Fantasy Role Play Gaming Basics
By Jennifer Diane Reitz


What is this type of game all about?

Tabletop -as opposed to the computer games which grew from it- fantasy role play games are social, fun games about exciting adventures, heroic quests, great feats, or even little events that can change lives. A Role Playing Game, or RPG, can be dramatic, silly, literary, cartoon-like, melodramatic, gothic, cute, or even historical. If done well, the RPG is the very best of all possible games, becoming far more compelling than any movie, book, television program, or any other entertainment. If done VERY poorly, it can be an embarrassing disaster. Commonly it can be about as entertaining as a television program, or a movie, but in any case it definitely stretches the mind and the imagination in a way no other game can. An RPG can be anything, because it is a type of game limited ONLY by those that play it.

At it's core, the RPG is an advanced, adult way to play the way children do, weaving stories and dreams, playing pretend. However, the games of children have serious problems...lacking structure, they are ripe for disagreement, and erode easily into chaos. The RPG takes the storytelling, pretend playing fun we -as animals- are genetically programmed to do, and elevates it to something the adult mind can enjoy and appreciate. This is accomplished with simple, yet ingenious rules, that bring structure to the free imagination, without stifling it.

The tabletop RPG is a social storytelling game.


How does an RPG work?

An RPG requires 2 or more players. There is no upper limit to the number of players, but it is generally considered that 10 is a bit too much. 2 to 8 players is best.

Tabletop Role Playing Games are games of talking, of speaking, often enhanced with some figurines or models, determined with dice, and require empathy, cooperation, and imagination. Players do not act out the game, or actually do anything physically different than would be expected playing any typical board or card game. What they do mentally and emotionally, however, is vastly greater in every respect.

One player takes the position of 'Game Master', or GM. In Dungeons & Dragons this would be the 'Dungeon Master', or DM, in other games, other titles, but Game Master is a good general term. The remaining participants become the actual Players of the game. It is fun to be in either of the two roles.

A Game Master acts as a facilitator. In effect, they become a living computer, running the game. A great Game Master desires only to provide the most fun for everyone. It is a job perfect for a creative, nurturing person, who has a touch of the theatrical.

The Game Master invents the world that the players play in, all the people and objects within it, the history, culture, and setting. A Game Master can invent from scratch, portray a world from literature or film, or even run a prepackaged RPG scenario bought in a store. The Game Master speaks for all of the non-player characters in the world, and sets up the basic universe in every detail, from the rocks on the ground to the laws of the local government. A Great Game Master will spend much preparation time before an RPG session, drawing maps, writing details, and otherwise being creative. Sometimes a Game Master can create an entire game session on the spot, improvisationally, too. Any world that can be imagined can be used.

The Game Master describes the world to the players, draws maps as required, and relates what the non-player inhabitants of a world say and do in response to things.

The purpose of the Game Master is to help the players to create a story of adventure.

The Players create characters, and try to role play them within the game. In whatever world the Game Master runs, the Players live, work, achieve, and function. A Player describes the actions their character takes, the words that their character would say, and does so according to what the player imagines the character would think.

Characters can be anything. They can be heroes, villains, fantastic entities, creatures, beings...whatever is desired, or is appropriate to the shared game world. It is generally considered good form though, if a character is original, invented by the player.

A character is defined by several things, generally kept track of on a sheet of paper, a 'Character Sheet'. The Character Sheet lists the name, age, sex and gender, and all the possessions that the character owns. It may feature a picture of the character the player is playing, and any other pertinent or useful information. Additionally, the character sheet has one more thing, the most important thing, in fact: STATS.

Statistics, 'Stats' for short, are numbers which tell everyone exactly how strong or how weak, how smart, how agile, how able a character is. A player's character is defined by these numbers, and the game uses them constantly.

Most RPG's use statistic conventions derived from the mother of all RPG's, Dungeons & Dragons. D& D uses six Stats to describe a character's abilities. The six classic stats are:

STR     Strength     The muscular power of a character
DEX     Dexterity     The ability to manipulate objects
CON     Constitution     The physical endurance of a character 
INT     Intelligence     The mental ability of a character
WIS     Wisdom     Insight, understanding, reason and knowledge
CHA     Charisma     Both physical beauty AND the power of personality

The Unicorn System adds one more Stat:

AGL     Agility     Bodily mobility, limberness, coordination and reflexes

These basic stats are, in D&D, generally set within a range running from 0 at the minimum, to 20 at maximum, with 10 being the middle. 10 is the value of the 'Average Human Being'. The common soul, the ordinary person. An INT or Intelligence of 10 is equivalent to a standard intelligence test score of 100....average. A genius may have an I.Q. of 140, or 14, in D&D. The highest intelligence on earth, Marilyn MosSavant, has an I.Q. of 200. That would be 20 in D&D. A retarded man might have an I.Q of 70 or 80, a 7 or an 8 on a character sheet.

This concept also applies to the other stats. A STR, Strength, of 6 is a weakling, and a Hercules would have a STR of 18. Superman would have a STR of 30 or 40 or more...off the human scale altogether. A CHR of 16 would be a Hollywood star, and a CON of 4 would be a sickly, frail person who was forever sniffling.

These stats can be used to help a player know how to play their character. Whether a strongman, or a weak but clever thief, a retarded but strangely wise child, or an acrobatic genius, it's all in the stats, as much as in a description of the character. Players should use the stat numbers to guide how they play the role of their characters.

There is another important stat as well: how alive a character is...

HP     Hit Points     The amount of health and life a creature has

When a character's Hit Points are at 0, they are dying and unconscious. When a character's Hit Points drop below a certain level, usually -10, the character is DEAD. Players can lose their characters, and tragedy is possible within the game.

Players invent characters, with unique names, Stats and personalities, and try to play those characters just as actors play a role on the stage. The player makes choices in the game according to what the character they are playing would do if the game were real. These choices then fail or succeed based on the stats of the character.

The Purpose of the Player is to play a character and live a pretend life in the world of the Game Master. The result is a shared, communal adventure story.

In the next part we will see how this game actually works.




   Return to Front Page

All Website Contents, including all characters, images, artwork, text, and any other contents are Copyright 2000
by Jennifer Diane Reitz
All Rights Reserved Worldwide

You may link to this site freely!
You may FREELY use any UNICORN JELLY title image as a link button!