12 Reasons to Roleplay: old-school commentary edition
As part of my RPGs-in-libraries-workshop research I checked out the book Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill & Get Away from it All Without Alcohol or Other Drugs to see what kind of insight the authors had to offer in their chapter on roleplaying games. “Chapter” is actually a pretty generous allowance, since it’s actually about 2.5 pages, but what the section lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. The centerpiece is the list of “12 reasons to roleplay,” reproduced below. For brevity’s sake I’ve dispensed with the authors’ commentary here, adding my own to certain points where, in my experience, old-school games particularly shine.*
1. Because roleplaying is fun. Ok, all RPGs can be fun. While much of that fun is dependent on its participants (a good or bad referee in particular can make or break a game), the rules can affect the “fun” of the game – especially for young, new and/or numerically-challenged players. Old-school games stand out here for their simplicity and freewheeling nature. You don’t need a lengthy exposition of the rules since there aren’t many to begin with. Because there aren’t tons of mechanical customization options, you can create a character and be playing in 5 minutes. You don’t need to keep track of half-a-dozen special abilities and their mechanical effects in game. You don’t have to calculate your actions based on their potential mechanical ramifications. For the players, old-school game mechanics fade into the background.
2. Because roleplaying is educational.
3. Because roleplaying is social.
4. Because roleplaying encourages teamwork.
5. Because roleplaying is about more than winning and losing.
6. Because roleplaying teaches conflict management.
7. Because roleplaying encourages creativity. RPGs provoke out-of-game creativity in the forms of art, writing, rule design, even music. All RPGs encourage in-game creativity, but old-school does it in spades. The limited scope of the rules require referees to think outside the box. The de-emphasis of rule mechanics tied to character abilities untethers the player from their character sheet and forces them to think creatively when solving in-game problems.
8. Because roleplaying is relatively inexpensive. Relatively? Incredibly. If you have a printer at home, you can get rules, modules, and supplements for the price of paper and ink. Print editions of old-school games are really cheap – under $10 for professionally printed and assembled versions of Swords & Wizardry. Many OOP D&D and AD&D books are cheaply available secondhand. Regardless of what old-school edition you choose – original Brown Box or White Box materials excluded, perhaps – you’ll still pay less than you would for the minimum 3-book buy-in for 4th edition D&D.
9. Because roleplaying doesn’t discriminate.
10. Because roleplaying improves speaking skills.
11. Because roleplaying is extremely portable. Many old-school games are characterized by their smaller page counts and, in some cases, compact digest-size physical dimensions. Contrast the portability of a game requiring multiple 300+ page hardcovers, and maybe a tacklebox full of minis to something like Labyrinth Lord, Classic Traveller or Swords & Wizardry. Dice, dry-erase mat + pens, and a slim volume of White Box rules takes up fairly little space in the bag I carry around pretty much everywhere, which is as much a testament to my geekiness as it is RPG portability. But I digress…
12. Because roleplaying is wish-fulfillment. Absolutely. Be careful how you word your Wish though, or it might come back to haunt you!
*I honestly don’t mean my comments as a slam on newer games, to each their own and all that. The “12 reasons to roleplay” can apply to all tabletop RPG games and playstyles. Face-to-face tabletop RPG play is something that should be encouraged among our young people as a much deeper, richer gaming experience than plugging into a console or computer.