You Should Be Playing Pen and Paper RPGs


Back when the most sophisticated game around was PONG, pen and paper games were creating complex stories with choice and consequence among groups of friends crowded around a table into the wee hours of the night. Pen and paper games are all about interesting and unique experiences in an evolving world that responds to your every move. This is still, nearly 50 years later, impossible in an electronic gaming environment. Gamers everywhere who enjoy these kind of immersive, emergent experiences should be playing pen and paper games.

Now, before you don ye olde angry peasant clothing and pick up the torches and pitchforks to call games like Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, etc the domain of basement-dwelling, socially inept shut-ins, let’s take a step back. Sure, you can find a pen and paper group like that. You can even find the step further among the LARPing community (which I’ve always found to be really, really strange and the worst of both worlds when it comes to the unholy intersection of RPGs and competitive sports). The socially inept do exist, after all, but it’s not like you can’t throw a D12 without hitting one along the way. That said, the other end of the spectrum has people like Vin Diesel and Chris Kluwe, guys who appreciate the world of RPGs and enjoy what pen and paper have to offer while still being relatively normal, though famous, people by society’s standards.


I placed it right next to my staff

Want to see my dice bag?

The point is, it doesn’t matter who you are in real life- everyone is allowed to enjoy a good pen and paper game, because it’s about playing another character in another world and having interactions that you can’t get in real life or videogames. The games are basically a ruleset for your imagination, which is fucking awesome when you think of it that way. My group in particular is full of people who defy the stereotypes of pen and paper players. Hell, the number of people I met in undergrad that played it within the greek community at Maryland was surprising, though they wouldn’t really bring it up unless it was mentioned to them first.

The best argument for pen and paper RPGs is the ability to create unique stories. In one of my current games, I’m playing a character that has amassed a small strike force of undead ( including a 12 ft golem with a mustache, poncho and sombrero-like hat) and is currently adding to it by ridding the countryside of every generic bandit he can get his hands on from the back of a skeleton horse. The closest you can get to that in a video game is pretending you’re doing something like that in WoW. You just can’t have that freedom or flexibility in most games yet, and that’s why pen and paper games are a great addition to any gamer’s repertoire of hobbies. They fill the freedom and creativity gap that computers and consoles just can’t reasonably adapt to yet without the inclusion of an actual DM.

The long-standing stigma about pen and paper games needs to go, and more people need to play them. The flexibility, freedom and creativity they allow is unparalleled. They’re great storytelling mediums and they allow a group of friends to spend a whole weekend afternoon hanging out and doing something that can occupy a good six or seven hours without getting boring. A good GM can ensure that everyone has a great time and gets to try a bunch of interesting character builds or character ideologies that just aren’t options when you have to select from a predetermined menu. Want to play a pacifist monk who defeats his enemies using clever application of improvised weaponry to subdue them? Totally reasonable. Good luck getting Neverwinter Nights or Dragon Age to allow you that option at character creation. The ability to create beautiful, character-centered and evolving stories is something we’ve always strived for as a species. From the earliest tales of our nomadic ancestors to the modern world and video games, we’re in constant pursuit of our own evolving tales to tell. Pen and paper games give you the slate, roadmap and tools to make those stories come to life with friends over good food and good drinks. Sure, it may be a pretty nerdy pursuit, but it doesn’t deserve the weird social stigma that everyone from TV news anchors to pastors and even other gamers want to assign to it. Give one of the many worlds a chance one day, or take the D20 modern system and build one yourself. Who knows? You might enjoy it.

About Whiskey Ginger

Whiskey Ginger is a scientist by day and comedy writer by night. Other than his passions for the nerdier things in life, he also writes for comedy sites dedicated to fraternity and postgrad humor. His parents just wish he'd write less dick jokes.

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