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Roleplaying Variety

- By Charlie T Dougal

Many of us at the AGS love a good role-playing game. There is a wealth of difference within this game-type; each with their own merits and potential draw-backs. Though I don’t claim to know everything about these (some not by a long way), I will be delivering an overview of a few systems that give a broad impression of pen and paper RPG genre.

First, let’s take a look at Fate Core. This game is about straight-forward rules and imagination; lateral thinking can help to bend the situation towards your characters ball-park, and so long as the action categories are thought out well enough, then the typical RPG risk of not everyone being uniquely useful can be mitigated. Fate Core gives a strong outline of a game and then has the GM (Game Master) flesh-out the sub-structure, then the GM and the players fill in the details; allowing for practically limitless scenarios. This brings a strong narrative and fluidity to a play-session/campaign if done well, but does rely on the GM making a sensible choices. There is also a mechanic in place that encourages role playing to the detriment of your character, this not only helps drive the story, but prevents players from bluffing their way out of a risky action that their character ‘should’ have taken. Players that enjoy inventing more abstract, creative solutions will thrive here, whereas players that prefer concrete logic crunching challenges may prefer other RPGs.

Basically everyone has heard of Dungeons & Dragons (even if they have no idea what it is). Rather than zeroing in on a single edition, I’m going to take an overview of what these games do in general. In the western world, Dungeons and Dragons was the forerunner of RPGs, and it continues to this day. All editions employ a race and class system to funnel players towards specific roles; a Half-Orc Barbarian is going to take a very different role from a Gnome Cleric for example; however in doing this the game brings in rigidity, which is then increased by all the other rules. As a rule, D&D is heavy on rules. So this rigidity reduces the amount of leeway for “getting creative” with the rules. However this isn’t for the sake of reducing player freedom; the real intention is to deliver on firmly established roles to help every player feel important, and the general rules are there to create a strong aesthetic. With a game like this, there are a plethora of rules defining every action under the sun and the tactics, teamwork and visceral combat delivered by this system are the cause of its longevity. Though I feel obliged to say, the quality of your play relies on the quality of the players; and no game should be judged by the quality of their kill-joys.

The final example is Call of Cthulhu, and I will admit only a theoretical knowledge here. However CoC… okay I’m not using that contraction again. Anyway, Call of Cthulhu puts you in a dark world where inter-dimensional horrors (called the old gods) are trying to break through and reduce mankind to a mad, gibbering mound of giblets. Unlike Cosmic Patrol, that gives you empowering roles (like being a spaceship captain), this one leaves you in a very disempowering position of being essentially a regular person (perhaps with a camera/gun/parlour tricks), and pits you against monsters that defy the laws of physics and the thought of which can drive someone insane. So, here we are trading action for horror (oh, and for an extra dose of ‘ominous’ it’s on its 13th edition). What I really like is that the rules and tone reinforce the horror aesthetic; the sanity of the characters inevitably declines over the course of the campaign; in fact the more a character interacts and learns about these other-worldly monsters, the faster they are forced to retire, or risk insanity. Plus, this game does not include the presumption of “the heroes always win”; the GM is not there to beat you, but they aren’t there to save you either. This is a great rule-set for ramping up the tension; knowing that the next door could spell certain death for your character because back-up is never coming; perhaps not typically ‘fun’, but tense and engaging. Good times, well, bad times… mad times?

I hope that gives new players a glimpse into the worlds of RPGs. And to aficionados of the games I’ve mentioned, please don’t lynch me.

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