Role-Playing Games and Theatre

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What's with all of these dragons and dungeons?  Our upcoming production of She Kills Monsters delves into the world of tabletop role-playing games.  RPGs and theatre have a lot in common; if you've never played D&D or a similar game before, here's a quick primer on what it's all about.*

Role-playing games are improv theatre.  Typically RPGs are played in a group, and all but one of the members are "players" that each take on a character.  Players make choices for their characters -- what they say, what they do -- to further both their personal story and the group narrative.  This is usually only verbal -- a player would describe themselves attacking a monster, but not actually draw a sword.  Usually.  Props aren't necessary but can be helpful.

The Game Master is like the director.  And also the stage manager, the designer, and sometimes the playwright as well.  The GM is the one person at the table who isn't playing a character: they're the one who governs the world around the characters, describing the scenery, voicing extras ("non-player characters"), and generally reacting to the players' decisions.  Some GMs prefer to work from a pre-written adventure module, others write their own adventures in a set world, and still others have a looser open-ended style.

Getting into character: One of the first things that the players in an RPG do is set up their characters, making some basic decisions about who they are and what they want.  Those choices don't dictate everything that follows, but they do inform it: your character will react in some ways and not others because of what you've decided about their background and abilities.  Sound familiar?  Performers who follow a structured school of acting do much the same thing, only with elements provided by the script rather than the numbers on their character sheet.

And there's lots of dice, right?  Usually!  In D&D and similar games dice provide an element of uncertainty: a character can attempt to do something, but they may or may not succeed at doing it.  That's one major difference between RPGs and theatre: when you're putting on a play, you usually want as little randomness in the performance as possible.

*: A note for the pedants and sticklers: not all RPGs are exactly like this!  Some don't have dice; some don't have GMs; some don't even have fixed characters.