Playing Roles: Gen Con Special

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‘Playing Roles’ is our ongoing spotlight on tabletop roleplaying games, dedicated to introducing this wonderful hobby to the board gaming community. We’ll be looking at strategies for getting started, interesting developments in the industry, special events, and other topics pertaining to all things roleplaying. If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter at @GCPDblue.

One Ring to Rule Them All

As many of you know, this week marks the high point of the gaming convention season. Gen Con is, without a doubt, the biggest gaming convention in the United States bringing in legions of publishers, retailers, press, and most importantly, gamers. It’s an unbelievable celebration of everything we love. Whether you’re going there to play demos of unpublished games, get the scoop on upcoming releases, buy limited print runs of games, or just spend some quality time with your fellow geeks, Gen Con is the right place to be. What you might not know, however, is that Gen Con is home to a slew of exciting roleplaying events as well.

One Ring to Find Them

One look at the Gen Con schedule this year and you can see how much goblin slaying and magic missile casting is done each and every day of the convention.  Events are divided into Role Playing Games (RPG), Role Playing Gamers Association (RPGA) games, and Live Action Role Playing (LARP). What does all that mean?

Role Playing Games are what you want, especially if you’re a beginner. These are one-shot games that take just a few hours to play. The gamemasters that run these sessions provide pre-generated characters, dice, and everything else you might need, and unless otherwise stated, these games are welcome to experienced and inexperienced roleplayers alike.  All you have to bring is your curiosity and a positive attitude.

RPGA games are organized events. These are akin to tournaments, though not necessarily competitive, and are designed for career roleplayers to bring their unique characters to the next chapter of an ongoing campaign. These sessions are certainly fascinating to watch, but definitely work best for experienced gamers that are very familiar with the systems being played.

Finally there’s LARP, which is a special category of roleplaying that melds stagecraft with traditional roleplaying. Players participating in LARP embody their characters often through costumes, gear, accents, and other affectations common to live theater. Even the mechanisms of the games are adapted to fit this hyper real approach to roleplaying with padded weaponry, vials of colored water representing potions, special lighting and sound effects, and more. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but you have to applaud the commitment these gamers have to the hobby.

One Ring to Bring Them All

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If you’re attending Gen Con this year, I recommend signing up for a session or two of regular roleplaying. The great thing about convention RPGs is that they’re meant to be self-contained and full of big memorable set pieces. As I mentioned earlier, these sessions are tailored for players of all experience levels (unless stated otherwise) and will often favor story and fun over rules lawyering and pedantry.

For a gaming experience that won’t have you scrambling to understand the rules, I recommend sessions that use the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars games (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, or Force & Destiny), Fate Accelerated (FAE), or Savage Worlds for a good well-rounded easy-to-grasp experience. That said, no matter how esoteric the game or the system sounds, it won’t take long to grasp the rules and start chucking dice.

And in the Darkness, Bind Them

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Finally I wanted to spotlight something very unique to Gen Con: True Dungeon. True Dungeon is a live action cooperative roleplaying experience like no other. The organizers, consisting of hundreds of volunteers each year, erect amazing fantasy sets, covering over 40,000 square feet of convention space, full of devious puzzles and challenging encounters. Players take on the role of wizards, fighters, and rogues applying their specialized skills to defeat creatures and disarm complex traps. All of this is done through the use of item tokens, memory and dexterity puzzles, animatronics, actors, audio and video presentations, and props of all kinds. If you think of the escape room phenomenon that’s sweeping the country right now, you’ll be on the right track. This introductory video does a nice job of showing what True Dungeon has to offer.

Every year, True Dungeon ups the ante even more with harder to solve puzzles and ingenious interactive elements. With a brand new storyline starting next year, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do to top previous True Dungeon events. If you have the opportunity to give this event a try sometime, I highly recommend it even with the high cost of entry. It’s not exactly traditional roleplaying, but you’ll have a great time and that’s really what’s important.