Sunday, August 16th, 2015 | Roleplaying
I ran a roleplaying module  for some friends from work and after initially neglecting to explaining what roleplay is, I wrote this:
Roleplaying is a form of collaborative storytelling — a group of people gathering to tell a story together. This broad definition covers quite a range of things — one can tell very different kinds of stories and collaborate in very different ways.
What I’m planning to run is called “tabletop roleplaying” . The stories told centre around a group of characters (the protagonists in a movie). Each person playing is in charge of one of these main characters, except for one person who has no character and instead handles everything that isn’t one of the main characters (they are a bit like the director of a movie).
Tabletop roleplaying is a little like a radio drama — almost everything is done by narrating or speaking in character. You’ll be saying things you want your character to say and describing the actions you want your character to take. Light acting, such as putting on accents or changing tone of voice or changing posture, can be quite fun, but is by no means a requirement.
The “director”, also called the “storyteller” or “DM” , describes the situations the main characters find themselves in, decides on the consequences of their actions and takes on the role of minor supporting characters and antagonists (often villains, because they’re exciting). The storyteller is also an arbitrator and a facilitator and attempts to maintain consensus and suitable pacing of the story.
Often you’ll want to have your character attempt an action that might not succeed . For example, they might want to shoot a villain, charm their way past a bouncer, pick a lock or run across a burning bridge. In some cases success will be more likely than others. A character who is good looking or persuasive might find charming the bouncer easy. A character who has never picked up a gun might find shooting the villain hard.
The set of rules used to determine success or failure is called “the system”. The rules might be as simple as “flip a coin” or they might take up a whole book . Dice are a commonly used way of randomly determining results with high numbers typically indicating more successful outcomes and lower numbers less successful ones.
Since the real world is very very complicated, the rules usually model different aspects of it in varying degrees of detail and this often sets the tone of the story to some extent. For example, a system for telling stories about bank robbers in the 1920s might have very detailed rules on vault locks, while a system for telling fantasy stories will likely have special rules for elves and dwarves.
All systems have shortcomings, and when these are encountered it’s usually the storyteller’s job to apply common sense and tweak the outcome accordingly.
The system I’m planning to use is an extremely simplified version of Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition. The full rules run to many books. I’m hoping to explain the few rules we’ll be using in 10-15 minutes.
The story I’m planning to run focuses on a down-on-their-luck rock band about to enter a battle of the bands contest. The twist is that it’s a fantasy setting so there are elves and dwarves and, of course, in the hands of suitably skilled musicians, music is literally magical.
Some practical considerations
Someone has to supply the table to sit around. This is the person hosting the game. Ke can be a player or the storyteller or even uninvolved . Traditionally the host also supplies a kettle and tea or coffee.
Everyone needs to show up and sit at the table, preferably roughly at the same time. This is surprisingly hard.
In order to remain at the table for prolonged periods, one needs things to nibble on. Traditionally people who are not the host bring snacks and drinks of various kinds. Roleplayers seem to take a perverse delight in bringing the unhealthiest snacks they can find, but this is perhaps a tradition best improved on.
Remembering the details of the story can be tricky, so it’s often useful to scribble short notes for oneself. A pen and paper come in handy.
I’ll give each player a couple of pages of information about their character. These are called the “character sheet”. The primary role of the character sheet is to supply margins to scribble notes and doodles in (see above).
It’s likely that time will fly remarkably quickly. If there are six of us, each person will get on average less than ten minutes of “screen time” per hour and probably a lot less given that the storyteller usually uses more than their fair share and there are always distractions and side tracks like discussing the rules or office gossip . If we run out of time, we can always continue the story another day if we’re excited enough.
Lastly, the point is to have fun and tell an interesting story .
Host: Person who supplies the table, and usually warm beverages like tea and coffee.
Table: Thing one plays at.
Storyteller: The person managing the world the story takes place in, the consequences of players actions and playing the minor characters and antagonists.
Players: The people who are not the storyteller.
Player character: One of the protagonists of the story. Each player has their own player character to narrate.
NPC: Non-player character. All the characters in the story who are not player characters.
RPG: Roleplaying Game. Also rocket-propelled grenade.
System: The rules used to determine the outcomes of risky actions.
Dice: Things one rolls. Usually because one is required to do so by the rules, but often just for fun.
Fun: The point. :)
 The module was This is Vörpal Mace. If you’re keen to play it, you can download it from Locustforge.
 So called because it usually takes place around a table.
 “DM” stands for “Dungeon Master” and is a silly legacy term from the earliest tabletop roleplaying games which mostly focused on a group of heroes running around vast dungeons full of traps and monsters. The storyteller’s role was mostly to invent traps and monsters, hence the title.
 Because otherwise the story would be very boring. :)
 A whole book is far more common. :P
 Although letting six people invade your house for an evening for an activity you’re not involved in requires a special kind of friendship.
 One can avoid this time-divided-by-number-of-people limit by having multiple scenes running concurrently. This is a lot of fun, but hell on the storyteller. :)
 And it’s easy to lose track of this amongst all the details of playing your character, keeping track of what’s happening and figuring out the rules.
 This footnote is not related to anything.