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by Musab Abdulla (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Most of us have wished that we could be living in a different time or as someone else at some point or other in our lives. We all get small, or not so small, bouts of depression, boredom, or just plain apathy. So what do you do about it? Well, some of us have found a perfect way to surrender reality's grip on us and travel the planes of the mind. No, I am not talking about psychics and ESP abilities, I am talking about Role-Playing Games.
But what are Role-Playing Games I hear you ask? Well, shame on you for not knowing. Role-Playing Games, also known as RPGs, are games that allow you to fire up your imagination and travel as far as it allows. You take on the role of a character and dictate his actions within a set world. Of course, for the control freaks and psychotics among us you could look at it the other way and pretend you have your own personal puppet to do with as you please, but that's, usually, an extreme circumstance.
There are two types of RPGs, pen and paper based and computer based. Pen and paper RPGs, as the name suggests, require three things; a bunch of people (including you), some pens and some paper, as well as of course knowledge of the rules for whichever RPG you are playing. These are the original RPGs and have been around for several decades with no signs of losing popularity just yet.
Computer RPGs on the other hand, while fun and gripping in their own way, have nowhere near the level of interaction and breadth that pen and paper RPGs allow. Even the most non-linear of computer RPGs have to set some limits and cannot just ad-lib a new scenario should the player wish to explore some aspect of the game's world that has not been covered by the programming. Right now though we are not going to concern ourselves with computer RPGs and just concentrate on their pen and paper based counterparts.
So, how does one play an RPG? Well, obviously, the first step is to gather a group of like-minded friends, preferably with lots of imagination. Next you need to see who among you is going to be the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master (DM), also called the Games Master or similar by different games, is the person upon whose shoulders will rest most of the responsibility for making the game fun and running smoothly. He or she is responsible for creating the world the other players are going to guide their characters through as well as playing the part of everything the characters run across. He or she must be able to effectively be the eyes and ears of the players as they go through the world. While the DM may have a good idea of how his or her world is going to be, he must also make sure that the players can visualize the same world. It requires a lot of time and effort, but it is usually more than worth it. One way of looking at it is that the players can only play the part of one character at a time, while the DM gets to play the part of every single villain, including some really cool nasties.
The two most important ingredients for effectively playing a pen and paper based RPG are communication and imagination. The DM will be weaving a tale and a world by voice alone for the most part, so he or she will have to be able to effectively communicate all the little details of the world to the players. It is upon these details that the players will be basing their decisions and game strategies. It is also very important for setting the mood. After all, what is more exciting, hearing the DM state: "You walk into a dungeon room 10 feet by 10 feet", or "You walk into a dimly lit stone chamber. The walls are roughly hewn and have mossy patches in places"?
Imagination on the other hand is required by everyone. The DM will need it to create and describe his world and the players' surroundings, while the players will require it to be able to visualize their environment and get into the spirit of the game.
There are many different RPGs developed by various companies such as 'The Skyrealms of Jorune' by Chessex, 'The MasterBook' Roleplaying Rules by West End Games or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) by TSR. Some RPGs are based in a certain world or genre, most often medieval-style fantasy but also occasionally sci-fi, horror and others. Other games simply give you a set of rules and allow you to create any kind of world you desire, from historical or fantastical to futuristic, such as 'The Masterbook' rules. However, the most popular of these by far is AD&D.
AD&D has been around for a long time, and TSR has recently released the third edition of the rules. [Editor's note: TSR was recently acquired by Wizards of the Coast, and the 3rd edition books are issued under the Wizards imprint, not TSR. The 3rd edition rules also go by the name Dungeons and Dragons (DnD), not Advanced DnD (AD&D).] AD&D is based on a fantastical medieval setting with a slightly Western European feel to it, so expect lots of old English castles and such in the setting. However, particularly under 3rd Edition rules, it is not a clear cut set of do's and don'ts so there is no reason people cannot modify the setting to a different culture or time period if they so wish. In fact, example rules are given for an Asian campaign with a strong medieval Japanese/ancient Chinese feel to it. But people should keep in mind that the rules are geared towards medieval fantasy, so culture changes will work well, but radical timeline changes may or may not depending on how they are played out. If you are looking for swords and sorcery AD&D may well be the game for you, if you are looking for starships and phasers you would be better off looking for a different game.
As mentioned before, the setting of AD&D is fantastical, so players do not necessarily have to play a human character. Instead they can also opt to play a number of demi-human races, such as elves, dwarves, halflings and even half-orcs. Each race, including humans, has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. For example, elves are fast and agile but not very tough, while dwarfs are the exact opposite. Halflings are also pretty nimble but they suffer from not being as strong as other races due to their size. Half-Orcs on the other hand are incredibly strong, just not very smart or charismatic. Once players have chosen their race they need to choose their class. A 'class' is basically whatever vocation the players character wishes to follow. Examples include fighters, clerics (healers), magic-users and rogues, to name the most basic, and specialized, choices. Other classes such as paladins, rangers and bards blur the lines slightly as they tend to have a broader range of abilities but are not as specialized as the basic classes.
Race and class are essentially the starting point for a player's character, as they will define what the character can and cannot do. While a player can play a wizard who goes around swinging swords and wearing armor, he just should not expect to be very effective with that character since he is not playing up to his class strengths. A character's personality and skills can further be defined, again limited by his class, to create wildly different characters, even within the same class. One players rogue might choose to focus on stealth and theft abilities, while another might decide to go the way of a con man. Both are rogues, but their approach to a problem is going to be very different.
Once a player has generated a character for them to play, then what? Answering this question is going to rely mostly on what the DM has cooked up for his players, but the general answer is "whatever the players want." There are three methods for players to take when playing an RPG. The first is the "bash-in-the-door" style of play, where the players go from combat to combat not bothering with the actual role-playing part of the game. The second style is when players concentrate on using role-playing and skills to get through situations. Instead of going out and killing monsters maybe they prefer bluffing them, or they use stealth to go about their goals avoiding any confrontations. Then there is the third and most common style of play which lies somewhere between the two extremes. Most people are going to want to mix and match elements of combat and role-playing in their campaigns to suit their personal preferences and tastes.
One thing people must keep in mind if they want to play AD&D is that this is a heroic game as opposed to a realistic one. What this means is that while the game does not sideline realism it does not try to straightjacket the players. Some games have tables to determine where an actual blow in combat will land, as well as separate damage charts for each part of the body and so on. AD&D does not have any of this, preferring to allow players to use their imagination. After all, landing a killing blow on someone's wrist is hardly heroic, is it? Much better to have it described as skewering him through the heart. After all, the whole point of the game is to have fun, not forcing players to follow rules they may or may not like.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, the best way to find out if you like the game or not is to go out and play it. Get your hands on the books, find some friends and go and have fun. Once you’ve tried it out a time or two then you can judge for yourself if its worth your time and attention.
Now that we have gotten past the basic description, some people are going to be wondering just what all the hubbub is about AD&D 3rd Edition. They're probably asking, "Is 3rd Edition REALLY that much better?" Well put your minds to rest, because we have an article defining the differences between the two Editions. So adios for now!