Tips for Roleplayers – Freedom of Imagination
Hi. My name is Magnus, and I’ve been playing, running, and creating pen-and-paper roleplaying games for over two decades. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, here are a few fun facts about my ‘career’:
- I’ve created two sets of RPG mechanics for private use. The first one was terrible.
- I’m working on a third set of RPG mechanics for Heroes of a Dark City.
- I’ve built two fantasy campaign worlds from scratch.
- I have played over twenty published RPGs extensively.
- I’ve played and run a lot of improvised stand-alone sessions.
- I once ran an impromptu scenario about a group senior citizens trying to escape a rest-home. Because I had almost no time to prepare, the players had to create characters based on personality traits handed out in a lottery.
With all that experience, I’ve hopefully accrued some wisdom. I say hopefully because that’s not for me to judge. Which takes us to my first tip.
Tip #1: Be Open to New Ideas
There are a lot of ways to play RPGs. Not all of them will suit your group, but one thing is certain: if you never try anything new, you’ll end up stuck in a loop. We humans are creatures of habit; once we start repeating a behaviour our brains will reward us for sticking with it, regardless if it’s a good idea or not. So if you always choose to play an honour-bound warrior, or you never fudge the dice when you GM, or you ritually bash your head against the wall before starting your session — maybe it’s time to consider other options?
Because there’s always room for improvement. But to improve we have to open our eyes and minds to other people’s ideas. And we have to look at all ideas critically, including those deeply established in our group or community. Because “This is how we’ve always done it” is a terrible reason to do anything. When we do the same thing over and over we’re not challenging ourselves. And without challenge, we do not grow. Hey, if the new ideas don’t work out, you can always return to the safety of your wall-bashing routine with renewed conviction.
That brings us to my second piece of advice.
Tip #2: Don’t Worry
Don’t worry about being wrong. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out. When we try new things they won’t always work out — that’s part of the process. Talk it over with your group. Try to figure out what happened and why, and aim to do better next time. Shrug it off. Relax. Don’t worry. We learn very little from success, but a lot from failure.
And despite all the rules, guidelines, and conventions, there’s only one thing you need to play RPGs: an imagination. It’s a happy coincidence then that we all come pre-equipped with one. Certainly, some people have more and others have less, but like all human attributes, imagination can be trained; it grows with exercise. If you haven’t flexed it often it may require some coaxing. But don’t judge others (or yourself) for not succeeding on the first try. Instead, celebrate them for trying.
To summarise: There is no universal ‘right’ way of running RPGs — only a bunch of different ways that suit different people. As long as everyone in your group gets a say, you can play however you want. That freedom is the beauty of this hobby, and it brings infinite potential. Don’t constrain that potential by cramming it into a box.
So, what tradition could your group do with breaking?