ElshaUK and I were out having dinner with the Old Ealonians on Wednesday night and the subject of Roleplaying came up.
"So no board? How does THAT work?"
Roleplaying is essentially Storytelling or unscripted amateur dramatics if you wish. 1 person is designated the Referee - he sets the stage, so to speak, and fills everyone in on the backdrop to whats going on. So for example, if we were playing a Call of Cthulhu game:
"It was a dark and stormy night. The car sped up the winding mountain lane as heavy rain obscured the driver's vision. He tapped his cigarette on the side of the dashboard and settled into his chair, stretching at the same time to stop himself from falling asleep."
So here we have a detailed environment and a particular character. Who the man is and why he is driving in such weather still remains a mystery, but the players are told that the man is not one of the players. He is, in fact, a chaffeur, driving them somewhere.
The story background begins to gel in the Referee's head and he invites the players to create characters to match the mood of the story so far.
In most roleplaying games, the players have to roll up statistics for their character's attributes (normally, things like Strength, Dexterity/Agility, Constitution/Endurance, etc). These attributes remain mostly fixed for the duration of the game, perhaps increasing only when the characters have suffiencently advanced in levels or when they have recovered magical items that they can equip - as a reward for their patience and endevours.
Once that is done, the players name their characters and work out other details - such as equipment, knowledge, etc.
As the story progresses, the players gain information and make decisions based solely on what their characters are aware of. For example, you yourself might be aware of how to repair a car but that doesn't mean that your character does. Their narratives essentially make up the rest of the story/game.
So whilst the Referee is telling the audience what is happening in the immediate background, the players are telling the audience what their actions are.
At this stage, there are two very important distinctions to be made: OOC (Out of Character) and IC (In Character). Most of the time, the players will be in IC until they wish to disagree on a ruling or ask for more pertinant information at which point everyone switches to OOC.
In the above example, let's pick a character called Edward Black, a journalist for a small newspaper, the Scyamore Herald. He's about 25 and just starting out on his writing career. He has never been involved in the Cthulhu Mythos but when he was younger he did have an experience with a ghost-like manisfestation that left him with a shattered childhood, and to this day he is still a little insecure.
I've decided that Edward is travelling to talk to a professor of archaeology regarding an article for his newspaper.
This is something the Referee did not take into account at the start of the game but decides to run with the idea. It just so happens the Professor of Archaeology will fit in with the game quite nicely - so long as a few minor changes are made.
As other characters are introduced to the game, their decisions will affect the outcome of the beginning of the story as well, and it is the job of the Referee to intregrate these ideas into the game.
The Referee, by the way, is considered an unbiased person. Even though he knows the players and knows the background of the game, he is neither against the players nor for them. He is simply telling a story and adjudicating battles and other judgement decisions.
A roleplaying game has no clear ending. Whilst there are objectives - rescue the princess, kill the dragon, etc - the game doesn't come to an end once those objectives are completed. The princess might have to be escorted back, the dragon might have been a servant of some greater evil.
You can get more information from Wikipedia