Monday, July 26, 2010

RPG for Teens July 31 at Central

What's an RPG? Hint: Not a Rocket Powered Grenade!

Wouldn't like to meet him in a dark alley.
image from here
On July 31, we're bringing two gaming experts to the library for "RPG One Shot Day," Kennon Bauman and Jeremiah Cushman, who have both run games at the D.C. Game Day, will be running two games at Central Library starting at 1 pm. To find out more about what exactly is going down, I spoke to Kennon and Jeremiah and got the scoop:


Kennon Bauman: Gaming Expert #1
Can you explain for those who don't know the difference between an rpg game and a regular board game?
K: In some ways, RPGs (Role Playing Games) are a lot like boardgames. They have rules, other players, and (usually) a goal. That said, you can't really "win" an RPG, and you're going to spend a lot more time figuring out ways to cooperate with other players rather than competing with them. Another big difference is that almost all RPGs include a player called the "game master" or "referee" who helps run the game for all the other players, representing the game world and all the characters the players will interact with throughout the game. It's not too different than playing "pretend," except that in this case, you've got to cooperate with others to get through a scenario crafted by the "game master."
Jeremiah Cushman: Gaming Expert #2
J: RPGs tend to be more cooperative, while board games are more adversarial. In RPGs, however, there's a lot more going on off the board. Players interact with each other and the Game Master to overcome challenges as much as they roll dice or move figures around on a map. One can also run games with just a few players and dice, with all of the action being described and essentially going on inside the players' heads. There's also a cooperative storytelling aspect to RPGs that is lacking in board games.

What does a typical gaming session look like?
K: Most game sessions last a few hours. They usually start with an explanation of what's happening in the "story" of the game, and a quick review of the rules the players will need to know. Then, the players get into the meat of the game -- usually called an "adventure."
Image from here, by Steve Ellis
J: Sessions can be as varied as the people involved. Typically, though, you'll have several players and a game master sitting around a table surrounded by gaming books, dice, snacks and beverages (Mountain Dew is the stereotypical gamer beverage of choice). The GM is usually at one end of the table, with a larger collection of books than everyone else. The GM sets the scene, possibly creating a scenario for the players to play through, while the players decide what to do and when to do it, based on what's happening. It can be very freeform or more rigid, depending on the style of play preferred by a particular group.

Is it hard to remember all the rules?
K: The game master will help with all the rules you'll need to know! The basic premise of the game is simple enough that you won't have much trouble keeping the basics in mind.
J: Of course, the more you play, the more familiar with the rules you become. But the first rule of successful RPGing is to never let the rules get in the way of the fun. GMs learn to adjudicate based on the ruleset, whether or not they remember a specific rule or not (in some cases, there may not be a specific rule for the situation at hand!) The goal is to maximize everyone's fun without getting bogged down in the rules. Different games will have different amounts of rules (or crunch, as we call it sometimes).

How long have you been gaming? What was the first rpg game that you enjoyed?
K: I've been gaming for more than 15 years! The first RPG I ever played is a relatively popular one called Dungeons and Dragons, but I spent more time after getting started playing a game based on the Star Wars universe.
J: I played my first 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons game during lunch or recess in the 7th grade (call it 1994). I didn't really get heavily into it until high school, when me and my nerdy friends would even play in the social center during lunch (that only lasted through 9th grade however). 2E D&D was my first game, but I quickly branched out into Robotech and Shadowrun and I've played many others since.
Jeremiah and Kennon participating in a game at the
last D.C. game day!

Do you have a favorite character that you've played?
K: I've played lots of characters that I really enjoyed, but because I spend a lot of my time as the "game master," most of my fondest memories are of the stories other people's characters have helped me tell.
J: I played a half-orc monk named Kaereth with very low intelligence, and very high wisdom, in a great game run by Kennon. That was probably the longest running game I've ever been a part of and it was a lot fun to watch my character grow throughout it all, particularly with his inborn challenges.

If teens enjoy the gaming session, where can they go to learn more about the activity?
K: There are a few game stores in the area where the staff can help tell you about the games that are available, and several local gaming conventions and game days throughout the year that you could use to find other interested gamers. Of course, the internet is another huge resource, and websites like www.enworld.org and www.rpg.net can provide a lot of background on the hobby, and help you find other interested gamers!

What are some good games, RPG or Board or otherwise for beginners?
K: Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular RPG out there. It's a fantasy game currently in its fourth edition, and there are probably more resources (both on- and offline) available to help new players play Dungeons and Dragons than anything else.
J: The rules are pretty straightforward and there's always someone playing it.
K: If you're more interested in Superheroes than knights and wizards, Mutants and Masterminds is a great game to get in to.
J: Mutants and Masterminds is a great system; it's very simple and very flexible for a variety of game types. If you're into science fiction dystopias, Shadowrun is a great game, as well.

Image from here, by Britt Martin
Do you have any advice on what it takes to write a good session?
K: Sessions are usually called "adventures" for a reason. Think of a bunch of things you and your friends would enjoy, and then start trying to fit them together into a single game. Make sure the bad guys are *really* bad, the good guys are *really* good, and then go from there!
J: Preparing a game session depends a lot on the people involved. My advice is to plan sufficiently. Players are always doing the unexpected, so too much planning can get you into trouble. Sketch out a basic outline of what you're trying to accomplish in the session (clues, conflict, puzzles etc.) and fill out any places where you foresee longer interactions or battles. But be prepared for things to go differently than you expect! That, after all, is half the fun.

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