Many of my LJ friends are people I know from MUXes, those magical realms where you can pretend to be anything you want provided you don't mind getting laughed at, or you can be anything reasonable if you actually want to keep people from having to leave for sudden dental appointments every time you want to roleplay with your invincible beautiful red-haired green-eyed walking katana.*
A couple days ago, however, it became evident that although most of my LJ friends are familiar with freeform online roleplay, many are not familiar with tabletop roleplay. This happened when a friend of mine, whose name I will not mention but which rhymes with "keelie", sounds like "keelie", and is keelie, came to me for advice on Dungeons and Dragons.
So for your convenience, I've put together a guide to tabletop roleplaying that should prove insightful, helpful, comprehensive, and also the fact that I'm a dirty rotten liar.
Before we get into the many tabletop games, we should discuss your fellow players, as it is they who truly define what the gaming experience is like. This is especially true of whoever is running the game. Called the DM ("Dungeon Master"), GM ("Game Master"), or in any game where the word "roleplaying" can be replaced by "angsting", Storyteller ("Drama Queen"), the person running the game is what will primarily determine how the game goes.
Several types of GMs
The Bastard is the GM who sticks to the rules so closely that he usually ends up trying to kill you with them. It's like the rules are his friends, and the players, who want to do things the rules don't allow, want to hurt his friends. If you're ever caught in a game with both a Bastard GM and a Bastard Player, be prepared to either be bored out of your mind at the rule-quoting that goes on (half which you could swear you've never even heard of), or have some popcorn on hand when the fist-fight starts.
Common conversation heard with Bastard GMs:
"Oooo! You rolled a 9! You needed an 8 or lower to succeed! Too bad, you're dead."
"But that's a 6, not a 9. See the, little indicator dot shows which side is supposed to go up-"
"Sorry, but from where I'm sitting, it's a 9. You're dead! New character!"
The Wuss is the GM who refuses to face the fact that it's possible for you to lose, and will do everything possible to see to it that none of your characters die. While this may seem like a pretty sweet deal at first, it rapidly becomes gaming hell, as absolutely nothing you do will have any actual effect on the game's outcome. Even if you critically fumble a sword slash while battling a dragon in its lair, it will just result in you hitting the side of the cavern by accident, causing a cave-in, and burying the dragon beneath several tons of rock. You win. Again.
Common conversation heard with Wuss GMs:
"I throw myself off a fucking cliff."
"Your fall is broken when you land on the evil villain who just happened to be riding his horse on patrol below! You take only one point of damage which is immediately healed by a breaking healing potion splashing onto you, and he is instantly killed. You have saved the kingdom once again!"
The Nudge is most likely a pretty decent GM who simply hasn't realized what he's gotten himself into. His story, while interesting, requires that the players actually know what the hell they're doing, which they never do. So he finds himself having to sort of hint to the players what they're supposed to do, then nudge them, then purposefully shove them along their path. When I first started in on GMing, I was a Nudge, so for the example conversation I'll provide a slightly dramatized version of an actual game conversation:
"And on the doorway is scratched the riddle: It is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the start of every end, and the end of everyplace."
"Take a few moments."
"Er... man, this is tough." (Several minutes go by)
"Here, I'll write it down so you can read it."
"The answer could be an-E-thing. An-E-thing at all."
"I know! Time!"
"....you're thinking of The Hobbit again."
"Oh. Uh... teeth!"
"No. It's not that hard. It could be called EEEE-sy. Fairly EEEEEEEEEE-sy."
"Couldn't you give us a hint?"
"THE LETTER E! FOR GOD'S SAKE, THE ANSWER IS THE LETTER E!"
"Is the answer fish?"
The best classification of Player Types are the Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies, and Munchkins. Not only are these player types classics and uncannily accurate, but by linking to something about them, I don't actually have to do any extra writing!
Then of course, there are the various gaming systems. Systems can vary from so complicated that you can't use the bathroom without an appropriate dice roll, to systems that are so simplistic that you have a single stat called "Do everything" and which you only ever roll against when you feel like it. Systems are neccessary because, given absolute freedom of movement with no rules to govern their actions, players have been known to try and play trenchcoats (nobody even inside the coat, just a damn trenchcoat), ninja, Elder Gods, and "Prince Vegeta only not as wussy."
Dungeons and Dragons: The most well-known RPG, considered the grand-daddy of all roleplaying games. Except that truly, the first roleplaying games were those make-believe tea parties the girl next door was always trying to get me to participate in. Seriously, she was like the cleric, Mr. Bun was the stoic paladin, and that spiky-haired blonde kid and his stuffed tiger were the annoying fighter munchkin and his cool bard friend.
But I digress. DnD is the RPG most RPGs owe their inspiration to. DnD has also been accused of being devil worship. If this is true, then Satan has committed suicide long ago after having to deal with every argument over saving throws in the world. Hell also doesn't have to keep "revising" itself to ensure that pain and torture are being fairly distributed.
Title - The Subtitle: This isn't the actual game title, but is simply the formula for titles made by White Wolf, a company that decided it would be cool if all elements of classic horror were rounded up, shoved into a cramped space, and then forced to be explained and categorized so that they wouldn't be mysteriously interesting or remotely scary any more. You can tell you're in a White Wolf game because of the snickering drifting over from a nearby game of DnD, which soon devolves into comments of: "Wait, you can move super fast and bite people's throats out? Hey, uh, lemme take a look at one of the character sheets to, yeah, uh, laugh at it."
White Wolf games are also responsible for coining the term "aggravated damage", which has to be one of the stupidest goddamn roleplaying phrases ever next to "THAC0."
TOON: A lighthearted game played purely for laughs where nobody dies.
Paranoia: Exactly like TOON, down to having the same author, except instead of nobody dying, everybody dies six times very quickly.
LARP: Not actually a roleplaying system so much as it is a way of re-interpreting roleplaying systems, LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing, and consists of taking a game of DnD or Monster Under The Bed: The Sheet Wetting off the table and out into the real world, where the players are no longer in the safety of someone's basement and don't have a steady supply of snacks and soft drinks to keep them going. LARPers will dress like their characters, talk like their characters, but won't be nearly as smart, skilled, or tough as their characters. A LARP game can usually be identified by the snickering drifting over to it from a nearby White Wolf game being tabletopped, which quickly devolves into comments of: "Hey... that's a cool cloak. Where can I get one of those?"
Risk: Although technically a wargame, the drama that surrounds a Risk table is often far greater than even the most attention-grubbing LARPer can manage. This is especially true during the pre-game fight over who gets to be the black army.
This game also proved that if Australia ever decides to take over the world, we're all totally fucked.
EverQuest: A tabletop game moved to the computer and without the whole "having to leave your house or interact with other people" thing, and also without the whole "only having to pay for the game once thing." The only good thing about EQ is that it can never be LARPed. Those who would attempt to do so would immediately burst into flames and take "aggravated damage."