Time of the Drow
What is Roleplaying? A refresher
WHAT IS FANTASY ROLE PLAYING?
The easiest way to understand a role playing game is to
think of it as a work of fiction such as a novel or a play or
a movie. In a novel the author determines the setting of the
novel along with the actions of all of the characters and
thus the plot. In a role playing game, the author (called the
Gamemaster) determines the setting and some of the basic
elements of the plot. The actions of the characters (and
thus part of the plot) are determined during the game by
the game “players” and the Gamemaster. Each “player” controls
the actions of his “player character” or alter ego, while
the Gamemaster controls the actions of all of the other
characters (called non-player characters). Thus each player
assumes the role of (role plays) his character and the Gamemaster
role plays the non-player characters. A fantasy role
playing game is a “living” novel where interaction between
the actors (characters) creates a constantly evolving plot.
The Gamemaster also makes sure that all characters perform
actions which are possible only within the framework
of the setting that he has developed (his “fantasy” world).
In a sense, the Gamemaster acts as a referee. This is where
the “fantasy” part and the “game” part come into the definition
of a fantasy role playing game. A Gamemaster creates
a setting which is not limited by the realities of our
world; thus, the setting falls into the genre of fiction known
as “fantasy.” However, the Gamemaster commonly uses a
set of “rules” which define and control the physical realities
of his fantasy world. Using these rules turns the role
playing “novel” into a game.
Thus, a fantasy role playing (FRP) game is set in a fantasy
world whose reality is not defined solely by our world,
but instead is defined by a set of game rules. The creation
of the plot of a FRP game is an on-going process which
both the Gamemaster and players may affect, but which
neither controls. The plot is partially determined along with
the setting, but it is heavily influenced by the interaction of
the characters with one another and random events.
Since fantasy role playing is a game, it should be interesting,
exciting, and challenging. One of the main objectives
of a FRP game is for each player to take on the persona of
his (or her) player character, reacting to situations as the
character would. This is the biggest difference between FRP
games and other games such as chess or bridge. A player’s
character is not just a piece or a card; in a good FRP game,
a player takes on the role of his character. Each player
character should speak and react to the other players as his
character would. All of this creates an air of involvement,
excitement, and realism (in a fantasy setting of course).
The Gamemaster has been described as “author” of the
FRP game; actually, he functions as more than this. The
Gamemaster not only describes everything which occurs in
the game as if it were really happening to the player characters,
but he also acts as a referee or judge for situations in
which the actions attempted by characters must be resolved.
The Gamemaster has to do a lot of preparation before
the game is actually played. He must develop the setting
and scenarios for the play of the game, using the game
rules and material of his own design (or commercially available
play aids). The Gamemaster uses detailed descriptions,
drawings and maps to help the players visualize the physical
settings and other characters. Until the players encounter
certain situations during play, some material concerning
the setting and the scenario is known only to the Gamemaster.
In addition, the Gamemaster plays the roles of all
of the characters and creatures who are not player characters,
but still move and act within the game setting, affecting
Each player creates a character using the rules of the
game and the help of the Gamemaster (for the character’s
background). Each player character has certain numerical
ratings for his attributes, capabilities, and skills. These ratings
depend upon how the player develops his character
using the rules of the game. Ratings determine how much
of a chance the character has of accomplishing certain actions.
Many of the actions that characters attempt during
play have a chance of success and a chance of failure. Therefore,
even though actions are initiated by the Gamemaster
and the players during the game, the success or failure of
these actions is determined by the rules, the characters’
ratings, and the random factor of a dice roll.
Finally, a fantasy role playing game deals with adventure,
magic, action, danger, combat, treasure, heroes, villains,
life and death. In short, in a FRP game the players
leave the real world behind for a while, and enter a world
where the fantastic is real and reality is limited only by the
imagination of the Gamemaster and the players themselves.