Monday, December 19, 2016

How to Succeed in RPGs

Starting next week, I'll be doing winter workshop classes for my university. My morning workshop is the ever-popular "Screen English" where we watch movies and talk about them. My afternoon workshop is "Improving Conversation through Role Play" which, you guessed it, means I'm playing D&D with the students who sign up.

Last year it was a bit of a bust, so I'm taking steps to make it easier to grasp, more fun (I hope), and also helps my students improve their English more. One thing I did was simplify the character sheets. There's no combat information on them other than their hit points and what weapons/armor/spells they have. There is some physical/mental/social description of each PC, and general exploration chances (like finding traps, secret doors, foraging for food, etc.). Also, each class's special abilities are listed, including a set array of spells, once per day each, for the spell-casters.

Another is to make a list of Achievements (like in modern video games) which should help them both to get an idea about the sorts of things that happen in D&D, but also give them goals to achieve in the game.

Finally, I just wrote this short description of what role playing games are all about, and some questions that the students can ask when they are stuck for information about what to do. I'm copying it here:

How to Succeed at Role Playing Games

What is a role playing game (RPG)? It's a type of shared story-telling game. One player is the referee (usually given a specific name for each game, in D&D the referee is called the Dungeon Master or DM), who plays the part of the imaginary world, and also applies the rules of the game and judges success or failure of actions. Each other player plays a single character (player character, or PC) and had nearly complete control over that character. Together, the referee and players tell a story, using the rules of the game and dice to determine how the story plays out.

How do you play? The referee describes the scene, and the players describe their characters' actions. The referee plays the parts of non-player characters (NPCs), monsters, and the world itself (weather, environment hazards, etc.) and decides what actions they will take. For actions that are simple or easy, the action happens unless the referee decides there is some reason why it would not (starting a fire may be easy, unless it is in the middle of a storm). For actions which may succeed or fail, dice are rolled to determine success or failure.
Once the players are content with a scene (called an encounter), it finishes and they move on to the next one, usually because of their choices. A connected series of encounters is called an adventure and a connected series of adventures is called a campaign. Players play the same character in a campaign, and as they meet the goals of the game, they get experience points (XP) and level up, gaining more power, more abilities, or more options – until the character dies. Then the player makes a new character to continue playing.

What is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)? D&D is the oldest commercial RPG, first published in 1974. It is a fantasy game (other games are sci-fi, horror, mystery, pulp adventure, martial arts, post-apocalypse...) where the PCs live in a world with medieval technology, magic, and monsters.

What should my PC do in a D&D game? There are three main activities in D&D: exploring the game world, interacting with NPCs and monsters, and combat. The goal of the game is to defeat monsters and earn their treasure. Both defeating monsters and gathering treasure give XP, but usually more for treasure. Smart players try to get treasure with as little risk as possible.
When you have an encounter with an NPC or monster, you have several options, but usually players choose one of four: don't interact/run away, talk to the NPC or monster, attack the NPC or monster, or wait and see what the NPC or monster does first. Not every monster is going to try to kill or eat you, and likewise not every NPC is going to want to help you.

You said I could do anything in the game. I have too many options! What should I do? If you're ever not sure about what to do, you need to start asking questions to the referee and other players. The fun of RPGs comes from exploring unknown areas, having encounters, and surviving (although it can sometimes also be fun when your PC dies!).
Good gaming is about making choices. You need to be able to decide on the size of the risk involved in an action against the size of the reward you may gain. In D&D, staying in town can be fun, because you can interact with many interesting NPCs. But it is safe, and XP rewards are small. In the wilderness or a dungeon (dangerous places), there is more danger, but also greater XP rewards for success. Similarly, some monsters are less dangerous but have small treasures, while other monsters, like dragons, are powerful and very dangerous, but have very large treasures! Deciding on the amount of risk you wish to take for the amount of reward you think you will earn is part of the game. If you can't make a choice, try asking the DM some of the questions on the next page.
Using Your Senses
  • What can I see?
  • Can you describe what ____ looks like in detail?
  • How big/heavy/etc is _____?
  • Do I hear anything?
  • What does this place/thing smell like?
  • How does the air feel? (hot, cold, humid, dry, charged with energy, etc.)
  • I touch ______. How does it feel?
  • Can you describe _____ again?

Checking the Environment
  • What kind of area are we in?
  • How many ways in and out are there?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • What kind of things are there in this area?
  • Does anything seem strange or out of the ordinary here?
  • How far can I see?
  • How much light is there here?
  • I want to search for ______. What do I find? (secret doors, traps, clues, etc.)
  • How far is it to ______?

Checking Your Knowledge
  • What do I know about _____?
  • I want to know more about ______. Where can I go to learn more?
  • Who can I ask about ______?
  • Do I feel like I can I trust this information? (or trust this NPC, or book, etc.)
  • Did we learn anything about this before? [Taking notes can help with this!]
  • Would my PC know how to ______?

Taking Actions
  • I want to try to _____. Can I do that?
  • What are my chances to ______?
  • If I fail to _____, what will happen?
  • What can I do to stop the NPC/monster from ______?
  • Can I _____ before the NPC/monster does ______?
  • Can I _____ on my turn? (this may be more than one action!)
  • If I _____ [plan], could I _____ [action you want to succeed]?
  • Does my PC see or know of any way to _____?

Remember, the game is about making choices, and to do that, you need to know your environment and what is happening in it! Ask questions when you are stuck.

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