What is Role Playing? – Chapter 1 – HYOOTRD RPG Players’ Guide

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Welcome to a world of adventure. Whether you are new to role playing games or are an old hand this manual will give you everything you need to get started as a player in our long-windedly titled “Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama (HYOOTRD) Role Playing Game.

Chapter 1 – What is role playing?

Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama Role Playing Game

Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama Role Playing Game

A role playing game is rather like participating in a live radio play, only one in which the actors are all improvising their lines and the story’s outcome is unknown, even to the participants. Some people refer to role playing as collaborative story-telling – also an apt metaphor.

A group of players assemble and develop some characters for the story. These characters are represented by some abstracted statistics that determine how well they can perform certain actions (such as fight, fly a plane, search a room etc.). Each player (save one) takes on one of the character roles. Their job is to interact with the world and participate in the adventure that is about to unfold.

One player adopts the role of the Game Master (commonly referred to as the GM). This individual describes the world with which the characters interact, the events that occur, and takes on the roles of the other (incidental) characters that the players encounter.
Players interact with the world, often rolling dice to determine the effectiveness of their actions and the story evolves according to the interactions between the Game Master (GM) and the group. The remarkable and exciting part of the role playing experience is that through this interaction a story emerges that is completely unique to that group and one that could not have been predicted by any of its members.

Even though, as the term “role playing” suggests, players basically take on particular roles, role playing remains fundamentally a conversation. You and the other players will go back and forth, talking about the fictional characters you are portraying and the fictional circumstances surrounding what they do and say.

Like any conversation, you take turns, but not in a strictly linear fashion. The emphasis here is on conversation. Sometimes you talk over each other, interrupt, build on each-other’s ideas, and try to monopolize what is being said. This is all fine. So long as, like in real life, there is a basic respect for and consideration of one another, the conversation will remain fun.

The fundamental interchange that occurs in a Role Playing Game (RPG) basically boils down to

GM: What do you want to do?
Player: I want to do X.
GM: When you attempt that (often requiring dice rolls), this happens. What do you want to do?

The conversation is rarely tidy in practice. Much of the questioning and answering is implied. A group of players are involved, the rules reshape the conversation’s structure, etc. But at its core, a role playing game boils down to a very imaginative conversation. The GM presents a situation; the players respond to that situation by describing the actions they wish to attempt; the GM adjudicates the outcome (and in so doing presents a new situation to which the players respond).

This process is effectively a loop that will continue until the story’s end or a predetermined amount of time has passed.

Because the conversation loop at the heart of a role playing game is potentially endless, it is best to have an agreed set of conditions for ending the game session. It is possible for the story unfolding in a game to last many sessions (some games have gone on for years) so it is better to set aside a specific amount of time for play rather than set some plot driven conditions to end play. Two to three hours is generally an appropriate length of time. A typical game might take two or three sessions to conclude.

Before embarking on a role playing game it is important to explore everyone’s expectations. Not everyone wants to commit themselves to a multi-year-spanning story campaign. Younger people have been known to play every night, while older people with jobs and families may only manage to participate in a game on a fortnightly or monthly basis. New players are more comfortable playing with a specific end point in sight so you may wish to limit the number of sessions required to complete the game (six to eight tends to work well and single session stories are a great way to introduce new players to the game). You can always ask for a longer term commitment later on.

An Example of Play at the table

The following is a transcript of play as it takes place at the table. The players are Sharon (the GM), Gavin (playing the adventurer, Jake Stead), Beth (playing Malefice the Mystic), and Michael (playing Dr Herbivore, the academic).

GAME MASTER (GM) – Played by Sharon : (READING FROM HER NOTES) You’ve progressed deep inside the caves of the mountain and finally reached your destination; a cavern dominated by a huge silvery lake. The rocky beach just beyond the mouth of the tunnel you came through extends around the lake’s edge for as far as your flickering light can reach, and the cavern’s roof glitters high above you with precious gems and metals. At the edge of your torchlight stands a copse of tall mushrooms (rising 20 feet high and beyond). Towards the center of the lake, about a mile off shore, you can just discern the outline of a large shadowy shape; the Isle of the Tsoreb. At your feet are some footprints that lead to the water’s edge and indicate that the men who kidnapped Princess Matuchka came this way and entered the lake. What do you do?
JAKE STEAD (JAKE) – played by Gavin : Do I think I can swim the distance?
GM: What’s your swimming skill like?
JAKE: Not so good.
GM: It seems unlikely but you could have a go. Do you want to make the attempt?
JAKE: I’ll think about it a bit first?
GM: What about you Malefice? What do you want to do?
MALEFICE (MALEFICE) – played by Beth : I move up and down the beach a little to see if the tracks come back up on shore. I’d hate to think they were just hiding their tracks and made their way out another tunnel.
GM: Make a perception role.
MALEFICE: (Rolls dice). I succeed!
GM: Excellent. You make your way up and down the beach for a distance, by the time you return to the group you are convinced that your quarry entered the water, most likely in order to reach the island. How about you Dr. Herbivore? What are you up to?
DOCTOR HERBIVORE (DR HERBIVORE) – played by Michael : I’m interested in the mushrooms. Do they look like they could float?
GM: Walking over to the mushrooms you see evidence that a number have already been cut down… and recently. The flesh is spongy without being porous. You conclude it probably would float and that the kidnappers have already attempted building a raft from the materials.
DR HERBIVORE: Hey, guys. With a bit of rope, I think we could fashion a raft out of these mushroom stalks. What do you reckon?
JAKE: It’s worth a go.
MALEFICE: Do we have enough rope?
GM: (Deciding on the spur of the moment) Yeah, you’ve got enough. What skills do you have that might be relevent to the construction of a raft.
JAKE: I’ve got some Engineering.
DR HERBIVORE: I’ve got Invention.
MALEFICE: I could use my ropes skill?
GM: Alright, everybody roll to build the raft.
JAKE: (Rolls dice) Success!
DR HERBIVORE: (Rolls dice) Oh no! I failed. Does that mean I screwed it up for everyone?
MALEFICE: (Rolls dice) I got it. Success.
GM: (Having decided ahead of time that two successes would be the minimum needed) Despite Dr Herbivore getting in the way, you manage to assemble a serviceable raft from the mushroom stalks.
DR HERBIVORE: Wait. We need some oars. I quickly fashion some makeshift ones from the scraps.
GM: Roll your invention but take a bonus since they should be easy to construct.
DR HERBIVORE: (Rolls dice) Easy-peasy!
GM: Alright, you’ve got yourselves a raft. What now?
MALEFICE: Let’s float it out to the island. All aboard!
GM: You float the raft out into the shallows and climb on board. Slowly you ply your oars through the cold still water, making your way towards the island. The raft shudders with turbulence as something large passes beneath it. Moments later an enormous fin breaks the surface and begins moving rapidly towards you. What do you do?

This chapter of the Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama RPG and all associated content is © copyright weirdworldstudios.com and Philip Craig Robotham 1997 and may not be reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author.

HYOOTRD Roleplaying Game – Players’ Guide