Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mechanics of an RPG

So, some of you aren't familiar with role-playing games (RPGs).  I'm sharing the piece below that I wrote up for one of the players in my home game.  It's a short introduction into RPGs and Pathfinder in particular.

How to Play Pathfinder

Pathfinder, like all role-playing games (RPGs), involves cooperative storytelling.  Player characters (PCs) assume the role of a specific person involved in the action.  A Game Master (GM) assumes the part of every character not played by a character (non-player characters or NPCs) and sets up the basic plot.  Basically, if a Pathfinder game were a movie, the PCs would be the stars.  After the GM sets the stage, the PCs describe what their characters are doing.  They talk to each other, to NPCs, and perform any actions that they want.  When the PCs interact with the world or talk to an NPC, the GM tells them what happens.

But wait, aren’t there—lots—of dice?
Indeed there are!  For many actions, there is no need for dice.  If a player says that he wants to walk into another room or to have his character say something to another character, that just happens.  These are automatics, and just letting these things happen moves things along.  But, sometimes there will be actions where the outcome isn’t certain.  If Llamelar Fleetfingers wants to steal a wand out of a wizard’s pocket, he might succeed.  Then again he might not.  The same is true for hitting someone else with a weapon or resisting magic spells.  The dice resolve uncertainties.

In Pathfinder shorthand, a twenty-sided die (which is the singular for dice) is called a d20.  A twelve-sided die is called a d12.  I’ll bet you can guess what 10-sided, 8-sided, 6-sided, and 4-sided dice are called.  When someone needs to roll more than one die at a time, the number of dice rolled comes before the type of die to be rolled.  So, rolling 3d6 means rolling three six-sided dice. 

Success or Failure
To determine failure or success in Pathfinder, players roll a twenty-sided die and add a modifier to that number.  In Pathfinder, most actions are resolved by using a single d20.  A player adds his or her modifier to the number result.  The result is measured against a target number, called a difficulty check (DC) in Pathfinder.  Depending on how difficult an action is, the game assigns a DC number for it.  (If the game doesn’t have a pre-assigned DC, the GM assigns the DC through the time-honored technique of making it up).  If the roll equals or exceeds the difficulty check, the roll is a success.  If not, it is a failure.

What’s so complicated about this?
The concept is simple.  Where things get complicated is determining the number a player will add to the d20 roll made.  There are three basic types of DC rolls: attack rolls, skills checks, and saving throws.[1]  All of them use the same basic game mechanic: determine your character’s bonus and roll a d20.  Then, compare your roll against the DC.

How do I determine what the bonus will be on my d20 rolls?
I told you it would get complicated!  RPGs attempt to simulate life.  Some just make assumptions that the group will just decide whether or not something happens and use no dice at all.  Pathfinder is one of the more complicated RPGs in that it attempts to allow characters to sufficiently specialize to get customized bonuses on their rolls.  Pathfinder uses character creation and level advancement to simulate both a character’s innate abilities and the things he or she has learned to do.  These are your character’s stats.  Combinations of a character’s stats are added together to determine the character’s bonus on any given roll.[2]  The character creation process allows a player to determine what his or her stats are and generate the individual bonus numbers.

There are also modifiers based upon what's going on with your character.  Are you standing on a hill fighting an opponent with lower ground?  Take a bonus!  Are you telling a whopper of a lie that nobody would buy?  That'll be a minus -15 to your bluff check.  

What about the other dice?  Don’t they get lonely?
Sometimes you need fewer or more options.  Other dice are employed most often in calculating damage--how badly someone got hurt by a successful attack.

Like these types of considerations of RPGs and new player aids?  Leave a comment below!

[1] This is simultaneously completely accurate and a gross oversimplification.  Just roll with me here.
[2] Hence the “gross oversimplification” note above.