Thursday, 26 September 2013

Diary of a Roleplay Beginner #1: Introduction

Greetings, readers, this is Rob from Games & Tea (which you probably knew as you're on our blog).   So far G&T's been primarily concerned with board and card games, with the occasional look at game systems which verge on being board games (I'm talking about you, Puppet Wars and X-Wing).  But a few weeks ago we were approached by the lovely folks at StoryWeaver and asked if we'd be interested in reviewing some of their roleplays.
Now whilst we have no issue with the idea of reviewing RPG's, the fact of the matter is we've never played one before and so wouldn't have a clue where to start.  However, I've always been roleplay curious, so have decided to take the plunge and throw myself into the world of D20's, character sheets, and furious pencil work.
I personally have a number of friends who have roleplayed in the past, and many who still do, but I know a fair few who - like myself - are interested in roleplay but don't know how to go about getting into the hobby.  The whole notion of roleplaying can seem very intimidating to an outsider, and so I'm planning to run this diary within Games & Tea to chronicle my early steps into what looks to be an awesome side of the hobby.
What I won't be doing is bringing you detalied reports of every roleplay session, I think this would stray away from the point of these posts, and I imagine even the most awesome roleplay events to fall into the category of "you had to be there".  What I will be doing is talking about my experiences immersing myself in these new worlds for the first time and creating my first characters, the feeling of being involved for the first time in both the narrative and combat sides of roleplay, and perhaps in time even going on to my first experiences as a Game Master.  So to start with I'm going to have a ramble about how I've managed to get myself into a roleplay group, and the past couple of weeks spent studying the rules tome (the word 'book' wouldn't really do it justice) and creating my character.  You may want to read all about it, you may not.  Either way, I'm going to keep talking.
The Beginning!
Between tabletop systems, board games, card games and TCG's, I've been an active hobbyist for roughly 12 years now (I was a late bloomer), but roleplaying is one aspect of the hobby I've never ventured into.  I've always liked the look of it, but breaking into RPGing seemed to be the issue holding me back, and from speaking to a few people I know it's not an issue I'm alone in.  Unlike a new board game or even to an extent a lesser-complicate tabletop system, RPGing never looked like something a group of inexperienced gamers could just sit down and have a go at.  At the very least the GM really needs to know his onions, and to help facilitate smooth play at least one of the players does as well (again, all from an outsider's perspective).
So I'm a frequent loiterer at our FLGS Titan Games, and a few weeks ago I was hanging around on a Sunday afternoon, playing board games, buying things I couldn't afford, stroking peoples' faces, and just doing all of the other usual gaming store activities.  As the hours wore on and closing time approached, some friends of mine started to congregate around the large gaming table at the front of the store; it seemed I had unwittingly stumbled into a roleplay group, and they were gearing up to start off the first session of a new campaign.  Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to see what roleplaying was all about, I pulled up a chair, ordered in a pizza, and sat down to watch these guys lose themselves in a fantasy world for a few hours.
This is the nice thing about having a hobby store to hang around at; if you're interested in trying something out then the chances are there'll be some people around who also want to give it a go, and also that there'll be people ready to hand-hold you through those crucial first steps.
In this instance, the fantasy world was that of Western Immoren, the setting for Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms system.  Those who are familiar with tabletop wargame systems may already be aware of Iron Kingdoms, as it shares the settings with their popular tabletop systems Warmachine and Hordes.  Not having played either of these games before, a lot of the background of the characters was lost on me, with religions, races and classes meaning absolutely nothing.  Even so, I sat there quietly (for the most part) so as not to interrupt the flow of the game, and took in as much as I could about the goings on of their party.  The GM did kindly offer to let me fill in the conversational side for one of the NPC's (non-player characters), but having no roleplay experience I didn't want to mess up the game's setting and so declined.
The first thing I noticed was how pretty much anything is possible in a roleplay scenario.  This is something I'd heard tales of before in tail-ends of conversation, but had yet to witness first-hand.  After the party had been set up on their initial starting point, one member (a priest) headed into the streets to feed the poor, one (an aristocrat) decided to go and worm his way into the local noble's good books, whilst the rest of them just decided to all start drinking for a while.  Whenever an incident came up which required a dice roll to determine success or failure I tended to get a little bit lost on how the GM reached the result, but still thoroughly enjoyed the narrative element of the game.
By the time the session's big combat encounter came along I was quite invested in the party's characters, and even though I was just an observer, I found myself genuinely caring whether they made it through the battle in one piece!
Anyways, to cut a long story short, they scraped through (again, most of the mechanics of the combat went straight over my head), and the session came to end with the story ready to be continued next time.
Having thoroughly enjoyed sitting in and seeing how a roleplay works - and with a copy of the Iron Kingdoms core rulebook on the shelf in Titan - I immediately picked it up and threw myself straight in!  It did help that the next session wasn't due for another few weeks and that I was about to go on holiday for a week, so I'd got a deadline in which to learn the ins and outs of Western Immoren, and create a character to slot into the group.
As soon as I picked up the book I realised I'd set myself something of a monster task, with it clocking in at a total of just over 350 pages.  The first 200 of these are all about the titular Iron Kingdoms themselves, and so whilst they aren't necessary for understanding how to play the game, an overview is needed to understand the world you're inhabiting, as well as the way your character is going to behave and respond to certain events.  With no small amount of trepidation I found myself a suitable bookmark and started reading.
The background section proved to be an overall interesting read.  There were some sections which were true page-turners, and some which trundled along like a dusty old history textbook, but with over 10,000 years of Immorese history to get through that's no real surprise!  Along with the history, there are sections on the main nations, people, and races of the Iron Kingdoms, as well as cultural points including religion, law, commerce, education, technology, magic... pretty much everything you could want to know about the world lies within these 200 pages.
After reading about history, the major nations and their inhabitants, I started to get restless, and so skipped ahead to the character section of the book.  By this point I'd got enough background knowledge that I felt I could comfortably start creating my Iron Kingdoms character.  I already knew I wanted to be a male human, and I'd chosen his nationality.  After a good old flick through the character pages I chose his career paths, selected his skills, and then started his mini-biography.  Now I love writing (hence rambling away on Games & Tea any chance I get!), so sitting down to flesh out my character gave me a massive buzz, and it was here that I found the gameplay and background parts of the book starting to mesh nicely.
I'd start to write a bit and then think "hmm, does this fit in with his culture?" so I'd flick back to the reference part of the book, tweak his background a little bit, and keep going.  After I thought I'd finished, I went back and carried on with the reference section, and every few pages was finding some small detail which would really help to embellish my character, or a point which would cause an issue with the history I'd written for him.  This constant reading/tweaking really helped to give my character an organic feel, and on some nights of the holiday I'd lie in bed thinking about how else I could give him more depth.  In the end my first ever roleplay character took just over a week to create, and at the time of writing this I'm extremely excited about getting myself into the fray.
Reading the rulebook has helped to throw a lot of light onto that first session where I sat by feeling a bit lost, but I genuinely think it helped to watch that session as a non-roleplayer.  Whereas some sections of the rulebook probably would have left me scratching my head, the experience of watching other people roleplay first allowed me to put examples to the rules, and the whole thing made a lot more sense.  I'm sure I'll need a bit of hand-holding to begin with, especially in the narrative areas of the game where there are no real limits to your gameplay options, but with a supportive GM and understanding players, I'm confident it's going to shape up to be a brilliant experience.
So at this point I don't have much more to add.  I'll be posting an article next week about how I'd found my first session as an active player, and hopefully more in the future as I gain experience and start taking a look at other systems!
And speaking of other systems (I really should give them another nod for gifting me with PDFs of their rules), the two StoryWeaver roleplays I now have in my possession are Rapture and High Space.  While it may be some time before I get round to branching into another system, Games & Tea's friends over at fellow hobby blog The Hobbynomicon have recently played their first Rapture session, and I understand The Caustic Triton is planning to write up an article about it so pop over and pay them a visit!

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