Every pen and paper RPG player that I’ve ever spoken to has had about the same experience going into RPGs. It’s a long journey full of wonder and incredibly insane stories and I think a lot, and I do mean a lot of people go through the exact same story not realizing it. Despite what podcasts and online guides might say few players ever really just spontaneously pick up an RPG sourcebook and start playing.
There’s a process in cultivating an RPG player that takes a significant amount of time. It’s a progression of growth so complex and intricate that you might wonder how anyone ever gets into this damn hobby. So in the interest of breaking down those little personal borders that divide us and make us think we’re unique I’m going to label the six phases of a RPG player.
Phase 0: The Hell is This Crap?
Phase 0 is when a potential RPG player has only heard about a pen and paper RPG by word alone. Most of it will be bad, limited to a minute exposure to stereotypes usually involving a group of incredibly intense geeky guys wearing robes and saying “Yes my Dungeon Master!” while the aforementioned DM is wearing a hat to signify how important he is. The general impression will be that these men are incredible intellectuals who require such a strong fantasy immersion to get away from the intense maths they face day-to-day.
Despite how wholly inaccurate these impressions are it will keep a potential player away from any sort of RPG for about five years or so.
Phase 0.5: Wait… What?
If the player has any kind of niche hobby or interest at some point they will notice a set of RPG books at their local hobby or comic store. EVERY hobby or comic store. In their puzzlement they’ll wonder why the average geek is into such an intense hobby and why it’s so pervasive. Around this time the player will have enjoyed several RPG video games but not made the connection between the two mediums and how many potential crossovers exist nor how few limitations exist in the pen and paper variety.
At this point the potential player may have friends who play the game and have started talking around the potential player. As any true friend the potential player will start to ask questions simply to not be ignorant on the subject.
Phase 1: Okay I’ll try Anything Once.
This phase is the one where the player is no longer simply a potential player. They take their first steps into RPG gaming by either creating a new character or substituting control over an existing character. This first session is confusing and the player is often left lost and unsure of when they should roll and when they should pretend.
Now at this point the player may be fortunate enough to have a good group or game master that guarantees they have a good experience. Usually though, it’s a bad evening playing Dungeons and Dragons and the player is put off the entire process for a time.
Phase 2: I Wanna be the Guy!
Phase 2 happens when a player is brought back into the world of RPGs when a significantly more charismatic friend offers an alternative to Dungeons and Dragons. At this point the player will see something in the RPG that allows him or her to play as a near carbon copy of one of their favourite characters. They will then duplicate said character.
This will go on for a significant period as the player finally explores the true RPG experience. Until things turn to shit.
Phase 3: The Dark Times
This is the period when the player will want to get as much RPG experience as possible. As such they will often say yes to game masters who have no business running an RPG. Players will find themselves beset by GMs who follow the rules rigorously but only when it suits them. They will often torment players and subject them to terrible adventures. This will cause most players to stop for a time as it is no longer worthwhile to play.
If you are a starting player and think you can avoid this phase, rest assured you can`t. Suck it up. We all had to go through with it.
Phase 4: The Glory Days
At this point the player has long since abandoned the game, or so they believe. In truth they’ve become a simmering pot of RPG ideas and unique characters they wished they`d had the opportunity to play.
Eventually either they or a friend will have the desire to play once more and take the role of GM. At that point they will unite with friends and start experimenting but with new knowledge and some battle hardening. At this point the players will experiment creating new concoctions of characters to either amuse or infuriate the game master.
Phase 5: Old Dogs
At this point the player has run and played in several games and systems. They are filled with stories and legends of insanity and ego, tempting young potential players to try the game. They have gained an innate sense of things and have no fear of death or loss. They will march into the gates of hell and destroy the devil himself simply because he is there. They will turn the corrupt into the homeless and insane for abusing their power. They will destroy, conquer, liberate and save in that order and at some point they will intend to get laid.
They will quote old movies, fight dirty, and give each other knuckle bumps for the good jokes. They will kill the big bad enemy by sending him a cake loaded with poison which is actually a diversion for the explosives the put under his chair. They will go to the gate of golden doors that leads to the land of eternal glory and steal the goddamn doors.
Because they can.
And so too does this work exist.