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Absolute Beginners: Roleplaying
Like many thirty-something gamers, I first got into roleplaying games at school. I'd been wargaming for a couple of weeks with a guy called Thomas Tuckett, who on this particular Saturday was busy explaining to me why my lone Ancient Britain couldn't sneak up on a barn full of his Romans and set fire to it. If it's not in the rules, he'd say, you can't do it. The next table over were a group of kids in the year above us, who seemed to be having a much better time than I was. So after I'd been thrashed yet again by the gloating Tuckett (metaphysically, just in case you were wondering, but yes - it *was* that kind of school!) I wandered over and discovered D&D.

The great thing about white box, three book original D&D was that there weren't enough rules. It needed one player to step out of the game and run it, interpreting what the characters wanted to do and then telling them whether they succeeded or not. And it was always a team effort - you and your friends not squabbling together over who got to control Belgium, but working side by side in the monster slaying and treasure appropriating business. But to my Tuckett-self, trapped back there twenty five years ago, roleplaying games meant only one thing:

Freedom.
What's it All About (Alfie)?
Go anywhere, do anything, be anyone, have adventures. Who could ask for anything more?

Every roleplaying game attempts to explain what exactly a roleplaying game is. Is it an interactive novel, Lord of the Rings with you and your friends cast as the hobbits, a boardless boardgame or some kind of improvisational theatre where you get to act out the role of vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night? To be honest, it's a little bit of all three, with a healthy dollop of the Crystal Maze/Jungle Run thrown in for good measure.

The easiest way to explain roleplaying games is to say that its like playing consequences. Fortunately I stumbled upon the King's treasure chamber. Unfortunately it was guarded by a dragon. Fortunately I remembered to pack my flameproof kecks and dragon slaying sword. At some point or other you'll need to know if your fortunatelies beat my unfortunatelies, and at that point we throw wierdy shaped dice to determine what happens.
The Dungeon Master Is Your Friend
Probably the toughest roleplaying game concept to grasp is that the player who's acting as referee (often referred to as the Dungeon Master, Gamesmaster or abreviated to DM/GM) isn't your opponent - they're your tour guide. It's their job to make your adventures an interesting rollercoaster ride, not a one-way trip to monster gullet city. Does that mean there are no winners or losers? No. Your players win if they beat your dungeon and escape with their pockets stuffed full of treasure, or unravel your mystery and stop the cultists from unleashing the Great Old Ones on an unsuspecting earth.

And you win when your players call you up mid week and tell you what a fantastic game they had.
Is Roleplaying For You?
Despite what my friend Bob used to think, roleplaying games aren't for everyone. You'll need a pencil and a set of dice. More importantly, you'll also need a willingness to let down your guard a little and get into character. Don't worry - we're not talking improv and funny accents here, but roleplaying games thrive on mood, imagination and interaction, and you get the most out of them when you are prepared to leave a little of your own ego at the door.

If you can't see beyond the lack of a board, the lead miniatures representing your characters, the dice and piles of rulebooks, you might find the roleplaying experience a little too wierd and existential. Then there's the time issue. After four hours of good gaming, your group may not even have left town on their first adventure, and some campaigns can last weeks, months or even years. Of course, that means that the roleplaying experience is about as deep a gaming experience as you're ever likely to get, but like I say that isn't necessarily what everyone wants from a game.

If you want to test the waters of roleplaying games while still remaining at the shallow end, the following boardgames all do a pretty good job of replicating the RPG experience.

Drakon
D&D the Boardgame
Runebound
Talisman

Still not sure? Drop into Fan Boy Three and ask about our D&D Arena Challenge. We can explain the basics in a couple of minutes, help you roll up a character and throw you in at the deep end in about half an hour. After you've played in the Challenge, you'll be ready to sign up for one of our D&D introductory adventures. Ask us when the next event is running.
Dr Strangedice
It was thirty years ago today, that Gary Gygax taught the band to play... Think the Big Double G invented the roleplaying game? Wrong.

The first roleplaying games were invented as a byproduct of the nuclear weapons program operating out of Los Alamos in the fifties. They wanted to test whether the US could survive an all out nuclear exchange with Russia, so they'd assign probabilities to a series of theoretical situations and then crunch the numbers. The Pentagon kept asking what the optimal time to launch a Nuclear strike against the Soviets might be, but each time the Los Alamos stats boffins crunched those numbers and ran the probabilities the final result came back the same - total extinction.

So I guess it's thanks to those first roleplaying pioneers that we all didn't burn up in a nuclear fireball before Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson came up with the idea of Dungeons and Dragons back in 1974.
The Fan Boy Five
It's a common belief that there's really only seven stories, and all other stories are made up by combining those seven stories in different ways. At Fan Boy Three, we definitely think that's the case with roleplaying games; in our opinion every rulebook, supplement and adventure currently in existence owes a debt of gratitude to the following seven games.

Progenitors of the gaming industry, we salute you!

Dungeons & Dragons (Exploring the unknown, often in the form of a maze or complex of rooms and corridors)

Call of Cthulhu (Investigating, researching and solving a mystery)

Vampire: The Masquerade/Vampire: The Requiem (Interacting with Non Player Characters)

(Certainly these top three are by far and away the most influential, and depending on your age, taste and personality type these probably make the best three introductory games for an absolute beginner to play)

Traveller (Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, rolling dice and consulting tables)

Runequest (Discovering the secrets of the game world)

If you've never played one of the games listed above, don't you owe it to your dice bag to check out what a pure gaming experience you've been missing?

Sadly the sixth progenitor - Metagaming's Fantasy Trip (the original points based character generation system) went M.I.A. back in the early eighties. And number Seven would probably be Senet (again), the ancient Egyptian boardgame and the earliest known example of dice as a randomising factor.
Those Wicked Games You Play
Lets talk Satan.

Back in the early Eighties a small number of American Christians got kind of hung up on the whole 'casting spells' thing in D&D, and promptly announced that Dungeons and Dragons was to devil worship what dope was to heroin. Once guys like me had given you a taste of the good stuff with the wierdy dice and the wizards, you'd soon be asking for copies of black magic tomes and mainlining Jorune in the toilets of Picadilly Station.

Sorry to dissappoint anyone, but as far as I'm aware the devil isn't in the roleplaying game business, and none of the roleplaying game manufacturers I've so far met have horns or a tail. The same sort of allegations have been levelled at Buffy the Vampire slayer, Marilyn Mansun and Harry Potter; like reading the adventures of the world's most famous teen wizard, playing D&D is more likely to raise your reading age and maths skills than it is to raise Baalzebub.