Possibly the most difficult thing about roleplaying is explaining what it is. This is a little ironic since, in all likelihood, you've already done it. Remember those games of "let's pretend" you played as a kid? Perhaps you recreated the adventures of Luke Skywalker in your garden, or opted for something a little more traditional, such as "Cowboys & Indians". Well, that was roleplaying. Rough and unstructured certainly, but roleplaying nonetheless.
Although they're more sophisticated (not to mention more fun), roleplaying games have the same basic concept at heart. Each player takes the part of a character in a fictional world and acts out the thoughts, words and actions of that character. However, rather than physically acting out these roles, players simply describe what they're doing and saying, making up an unfolding story as they go along.
The most important aspect of roleplaying games is that the players are free to make their own decisions regarding their characters' actions. If you've ever groaned in disbelief as the heroine of a film flees upstairs to escape the mad axe-man coming in the front door (thereby allowing him to cut off her only escape route), or almost had your head explode with frustration as the hero blunders about spectacularly missing clues you spotted half an hour ago, roleplaying games are for you. It's your decisions, and those of your fellow players, that decide the outcome.
In order to keep the game in order and give it some structure, one of the players acts as referee. This person acts as the senses of the players' characters, describing what they can see, hear etc. and also playing the roles of other characters that the players' characters meet. The referee is also in charge of using description to evoke the atmosphere of a game.
Example: In a game based on the "Star Wars" films, the players may take the roles of the four major characters. The other characters, such as Lando Calrissian, Darth Vader, the bartender at the cantina etc. would be played by the referee as and when they are needed.
The referee is also in charge of creating new adventures for the players (although there are also ready-written adventures available from hobby shops), and acts as arbiter of the game rules. If there are any judgement calls to be made, it's the referee who makes them. Some game systems even encourage the referee to create his or her own game world in which to set adventures. As you can see, the job of referee isn't for the timid!
While AlternityRPG.Net is devoted to the Alternity science-fiction game, there are a whole host of games and genres available. The three most popular genres are heroic fantasy, science fiction and horror. However, there are plenty of other kinds of game, from westerns to Hong Kong action movies! Whatever your preferences, there's a game out there for you.
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