A Beginner's Guide To Role-Playing Games

Perhaps no genre of game has undergone such a dramatic increase in popularity as the console RPG. Ten years ago, RPGs were very long, single-player games that relied heavily on story and character development (instead of high-speed action) and were only played by a handful of lonely geeks. These days, it’s still pretty much the same, except that thanks to the internet and the highly disproportionate number of lonely geeks who frequent it, RPGs seem a lot more popular now than they were before. Sure, Gran Turismo 4 outsold Suikoden 4 about 10,000 to 1, and GameStop probably sold more copies of GTA: San Andreas at a single store than they did of Star Ocean 3 company wide — but who’s going to have the more active message boards and fansites? Which games are going to inspire the most fan-fiction, remixed soundtracks, and flash animations? Madden might have the best sales numbers in history, but Chrono Trigger just won its 5th straight online poll for “Best game ever”. So suck it, Madden!

Despite this surge in (perceived) popularity, a lot of gamers out there are still pretty clueless about Role Playing Games. So I’ve taken it upon myself to write this helpful article to let you know all the essential, basic information about RPGs. Once you’ve read this, you’ll be all set for the never-ending excitement of choosing “Fight” off of a menu!


By the way, you’re not an assassin, are you? Because if you are, I probably shouldn’t have told you that.

The Kings in RPGs usually have longish hair, a neat beard, and look a little bit like Jesus. But unlike Jesus, they generally aren’t the greatest military thinkers. When faced with an enemy invasion by an army enhanced by evil magical powers, they don’t bother drafting up a militia or building defensive structures or anything like that. Instead, they prefer to send their least experienced soldier (you), on a “scouting mission”. You know, if you already knew about your enemy’s secret planned invasion and evil magic, maybe scouting isn’t the problem. Just a thought.

Anyway, to give you a better chance of survival, the king will team you up with some allies to form an adventuring party. These allies are different from game to game, but there is generally at least one half-animal half-man who might be a furry or something and can’t really fight OR use magic effectively. His job will be to stand on the front line and take damage, and occasionally use a potion to heal one of your more useful party members. Another character you see in a lot of RPGs is the king’s daughter or niece who, despite being enrolled in magic college for the last 8 years, only knows how to cast Fire 1. I’m sure this goes over real well with the cheapskate kings: “Fire 1? That’s it? Have you been skipping classes again? $200,000 gp a semester and all you can do is cast Fire 1? Is that what I’m paying for? I learned how to do Fire 1 last week off the back of a cereal box. Hell, yesterday the chef undercooked dinner a little and I cast Fire 1 on it because I didn’t feel like getting up and going to the microwave. If you don’t clean up your act, I’m going to start sending you on insane hopeless quests with strangers I just met, young lady.”


I have pink hair and I can cast Fire 1!

More often than not, the king will send you off into the wilderness completely unarmed. Sure, he’ll have swords hanging on the walls and suits of armor lining the hallways, but he’s not going to share them. Every so often, if you’re very lucky, he might be so generous as to give you a rusty sword for all the members of your party to share. “This is for the 3 of you to share,” he’ll say as he gives it to you, just to make it perfectly clear that it’s all you’re getting. He won’t even make one of his many fully armed castle guards go along with you. It’s not like the guards are doing anything they couldn’t be taken away from — they just pace the castle aimlessly, and if you go near them they say helpful things like “The king is just ahead! Go right in!” without bothering to check to see if you’re, say, a terrorist or enemy assassin or anything. They’ll even stand by idly while you loot through the castle’s treasure chests in plain sight. If the king really wanted to help you out, he should order his guards to give you all their weapons — it’s not like they’re ever going to use them for anything.

Sometimes the king is generous enough to give you enough money to buy one healing potion. This is already a bad idea, but what makes it worse is that the king will be wearing more jewels than Liberace, and the castle will be filled with solid gold candleholders, oriental rugs, and marble fountains that are 3 stories high, so it’s not like the kingdom is strapped for cash or anything. Sometimes I wonder if these “quests to save the world” aren’t really just efforts to boost the economy… you know, get some adventurers out there wandering the countryside and killing wild animals to find money to spend on weapons, armor and hotels. Otherwise, those wild dogs and green slimes will just hoard their money forever without spending it, and you can’t create economic growth like that.


A lone voice of reason…

You get some crazy-ass items in RPGs. I once was able to equip my Knight with a diamond helmet, diamond armor, a diamond shield and a diamond sword. He must of looked like some kind of insane combat-ready pimp in that getup. My favorite all-time item in RPGs though is the bandanna, which appears in many different games. You generally get it early in the game before you can afford to buy a helmet for your character. The bandanna raises your defensive rating a little, often about half as much as the cheapest helmet would, which if you really think about, doesn’t make any damn sense at all.

I mean, how exactly does a bandanna raise your defensive rating even a little? Are there enemies who attack by spraying sweat on your forehead and hoping it drips into your eyes? I’m just trying to imagine a scene in an RPG similar to the one in “Fellowship of the Ring” where they first discover Frodo’s mythril armor:

(Goblin stabs Main Character in the forehead with a sword. Main Character falls to the ground, slain. Goblin is killed by various party members who then rush over to aid Main Character.)

King’s Niece Who Can Cast Fire 1: Oh my God! Main Character! Are you alright?

(Main character doesn’t respond. Knight in All-Diamond Equipment and Character With a Useless Special Ability shake their heads solemnly and look sad. Suddenly, Main Character coughs and opens his eyes.)

KiADE: He… he’s alive! That attack should have taken the top of his head clean off!

KNWCCF1: It’s a miracle!

CWaUSA: (pointing to Main Character’s bandanna) It’s not a miracle, it’s his bandanna! The bandanna stopped the sword from cutting him.

KiADE: I’m beginning to think that there’s more to this Main Character than meets the eye…

Screw not panicking the people… You don’t seriously expect to fight off an invasion with 5 inexperienced warriors, do you?

Well, I got a little ahead of myself there, as I didn’t tell you that every RPG has at least one character with a useless special ability. In most RPGs, some if not all of the characters will have a special command you can choose in a fight, which is unique to that character. Some of these abilities are useful, but we always end up with a few beauties like these:

* An “Aim” attack that does less damage or takes longer to use than the standard “Fight” command, but is supposed to be more accurate. It will always miss.

* An attack that hits the same enemy four times, but each hit does 1/4th the damage of a normal attack.

* A “Protect” command that will allow one character to act as a human shield and get hit by all the attacks intended for other characters, thus protecting them. The character who has this ability will invariably be the one character you’d least want to sacrifice.

* A status ailment command that will cause your enemies to be poisoned, fall asleep, or be paralyzed. It will only work on enemies that you could kill in one hit.

* A “Control” ability that will allow you to take control of an enemy character and use it against the other enemies. By the time you actually get this command to work, your other party members will have killed all the other monsters, and as soon as you gain control of the creature, one of your allies will attack it, breaking the spell anyway.

* A “Berserk” ability that will give the character super-strength, but won’t allow you to give him commands for the duration of the battle. He will then use this opportunity to unleash his new super-strength on the other members of your party.

* A “Lore” or “Blue Magic” command which allows you to learn any special attack that a monster does to you. The attacks you learn, despite being utterly devastating to your party when monsters do them, will do far less damage in your hands and generally be less effective than the “fight” command.

That isn’t to say that all special abilities are useless. Thief characters will have the option to “steal”, which allows them to pilfer things from your enemies, right in the middle of a fight. You can get rare weapons and armor this way, as well as ordinary items that you need to keep in high supply. I don’t know why, but apparently wolves always carry tents with them everywhere they go. There is also a weird code of ethics among thieves in RPGs: it’s ok to steal items from an enemy in the middle of a fight, but not his money; and it’s ok to steal money from the body of an enemy you kill, but not his items, unless they’re really crappy items.


Townspeople in RPGs are similar to Canadians — they’re all really friendly,

but they never have anything interesting to say.

Townspeople in RPGS are always so friendly. You can barge right into somebody’s house, and instead of throwing you out or shooting you, they’ll start talking about how this town is the easternmost town on the world map. Nobody seems to care if you take stuff out of their house, though they do go through the trouble of putting it in treasure chests, which they have scattered throughout their living room and kitchen. I think they just do it to trick you into thinking that because it’s in a treasure chest, it’s good stuff worth stealing. Just once, I want to walk off with a townsperson’s kitchen table and cooking caldron just to prove that I’m not falling for their “bandanna in the treasure chest routine” again.

While you’re in town looting people’s houses, it’s important to rest up at the INN. If an RPG gives me a lot of party members, and lets me change them whenever I want, I like to set it up so that I have one guy and the rest of the party is women before I check into the hotel to rest. I figure that’ll give them something to talk about. I can imagine the conversations around town next day:

Innkeeper: That adventurer came to the hotel last night with three women. They all shared a single room! Must have been quite a night for him, huh?

Townsperson: Welcome to Plainsnia! It’s the easternmost town on the world map!

Innkeeper: God, I hate this town!

A lot of people get a chuckle thinking about how the main boss in an RPG rarely does anything except sit in his lair and wait for you to come kill him. Actually, I can’t say I blame him though, because the final bosses tend to live in dungeons loaded with the most dangerous monsters in the world. Sure Sepiroth might have been a real badass, but I’m sure he got sick of killing 10 gigantic spiders whenever he had to go buy groceries. Not to mention that every monster you kill trying to get in and out of your evil lair is one less monster than can attack the good guys when they come to get you. You think the final dungeon of Final Fantasy 3 was hard? Imagine how much harder it was before Kefka went out to mail a letter and ended up having to kill all the Gigadeamons on the way back to his TV room.

Well, that about covers the basics. Hopefully, this information will help you enter the exciting world of fantasy and micromanagement. And if you’re ever in a tough spot and feel overwhelmed, just remember: ALWAYS choose “fight”.

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