Tools of the Trade
"Role-Playing 101" introduced you the concept of making up a character and playing it according to established rules in established books with a group of probably very unestablished people. Sounded fun? It gets more complicated the deeper in you go. Just thought I'd warn you. Even fun and games require a little preliminary work and a few tools before you (or your friends) can stay up all night pretending to be something else.
Allow me to set you up here.
You walk in to the appointed place at the appointed time. Inside, you find six people (maybe more) telling stories about this really cool thing they once did. Before you arrived, each one staked a claim and set up camp. Now strange books, pieces of paper with numbers or dots and bits of information scribbled on them, funny dice and lots of caffeine -- usually in the form of Mountain Dew (r) -- surround each person.
Calm down, they don't bite (well, not usually). And once you know what's happening, the scene actually makes sense.
The books contain all you need know to play the chosen game, sometimes much more. Almost every game relies on a core book that contains the most important rules of the game, rules for character creation and the basic history of the world the game takes place in.
Supplemental volumes supply the details -- lots of details. Gaming companies, just like every other company, like making money. Players gobble up these supplements because the extra goodies enhance their characters and their games.
Players create their characters according to the rules in the books. The rules grant a player a certain amount of points that the player allocates to various skill areas according to the type of character they would like to make. These base numbers allow all the characters created to be on the same general level, thereby letting everyone start out even. How you choose to use these points determines your character's strengths and weaknesses.
In general, each type of game classifies its characters differently. For example, Dungeons and Dragons (r) will ask you to choose a race (human, elf, gnome etc.) and a job (fighter, mage, thief etc.). Vampire: the Masquerade (r) will ask you to choose a clan (Venture, Toreador, Gangrel etc.) A character's talents, skills and classifications do shape his or her beliefs, attitudes and reactions, but the classifications do not necessarily govern the character.
For example, just because Dan the Thief climbs walls like a fly doesn't mean he can do it every time. This is where the dice come in. When Dan faces a wall as part of the game, Dan's player or the master of the game will roll the dice to determine Dan's success at climbing that wall. The dice represent the things your character can't control -- the difficulty of the action (it's a really big and smooth wall), the strength and skill of the other guy, and the ever present element of fate.
I wish I could be more specific about these elements, but every game title uses a different system. Some, like Advanced Dungeon and Dragons (r), feature a lot of number crunching and ask you to fill out a lot of information in character creation. Other games, like most White Wolf (r) games, focus more on the actual playing of the character and just give skill measures. Partisans can argue each game's pluses and minuses all day, but I recommend trying out as many systems as possible to see which ones you prefer.
Most players tend not to be overly partial. Every game offers something different -- a new opportunity to explore a new style and a new world. Personally, I don't care for the number crunching in Dungeons and Dragons, but I always enjoy playing it. I just sit next to someone who knows the system and has a lot of dice.
Knowing the system of a particular game takes practice and a bit of study. Be patient and enjoy yourself. And don't worry if you don't know what's so funny about a Bugbear moseying -- someday you will.
Now, faint-hearted souls wondering why anyone would want to playing this wacky games with their strange books and funny dice may want to go back to their nice, safe novels, because it gets more involved in the next article. Next time we will venture into the world of Live Action Role-Playing, where costumes, props and acting replace books, pencils and paper.
Yes, it gets scarier from here on in. But remember, you can always write me in care of Crescent Blues.
(To be continued soon!)
Volume 3, Issue 3 © 1998, 1999, 2000 by Crescent Blues, Inc.
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