Most of you reading this probably already have experienced some form of roleplaying game previously. I don't plan to explain the entire process here if you have not, but simply present a basic explanation.
If this is, indeed, your first encounter with roleplaying, you may be wondering just what you have gotten into. Roleplaying games have a reputation as a strange and exotic form of entertainment. In fact, roleplaying is a fairly common activity. The children's game of house is one example, although a very simplified one. The TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, uses roleplaying concepts in several of the holodeck episodes. And employment seminars often uses a technique of mock interviews, called roleplaying.
In a mock interview, you take the role of someone (usually you) seeking employment, while your partner takes the role of the person conducting the interview. In a roleplaying game, the roles are considerably less limited. You could, for example, take the part of a swashbuckling hero, a la Robin Hood.
Of course, we wouldn't want anyone to actually go climbing palace walls and swinging from chandeliers. It's a trifle dangerous. So roleplaying games use a number of rules to determine what happens if your character, the swashbuckling hero, tries to swing across a room crowded with enemy soldiers. Most commonly, dice are used to generate a random number, which is modified by the character's attributes (an agile character is more likely to be able to catch the chandelier than a clumbsy one). If the modified number is high enough, the character succeeds.
Of course there are also a number of rules to describe your character, and what that character can do. Is the character strong or agile; wise or foolish; an old woman, or a young child; an excellent swordsman or a famous archer; a chivalrous squire or a seductive rogue. The possibilities are limited only by your desire and imagination. In Fantasy Realms you can even play a magical or religious character.
Your character will also need a setting, a world to interact with. In a mock interview the setting is an office building. Even if the seminar takes place in a hotel conference room, the office walls still exist in your imagination. In roleplaying games the possible settings are considerably more diverse. So the relevant details are described for the players to imagine. For example:
"Hearing a strange noise, you leave the room of the beautiful Alicia. Once outside you see that the room below is filled with the duke's soldiers. What do you do?
"Where does the balcony I'm on lead?"
"It extends all the way around the room. The stairway down is on the opposite side. One of the soldiers has climbed the stairs and is headed in your direction. There is a chandelier hanging from the ceiling."
"I leap for the chandelier, and swing to the other side."
Of course, you will need someone to do the describing, just as, in a mock interview, you need a partner to take the place of the interviewer. Traditionally, this person is called the 'games master', or GM. They control the actions and reactions of the characters you interact with, as well as determining and describing the physical setting.
It is common to play with several people. Most of the group design a single character as their persona within the game. Thus you could create a rock and roll band, a gypsy caravan, or a wandering desert tribe, with each member of your group controlling a single character in the band, caravan, or tribe.
One person is chosen as the GM to create the setting and control any other characters needed. For convenience, this book includes the description of one world, T'Phon, to get you started. Or, you can invent your own world. In either case, it is usually the GM's job to create opportunities for the players, as well as obstacles for them to overcome.
It may seem strange to create obstacles for your friends (or at least their character's.) But in many ways, it is the obstacles which make things interesting. If the characters can have anything they want, they will soon accomplish all their goals and have nothing to do. The players will become bored.
It is a part of the GM's job to give them something to do. It could be something simple, such as exploring an old ruin for hidden treasure, evading traps, and defeating the guardians. Or it could be more complex. For example, suppose the group is playing the members a gypsy caravan, traveling towards a small village. What if the village priest accuses one of the characters of witchcraft?
Of course, a roleplaying game isn't a story, (although it is similar.) So it isn't the GM's job to determine how the characters get out of a given situation, or resolve a particular plot. That depends on how the characters react, and is up to the players.
The GM has one final role in the game. In many ways the mechanics of a roleplaying game, the rules themselves, are a model of reality. They determine how the world reacts to the character's physical actions. But reality is vast, and books are limited. The GM is the presenter of the game's reality, beyond the boundaries and information in a book. Since rules cannot express every feature and detail of the game world's reality, in the end the GM is the referee and arbitur of the rules as well.
If it sounds like being a GM is a lot of work, that's because it is. It is also very rewarding. (For one thing, you get to play nearly everybody.) The important thing is to have fun. As long as you and your players are having fun, it doesn't matter what mistakes you make. We've tried to design this game so mistakes are hard to make. It's yours to enjoy.
Unlike other games, roleplaying does not have to be a competition between the players, and often requires large amounts of cooperation between the characters to achieve a goal. It is also not intended as a competition between the GM and the players.
Roleplaying is a creative, cooperative game that allows players to explore a character, a world, and their own feelings and ethics on a wide range of subjects, as well as to broaden their horizons beyond that of the every day. It is an active entertainment that can last for a single session of a few hours, or a series of sessions over several days, weeks or even years.
It allows both player and character to grow and expand, to improve and to experience, and to influence events and actions upon the stage of the game world.