What Makes Playing an RPG a Great Experience?
I have played in many different RPG campaigns over the years, with various people and groups. Our current gaming group also enjoys a good RPG, and we are currently playing three different campaigns. Though I have had great fun in all of my role playing experiences, not all have met the same level of enjoyment as others. The great thing about roleplaying games is that there is such a wide variety of themes that there really is something for everyone.
I started out playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition. I must say that my first experience wasn’t great. My party got into a bar fight during our first adventure and I was promptly killed about four rounds into it. Even though this was a bit of a sour experience, I was hooked. I learned early on that the first, and possibly most important, thing required to have a great role playing experience is a great group of people to play with. This includes the players and the dungeon or game master.
I like playing adventures with a variety of DM’s. I have noticed that each DM has their own strengths. Some are great storytellers. Others are exceptional at rolling with what the players want to do, and improvising. I have had terrible DM’s in the past as well. All DM’s have the adventure planned out, but some want the players to so rigidly follow what they have prepared that they stifle creativity. The funnest games I have played have been when we have been allowed to take tangents, explore, or try to attempt something completely crazy and sometimes succeeding at it. My worst experience with an RPG was with a DM that believed that his job was to defeat the heroes, instead of telling a story and running the game. We found ourselves caught in a dungeon that we could not leave and head back to a town to resupply or try to approach differently. We would fight the same monsters over and over that the DM created specifically to counter the abilities of each of the player characters. While I don’t have a problem with this in general, I think it should be used once in a while, or during a boss fight. It is very frustrating as a player to have all of your abilities made worthless every encounter. This is the only time I have ever quit a gaming group mid adventure. I was not having fun, nor were the other players. It honestly felt like work going to game night.
In contrast, our current gaming group has three different DM’s. I can say that two of them do a phenomenal job (I can’t speak for myself, as I am the third). We also have quite a variety of play styles in our group. Our friend Jared gets most of his enjoyment from the tactical combat portion of the game. He likes game systems that have a more complex combat system, with plenty of options for battle abilities and challenges. Doug, however, likes the roleplaying side of things, and is perfectly content if we play an entire session without any combat. I fall right in the middle of these two philosophies. I thoroughly enjoy combat with heavy tactics. I find it intriguing and very cinematic. I have had some very memorable experiences from combat in different RPGs. Once again, I think this is only possible if the DM will allow the players to get creative.
My love for combat aside, hands down my favorite experiences in role playing games have come from role playing itself. I love the character development and adding meat to the story. Think of a movie that spends no time developing the protagonists. There may be a lot of great action and the plot may be good, but ultimately if the hero is two dimensional, then you have no investment, and really don’t care what happens to them. They are unrelatable, hollow. However, if you add color to that character, so to speak, then a good movie becomes something epic. I see characters in RPGs in a similar way. What is their personality like? What drives them? Do they build bonds with the members of their party, or are they the silent and brooding type. How do they interact with the player and non-player characters? In our current Pathfinder game, we have a party that is fairly unfamiliar with human society, and they awkwardly try to fit in. We went to great lengths to throw a sweater party because we thought that was a normal thing to do. The group also just came to the conclusion that we must be holy-men, because holy-men kill undead, and we kill undead, so we are now trying to start our own religion, and to gain followers, each of us for completely different reasons. Fun and interesting experiences are some that I will always remember, whereas there are very few battles that stick out in my mind.
There can be issues having a group that has different likes and dislikes from each other. Jared will sometimes get bored of all of the roleplaying and just want to fight something, but having fight after fight and not allowing time for roleplaying would drastically decrease the fun for other players such as Doug. Luckily we have a good DM (Logan in this case) who manages to find a great balance. There is a definite challenge for the DM to try to add elements to the game to help everyone have a great time playing. This comes with practice and experience.
If you are looking to start an RPG group, first, find the right people. This is the number one, most important thing. Next pick your setting, and game system. There are tons of different settings. There are fantasy, sci-fi, Star Wars, and superhero settings. There is even a new GI Joe setting and Transformers will be out soon. Find one that fits your group's likes. We are currently playing Starfinder, Pathfinder 2e, and D&D 3.5. All three have been very enjoyable.
I love role playing games. They have been some of my favorite gaming experiences of my life. What is going to make an RPG a great experience for you? Figure out what setting you like; decide on what kind of theme you will enjoy. Find a great group of people with similar tastes and start playing. If you have never played a RPG and think it may be something you’ll enjoy, I recommend getting started. Buy the core books that you’ll need and put your group together. I have found that having a couple of experienced players in your group can help a lot, as they will help the less experienced players learn how to roleplay. Get out there, have fun and create some great experiences and memories with friends and family with your favorite role playing game.