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How does a Roleplaying game work and what can you expect?

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

So what's a Roleplaying game anyway?

For players new to the hobby or if you’re thinking about it, you may be wondering what a Tabletop Roleplaying Game actually entails.


I’ll share some elements that come up during a typical game below. While some of them come up in every game, not all of them always do. But first, let's get into how roleplay works!


Player and Gamemaster

A player is someone who embodies a character, and throughout each session, they’ll be making decisions in dialogue, combat and generally what is true to the character.


For example, you could be playing a roguish and charismatic pirate with a heart of gold. You’d probably be first to leap at the sign of adventure and make decisions based on what will bring you further renown or glory. Why you’re seeking glory is totally up to you!


The Gamemaster narrates the setting and characters that you aren’t playing. Typically their job is to bring the world to life and give players places to explore, people to talk to and challenges to conquer.


You may also be surprised to know that there are TTRPGS that require no gamemaster! Typically these games require players to build the world and environment together and may be more suitable for very creative or experienced players.


How Roleplay Works


If you’ve ever pretended to be your favourite superhero as a kid or fantasized about doing horrible things to your enemies, you have in essence participated in roleplay.


Things are not that different at the roleplaying table. The Gamemaster narrates a situation and you decide how your character reacts to it. Whether your character is successful at performing said action is up to fate and the dice. That’s where the game element kicks in.


Questing

Almost every game has a quest. It could be to kill the goblin king, save the world from a mad wizard bent on destroying life, or even something like get chad and mary to go steady before prom!


It depends on the game you are playing, but generally it’s a goal shared by all the players and they work together to achieve it. Quests may change every session (kill the goblin king today, kill the goblin queen tomorrow) or be a long term thing that lasts multiple sessions (liberate the kingdom from the mad wizard).


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Almost any TTRPG


Exploration

TTRPG worlds tend to be massive with plenty of interesting locations to explore that are oftentimes teeming with danger. Sometimes it is the objective of a quest, or it could just be something you stumble onto. Exploring often allows you to learn more about the location or the people that inhabit it, its history and secrets it may be hiding and even some treasure!

Examples could range from an abandoned space station to an ancient temple in the heart of the jungle or even your neighbour’s basement!


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Traveller, Forbidden Lands, Ironsworn, Worlds Without Number


Resource Management

Exploring the vastness of space or the forest requires food and for you to estimate how long your rations will last. How will you plan your expedition to ensure you don’t starve? Some games have a focus on survival aspects and require you to plan well and be resourceful with the…. Resources at your disposal. It can be very fun, but players who aren’t really into bookkeeping should avoid resource management-heavy games.


Investigation

Who killed Mr Cooper, and where? And with what? Investigations are typically mysteries you need to uncover with your fellow players. You’ll go around the game environment looking for clues, talking to suspects and using your wits to fit all the puzzle pieces together. It’s like an episode of CSI!


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Call of Cthulhu, Gumshoe RPG, Kids on Bikes, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play


Dungeons

Dungeons are typically dangerous environments you have to explore. Perhaps there’s some treasure to be had or some bandits have made their home here. The environment is full of traps, puzzles, dangerous wandering monsters and loot! You’ll need to rely on your skills to be careful and smart in your approach to escape.


Dungeons are the origin of roleplaying games and still maintain its popularity to this day.


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Pathfinder, Starfinder, OSR, OSE


Combat and Action

From rooftop chases to duels to the death, RPGs often include exciting scenes you’d often experience in movies or TV except that you’re playing the characters, and you get to make the decisions!


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Pathfinder, Soulbound, Shadow of the demonlord


Political Intrigue

Sometimes a pen is mightier than a sword, and a dance with the nobility can be just as deadly as a bout with goblins. Your group could be instructed to uncover corruption in the court, ensure your client becomes the next CEO of a megacorp or gather support for the rebels.


This one is for fans of spy thrillers or those who enjoy dabbling in the morally grey.


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Vampire: The Masquerade, World of Darkness, Urban Shadows


Heists

For fans of Oceans Eleven or the Italian Job, heists are often parts of the adventure where you attempt to steal something and are constantly in high pressure situations. They can be extremely fun and turns the whole environment into a sandbox where you have multiple ways to pull off the heist.


If you enjoy this particular style of play you will enjoy: Blades in the Dark


Which style of play excites you most?

These are just some of the things you will experience in your TTRPG session! Most of the time, it’s a mix of the tropes listed above although having a good idea of which ones stand out to you can help you and your Game Master narrow down an appropriate choice of game for you.



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