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An Introduction to Roleplaying

So what is this roleplaying stuff that Vurt seems so interested in? Well - as with all definitions - there are several answers. The short answer is that roleplaying games allow you to take on the role of another person in a different situation and describe your reactions to various situations. The marketing answer is that roleplaying games allow you to step into a world of excitement and fantasy where your dreams can come true and you are the final arbiter of your own destiny. The wanky answer is that roleplaying games allow an exploration of character, situation and subconscious. So, what is the Vurt answer?

Well - the Vurt answer is a long one. And to get the true picture, you need a bit of background.

The first (commercial) roleplaying games were essentially war games without a board. They evolved partly from miniature warfaring. In the original games, you used a number of statistics (usually randomly rolled) to describe the physical and mental abilities of a character. The game was played by a small group, most of whom had a character. One player would take on the role of referee (usually referred to as a GM - Game Master, or some similar term) who would desribe the setting that the other players' characters were in. Each player would describe how their character reacted. Games tended to be based in classic fantasy settings and centre on combat, finding treasure, exploring labyrinths etc. because these things were easily described by dice and statistics, reflecting the games origins in wargaming. There are still many popular games of this type - the most obvious being Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

As the years went on, new forms evolved from this basis. Other genres became popular and a whole host of new commercial systems were published. The other thing that happened was that roleplaying conventions started. This meant that rather than having half a dozen people available to play a game, there were potentially many hundreds. A few new styles of gaming were born from this. Firstly, the team-on-team games, where several teams played the same game at the same time, and the GMs communicated with each other as to what was happening. Another was the freeform. The first freeforms were for very large numbers of players (up to about 100!) and were a step away from the combat-oriented small player games. Instead, the focus was on interaction between characters and achieving specific goals individually. Nowadays, most freeforms are between 12-30 players.

The other thing that happened was that people wanted to get up out of their chairs and run around a bit. This happened in two ways. First, there came the LARP - or live-action role-playing. In these, people used pretend armour and weapons to act out their battles. The other thing to come along, that managed to fit more into the "main-stream" convention scene, was multi-forming. A multi-form game is an ordinary round-the-table game, in which occasionally (or constantly - depending on circumstances) players would act out their characters' actions rather than describing them. This did not go so far as bringing props and costumes, as in a LARP, but allowed the players to get more of a feel for their characters.

In Sydney, role-playing games were finding a new focus. Rather than the combat-oriented games of the past, people were writing and playing games in which the idea was to explore emotions in real-life situations. This "cathartic" style of gaming was (and still is) sneered at by the older-style gamers. Unfortunately, the two camps still have an on-going battle. However, a combination of cathartic gaming and multiforming produced two more important ideas: Systemless Gaming and the Theatreform.

Systemless gaming abandons the concept of statistics for a character and instead relies on a verbal description. Generally multi-forming is encouraged in systemless games. There is a pre-conception that systemless games are always cathartic - an entirely unfounded one. Rather, cathartic games tend to be systemless but this is also not entirely true.

Theatreform is possibly the most immersive form of roleplaying to date. A Theatreform is part LARP and part multi-form. Essentially it is a multiform game played in the arena of a LARP. Thus, there are props, costumes, lights, effects etc. but the players multiform their actions rather than play out battles - most Theatreform games are systemless (unlike LARPs) and tend towards the cathartic (although there has been at least one comedy Theatreform that I know of). Theatreforms are fairly rare as they require a reasonable amount of expenditure and roleplaying conventions - where most are run - are still non-profit ventures.

And now? Now there's a whole host of other things as well. There's freeform campaigns, computer roleplaying game, CCGs, dungeon bashes, short sharp shocks and all sorts of others.

So, what's the Vurt definition of roleplaying? The answer is fairly simple, really. All of the above.