Incredible leaps have been made in the computer gaming industry. Never before have we experienced the rich levels of immersion, the rich and well-developed worlds, the tremendous cast of characters and personalities that turn games into works of art in their own right.
And yet, more and more people are discovering a love for the classic tabletop RPG games. When we can spend hours wandering Tamriel or Hyrule, living their rich and detailed histories, we just as readily flock together to hear someone describe in broader strokes, a world that they’ve cobbled together. We can experience the rush of sneaking or rushing through a city in pursuit of a dangerous mission, but still enjoy grabbing paper and dice and describing our actions.
While video games make leaps and bounds towards realism and vibrant complexity, tabletop games remain broadly unchanged, though new versions and rule-sets are written regularly. With a wealth of beautifully rendered and animated worlds and people, why are geeks so enamoured with moving inanimate plastic around flat paper maps? The answer is simply, freedom.
You have the power to create characters and worlds however you please. Want to be a crossbow wielding vampire in an orbital colony around Jupiter? Sure thing! There are hundreds of different role-playing systems and rule sets that can suit whatever ideas you can conjure up. From the classical fantasy worldscapes of Dungeons and Dragons, Lovecraft’s maddening horrors in the Call of Cthulhu, and across the very stars in Serenity, Star Wars or Dark Heresy.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, there are systems that you can use to build whatever world you like, such as Savage Worlds, or GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System). Or if you’re feeling really brave, why not find a system that you like and find ways to change it. There’s no reason at all why a great-axe could not become a buzz-saw, nothing to stop you declaring that the alien races of one game are the mythological beasts of your own.
Your imagination can run as wild as it likes. Or not. You can dream as big or small as you please.
When you’re in the game, you have the freedom to act and react as a normal person. When presented with a challenge you be can as creative as you like when it comes to resolving it. For example: you are asked to delay an army with only five people at your disposal, they march down a wide road and are less than a week away. You can’t fight, so why not try one of these options:
- Topple trees across the road
- Arrange to have the local farming community “suddenly decide” that it’s a great day to move their livestock
- Infiltrate the ranks of the army and sabotage their progress from within
- Build a dragon out of cardboard and try to scare them off (laugh if you must, but I’ve heard worse ideas)
There is nothing to stop you trying any and all of these ideas or a thousand others. Of course, that’s not to say you’ll succeed – that’s for the dice to decide – but how often do you get that choice in a computer game?
The Personal Touch
In an MMO you can play with thousands of people across the world, meet (and insult) people you would have never met without the internet and a shared love of gaming. But no matter how easy it becomes to game with like-minded people world-wide, nothing matches gathering five or six of your friends together to write a story of your very own. As human beings, we gather together instinctively in societies; why should our games be any different?
Every world you craft, and every story you weave is uniquely yours. No one else will have the same experiences as you. Half the fun for a tabletop gamer is telling and retelling your tales to friends, usually preceded by an “Aww man, you shoulda been there!”
An Art In Itself
“It is the player who comes to complete the work and to close, albeit temporarily, the world that it opens, and the player does this in a different way every time.” ― Pierre Bayard (Paraphrased. He was talking about books)
Skilled dungeon masters (or games masters if you prefer. I don’t) can craft a game that can evoke real fear, sorrow and joy in their players, the same way a singer, writer or painter does. Every player experiences the game differently, take away their own vision and interpretation. Done well, a tabletop roleplay is art.
More commonly it’s a prolonged series of arguments, distractions, an excuse to eat whatever the hell you like (because it’s game night, it doesn’t count) and all in all, a huge laugh. What better reasons do you need to grab some dice, throw together a character and play?
My name is Joel (Terra_Phi most places) and I run a site called Quotes From The Tabletop with a friend of mine who’s much better at site-building than I am. If you’re interested in getting into tabletop role-playing, our site is full of good reasons, all the stupid and brilliant quotes and stories that could only ever happen at the table.