This is a roleplaying game, a rule set that allows players to participate in stories of adventure, horror, or action, acting out the parts of the main characters. The game rules provide guidelines for what can and can’t be done, and dice rolls determine whether the characters succeed or fail at what they attempt to do. In roleplaying games, one player takes on the role of the gamemaster (GM), while the other players assume the roles of player characters (PCs). The gamemaster also acts out the roles of characters not guided by players: these are called non-player characters (NPCs).

Roleplaying is a social game, like improvising a story for a play, television show, or movie. Player characters are the primary roles: they are the protagonists the stories revolve around. A player character might be a swaggering gunfighter, depressed private eye, brooding sorcerer, mighty superhero, or a humble spacefarer trying to make ends meet. The gamemaster devises and presents the situations that the players experience, describing the world where they roam and how that world is affected by the player characters’ actions. While each player usually controls only one player character, the gamemaster presents the entire game setting—representing all its people, places, monsters, and even gods.

The gamemaster has a story to present, a collaborative scenario in which the player characters are challenged to interact with non-player characters that the gamemaster personifies. Play is mostly conversation: the gamemaster outlines some situation or encounter and the players dictate what their characters say or attempt to do. Rules provide impartial guidelines for successes and failures of actions attempted. Using the game rules, players announce what their characters do, and roll dice to determine what happens based on their stated intentions. If needed, the gamemaster interprets how the player characters’ actions affect the game world (non-player characters, etc.). The player characters use skills and abilities to face challenges, oppose other characters (player and non-player) characters, and explore the setting the gamemaster has created.

Players create their characters by defining them, with rules that help measure capabilities in quantifiable terms. This information is written down on the character sheet. Information on a character sheet includes terms like strength, intelligence, education, skills, and other abstract elements that make up a person—though ‘personality’ is evoked by how the player character is played by the player. For example, though there is no numerical value for ‘irritable’, the player or gamemaster may speak in such a manner and give that personality to the character. The character sheet is a cross between a résumé and a report card: it defines what they can do, and how good they are at it. Roleplaying is what brings the character to life.

There is a major difference between what the player knows and what the character knows. At the gaming table, players are privy to ‘behind the scenes’ information that their characters don’t have, and they must be careful not to take advantage of this knowledge. Dice rolls are used to determine if a character knows something, even when the player may already know the answer. Similarly, there is no reason a player character’s expertise is limited to things the player knows—a player character can be an expert in fields the player has no idea about. The purpose of roleplaying is to have a good time. It’s fun to deal with dangers that are not truly dangerous, threats that vanish when everyone rises from the table, and monsters that evaporate when the lights go on. If play goes well, the players feel that they’ve been to an exciting new world for a while, find strength in coping with it, and may even know victory.

1.1 Length of Play

How long does roleplaying take? There are three ways to measure time spent roleplaying. First is the session. This is the actual amount required to play a game. Game sessions usually last from three to five hours, though some are shorter and sometimes they go for much longer. The second measure of game time is the scenario. This is a chapter of the story. There is usually a beginning, middle, and an ending to a scenario, consisting of some roleplaying, some action, and a dramatic resolution. A scenario may take one or more sessions to play through. The longest measure of game time is the campaign, a series of scenarios linked together to form an epic or engrossing longer story. A campaign may be finite, with a beginning, middle, and end, or it may be open-ended, going until it ends.

For an easy way to wrap your head around it, liken it to reading a novel. The session is the amount of time to read a chapter. The scenario is one or more chapters. The campaign is the whole novel itself. ‘One-shot’ games are scenarios that do not have a place in a campaign—they’re like short stories. They may take longer than one sitting to read, but they do not continue beyond the end of the story.

1.2 Materials Required to Play

Players need little other than these rules, a pencil, paper, and a set of gaming dice. Dice are available at most gaming and hobby stores, and come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. There are also dice-rolling apps. See below for more information on dice and dice-rolling methods. Some gaming groups use miniatures as a representation of the characters: if so, players might each bring a miniature resembling their player character. The primary ingredient required is creative energy, though snacks are also appreciated.

1.3 Dice and Reading Dice Results

Basic Roleplaying uses a variety of polyhedral dice to obtain random results. These are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and qualities from games and hobby stores, or other sources. To play, a group needs at least one set of these dice, though it is easier and more convenient if each player has a set. A set of gaming dice includes the following dice: foursided (D4), six-sided (D6), eight-sided (D8), ten-sided (D10), twelve-sided (D12), and twenty-sided (D20). A percentile die (marked in increments of 10) is also useful.

The most important dice roll in Basic Roleplaying is the percentile dice roll, which is a roll of two ten-sided dice (or one ten-sided die rolled twice). In a percentile dice roll, the first value is the “tens” while the second is the “ones.” If rolling two D10, read the first result as the “tens die”—thus, a roll of 3 and 7 on percentile dice means a result of 37. Generally, with percentile dice, the lower you roll, the better.

Other dice rolls involve multiples, combinations, or dice results that are modified. For example, 3D6 means roll three sixsided dice, 1D10+1D4 means roll one D10 and one D4 and add the results together, D8+1 means roll a D8 and add 1 to the result, and D6−2 means roll a D6 and subtract 2 from the result. Die rolls are never modified to below 0, however. In the example of D6−2, a roll of 1 or 2 still equals 0.

1.4 Responsibilities of the Gamemaster

At times, the gamemaster has the most fun in the game, but this comes with the largest share of responsibility. Each player must share the spotlight with all the other players, the gamemaster is constantly interacting with all the players. Using a published scenario or one they have created, the gamemaster narrates the game universe and acts as the player characters’ opposition. That opposition must be challenging and entertaining (or the players will be bored) and it must be presented fairly (or they will be outraged); otherwise the game will not be fun (which is the primary point of roleplaying).

The gamemaster should read and be familiar with these rules. Know the general procedures for combat and powers, but it’s not necessary to memorize everything—most questions can be answered as they arise.

As for scenarios, there are a vast range of scenarios for many different settings and games. Chaosium Inc. has published many adventures for Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and other game lines, most of which are based off the Basic Roleplaying system. Other games are plentiful—and converting a scenario from one of them to Basic Roleplaying is fairly easy. Ideas for scenarios are also easy to come by—almost any film or book with some aspect of danger and excitement can be turned into a roleplaying scenario.

Ultimately, all that’s required is to come up with a story, write up some foes or encounters, and invite some friends over and have them create characters. Summarize the rules for them, and it’s time to play.