, I simply say, 'I prepare Grim Belcher.' It's small thing, you don't need to think too much about it, and it makes the game your own.
If you add all of the above, you're left with a sense of community. A bunch of people all investing in the same virtual world. Like a computer game, or a play, but infinitely more complex and much more than the sum of its parts.
So if you've ever wondered 'Should I find an RPG group?', the answer is a most emphatical yes!
You won't be disappointed.
Rui is a scientist and teacher, but he's only been RPG'ing for a bit over a year. What he did with the rest of his life is not documented. When he has some free time, he can be found planning games as the GM, usually involving much paper, props, some maps and assorted core books. He likes pizza, the colour blue, cats and sci-fi. The reports that he wants to play a blue pizza-eating cat in a sci-fi RPG, are unsubstantiated.
*I love me some jellies and oozes. Come on! - VP Quinn
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.