This is the DracoDen Productions Role-Playing Games FAQ; herein we'll answer the most common questions we've been asked over our years as role-players, and even a few that we haven't, but others have been. Cool, no? So sit back, relax, and settle in - this might take a bit.
So what is a role-playing game, anyway? Simple. Role-playing games (RPGs) are a form of games which usually involve pencils, paper, plenty of funny-looking dice, and at least two people with functioning brains. Taken all together, and given a game system of some kind, these ingredients allow for role-playing - taking on the role of a character in the game, much in the same way that an actor takes on the role of their character, but with a great deal more freedom. There are no scripts, only the imagination - the Game Master (read: the guy with all the rules at hand and the biggest workload) spins out the world, and the rest of the group bring their characters through it. It's a kind of group storytelling, with each player telling the part of their character, and the Game Master playing the part of the setting. The dice add the thrill of uncertainty into it, as random chance can decide whether a character lives or dies.
Okay... So you pretend you're this character? Isn't that unhealthy? Only if you're mentally unstable or high on something - for the first, you should be seeking help, not playing games, and for the second, you should be locked up and introduced to Bubba and Duke for about ten years. As for the rest of us, role-playing is a great way to blow off stress and have a fun time. At the same time, it's great for people who have to be creative for a living - not only is it a break from the job, it's something where you get to be creative however you want, rather than being constrained by a plot.
But my (insert priest-like person here) says (insert RPG system here) is evil and a plot of Satan! What gives? Congratulations. You have become a victim of religious bigotry and media misconceptions. Between the priests needing a handy minority to denounce and the media looking for sensationalist stories, the role-playing industry got a bad rap really early. It only got worse when the occasional pack of mentally unstable idiots or drug-addled punks got hold of a few rulebooks and confused them for the real world. Most RPGs are about the struggle of Good against Evil - and 9999 times out of 10000, you're one of the good guys, fighting against the tides of evil to save the world. Heroic fantasy at its best - like an interactive Lord of the Rings. Personally, I've been playing since I was in 5h grade, and I still haven't seen anything resembling an elf or troll roaming the streets, aside from the occasional really-too-beautiful or really-too-ugly person on the streets. Of all the people I know who /are/ role-players, only one might fit the profile for confusin reality and fantasy, and there're a lot more issues involved with him than a simple game.
Ok, it sounds cool. How do I start? Easy. Find a local hobby shop - most malls have at least one shop that carries RPG rulebooks, and usually two or three - and see if you can put up an ad that you want to try the hobby. Most gaming groups are happy to help out newbies. Or, failing that, you can find a set of rulebooks - personally, I recommend the Dungeons and Dragons system, whatever edition, as the easiest to pick up and learn - and get together some of your friends to try it out. Most places that sell the books also have adventures for players to buy, which absolves new Game Masters of the trouble of creating adventures for their group right away. Go on, give it a try - if you don't like it, nobody can make you keep playing.
That's cool, but what if there's nobody near me who wants to play? Try online. Several search engines exist for gamers, and if that doesn't work, there're always MUDs, MUCKs, and MUSHes - the online shared-world games that let players from all over the world interact freely. They range all over the spectrum - from heroic fantasy to dark cyberpunk and horror to anime and science fiction. They've all got varying levels of intensity, also - Star Wars MUSH (set in the Star Wars universe; well worth a look, if you like Star Wars) is a heavily in-character place, while Phoenix MUCK (anime-themed, and my current favored place to RP online) is less so, and Alfandria MUCK (dragon/furry-themed, which I've ceased visiting for various reasons) is to the point that in-character and out-of-character don't have a boundary between them. Or there're messageboards, chat rooms, even entire webites dedicated to bringing gamers together.
What if they try making me do something? First, calm down. Nobody can make you do anything, regardless of what various bearuacrats might claim. If the group you're with is doing things you don't like, speak up. If they don't want to change, leave and start your own group. You have free will - use it.
Isn't this just a geek game, though? Cool people don't play it, do they? Depends on how you define 'cool' - most of the people I've known who called it a 'geek' game were shallow air-head preppies too concerned with keeping their hair and clothes pretty to try and get laid to bother with ever actually using the brains under that perfect hair. My friends and I, on the other hand, tend to think a lot. Sometimes, a gaming session shifts from role-playing to some of the strangest debates imaginable. At one point, we went from a dangerous mission into a dark, damp cavern to debating how black holes really function - without any trouble in the shift. Face it - being intelligent and thoughtful is a hell of a lot better than being 'cool'. It'll get you farther in life.
Okay, that's all for now, kids. Got anything else you want answered? Email the webmaster with it.