Games are loved by so many people that it is an essential part of our lives, from our childhood to our death.
About role-playing games, not a lot will play this kind of games in their childhood, and fewer will continue when adult. But this is not the topic.
What about money?
Games like everything else made by humans are ruled by money, you need some to buy the game you want.
If video games are not known to be cheap, things tend to be not quite different for some role-playing games, despite you fundamentally only need a sheet of paper and a pencil. So Why?
What is fundamentally a role-playing game?
A role-playing game (RPG) is a game (except when one player throw a tantrum because he/she doesn’t have enough experience points ^^) where one of the persons is the Game Master (MASTER….) and the others are Players (not slaves, no S&M stuff here!).
The Game Master tells a story and the players, using their characters, will make choices which will change this story.
Quite often, a game mechanic with dice will be used but you can play without it.
So, basically, to play a tabletop role-playing game, you need some sheets of paper, pencils/pens, dice, a Game Master with a lot of imagination and between 2 or 5 players with some imagination. And all of them need to agree about what kind of universe they want to explore (fantasy, science-fiction, cyberpunk, contemporary, horror…).
Fundamentally, a role-playing game is a shared story which everyone should enjoy, with some game mechanics to give a frame, nothing more.
The trend among role-playing games
When I look at a lot of Kickstarters / Ulule projects, but also at some major RPGs, I am surprised by the amount of stuff people think you need to have in order to play such a game.
If I take Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon’s Master book / Player’s book / Monster manual + a dice set (d4/d6/d8/d10x2/d12/d20), and a good printer too (character sheet of 4-5 pages each * 3-5 players).
And it is only the basics, tens of other books are available to go deeper into the D&D universe.
You only need one book for Shadowrun for the basics, but a freighter of d6 ^^, and you will quickly need the add-on books to create more interesting characters, get ideas for your next adventure…
I could say the same for every big commercial RPG, and they are good, I don’t deny this point.
I can only thank D&D, Shadowrun and Cthulhu for what they are, lighthouses of our hobby, games you can expect someone who doesn’t play might have heard of. This is great!
However, if I admit that some huge games may need 10 books to be playable, and because some of us love to dig into these beautiful books, I don’t really understand the trend among small games to sell dice, cards, maps, tokens…
So many Kickstarter / Ulule RPGs projects end up with more accessories than necessary, and so are also often late. It’s a role-playing game, not a board game. You don’t need miniatures, a board, characters plasticized sheets, unique dice, special tokens…
It is a total nonsense because what is essential to a role-playing game is freedom, and freedom means improvisation. The players are free of their choices and the GM will adapt his/her adventure to them.
How can you improvise a quest when everything needs a special card, miniatures, tokens or unique dice?
You can’t, that’s it.
So, I understand why some love to play with 10 books because they want to create a very complex character, they want to explore well-detailed cities and regions and have precise rules about their weapons, spells and abilities. This is textual stuff, this is still role-playing game stuff.
The GM will have to be really smart to manage all these informations but we are still in a role-playing game made of text and speech.
Once you go into material expensive stuff to illustrate a character, a place or something else, you are playing a board game. You are playing a dungeon crawler, a very good type of game but not really a role-playing game.
Less is more!
Like in design and in a lot of other subjects, the more it is simple, the best it is.
A good board game doesn’t have a rulebook of 100 sheets, because it would be no longer a board game. A board game is about cards, dice, miniatures, a board (obviously ^^, but not always), and quite light rules giving a lot of interactions and strategies.
To have very complex rules, a video game is the good product. Thanks to the computer, you can create very complex rules and interactions, an AI…
A role-playing game uses mainly the brain of one person (the Game Master) to handle the rules and the story. This is a lot of work even if the players will help with the rules which can be applied to their characters. And on top of this the GM has to improvise in accordance with the players choices.
So the brain of a GM has to process three kind of informations: Story / Rules / Improvisation.
Story: a part of this job is done before the game but the GM will have to use it correctly during the session, which can be tricky because you don’t want the players to feel as if they were playing a scripted video game.
Rules: the rules system of the game, how do you handle the fights, interactions, advancement of the characters…
Improvisation: The live work of creation. It can be hard to reconcile what you have created with what your players want to do, and to give them the feeling that everything is important and consistent.
The more there are rules, the less there is energy for the story and the improvisation.
The more you use gadgets, the less you can improvise because the non-player character who will not have his card with his stats written on it, will be considered as not important by the players.
For me, the best role-playing game is a light one. Light rules, light material, but a good story so the players can lose themselves in, add their own imagination to the GM one, and that everyone has fun.
A sheet of paper, a pencil, and a light rules system, that’s a good start.
If you want to have more detailed but still light rules, go for Savage Worlds 😉
Role-playing games are for everyone!
Because a good role-playing game mainly need your brain, it is accessible to everyone. I can say it is even free since you don’t need to use a rules system or a universe published by a company, you can create everything yourself.
Yes, the role-playing game is the game of the poor.
In my opinion, it is the most friendly game existing because you can’t play only for yourself or to win.
If you do that, you really don’t have understand what is a role-playing game, sorry for you.
Everyone around the table has to have fun, it is a collective game where each player and the GM will contribute to create a good story.
RPGs are amazing games and should really be better known. If you want to add your thought, leave a comment 😉