When Dungeons and Dragons first came out and roleplaying began to develop as a hobby in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, the female gamer was a thing of legend. Very few women were involved in creating the products that were made for roleplaying games, and few women found their way to the gaming table. For a while the hobby was small and didn’t get much exposure, period, and when it did take off, men were the ones who took to it. There is a stereotype that only men play roleplaying games, and it comes from this time in gaming history. It is safe to say that for a time, that stereotype was mostly true. There may have been a few females playing and running, but they were things of myth.
As time has worn on, more women have gotten involved in creating games, playing in them, and running them. The roleplaying world has had to adjust to this influx; whereas women are still shown scantily clad in roleplaying artwork sometimes, you can also find lots of artwork with women perfectly clothed and being proactively involved. Many groups have female members, and there are groups out there composed entirely of females.
Despite this, the stereotype of the geeky, socially inept male gamer still predominates. There are those who think that the only people who roleplay are the ones that look and act something like the comic book guy on The Simpsons. People actually stay away from gaming because of this stereotype, if only because they don’t want to be associated with people so drastically uncool. I have heard plenty of women say that roleplaying games aren’t mature; others have flat-out said that roleplaying games are the purview of male geeks only.
The trouble with this image of the one and only gamer type, of course, is that it isn’t true, and a lot of people are missing out on a great hobby by believing in it. There are male geeks who game, that much must be said. There are also very cool people who game, people who are involved in all sorts of other things (yes, even jocks). There are women, teenagers, and even a few kids being taught how to play by their parents. You can find couples in stores dedicated to roleplaying games, and often both parties are searching for things to use. Who roleplays? Just about anybody.
What Is A Gaming Group?
A gaming group is a group of people who gather together to play roleplaying games. Most roleplaying games are designed so that one person acts as a director of the game and several people act as participants. Many gaming groups have several players and one director, but not all of them have the same arrangement. Some groups are so large that there are several directors and many players. Other groups are very small, with one director and perhaps two players. When a director and one player game together they’re not considered a gaming group per se; most gamers refer to such an arrangement as a “solo” game, because there is only one player.
A gaming group forms a certain consensus. The group has to agree on a place and time to play, so that most people can show up and participate. The group also has to agree on what game system to use, and who is going to be the director. Most of all, a harmonious gaming group has to work together so that the game is fun for everyone who attends.
The Focus of Various Groups
Birds of a feather sometimes flock together in the gaming world, and groups are often comprised of very like-minded people. A group may be dedicated to one particular game system, or they may like to try a new system every time they play. They may like to play games only by the rules printed in the books, or they may like to make up rules systems of their own. They may like to play games that are very combat-oriented, or they may be more interested in character interaction.
The focus of a group becomes more important when you know what you want out of gaming, because not all groups will allow for what you like best. You might have to ask questions of a new group to see if they like what you do, or if they’ll be willing to try something you enjoy. You might also have to find a different group if you don’t fit in well, but that’s all right – there are more gamers out there than you may realize.
Joining A Gaming Group
A lot of people form gaming groups out of friends they already have, who may or may not know anything about gaming. A lot of gamers start out by learning the game together with other newbies. You can always broach the subject with your friends and see if they’re interested. It might be that they’re not interested but they can think of someone else who might be; friends of friends can work, too.
If you have trouble gathering people you know to game, you may have to look for people you don’t know. There are several ways to go about this, and all of them should involve some caution. I don’t know that the world was ever a safe place but it definitely warrants caution now. It’s not that gamers are more dangerous than other groups of people, it’s just that if you’re going to be looking for strangers to game with, you should keep your mother’s warnings about strangers in mind.
If you’re calling new people, don’t be afraid to ask where they’re at, when they game, how many people they game with and how long they’ve been gaming. Don’t feel bad about asking for an address and phone number, and don’t hesitate to check out the information you’re given to see that it checks out (through a phone book and so forth). It’s not a bad idea to meet a new group or a new player at a restaurant or a good place for coffee. If you don’t care for the party, it’s easier to bow out if you’re on neutral ground. Do yourself a favor and tell family and/or close friends where you’re going to be when you game with a new group; call in before you go and once you return from the game.
That said, you can meet new gamers through various avenues.
Stores that sell roleplaying games sometimes have bulletin boards for local gamers to find one another. Some places may offer the phone numbers of gamers or their e-mail addresses. If you contact a person for gaming let them know right off why you’re calling and where you got their number from, so they know how to approach you. If you feel comfortable giving your number or e-mail address to them, go for it; if not, tell the person that you have the means to contact them in the future.
Stores that support roleplaying games might have days set up for players to come in and play on the premises. You can check your local gaming store to see if they have such an arrangement. Through such an event, you can meet new people on neutral ground but in a very supportive environment. Not all gaming stores have the room or the will to host in-store gaming events, so don’t feel bad if your local store doesn’t have them. If you find a store that does, however, you might want to check their events out just for the sake of curiosity.
You can also try to find gaming groups through online resources. If you are interested in a particular system or setting, search for web sites about that game. Some web sites have message boards dedicated to gamers looking for other gamers, although this is becoming less common. Other fan-run web or social media sites may offer ways to ask about gamers in your area. This may take some e-mailing and instant messages, but it can work for you.
A Quick Exercise
All of the information you’ve just read is probably a little distant for you, if you’re new to gaming. There is a way to understand these concepts a bit better, and all it takes is a television. You can probably use just about any movie or television show that is story-based (infomercials, the shopping network, the news and other such programming won’t work). You’ll probably want to watch something you’ve watched before, like your favorite movie or t.v. show; you want to watch something you like but something you don’t have to think much about. If you don’t know what’s going on in the show you’ll be spending too much time trying to figure out what’s happening. It may be best to find something you can pause it whenever you like.
While the program runs ask yourself the following questions:
Who are the player characters of the show? These are the major characters around which all of the action of the show revolves. They get most of the screen time, as well. There may be a lot of player characters if the show has a big cast, or there may be only a couple. Look for them. You should be able to find them easily. In a roleplaying game, the players would be acting as the player characters and all of the action would revolve around them.
Who are the non-player characters of the show? All of the characters that aren’t the star characters fall into this category. They may be co-workers, friends, hot-dog vendors or what have you. The director would handle all of these characters.
What are the player characters trying to do in the show? If they’re trying to lie, keep in mind that in a roleplaying game the players might be asked to roll dice to see if they succeed. If there is any violence, keep in mind that players would definitely be asked to roll dice to determine if anyone gets hurt and how much.
What do the characters gain or lose during the course of the adventure? Did they end up with new stuff? Did they lose their house? What might be written down on a character sheet, and what might be erased?
If you are learning a particular game system, try to identify what rolls would be made using the rules of the system you’re learning. It might be fun to do this with friends, or to do this with someone who knows the system already so they can correct you if you’re wrong.
Why Play A Roleplaying Game?
I am not going to try to convince you of why you should take up roleplaying as a hobby, or why you should try it out as a curiosity. Instead, I’m going to give you a list of different reasons I can think of. Pick one, if you can’t think of your own.
- It’s fun
- It’s cheaper in the long run than going to the movies all the time
- It’s got more variety than most movies
- It’s interactive
- It’s a nice break from the stress of the work-a-day world
- It’s an excuse to see friends
- It’s an excuse to make new friends
- It’s a way to express yourself
- It’s a way to experience catharsis
- It’s a way to while away some hours peaceably
- It’s a creative outlet
Glossary of Terms and Acronyms
Every game system has it’s own terminology, and many expressions and acronyms commonly used by roleplayers (especially online) are not covered in official printed gaming materials. You may have to ask folks what they’re referring to, when it comes to obscure references. There are some expressions that are common to most gamers, and I hope to touch upon most of them here.
It is important to note that gamers often refer to book titles quickly, cutting them down to acronyms. So, for example, the Book of Mighty Bad People might be shorted to the BoMBP. If it seems like someone is referring to a book, try reducing the title to its acronym to see if it makes sense. If you still can’t figure it out, ask someone.
It must also be noted that sometimes games have different editions. The first edition of a game is usually its first print, with its first set of rules. The first edition of a game may not have the best artwork, and it may not have rules that work as well as they should. In time, and with some money, the company in question may release a new edition of their game to update it and make it work better. Gamers who talk about such a game may refer to a first edition and a second edition; the editions may have books by the same names, but the content may be very different. Some games have third editions, fourth editions and so on. Pay attention if gamers are discussing books from different editions, because the edition is probably important.
d_: This designates how many sides a die has. Common gaming dice have four, six, eight, ten, twelve, or twenty sides. Gamers will generally refer to a six-sided die as a d6.
DM: This stands for Dungeon Master. A Dungeon Master has many jobs, among them giving life to the setting, playing all characters that are not PCs, and being the judge of rules disputes. The term Dungeon Master tends to refer to the director of a Dungeons and Dragons game, since D&D is where the term came from.
Canon: This refers to the details of a game system and the plot lines that are printed in the major, official books. For example, let’s say that a game called Heroes of the Day is set on a distant planet, but in a medieval setting. In the history of that world there was a devastating war that happened in the year 736. Books published for Heroes of the Day will also mention the war that happened in 736 and take it into account. As far as the game designers are concerned, the war happened. Roleplayers would say that the war is part of the game’s canon. Some roleplayers believe that game directors should not change canon events. Other roleplayers use what they like out of the canon and change the rest for the sake of their own personal games. Gaming companies provide canon through their printed books but cannot force anyone to accept it; in fact, many game designers encourage game directors to change the canon however they like.
Gamer: A person who plays roleplaying games is called a gamer, although people who play other kinds of games (like video games) might refer to themselves as the same.
House Rule: A house rule is a rule that has been implemented to cover a situation in a different way than what is covered in the printed materials. Some house rules are created because the books do not give enough information on a subject. Other house rules are created because the DM does not like the way that the books handle a given situation. Some house rules cover situations that the books were never meant to cover.
IC: This stands for 'In Character.' When someone is roleplaying a character and interacting in the plot, they should be into their character, considering situations from their character's point of view and acting as their character would act.
Metagaming: This term refers to using out of character gaming knowledge when you're supposed to be in character, but it can also refer to the way that people in character use gaming terms. For instance, your character is a personality in a medieval fantasy setting, a woodsman for the sake of argument. A woodsman would not automatically know the weaknesses of a monster she's never seen before, but the player might know a lot about a monster because she's read the right book. If the player acts like her woodsman character knows all of the monster's special weaknesses, that player is metagaming. This is not seen as a good or desirable quality in a player.
Munchkin (a.k.a. Twink): A munchkin is a person who tries to play a ridiculously overpowered character. A munchkin adds insult to injury by trying to find loopholes in the system to back up their choices, or by trying to cheat outright. Some munchkins do nothing but fight in games and shun all roleplay. Other munchkins want nothing but treasure for their characters.
NPC: This acronym stands for ‘non-player character.’ A non-player character is any character that is not being handled by the players. Everyone else in the world, pretty much. Directors take charge of all NPCs, creating them and playing them to fill in the background of the world. NPC can be allies, villains, background people (cooks, horse groomers, etc.) - anyone in the world that is not run by a player.
OOC: This stands for 'Out of Character.' There are times when players are not supposed to be in character. All rules discussions and arguments do not take place in character; they take place out of character, between the players involved.
PC: A player is responsible for creating one character - called a player character - and portraying that character in the game. This is in contrast to the DM, who must run countless NPCs.
Rules Lawyer: A rules lawyer is a person who has memorized the rules and who insists on their own strict interpretation of them, which generally gives the rules lawyer advantages. Some rules lawyers engage in arguments with the DM over rules and hold up the game; that is usually how they earn the name. This is not considered a good thing to call someone.