Role-Playing Game Types

Over the years I’ve been asked what my favourite type of role-playing game (RPG) is. I love them all, since they all have different pros and cons, and I like that they have differences. By type I don’t mean the system, setting or genre, but the method of playing the game:

  • Classic RPG or Tabletop (RPG, or TRPG), also sometimes called pen-and-paper. Of course a table is not required, plus these days can be played virtually via things like Skype, or dedicated software.
  • Live Action (LARP)
  • Computer (CRPG), whilst the label RPG is often misused with computer games, there are some excellent CRPG.
  • Play-by-mail (PBM or PBEM), a very broad term includes everything from chess to detailed moderated RPG. Subcategories of PBM include playing via: chat, forum, blogs, wiki, journals, google documents, etc.

On average I found that during such chats about favourites, the player asking tended to prefer the type of game that they were currently playing; nothing surprising there. On rare occasions a player would declare all other RPG types as inferior, or even outright stupid. Predictably some of them had not played many other game types.


A bit of a tangent, I’ve met a few people whom have only ever played a single RPG, despite gaming for years. I’m curious how they could play for so long whilst not trying out one of the numerous other games. Although it is great that they’ve played something they have enjoyed for so long.

Whilst it’s great that there is so much information on the Internet about RPGs, sadly it is hard to find useful statistics. Thankfully Wizards of the Coast did carry out a big survey in 2000, although I wish they’d asked even more questions. In particular I’ve often pondered how many RPG books have been sold, in 2004 a BBC article posted:

An estimated 20 million people worldwide have played D&D since it was created, with more than $1bn spent on game equipment and books.

Whilst I would have guessed that more people had played D&D in 2004, that is still a seriously big number, especially considering how niche RPGs often seems to be. I think RPG is still growing in popularity, if only because of how popular computer games are these days. Although RPG mechanics are now common place in computer games, sadly those alone do not make a game into an RPG.

At a later date I will write an article about what I think the pros and cons are for the different RPG types. To me the commonalities of role-playing are compelling. From my experience all the different types of RPG equally allow for role-playing, as all of them can be just as emotionally intense and rewarding as each other. I’ve played all types of RPGs, covering all genres. Some games use detailed rules systems, ranging all the way to almost no rules. The biggest factor of all RPG is always the players, what each of us individually brings to the game.

The next RPG article will focus on PBM.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games 3

Part one can be read here, and then part 2 here.

This is the continuation of the story from part 2 about the time I watched a Vampire the Masquerade game in the 90s. Over the course of the gaming session my friend asked me several questions, some were rules queries, and some were requests for feedback on ideas he was pondering. I politely reminded him that it was not my game, nor did I know the house rules, so even if I quoted the rule-book it wouldn’t matter. My friend explained that he’d only asked me questions so he could bounce ideas around; he only did this when the Storyteller was busy with other players.

The person running the game did not complain, instead choosing to focus on running the game. I am sure my friend’s actions were a bit distracting, but my friend was not trying to ruin the game, and had been considerate in regards to quietly chatting with me whilst he was waiting for his turn.

The game was good, and thankfully nobody seemed annoyed by my attendance. I thanked the Storyteller, and apologised if my presence had been disruptive, he said it was fine; I had sensibly turned my Presence discipline off. To my friend he then said:

“Next time, leave your pet Storyteller at home.”

On the walk back to my friends we had a good laugh about me being his pet Storyteller. He expanded his previous explanation, to help explain why he did not view his actions as being disruptive. He thought by bouncing ideas off me, he was helping to keep the game flow, so he could speed up his interactions with the Storyteller, since besides not having to check rules he could additionally have his ideas developed. I appreciated that his goal was to be more efficient, and to take up less Storyteller time, which was in theory commendable.

The lessons of note:

1) Ask about deviating from the group’s normal playstyle

I think my friend should have asked the Storyteller before the game started, if it was okay to discuss ideas with me whilst the Storyteller was busy with other player. It could be distracting to some, especially since the person running the game obviously has an opinion on rules queries, and it could be viewed that having an external person agreeing about how things could work is a form of ganging up.

One of my common answers to questions about how best to handle things in a group is whatever the group’s preference is. Despite what some may think, there is no perfect playing style, so therefore the opinions of the members of a gaming group are what matter, not those of an evangelising article written by somebody that is not involved.

Upon reflection, after the initial query by my friend I think I should have added “It is not my game, maybe ask the ref if they are okay with you involving me.” I guess I didn’t to minimise my impact on the game, I thought what I had said would have deterred my friend earlier.

Batjutsu Pet DM close
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

2) Perception of fairness still matters, even in co-operative games

This may initially seem like a strange thing to mention, since role-playing games, especially tabletop, are co-operative not competitive. In a game part of what is always involved are the feelings and reputations of the participants, since nobody likes to be seen as foolish, or less important.

Consider that if one player is receiving a private peer review before they discuss ideas with the Storyteller, then their ideas might be better on average than others, leading to all sorts of potential gains for them in game, such as resources or implementing clever plans over enemies. Over time another player might become resentful at this sort of special treatment. The point is to be aware that even something as small as this can have an impact, and thus it can affect others; after all if it was not worth doing, then the player asking wouldn’t be doing it. This issue is likely avoided if a group regularly discusses ideas, and even an individual player’s action, thus everyone’s ideas gets a chance to be discussed.

3) When to tackle concerns

I think the Storyteller handled the whole thing well. They did not become emotional at what could have been deemed as disrespectful. I appreciate that whether the incident counts as disrespectful is subjective, my friend certainly didn’t mean to be, and saw an opportunity to help the game. A DM/GM/ST will consider whether something is going to escalate, and thus some things may be deemed as needing sorting out as soon as possible. Although often patience and respect for others will reveal that there was not going to be an escalation, and confronting a tiny problem could make it become major.

Batjutsu Pet DM dice
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

An extra bit of the anecdote is that once we got back to my friend’s place, we continued a solo Vampire Elder game we had been playing for the last week. Elysium: the Elder Wars had not long been out, and as long-time Vampire players it was interesting to explore the mind of a much older Vampire. The relevance of this is that week of playing an Elder vampire lead to my massive Methuselah campaign roughly a year later, and from that to my 16 player Night City campaign.

Due to this being a busy month, #CampNanoWriMo and I am also getting ready to play-test a boardgame I have been working on. So I will write about the big games next month.

With great role-play comes great responsibility

Yesterday I read about events that had taken place at the recent Lorien Trust (LT) event of live action role-play (LARP). Even though I have not played LT for a few years, it briefly made me cry.

The story of Lady Fama finally came to a dramatic conclusion; a character played by the lovely and talented Liss, whose group I had been in for a few years. I shall keep the overview brief, as I guess only the people involved would care about, and know, the depth that I am skimming over. Plus a lot has happened since I last played.

For years I had played my character, Stalik O’Mite, as an independent, spending most of my time at Guilds. Things changed a lot for me when I joined the Cerebelli group, and it was immediately obvious this was a special group. I enjoyed my time with them, even though I was still mostly at the Guilds. I barely spoke with Liss out of character, and I regret not getting to know her more, we were all so busy. Stalik had many roles as a house servant including scribe; two examples of my work can be found here. When a prominent character retired there was a big IC event, and the following was declared:

“This time next year there had better be tales about Prince Firenzi!” Those were the words of the Unseelie King of Arcadia, Oberon, as he escorted the Prince back to Arcadia at the Summer Moot in 1110.

In my mind I have two images side by side:

  • The player, Liss smiling and saying hello when I arrived at events. A quick chat before we both rushed off to sort out our kit and say hi to other players.
  • The character, Lady Fama with her frockcoat white and trousers, long boots, a distinctive blue waist coat. Her hands clasped firmly behind her back, walking somewhere to do her duty, bound by oaths and a solemn quality.

Fama walking

As a Fae with strict Oaths, Fama’s actions were bound tightly, with conflicting demands; she always seemed so well controlled, but there was something dangerous being controlled. Lady Fama had a close relationship with her brother Lord Aeneas, it was generally considered that she kept him in check; I knew this was not so simple, that Fama’s spirit was powerful and thus complicated. When I found out that Lord Aeneas had died the previous year in a ritual it was upsetting enough, but at the time my thoughts were about how Fama would handle this.

I choose to stop playing LT for a list of reasons. I made a difficult decision, but it wasn’t until hearing about Fama that I really regretted stopping. I wish I’d spent more time with a group that I knew was awesome; I didn’t have a problem with my group, all the members were great.

I was happy that I got to read Liss’s overview of what occurred, the scale of events leading to such a great ritual. The fact that the Cerebellis managed to avoid their stories turning in to nightmares was noteworthy. I felt the need to write something, but since I have not played LT for the last few years, I clearly could not write an IC piece like I had written for Firenzi.

I contemplated explaining why reading Liss’s overview was so moving, but I decided it was not my story to tell, and I would be repeating an overview that I was not present for. Instead I recalled a list of great moments of personal interaction between Stalik and Fama.

A noteworthy interaction between Stalik and Fama relates to the Firenzi article:

this article was undertaken at the request of Lady Fama, of the Teutonian House of the Serpent. King Oberon’s threat notwithstanding, Lady Fama wanted the events noted anyway.

As a house servant Stalik was a loyal Sluagh, and willing to go that extra mile. Whether running a tea party with an assortment of Seelie & Unseelie cheese, gathering information, or carrying out the rescue of a fallen house member, there was so much to do. Before his ritual, Stalik’s whispering voice was not heard, nor his opinion sought. The power relationship between the ruling Sidhe and their servants was as one would expect. However, when Garret started spending time with Fama, Stalik deduced the nature of his intent and asked Fama about this. A restrained, tolerating brief line of questioning was followed by an order to not mention it again. It was not unexpected, but hurtful given the duty to assist. It was a good example of the brief but regular intense interactions; such is the power of Sidhe and the lesser Fae.

Fama Haven

For those that did not come across Lady Fama at LT it will be hard to appreciate why I hold the character, and the player, in such high regard. I am sure most role-players have a list of fellow players they admire, and I am not trying to claim that Liss is peerless. LT is a large system, with a lot of players who are great role-players and lovely people.

It is human nature to focus on the negative, and it seems all too common for role-players to try and outdo each other, often involving grand tales of surviving/tolerating terrible players. Thankfully having gamed so much, as well as professionally, I learned to appreciate that cool stories are what matter. I truly rate the story of Fama as one of my favourites, such an appropriate thing for a Fae in LT, and I appreciate there is so much I don’t know. Another part of my reasoning is the amount of role-play that Fama created for so many people; as Stalik I got to witness so many great encounters, and ramifications a few years later.

I am sure numerous groups are making lovely offers for Liss to join their group. Whatever she role-plays next will be great, and quite possibly become something exceptional. To found out more about Liss, and another reason why I respect her, check out the wonderful everwalker blogs. Since Liss is a writer I hope to be able to read a book about the full Fama story in the future, but given how many Fama machinations are likely still ongoing, it may be a while.

A special mention to the whole group, several of whom are pictured below. A great group of role-players. Without great members playing less socially powerful roles it would have been much harder for the Sidhe players to appear as important. I was complimented a few times OOC by important Fae in other groups for making them feel special, and as someone of genuine high rank. With great role-play comes great responsibility, and this is something that I found Liss did well; IC as Stalik I was her servant, OOC I was a valued member. The same with the rest of the Sidhe, it was normal to be asked what we wanted to achieve in game, to be assisted in getting there. Even better the Sidhe characters were often able to deliver, making both the IC and OOC relationships stronger.

PS – My Fate Sucks!

Court group