Greetings once again from Behind the Board, although this time the board has been set aside for dice and pens. Ropecon is approaching and in its spirit, a few words about role-playing games this time.
My childhood and teenage years were spent alongside board games, also in the company of role-playing games. Cyberpunk 2020, The Lord of the Rings, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, and Vampire The Masquerade were all in the rotation. The last two especially dominated my late teenage years. However, at some point, the focus drifted elsewhere, and like board games, role-playing games also took a break. While the threshold to buy a board game and return to the table was non-existent, tackling role-playing games felt almost impossible.
Shows like Stranger Things, Critical Role, and other media, have now brought Dungeons & Dragons out of the dark basements and into the mainstream. However, the threshold to play may still be too high for many, even if there is interest. "Is it a bit embarrassing to pretend to be an elf? What if I can't? I don't have imagination..."
Spectacles like Critical Role, overproduced and equipped with professional voice actors, are far from home gaming. It's also good to remember that these are players who have been playing together for years. Even though technology now allows for a lot that could not even be dreamed of in the 90s - except in the form of Cyberpunk 2020 - home games are a completely different thing. Therefore, the threshold to play should not be tied to the expectations set by professionals. YLE occasionally broadcasts Finnish live role-playing games, which give a much more realistic picture of what actually happens at the table if there is no big-budget producer available for your own game session. The most important thing is to find courage and someone with whom to venture outside of everyday life. Equipment like miniatures, terrains, and battle maps will come later if they are to come at all. They were never in use in our group.
So, how to proceed? You can play with just one friend or your spouse. However, a small survey will surely reveal interested people surprisingly close by. I was surprised when even our bland office turned out to have several people interested in board and role-playing games. The biggest challenge is surely to find a gamemaster. Especially if no one has any previous experience in game leading or role-playing. Therefore, I recommend that you take on the task of gathering friends around the table. When confidence starts to build and initial tension is relieved, more willing people to play will surely emerge.
The task of the game master is to enliven and describe the story, the locations of events, and the characters and enemies encountered by the players. While a player embodies their own character, the role of the game master is broader but at least as rewarding. What kind of plot twists have you always wanted to see? How do you get players to the same task and does a player actually have their own agenda? You build the world together with the players, but you own the framework and set the boundaries for the events. It's fun, for example, to ask players to describe events and places as well. "How do you see these castle ruins? What does the antique shop look like? Why does he thirst for revenge?"
Okay, when the players and game master have been found, what next? There are all sorts of dice and the thick rule books are scary in their existence! No worries, as you don't have to jump straight into the deep end, but you can wet your toes calmly with lighter role-playing games. Although Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is really beginner-friendly compared to previous versions, there are other possibilities for a first game.
Dread is a great example of a game whose rules can be obtained for a few euros and all you need to play is a wobbly tower. One player takes the players through the story and the most difficult situations are resolved by removing a block from the tower. The threshold for storytelling and immersion decreases considerably when there is hardly any need for equipment. Another great option is Alice is Missing: a hybrid of role-playing and board game where players solve Alice-girl's disappearance by communicating only through text messages. One player leads the game and plays at the same time with the others, just ensuring that the story progresses as it should. Alice is Missing is a very emotional experience, and Dread, on the other hand, leans towards horror and suspense.
Of course, you can also start the action right away, but with lighter gear. For example, both Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu offer the basic rules and everything needed for the first adventure in the form of Starter Sets. With an investment of a couple of twenties, you can try what adventures feel like in the midst of fantasy or cosmic horror. The reduced rules are sufficient for starters, and if interest grows, it is easy to expand afterwards. A couple of dice sets should be available for everyone, especially if luck doesn't change, it's good to hide the dice in shame and another set on the table. Depending on the game, a basic set or two should exist and a few regular six-sided dice in addition.
The game master should buy the basic rules and each player should buy a work aimed at players. For those wanting a broader experience, there are works that expand the worlds or monster books that provide more enemies. Dungeons & Dragons also offers great gift packages for starting and expanding, assembling the three most important works in both. There are also really useful game master screens behind which the GM can plot and prepare the next encounters. These screens usually have the most important rules, instructions, and most commonly used tables printed on the GM's side, depending on the game.
Now is a great time to master Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition before it's too late. The publisher, Wizards of the Coast, plans a new version called One D&D, which has not been very well received by the player community due to the changes it includes. However, it is positive that future One D&D publications will be one hundred percent compatible with the 5th Edition, so there will be additional content for many years to come.
The most important point for those interested is probably that role-playing actually does good for the mind and imagination. Too often we forget that we should all sometimes lower our defenses and let ourselves be swept away by the story. As already mentioned, you may be surprised how many people around you are interested in stepping into someone else's shoes and experiencing an adventure where the morning starts with orc hunting instead of tightening the tie.
The Internet is full of ready-made adventures that provide the game master with almost everything needed and inspire the mind at the same time. I suspect that after a few games, your own ideas will start to surface, and you can start planting them among the ready-made adventures. The imagination also develops almost before your eyes, as long as you use it.
The biggest threat is ultimately that old familiar arch-nemesis, yourself. There is an easy remedy for this too: take the initiative and start a discussion about board games and role-playing games with your friends – or why not bravely go to Ropecon to explore games, culture, and meet other interested people? The event is definitely open to everyone, there is plenty to see even for free, and children are also welcome.
Countless adventures await when you find your own game group; there are dozens of different role-playing worlds, so there is certainly one for every group. Skip the gym, Netflix marathon or bar night and give time to your mind. Step into an adventure and give your imagination a chance!
Send your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org! Until next time!
Tapio Laudan Takaa