What is it?
Not necessarily fat nerds talking in "thou art" faux-medieval talk, and not an occult ritual - PnP RPGs is short for pen and paper role playing games. These are role-playing games played by groups around tables, with analog utensils and oddly shaped dice, that take place mostly in the players’ imagination. Each player will assume a character (usually, with one acting as a “game master”, and is in charge of the world and rules), and the game will be mostly verbal, though sometimes various aids like figurines are used for combat.
Role-playing in its current form as been a popular hobby since the 70’s, and in its basic form since probably ever. Despite negative stigma, role-playing is very different than its media representation of schizophrenic nerds in Renaissance attire - Come with an open mind and you might discover one of the most diverse and interesting gaming experiences available.
This thread aims to provide a place for seasoned players to exchange experiences, for old time players to check back on their old hobby (and maybe revisit it) and for new players to see what all the fuss is all about. This includes games, systems, LARPs and game books - Basically, anything RPG.
How do you play?
The best way to visualize PnP RPGs is to try and remember the games you used to play as a child, the sort of make-believe games we all played. PnP RPGs are not much different than those, they’re just the grown up version. While as a child objectivity and consistency was not of much concern, as adults we tend to need some common ground in order to play together - some rules and limitations to our make-believe world. These rules are what we call a “system”. These systems will try and emulate the world through statistics, numbers and parameters, with the “random” elements of life such as luck usually represented through the use of dice. These system can differ greatly from one another, because of different outlook, genre, philosophy etc. The World of Darkness games, for example provide a special “willpower” pool whereas D&D does not, because of the bigger emphasis WoD games place in horror. Some systems will aim to be “universal”, fit for any world or genre, while others will be more specialized and intended for specific genres or, sometimes, even specific settings. Each player will usually record the numbers that make up his character on a character sheet. The game master will usually keep track of the world and environment that are outside the player’s control, and he will also usually lay out the plot and story and play other characters the players meet. Games usually consist of a “campaign” which is an overlaying story with a beginning and end, that is broken down into “adventures” or “quests” which are smaller self-contained stories that eventually build the bigger plot, those usually consist of several play sessions. Terminology may change depending on the group or system.
While all the above is usually the case, these things can vary greatly from system to system. Some systems do not use dice at all and resolve everything through predetermined statistics, some do not use a game master and create the story and world through collaborative story-telling. And then, Some players prefer to even not use a system at all, and play free-form. RPGs are probably the most adaptable games in existence, all you have to do is find out what works for you!
Where can I play (and with who)?
Here’s a handy list of links that will help you find a group near you!
WoTC Event locator - http://ww2.wizards.com/StoreAndEvent...r/Default.aspx
Pathfinder Society locator - http://paizo.com/pathfinderSociety/events
ENWorld's Gamers Seeking Gamers - http://www.enworld.org/forum/gamersseekinggamers.php
PenandPaperGames player lookup - http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/memberlist.php
If you prefer to play over the good old 'net, here are some helpful tools, by courtesy of piratepwnsninja:
Wizard's official Virtual Table. (Thanks to Kritz.)
Tabletop Forge 2.o - seems like a rather cool Google+ app
More info and screen at this post (Thanks Enduin, finally I have a use for Google+.)
Originally Posted by general Features
- UI flexibility. Most of the widgets in the application are both resizable and movable so you can layout things as you like them on your monitor.
- Resizable and movable video canvas. This let you see whoever is actively speaking and you can place it wherever you want and resize it.
- Windows can be minimized to bottom of screen or the title bar can be double-clicked to collapse the window.
- Theming support. A dropdown menu of various themes to change the color and style layout of the text and widgets.
- Map state, dice macros, combat tracker, and basic character info can be saved to the Google App Engine cloud and restored again in a later Hangout.
Overview of Popular RPGs
D20 - Dungeons & Dragons
D&D is easily the best known, most influential and arguably the first PnP RPG. Usually the first experience with RPGs, D&D is often the gateway drug in to the hobby.
It is an almost universal fantasy game, as despite the books usually presenting some “default” setting (currently an hodge-podge of various fantasy worlds), it can be easily adapted into various fantasy settings. This versatility resulted in many worlds, or “campaign settings”, published officially for the game - covering the full spectrum of fantasy sub-genres - From the high-fantasy Forgotten Realms and Krynn to the dying-world post-apocalyptic Dark Sun. From the fantastical astronomy of Spelljammer to the surrealist plane-traveling of Planescape. This is not to mention the infinite worlds created by various game masters for their games.
D&D was released in the 70’s and was owned by TSR, which released its first editions, up to the second edition of the Advanced Dungeon & Dragons (a split of D&D intended to be more elaborate and strategic). It later ran into difficulties and was bought by Wizards of the Coast in the late 90’s, who continued releasing content for the game. With the release of the 3rd edition, WoTC discontinued the “basic” D&D line and removed the Advanced from the brand, renaming it back into Dungeons & Dragons. They also further streamlined the system and made it more accessible. This system would later be called the D20 system and released as a universal system, used for various genres and games, such as Star Ward, D20 Modern, Call of Cthulhu and more.
D&D is currently in its 4th edition, released in 2008, which is the most streamlined and beginner friendly yet. It has also recently been announced that work has begun on the 5th edition - Not much details are available yet, but it seems it's going to be simpler and modular in nature - making you choose how complicated you want the system to be. You can find most of the info here.
D20, including the basic D&D rules, were licensed under an Open Game License, meaning anyone could use the basic ruleset and some chunks of text for free, no strings attached. This lead to several other games using systems based heavily on the d20 rules, the most notable of these, I think, are Pathfinder, which is a modified version of the 3rd edition of D&D, and the True20 system, which is a simplified and more streamlined take on the D20 system.
Storyteller/Storytelling system - World of Darkness, Exalted
The Storyteller system was White Wolf’s system used in the old World of Darkness world. It was later replaced by the basically identical Storytelling system. It is the basis of pretty much all of White Wolf’s games and, as the name implies, places much emphasis on storytelling. The Storyteller system uses only 10 sided dice in gameplay.
As I mentioned, the system was used in the various WoD games, the best known of those is Vampire: The Masquerade, in which feature the players as vampires in the Final Nights dealing with the complicated politics of kindred society. The old World of Darkness setting was discontinued after a metaplot apocalypse event, but was followed by the new World of Darkness games with a slightly different setting and a tweaked system (Though the old WoD was recently revived through White Wolf’s on demand printing service). Both World of Darkness versions are well loved and acclaimed by the RPG community.
The Storyteller system is also used in White Wolf’s Exalted - an epic fantasy game, inspired mostly by Japanese anime and comics. The game lets you play a mighty Exalt of an anciet god - The Unconquered Sun. Characters in Exalted are sort of demi-gods, much more powerful than any human, so the game is often very epic and grand in scale. Exalted had two editions released so far.
Designed by Steve Jackson Games, GURPS was one of the first systems designed to be truly universal. GURPS is short for Generic Universal Role-Playing System.
The system tend to be very reality-based and pretty heavy on the statistics - GURPS is probably one of the most realistic of the popular systems. GURPS uses only six-sided dice.
The system has a seemingly infinite amount of supplement books helping Game Masters adapt the system to any setting or genre they wish to set their game in.
Early days of superhero RPGs were dominated at first by Villains and Vigilantes and Champions. They had a small dedicated audience that was soon eclipsed by TSR's Marvel Super Heroes (1984), by Jeff Grubb and Steve Winter. Later joined by Mayfair's DC Heroes, these two games both dominated the genre and defined it for years to come. Both eventually died off while Champions has continued through the years. Various Marvel and DC games came out but never had a big effect on the RPG audience.
In recent years, the game changer that was d20 brought about Silver Age Sentinels (2002), and more importantly Mutants & Masterminds (2002). M&M specifically has gone through 3 major editions, and spawned the licensed DC Adventures (2010). A major player in the new Supers renaissance was Steve Kenson, who has also brought out the excellent RPG-lite Icons (2010), which harkens back to the old TSR Marvel FASERIP system. Margaret Weis Productions just released the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game (2012) and has a full line of support planned.
Savage Worlds is a "newer" universal system that is a simplified modern version of the classic Deadlands rule system (which itself has been relaunched as a setting for Savage Worlds). Rather than a more realistic stats heavy approach to a universal system, SW instead is a fairly fast & loose system. Character creation takes minutes. The mechanics are all fairly uniform and geared towards never bogging players and GMs down in unnecessary rolling. Even the more advanced mechanics are simple enough to where you can easily teach a fresh group of players how to play the game and have everybody up to speed in little time.
The system also usually has a very low price of entry, with the Savage World Explorers Edition (a softback that features the ) being priced at a very fair $10. Sadly, it's presently out of print as Pinnacle is in the process of revising it, but you can still find copies around the market for the usual price. The hardback full sized version of the book is readily available at $30, which is still a low cost of entry. (thanks to Nairume for the summary)
Call of Cthulhu
It was dark and stormy one Friday the 13th in November, 1981, appropriately marking the release of the first ever Horror RPG, based on the story of the same name. The setting is the Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft and some other contributors, commonly using the 1920's as the primary time period, but also the 1890's, and present day. Humans are but a minor speck in the history of the universe, and there are much older things, more terrifying than we can believe or comprehend. As an investigator, it is your role to uncover clues leading to those crazy enough to worship or summon such creatures, or even the creatures themselves. You will accomplish your task and are likely to either die, or go insane trying. Don't worry, there's plenty of fun to be had here.
Call of Cthulhu uses the Basic Roleplaying (BRP) percentile system in a way which is meant to realisticly portray man's confrontation with unimaginable horrors. Call of Cthulhu is an excellent system which rewards intelligence and planning over brawn and bravado. It is great for running both one-shots, and long campaigns such as the legendary 'Masks of Nyarlathotep'. At over 30 years of age, up to its 6th Edition, it is still incredibly well supported and has spawned similar BRP-based settings such as The Laundry and Delta Green, not to mention the GUMSHOE-based Trail of Cthulhu. There are numerous scenario books by original creators Chaosium, Pagan Publishing, Arc Dream Publishing, Goodman Games, Miskatonic River Press, and more. There is set to be a new 7th Edition rulebook in 2012, and as with all other editions, every Call of Cthulhu product remains compatible. (Thanks to Danoss for the great summary!
There are still many other games and systems - Shadowrun, Rolemaster, Basic Role-Playing, SRS, OmniSystem, Advanced Fighting Fantasy, Palladium... The list could go on forever.
Some are older and established, with a strong and devote following, while others are made by independent publishers. The basically non-existent cost of production and ease of reaching an audience in the Internet age means that indie and smaller publishers can flourish. Some are nothing more than generic, others truly push the boundaries of your imagination and redefine RPGs - Games like Life with Master, Nobilis and Polaris, that will make you rethink everything you expect from an RPG. So even if fantasy is not your thing or you don’t really care about statistics or numbers - D&D is only one very specific aspect of RPGs, there’s surely one out there that’s right for you, you just need to find it.
Many writers have have harnessed the potential of the strong RPG comunity and opened Kickstarter pages, This tumblr features most of them: http://rpgkickstarters.tumblr.com/ (thanks krypt0nian!)
I would like to give a very special thanks to krypt0nian, who wrote both the Superhero RPG section and compiled the helpful Where to Play list. Thank a lot!