The simplest description I’ve ever heard of roleplaying games is this: It’s basically Cops & Robbers like you may have played as a child, but with rules and structure so the game doesn’t devolve into “I got you!” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did.” shouting matches.
Basically, you spend a few hours at a time hanging with friends and imagining you are someone else, whether it’s one of Arthur’s knights, or a space pirate, or a cowboy conquering the Wild West.
If that sounds like fun (and it is!), then here’s what you’ll need to know to get started.
First, you need some friends to play with, and hopefully someone to teach you (as is true of many hobbies, it’s much easier to figure out if you have a mentor). With any luck, you can ask around at work, school, church, or anywhere else you spend a lot of time, and find someone you know who roleplays that can teach you. If not, check out your friendly local gaming store (FLGS) and see if any players there are willing to help out. Failing that, there are tons of places online where you can look for other players. One of the best is RPGnet.
Second, or simultaneously even, you’ll need to pick a game (like GURPS, D&D, or Savage Worlds, for instance). Ask any three gamers and you’ll get at least four recommendations of favorite games, but look around and find something you’re really going to like. If you’re like most of us, you’ll try out a bunch of games your first year or two until you find one or two that you really like.
Some games, like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and HackMaster, are fairly focused on what they do. In this case, you are an adventurer like those you see in fantasy fiction, ranging from the mundane like Robin Hood, to the super-powered like Gandalf. They, like many other games, were originally inspired by works like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
There are also tons of licensed games, so you can probably find a game based on once of your favorite licenses. I’ve seen games ranging from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, to Doctor Who: Adventures in Time in Space, to Sword of Ice and Fire to Firefly.
There are also games that allow you to play any kind of game you like. GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) is one of the biggest (and has been my home group’s go-to game since 4th edition released in ’04). With it you can play anything from an accountant to a dinosaur starship captain with laser eyes.
My recommendation is to try out at least one or two of each type and go with whichever you enjoy most.
Fortunately for you, quite a few companies have have free downloads that let you try out their games before making an investment. Check out my Links page for examples.
Finally, it will help if you can speak some of the language. See my Glossary to get you started.