Introduction to RPGs
Imagine a world where you can be the hero. Where it's you who gets to save the Damselle (or Damseur, if you like) in distress. Where it is you who slays the monster and takes the loot.
This would be a world of fantasy. A world of heroes; of villains; of monsters; of hoards of treasure. Of magic.
We cannot go there, such places don't exist. But we can imagine. We surround ourselves in a description of such worlds and become that hero. We can tell the story as though it were real, we can live that life, make the heroes decisions, swing the swords and cast the magic spells.
Oh you can do it on computer. But we're talking about a world of infinite complexity, of a richness of detail that a graphics designer would cry over. We're talking about a world in the imagination, just like those in literature - a shared experience of you and your friends. And this time, you're writing that story together.
The Game Layout
There are many genres to Roleplaying games, and many sets of rules one could adopt. But most follow a simple plan. One of the players is designated as the Dungeon Master or Games Master, and it is they who understand the place where the enemies exist, where the 'evil deeds' take place. It is the DM or GM who will 'run' the game. The rest of the players adopt the role of a character in that world. They have abilities and skills (of which they keep a record) and they interact with that world as though they were actually there. A well run game will be totally absorbing, will pick the players up and transport them into the lives of their characters. Through picturesque descriptions and a series of planned encounters with the enemy, the players will get to be heroes in this world and will experience the things through their heroes eyes.
The characters the players play (often called 'Player Characters') are usually quite detailed. They will often have a back story and will be well rounded. The DM will pick up the roles of all the enemies, of the bystanders and random influences of the world, and these will often be less detailed, with more data to handle than the players, the DM will play out the story using these elements of the world, and the party or characters will walk that story, change it and influence it by their own choices and actions to a conclusion that, just like a good book, doesn't always end perfectly well.
Which do you prefer? Fantasy action with magic and swords? A dystopian near-future where life is similar to today, but where things have gone badly wrong? Perhaps it's an historically accurate Ancient Greece or Rome where life is harsh, and magic barely exists? There are games to cover all these and more.
There are proper science fiction games, fantasy games, swords and magic games, pirate games, steampunk or cyberpunk games, games of gothic horror, of ancient history, or games that play out in the worlds of on-screen fiction (such as Middle Earth, Star Wars or Alien).
The rules of each system can influence the choices players make. They can determine which courses of action they follow, but most importantly they govern the way the characters progress as they slowly improve and learn.
A good game system enables realistic play to progress swiftly, for the players to be a little heroic or a little foolhardy and pay the consequences in an even manner. The game rules should enable rather than obstruct good play.
There are many game systems around that allow the game to be played in different ways. Some are impossibly simple, and there is a huge range through to the impossibly complex rules which attempt to simulate reality a little too much.
In truth, the game rules should be barely noticeable in a good story. The rules will enable actions to succeed or fail based on a variety of factors and a dice roll, and the consequences will be played out within the confines of the game world.