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Ask Slashdot: Explaining Role-Playing Games To the Uninitiated?

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the it's-like-poker-but-with-more-dragons-and-less-violence dept.

Role Playing (Games) 197

An anonymous reader writes "As a kid in the late 1970s and the 1980s, Dungeons and Dragons, as well as many other fine tabletop roleplaying games, figured heavily in my life. From learning about various forms of governments (theocracies, oligarchies, etc.) and Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology, to what N.B. and et al. mean, to the social glue that enabled people like me to get together, write cool adventures, problem-solve, and have a blast doing it all, role playing games were a powerful force in my life. The thing is, I still enjoy playing them. A lot. I get together once a month with friends and we play for sometimes up to eight straight hours of epic battles, puzzles, legends, lore, and camaraderie. All of this, unfortunately, seems totally alien to someone who did not grow up with RPGs and who has never experienced the sheer joy of a dungeon crawl. Have you ever had to explain to your spouse or significant other why you value gaming so much, or why it is ok to spend a hunk of time with other gamers? How do you begin to relate it all to them?"

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197 comments

Need an excuse? (4, Insightful)

Deltaspectre (796409) | about a year ago | (#41114891)

Are you trying to get your spouse to let you pull the trigger on the Reaper minis Kickstarter [kickstarter.com] ?

Re: Need an excuse? (1)

dadioflex (854298) | about a year ago | (#41115367)

Re: Reaper Minis - I was kinda glad this was popular when I heard about it on Penny Arcade (I think) but hell it's gone REALLY popular now. Stupid popular. I'd pledge myself but I prefer the blocky feel of old 80s Games Workshop figures to this. Early Citadel figs looked like this with lots of detail on spindly figures. The GW figures, which were I think the first to use plastic multi-part casting, were bolder and consequently easier to paint and still look good. Not crazy about what they're doing now. Oh, with the pre-orders now committed there will be immediate tax liabilities and commissions to KS and Amazon - the Reaper guys now have a very real, very large headache on their hands. Hopefully the community will be understanding.

I'm still awful tempted for this KS though. Figs are a fortune nowadays and it's a pretty good deal. I haven't painted anything for about six or seven years and haven't RPed in a group for about two decades. Submitter should be happy to have a regular group and not give a flying crap about explaining anything to anyone. Anyone who has no clue what a RPG is, is culturally retarded so you're going to have a hard time explaining concepts like day and night to them, never mind your niche hobby.

Re: Need an excuse? (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | about a year ago | (#41115549)

Most of the big order pledges (Vampire level ROCKS!) aren't shipping until March. Hopefully they can figure things out by then.

Dont. (2)

drolli (522659) | about a year ago | (#41114909)

Dont explain it. EIther your s.o is tolerant enough or not. Thats it.

Re:Dont. (2)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#41115383)

Well, failing that, you could try a potion of wisdom for them and a ring of charisma for you. Or a bit of Domination. You know, if they're into that kind of thing. ;-)

(But yes, if you're with a non-gamer then sometimes it's hard for them to see the attraction, even though they might consider things like acting in a play or reading fiction entirely normal. There's no frame of reference there.)

Re:Dont. (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about a year ago | (#41115493)

This.
If you can tolerate her blowing $100 a month shopping at outlet stores buying shirts/shoes/pants they she doesn't need (she already has two closets full of them), then she can tolerate your once-a-month D&D tournament.

But I have to admit I find the words "dungeon crawling" and "fun" to be incompatible. I've never understood the appeal of RPGs even when I sat-in on friends' games. I can tolerate Final Fantasy or Skies of Arcadia but only because they have strong storylines (like a playable movie). I can't play through the old NES final fantasies..... the dungeon crawls get boring & the story is minimal. I'd rather watch a movie, listen to a college lecture, or read a book.

Oh well. To each his own pleasures.

Re:Dont. (2)

Trilkin (2042026) | about a year ago | (#41115787)

A response as written by someone who has no idea what a role-playing game is, especially if they're calling campaign sessions 'tournaments.'

Re:Dont. (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about a year ago | (#41116055)

Why did you had to ruin a perfectly good answer with your chauvinist tirade?

Also, maybe you should pay more attention to the summary. Final Fantasy is not a "tabletop roleplaying game", OP is talking about a very different kind of RPG.

Re:Dont. (1)

godrik (1287354) | about a year ago | (#41115715)

That is completely orthogonal to the question. I do not give shit about dress code, pretty purses and fine jewelery. But I do understand why my significant cares about it and thinks it is important. She explained to me why she cares about it. It is important in a couple to be able to understand why she likes something. And it is important that she understand why I like something. I do not expect her to care about RPGs, programming and video games. It would be fine if she did not understand, but it is so much better that she actually does.

So what IS the reasoning? (1)

ZorinLynx (31751) | about a year ago | (#41115979)

Could you share her reason she cares about such floofy things? I've always wondered, myself.

From my perspective it all seems to be about who can spend more money on their outfit, like a prestige thing. I don't think the "hottest, newest fashions" really look "better" than the stuff on clearance.

Is this the case? Or is there a genuine art appreciation or something similar behind it? At least I could respect it slightly more if it's the latter.

Re:Dont. (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#41115833)

These days, when most gamers hear RPG, they're thinking something you get at a dropsite in an FPS, not something where you use a Dx20.... unless you prefix it with MMo.

Maybe calling an RPG a Theater Sport and giving more thought to the acting and costuming would help people understand it. I think the days of "RPGs promote Satanism" are well and truly dead; it's just that most people associate RPGs with EverQuest and WoW, or Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon, rather than the original Choose Your Own Adventure style activity.

Hmm... maybe that's the tie in: CYOA where the story's a bit more open-ended, and you have more degrees of chance (weighted by dice instead of just binary like situational decisions).

I like having fun (2)

0racle (667029) | about a year ago | (#41114913)

My fun involves killing orcs. Seriously, you have to explain why you play games to people you know?

Re:I like having fun (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41114947)

No, you have to explain why you play games to people you fuck on a regular basis.

Re:I like having fun (3, Insightful)

0racle (667029) | about a year ago | (#41115109)

you have to explain why you play games to people you fuck on a regular basis.

You chose/choose poorly.

Re:I like having fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115259)

I've never thought I have to have all the same interests as the people I love. In fact, sometimes the more aligned I am with someone's interests... the less I enjoy those things.

So, I'm not a big fan of scrapbooking or reality TV, and they don't have to understand why I like every last thing I like. It's OK, so long as you can respect that you each wants to do the stuff you like, from time to time.

Simple way to explain (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41114923)

Serial improv within (usually) numerical/statistical constraints.

Re:Simple way to explain (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41114977)

Yep. There's your answer. If you have to explain why you play this, then you need to get a new spouse or significant other.

Re:Simple way to explain (3, Interesting)

BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) | about a year ago | (#41115451)

Have them listen to the Penny Arcade podcasts of them playing D&D 4th before it came out. With Mike being a pen and paper RPG noob and no one of them ever having played 4th edition (since it wasnt out yet), there is a lot of explaining things going on. Also, its funny as all hell. It got my ex wanting to play. And I have another friend that now wants to play thanks to the podcasts.
Obviously, starting at the beginning is the best way for it to make sense. Also, the second session has Will Wheaton in it.

http://www.wizards.com/dnd/podcasts.aspx [wizards.com]

They did another session at PAX that has video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqXqK3ZlqWI&feature=related [youtube.com]

If you subscribe to the podcast, theres also a video series with the makers of Robot Chicken playing.

Re:Simple way to explain (2)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#41115735)

It's like cops and robbers, except instead of saying bang, bang, you roll dice to see if you shot the person, and how much of an injury they got. Oh, and instead of it being cops and robbers, it's more like Lord of the Rings.

Re:Simple way to explain (3, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year ago | (#41116091)

I always said "Its like acting in a radio play, only we don't have a script with everything written down, instead that guy there is the director who sets the scenes for us to act out our characters using improvisation".

I think that's a little more understandable. Anyone who understands what "statistical constraints" means already know RPGs :)

Here's a "Don't", IMO (3, Interesting)

OakDragon (885217) | about a year ago | (#41114929)

Please don't start with the example of "remember when we were kids, and we played Cops & Robbers?". I've heard well-meaning role-players start with this, and it just seems to me that it infantilizes the experience.

Re:Here's a "Don't", IMO (4, Insightful)

cretog8 (144589) | about a year ago | (#41115061)

Sorry to hear it sounds bad, because I think that's the best explanation if not the best sales pitch. While people play for different reasons, I think the most common element is the fun of playing make-believe. The trouble is for many people (including me) as we grow up we lose some of our ability to do ad-hoc make-believe. We want to be able to have some restrictions on what's appropriate in a given game, how to get around the [I shot you! Did not!] problem and so forth. So, D&D-style RPG's provide enough framework that we can play make-believe even with more adult minds.

We can argue for a lot of the benefits that come from that (good social interaction, creativity, maps, math, blah-blah) and all of that's fun, but why RPG's instead of book clubs, poker games, or jam sessions? I think it's the make-believe.

Re:Here's a "Don't", IMO (2)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | about a year ago | (#41115323)

"The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play".

Re:Here's a "Don't", IMO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41116075)

"The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play".

Next up : explaining Star Trek to the uninitiated!

Re:Here's a "Don't", IMO (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | about a year ago | (#41115607)

Besides, that's military reenactment; ya run around in army gear firing blanks for 2 minutes and then argue for 1/2 hour if someone got hit. JUST like when we were kids.

Re:Here's a "Don't", IMO (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#41115819)

Then I believe you just might be taking the game a tad too seriously.

It's play. Period. The only maturity prerequisite is really from an educational perspective: that a person be able to read on their own, and be able to add and subtract.

Step one: Define RPG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41114941)

Well, start by making it perfectly clear that RPGs do NOT involve angsty, spiky-haired amnesiacs on quests to depress the world armed only with a sword that screams "artists and/or designers are compensating for something". If you can get that spelled out in no uncertain terms, the rest should go much, much easier. Trust me.

You don't (4, Insightful)

RobbieCrash (834439) | about a year ago | (#41114951)

You can explain 'til you're blue in the face, but they'll never get it. You're weird, it's what they like about you. It's fun, and they'll either see you play it and be interested, or shake their heads and walk away and tell the dog they don't get it either.

Re:You don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115443)

To the unitiated, an RPG is bit like the mystery (to males) of all women getting up to go to the bathroom together.

As the above poster explains, you just shake your head and tell the dog that you don't get it either.

Re:You don't (1)

interval1066 (668936) | about a year ago | (#41115703)

Tried to explain D&D to my father in the 70's (started playing just after the first ed. of the monster manual, the first hardback book, was released), he could not get it even if I grabbed him by the collar, drove him to Minnesota (or wherever), and sat him down in front of Gary Gygax and had the creator of the game himself exaplin it to the old man. I also tried to explain how computers worked to no avail. He went to his grave believing the cpu did some kind of table look-up to perform a basic calculation. Ah, the travails of adulthood.

Hey you, get off of my lawn.

Collaborative Story Telling (5, Insightful)

Kintanon (65528) | about a year ago | (#41114953)

Role Playing Games are really just a framework of rules that you all agree to in order to tell a story. One person takes on the role of Narrator (The DM) and the others take on the roles of main characters in the story. It doesn't have to be a fantasy based story, it could be anything. But the joy is in taking an initial vision and writing the story together as you all experience it. It's just a more interactive version of reading your favorite book. Almost everyone that enjoys some kind of media has wished at one time or another that they could be part of the story they are watching. Role playing games are a way to make that desire a little more real.

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (0)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#41115217)

Shared narrative games are ass. Its not possible to enjoy roleplaying from the third person perspective in the same way that one can enjoy the first person viewpoint. And surprise, forget about it. Back to the forge with thee, or has that closed already.

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115675)

Its not possible to enjoy roleplaying from the third person perspective in the same way that one can enjoy the first person viewpoint

I've done just that. Am I a god or something?

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#41115935)

Indeed... I used to write scenarios and dungeon maps for friends and got a kick out of watching how they dealt with the tricky bits. Of course, knowing what was coming before they got there helped.

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115983)

Yep, the story comes once the players look back at what happened and perhaps try to tell the tale to a third party that was not present at the table. Trying to collaboratively come up with a narrative flow ad-hoc just goes nowhere.

And the Forge is closed up, as Ron Edwards was tired of everyone trying to pull toys he did not approve of but could not clearly decry as gaming out of the simulation bin.

Seriously it seems his whole thinking hinge on the difference between the promise by label of the Storyteller system, and the actual outcome of a session of Vampire.

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (3, Informative)

N0Man74 (1620447) | about a year ago | (#41115661)

That's similar to how I describe it to people.

I usually summarize it as a cooperative storytelling game, with rules to help create dramatic tension and resolve conflicts. Styles of game vary greatly among different groups, but generally tend to frequently resemble characteristics of board games, other storytelling games or exercises, improv theater, acting, or video games (I usually focus on a reference point that is most familiar to the person I am speaking to in order to compare and contrast).

I tell them that each player, except one usually, makes the decisions for one character in this story. This other player will be a "Game Master" (whether D&D or not, I suggest not using the word "Dungeon Master", or other silly game-themed title) who will act as a narrator (or director, emcee, referee, etc).

I tell them that these stories take place in specific settings. For Fantasy, Lord of the Rings (which nearly everyone is familiar with the movies) is often a good example for setting. Though, I tell them that if you can find a genre in film or books, then there will be a role-playing niche for it too.

Sometimes I give a disclaimer that there is a huge variety in the way the games are played, and that while some examples of the stereotypes do exist, that it is by no means universal. In any given subculture, whether based on interest, hobby, profession, religion, or politics) there will always be members that will make the rest of the group look bad...

But most importantly... Try not to have this talk within ear-shot of one of those gamers that make gamers look bad... On more than one occasion, I have had someone show interest in role-playing games, but then get immediately turned off because some overly-opinionated gamer who decides to chime in with his opinion regarding some gaming holy war...

Re:Collaborative Story Telling (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year ago | (#41115901)

I understand the appeal of RPGs, and if people have fun playing them, good for them. But let's not pretend that stringing together a lot of semi-random events is storytelling. Telling a story is an art form with discipline and direction.

I have to admit that a lot of SF and Fantasy these days reads like an RPG log. But that's not a good thing, unless you view reading as a form of self-hypnosis. From where I sit, there are way too many books that go on for thousands of pages without really going anywhere.

Cooperative Storytelling (1)

Ameryll (2390886) | about a year ago | (#41114995)

This depends on what your games play out like and what aspects you personally like, of course. But for me, I like the aspect of participating in and helping tell a story, so that's how I explain it. That it's a cooperative story-telling adventure.

The other part that often comes up is that since you're helping tell the story, you don't run into plot events that you fundamentally disagree with which ends up making a more compelling story to me. (For instance, "You know how in Story X the main character lets NPC Y die? If that were a table top, you could decide whether or not you thought the main character would have done that)

Like a movie or a play (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about a year ago | (#41115005)

Only your the actor and the director is insane and drunk and on drugs just like the movies or Broadway. And just like in the movies and Broadway you are their for their amusement as they play God. Your playing a part and things may or may not go your pay way, that's partly up to the dice and partly up to how well your fellow players work together and handle things. The parallels are common which is why many actors and theater types are / were gamers over the years.

Like many things done well it can be a lot of fun. The influences of gaming are far larger on society than I think a lot of society has a clue. I would also imagine that there a probably many millions of more gamers than society realizes. Unfortunately like many things when politics or power trips get in the way the fun is ruined and I have seen more than one friendship damaged and or ruined over the years when people forgot to keep perspective on things.

Don't forget the fun. Really, seriously, don't forget the fun.

alternatives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115021)

Other people hang out at bars, I hang out with friends at home BSing and playing a game. Aren't you glad its not drugs|another woman|gambling|other things my wife would disprove of?

Your SO is the problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115025)

If you need to explain to your SO why you need to hang with your pals doing something without the SO every so often, you have a problem. You don't need to justify why something is important to you or fun. It's OK to spend time away from the SO doing something that interests you because it's a part of having a healthy life. The SO's "tolerance" of that is part of having a healthy relationship.

See the nike add's (1)

Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) | about a year ago | (#41115047)

Just do it.
Let them be part of it. That is how I explained it to a few friends, who are now vivid gamers (AD&D 2nd edition, there is no other IMHO).
Just do it, let them play along, and explain the rules as you go. Help them out a bit, for example telling them what to throw and which dice is the 1d10. After a bit they will either understand or maybe even join, depending on their fantasie-skills, imagination and interest in the world you play in.

Just say you like to play house (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#41115063)

It's a lot like playing house, or playing with dolls, or playing with toy soldiers.

Except it's judged "age appropriate".

Oh, and it is NOT ok to drag your SO along with you on an 18 hour marathon dungeon crawl and yell at her the whole time because she "doesn't know what to do".

Ever.

Stick to the basic questing and take breaks when THEY want to take breaks.

Re:Just say you like to play house (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year ago | (#41115727)

Nonsense. It's wargaming that's like playing with toy soldiers.

Re:Just say you like to play house (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#41115815)

Nonsense. It's wargaming that's like playing with toy soldiers.

you mean your toy soldiers didn't have conversations about what they were doing, or cry out for help when they got caught in a tree while parachuting?

Man, that must have been boring.

I always explain it this way (2)

Omnifarious (11933) | about a year ago | (#41115067)

It's like a child's game of 'let's pretend' for grownups who like lots of pieces of paper, dice and rules. :-)

Re:I always explain it this way (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#41116043)

You're right: you could explain it as a courtroom if you really wanted to...

Of course, in a courtroom, the Judge is an external arbiter, the jury is the dice, and you have two DMs (prosecution and defense) and two teams.

Could make for an interesting RPG setup actually... one person to record the transcript, one person to interpret the rules, a group to find on "fact" (or just use the dice), and two teams, each with at least one strategist and one tank.

Re:I always explain it this way (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#41116071)

The first game of this series could be called Patents & Copyright -- play as the RIAA and your grandmother.

And this just made me think of another comparison: debate club. Works pretty much the same way as an RPG, but without the dice, and a moderator instead of a DM.

It's the karaoke version of theatre (2)

howlingfrog (211151) | about a year ago | (#41115099)

Instead of unrehearsed singing for your own entertainment, you're writing and acting out an unrehearsed dramatic or comedic story for your own entertainment. The DM is the director, the players are actors, and they all collaborate as writers.

But rather than explaining what it is to someone, just have them tag along. Bring a book in case they get bored, but they might just want to join in next time.

It's more than a game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115123)

Disclaimer: I'm not a roleplayer myself. But two of my brothers do the LARP thing. And the thing is, it's far more than a game. It's a bit of a lifestyle. Sure, there's some good clean fun and fantasy involved. The fantasy/role playing bit allows people to exaggerate parts of their personality. But there's more. There's a bit of a self-improvement angle in there too. Stepping out of your comfort zone. Skills such as cooking meals on an open fire. Crafts, to make (foam and carbon fiber) weapons and outfits. These role playing games hardly ever take place in a science-fiction style future, after all. When you look through the fantasy and storytelling, there's stuff to be learned and skills to be picked up. Skills that -god forbid- might actually prove useful if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.

Of course, when it's board games, it's board games... Does your SO play monopoly? In comparison to D&D, the former is relatively boring. D&D is to monopoly what monopoly is to snakes&ladders.

An anonymous reader writes .... (1)

Modern (252880) | about a year ago | (#41115179)

Seems like the writer may still have some repressed nerd/geek issues to ask such a question anonymously. Be proud of your RPG nerdness. Shout out loud, shout out strong..

Security Clearance (1)

Skewray (896393) | about a year ago | (#41115181)

I did RPGs for a short time in graduate school, many years ago. I was interviewed for a friend's security clearance, and at some point RPGs came up. I tried my best to explain RPGs to the nice government lady. Afterward I heard that my friend got no end to grief because Ms. gov't lady came to the conclusion that playing Champions entailed dressing up as superheroes and running around Washington DC acting out comic book stories. This is not something a person with a clearance should be doing, apparently. He did get his clearance in the end, though.

Every time.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115211)

"Every time you've ever complained that a character in a movie or a book did something dumb, irrational, or illogical you're saying you'd have done something different. Gaming lets you make the choice in the story, instead of just watching it."

"Ever time you've ever complained that a movie setting was weird, or badly constructed, or made no sense, you're saying you'd have run the world differently. Running a game lets you set those things up yourself."

Or if you're lucky enough to be involved with someone who at least knows computer RPGs:

"Every time you've ever complained that a video game forced you to make a choice, when you saw a third alternative, you're saying you want more scope and flexibility. Having people instead of computers to game with is a way of getting that scope and flexibility."

Lol, you're lucky you had friends to play with (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115225)

When I was a kid, I was such a loser that I had to play D&D by myself. I would buy all the books and modules, but didn't have any friends to play it with. And I laugh when other people say they were losers because they AND THEIR FRIENDS played D&D. At least they had friends.

People play for a reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115241)

Humans "play" for a reason. That reason is enjoyment, which by itself should be reason enough. But look one step further, and you'll see that all enjoyment (except for mind-altering substances) has its roots in our evolution.

Paper Sims (1)

wagr (1070120) | about a year ago | (#41115243)

Call it playing Sims (or some facebook game they may know about), just face-to-face using physical items like pencil, paper, and dice. It allows for more creativity & imagination.
Akin to playing Kick-the-Can became Golf when we grew up or Toss-the-Ball became Tennis, playing Cops & Robbers didn't become terrorism, it became Rollplaying.

-- Wagr

Don't waste your time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115249)

Your girlfriend will never understand and will always find it creepy. Dump her, and find another one.

Plus fur on your feet and palms... (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#41115281)

"Well, honey, you see, umm, my old habits, well, it turns I was so damned good with the one-handed dice-shaking motion, there was this natural synergy with D&D..."

No need to explain (1)

judoguy (534886) | about a year ago | (#41115303)

Me: "Different people like different goofy shit. You like to shop and not always buy just to see what it might look like on you. I like MyGoofyShit because I like MyGoofyShit."

Anything else is mere justification.

Not an explanation - an experience (1)

LoudMusic (199347) | about a year ago | (#41115373)

I don't think explanations work with this topic. It's not like there's a lot to explain. The issue is experiencing roll playing games. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an experience is worth a lifetime of explanation.

You can read about the Grand Canyon on Wikipedia and look at thousands of pictures, but until you've stood on the rim at Sunset you have no idea what it's like to stand on the rim at Sunset.

The same question over and over and over (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115395)

Seriously, this sort of question gets asked here on a weekly basis - dear Slashdot, I do something that other people don't and obviously they haven't been exposed to it correctly, otherwise they'd love it as much as I do.

You've got to realise that not everyone enjoys the same things and it's not because they don't know about it.

You don't explain, you take him/her along. (1)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about a year ago | (#41115405)

Explaining can be misunderstood, boring and confusing. I just had her join us in one of our sessions. I told her that there would be snacks, pizza, soda and beer. I also told her that she could just sit there and watch or leave if she wanted (no hard feelings) or that she could join us by quickly making a character for her. She chose to simply observe, eating her pizza and sipping soda, and she left early, but in the end she had understood that, all in all, its just a game. She also loves table-top games, so it wasn't that hard for her. She was overwhelmed by the rule books though, and, her being the shy type, didn't choose to join next time. But she got what it was all about.

Re:You don't explain, you take him/her along. (1)

geminidomino (614729) | about a year ago | (#41115461)

Explaining can be misunderstood, boring and confusing.

So can "experiencing," and moreso.

Short explanation of RPG (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115453)

You are alone on a beach, behind you is the sea and in front of you you see trees. You don't know if you're on an island or on mainland. You don't know how you got there, you actually don't remember anything at all. Your clothes are ragged and wet. What do you do?

Re:Short explanation of RPG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115577)

You are alone on a beach, behind you is the sea and in front of you you see trees. You don't know if you're on an island or on mainland. You don't know how you got there, you actually don't remember anything at all. Your clothes are ragged and wet. What do you do?

Look for Miranda?

Re:Short explanation of RPG (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#41116061)

You are alone on a beach, behind you is the sea and in front of you you see trees. You don't know if you're on an island or on mainland. You don't know how you got there, you actually don't remember anything at all. Your clothes are ragged and wet. What do you do?

Stay the hell away from the hatch.

I learned some stuff too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115463)

"From learning about various forms of governments (theocracies, oligarchies, etc.) and Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology, to what N.B. and et al. mean"...

Other things:

- reading, vocabulary, and comprehension --(puissant, anyone?) D&D and other games can be very complex systems. The initiated tend to take it from granted.
- rudimentary statistics and probability analysis -- anything involving dice -- savings throws, rolls to hit, consulting and analyzing those tables
- arithmetic -- I solidified my understanding of percentages pouring over the Thieves' table of skills
- game theory
- story telling

It's like fantasy football (2)

Chelloveck (14643) | about a year ago | (#41115477)

It's like fantasy football, without the football.

That comes from the observation that fantasy football is just D&D for people who spent their high school years beating up those of us who played D&D.

If you want a more serious answer, role-playing is cooperative storytelling. The rules exist to give a framework within which the story can be told, and to help determine the outcome of character interactions.

Really, though, it's not the kind of thing you can explain to someone who doesn't get it. It's like sports. Many of us on Slashdot are baffled by sport fans. We can't imagine why anyone would want to watch the game on TV, let alone paint themselves in team colors and go sit on a cold bleacher seat to pay $7 for a cup of pisswater beer. But we each probably have someone we love who does enjoy it. Or if it's not sports, it's My Little Pony fandom, or hunting, or cycling or fixing cars or playing music. Think of something you simply can't fathom. Then assume that's what RPGs are like to your spouse or whoever. If they don't get it then there's no point in trying to make them. Just say, "It's an excuse to go hang out with my friends for a few hours every week." and leave it at that.

Uber Goober (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115501)

I had to explain gaming to my sister-in-law, who would constantly ask me if I "won". I had her watch the video Uber Goober that goes through miniature war games, role-playing games, and LARPing. I think it helped her to see what actually goes on while playing, without me sounding like an idiot trying to explain it.

Best Analogy Yet (1)

astapleton (324242) | about a year ago | (#41115569)

Playing an RPG is like acting a part in a free-form play where you have a self-developed character appropriate to the environment who acts or reacts to an ever-changing environment controlled by the director (GM). Anyone who has ever caught the drama bug will definitely get it, and it will give non-gamers a more familiar theme to base their views on.

Lots of people don't get it, the same reason why I don't get why organized sports are fun. I understand why others like football or basketball, I just don't have any real feel for it. And you don't have to dump any kind of a relationship just because they don't get it unless they're being antagonistic about it.

How I explain it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115579)

I explain it as a nerd's poker night. Before there were movies there were books. Before there were books, there were storytellers. We tell stories in a way that engages us the most, by imagining ourselves as the characters in the story. As Captain Kirk said, "the more complex the mind, the greater the need for play."

It's like monopoly, but ... (1)

Zimluura (2543412) | about a year ago | (#41115605)

Here are two I've used before:
1) It's like monopoly, but there are hit points and you can die!
2) It's a cooperative group activity that involves creating a persona, acting. storytelling, creative problem solving, and typically some violent conflict resolution.

No explanation needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115629)

You don't need justification. Attempting to justify something will simply open it to counter-arguments, which is not the proper reaction to this situation.

My wife loves to watch tv and movies. I can't stand just sitting in front of a screen and staring at it without moving or interacting. She knows this, and therefore doesn't expect me to sit and watch with her the vast majority of the time. She also realizes that there are things that I like to do that she doesn't enjoy whatsoever, and knows that my gaming is like her tv-watching. She used to nag me about it until I started nagging her about tv watching (not to be mean, but using diction to draw parallels between her complaints and my complaints). She's a smart girl, and figured it out. When the time was right, I simply stated that gaming was my version of watching tv, and by that time she was able to completely understand (important note - stop the nagging, the point is made =P). Since then, she's been happily watching tv and I've been happily gaming. Neither of us enjoys each other's activity, but we understand that the other person very much enjoys it, and support their enjoyment.

I've had to recently explain why it's a bad idea (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | about a year ago | (#41115633)

My wife and I have a friend who's into D&D and wants to play. She's interested because she's a geek, but has never played before. I've been pushing it off coming up with lame excuses mostly because I didn't want to hurt anyones feeling strait out. But a day or two ago I was forced to explain. First D&D requires dedicated planning with a regular group. Having someone who wants to be the DM who regularly cancels for what I'll call "medical" reasons isn't going to make for a good group member or even a DM. His last group fell apart because of that, and the "ultra" paladin personality that clashes with anyone who even likes to have a drink now and then. It's easy in HS and Early College to get groups together because you all pretty much share the same schedule. Late college and adult life usually makes it impossible to get a good consistent group together. One person will be interested with Tue and Fri free and the other will be a Wed and Sat. This is why I've basically given up on a consistent D&D group, and have switched to the D&D based board games. Quick and easy to setup and don't require a consistent group just to play.

Re:I've had to recently explain why it's a bad ide (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#41115909)

Count me as another who would never have had time for RPGing (at least not in a consistent campaign) as an adult, and went over to boardgames. People expect different things from RPGs, though, so you shouldn't be surprised some GMs don't enjoy players drinking during play.

But why D&D based boardgames? I mean, Lords of Waterdeep is OK, but especially original or well-balanced it is not. It's not 7 Wonders, to put it like that. Man, I kicked ass with Rhodos last thursday.

Why Bother? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year ago | (#41115781)

If you have the patience and visual imagination to enjoy RPGs, they're self-explanatory. If you don't (and I have to admit I don't), then they're simply boring and any explanation of them is even more boring. So save your breath to blow on your 20-sided die.

My spouse or significant other? Nope (1)

neminem (561346) | about a year ago | (#41115911)

Why would I go out with someone who didn't even know what RPGs were? I'm not even that much of a pen-and-paper gamer these days, but still. If a person doesn't even know what an RPG is, there are probably other things that person also doesn't grok that would make us not particularly compatible. Both of the decent-length romantic relationships I've had (that is, the one I'm in now and one previous) were with people who had, at the time I met them, DM'd games far more recently than I had.

My mom, though, I've tried to explain it... I'm just happy when she doesn't call it a Nintendo game. Cause she does, sometimes.

What these guys do... basically.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115915)

The Pollinate Show [thepollinateshow.com] .

I know the kids that created this podcast, and when I after I had mentioned to one of them that what they were doing was basically like D&D (he didn't know anything about it before, other than having heard the name), he ended up joining my game.

If They Don't Already Know, Don't Go There (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41115943)

But if you absolutely must, here's what you do: Don't change your shirt or shower for a day. Don't brush your teeth that morning. Then, walk up to them, grab by the shoulders and shake them lightly while yelling in the loudest obnoxious voice you can manage: "I AM A GIGANTICAL NERD! (insert snorting laugh here) WILL YOU PLAY D&D WITH ME IT'LL BE AWESOME!"

You will save lots of time. You will achieve exactly the same effect in seconds that you could spend an hour with a carefully constructed introduction to role-playing games to someone who, in spite of a decade of the Internet and popular culture references, doesn't yet know what RPGs are.

Merits of RPGs as applied to real life: My story (1)

Khopesh (112447) | about a year ago | (#41115951)

Education and problem-solving are great ways to explain the merits of RPGs. For me, it opened windows into design and, eventually, software design.

In elementary school, I taught myself to research, spending hours in the public library pouring through books on swords and other historical weaponry aspiring to add them to D&D. From this, I learned to love research and history in general.

This also taught me about the necessity of balance; a weapon, spell, race, or class that was too powerful would be fun to think about, perhaps even fun for the individual using it, but not so fun for everybody else, or even that individual if given enough time. That said, players need to feel special, so the art to design is in creating balanced elements that do not appear balanced, so there must be pros pitted against cons; an underpowered weapon or other game mechanic would be dull and uninteresting. Game balance is something I have an intuitive understanding of, and this is because I started with all of this at such an early age. (This has even resulted in friends asking me for rulings on games that I'd never even heard of.)

This carried over to Magic: The Gathering when that fad landed; you need the proper balance of cards so you always have something you can afford to play while maintaining a lean 60-card (minimum size) deck so as to maximize the probability of drawing the card you need (the formulae everybody knows are the mana/spell ratio, typically 20-24 to 36-40, and having the maximum allowed number of instances (4) of a card in a deck, so your opening hand of seven cards should have two or three mana providers and roughly half of your 4x cards). This, along with understanding how to balance die rolls in game development, leads directly into probability.

RPGs are also a good way to meet people. They attract really smart people that aren't otherwise good at socializing and create a venue in which that barrier can be broken. Running a game as a Game Master (a.k.a. Dungeon Master, GM, DM) gives you leadership skills -- even management skills, as you're directly rewarding and punishing the players, as well as handling disputes and issues between them.

I once took a class on Tolkien. This launched my interest in linguistics; Tolkien wasn't that great a writer, but he created an immaculate world with unrivaled depths. This stemmed from his linguistics background -- he only created Middle Earth because he had pet languages he was constructing and they needed histories to be complete.

As an adult, I can say that the skills RPGs taught me --balance, probability, research, history, leading, socializing, and others-- have made me a star player in the workforce and in social circles. I am a software engineer who can actually express himself, be it in person, in front of an audience, or in writing. This is not at all common, and it gives me an unfair advantage (a lack of balance? Does that make me a power-gamer?)

As to how to explain RPGs in general (1)

Khopesh (112447) | about a year ago | (#41116139)

Okay, so I explained the merits in my parent post. Now on to how to explain the genre itself.

I typically describe paper/dice RPGs as unbounded versions of video game RPGs. In a video game, if you are stuck in a hedge maze, you have to navigate your way out. In a paper/dice RPG, you can cut through the shrubbery, or if it's too stubborn, you can climb atop it and survey the maze. If confronted by a superior foe, you are forced to run or else die in a video game, but with a paper/dice game, you could talk your way out of the situation or come up with a clever workaround ("It's a good thing I brought this tasty meat!" *toss*).

It's this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that makes it so exciting, and that prevents me from ever being able to enjoy things like Everquest or World of Warcraft.

To turn this back to "justifying" your time playing as an adult, it still spurs imagination --and camaraderie-- for you and your group in ways that may otherwise fail to exist. It's the excuse to get together and network, to throw ideas around and escape the trappings of everyday life. It helps you focus on work and family by giving you a distraction (wind down the stress of everything else and just relax), leaving the opportunity for an "a ha" moment, hopefully that doesn't involve your streaking through the neighborhood buck-naked shouting Greek words.

Its a game. (3, Interesting)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | about a year ago | (#41115957)

Its a game where you all make up a story as you go along - one person knows what the general plot is going to be and everyone else gets to make up the details as they find out more of the plot. To keep things interesting no one has absolute control over what happens. Players suggest what they think should happen and dice are used to see if it pans out exactly the way they wanted. The bits you aren't in control of are compelling for the same reason a movie or a book are compelling and the bits you do control are satisfying for same reason any creative act is satisfying. There may be more to it but anything else might be more difficult to relate.

"IT Crowd" episode "Jen the Fredo" (1)

keith_nt4 (612247) | about a year ago | (#41116023)

Show them the "IT Crowd" episode entitled "Jen the Fredo".

Besides being one of the best geek sitcoms ever (and conveniently on Netflix) that episode I think does a perfect job of demonstrating the appeal of the pen-and-paper RPG.

Collaborative Story-telling (1)

Leo Sasquatch (977162) | about a year ago | (#41116031)

Or like an improvised play. Or like a half-written thriller novel, where you're trying to work out how it might have ended. Depends who I'm trying to explain it to, and why.

I got a job once because on the interview form, where it said to state an achievement I was most proud of, I listed a 3.5 year RPG campaign that I wrote from scratch, designed the system for and GM'med every episode on a weekly basis. When they asked me about it, I explained how this involves system design, small-team leadership, group discussion and input, fast reactions to new data and events, and a huge amount of thinking on one's feet.

What I didn't mention were the puns that could stun at 20 paces; laughing so hard that it felt like God herself had opened the top of my head and kissed my naked brain; and the ability to reduce grown men and women to genuine laughter and tears with a handful of pencilled notes on a piece of paper.

What I couldn't mention is that some things grow out of these adventures organically, and there exists no way to describe them to outsiders. There is too much context required, and you know their eyes would glaze over long before you reached the punchline. There are only a handful of people on this planet who will ever understand why: "Range to target?" "B flat!" is funny, or grok what we meant by "Warm up the anthrax cannons, the main speakers, and the rotisserie!", or know why the cry of "Death from above!" is *always* followed by the line "Chocolates from Switzerland!". And that's as it should be.

I'll never understand why anyone would care about the outcome of a game that they didn't have money riding on; the mundanes will never understand why we never stopped telling ourselves stories.

RPGs are a rare type of non-competitive game (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#41116033)

The games run most smoothly when there is no competition between players. That's the highest selling point to parents. Plus they're low cost hobbies (~$100 initial expense for the entire group, and decades of fun can be had with those materials; you spend more on the doritos).

In terms of describing them; just say it's cops & robbers for grown ups. Remember when cops and robbers stopped being fun? It was right around the time when some kid figured out the "Nuh uh! you missed!" line. Role playing games allow people to play a role, and if there's ever a question of whether someone failed at a task, there are rules (usually involving dice) that allow for a definitive answer. But as I said above, the games are usually structured in a way that the players are acting as a cohesive group against (or with) the rest of the game world. So cooperation is king, everyone has a good time, and yes, you can have a mountain dew, just go get one. [youtube.com]

Start with the general move to the specific. (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year ago | (#41116057)

Explain to your wife that people play games (all kinds of games) together in order to make a human connection. Whether it is golf or poker or mahjong or softball or Risk or bridge. So, at root, one participates in a role playing game for the same reason that one plays any game. To be with other people and get beneath the surface, to challenge onesself and take the measure of others. But in a kind of simulation of life. Your social ass is on the line, but not totally on the line. (And any serious golfer or chess player will tell you that their game is life and life is their game.) The truth is that the money in a friendly poker game is usually secondary to the social payoff in winning or even in losing. And even the outcome is subordinated to the experience. And, if one thinks about it, a poker night gives the players an opportunity to undertake roles as well. The focus is admittedly clearer when there is a winner and a loser. And, to an outsider, a player's motivation is more easily understandable because there is money in the picture. But, if you can get across the idea to your wife that you play D&D (or whatever you play) for basically the same reason that other people play golf or Scrabble or pinochle, then you are at a good starting place.

It sounds to me that the long sessions have her worried. But you could point out that when guys go out for 18 holes eight hours is normal if you include the postmortem in the club taproom and pre-lubrication. All in the name of sport, of course.

Mentally healthy people play games with each other and that's a fact. It feeds a pretty deep-seated social need. As to why you find role playing more satisfying than, say, golf. Say it fits your intellect and personality better. Role playing games require a lot of imagination, mental and emotional investment, but no-one (we hope) completely forgets that he or she is gaming. Point out that actors do not forget who they are when they are performing. They successfully suspend who they are, but they don't forget. One of the most popular games of all time is Charades. And what is it but a free-form role playing game? In theater circles it is referred to as simply "The Game." Put in this perspective hopefully she won't think D&D is so weird. It is weird. But not that weird in the scheme of things.

What not to do... (1)

asmkm22 (1902712) | about a year ago | (#41116069)

Context is everything.

Back in college, we had an oral presentation class; basically public speaking and learning how to target your audience and such. I decided to do one of mine on role playing games, in particular the early history of them, and how they've slowly become more accepted due to modern computer games. I didn't get into much detail, but did talk about the standard elves and dwarves, as well as the fun of essentially pretending to be someone you aren't, in a world much more interesting than yours.

It was only about a 10 minute speech, and at the end were were supposed to do a quick Q&A session, if anyone had questions. Well, the whole room was dead silent for probably the slowest 10 seconds of my life, until one young lady raised her hand and very timidly asked "are you talking about sex?"

It became very clear I approached the topic without even considering that, for a lot of people, the term 'role playing' was a sexual term. I quickly replayed my speech in my head and realized that I probably ended up looking like a completely psychopathic sexual pervert to most of the room for the last 10 minutes.

I like to call it (1)

rk (6314) | about a year ago | (#41116085)

Improv acting with dice. We're heavy on the characters and story, and will cheerfully ignore the rules when it makes for more fun. Some people hate those kinds of games, though.

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