So between reading and writing, I still haven’t been able to find a satisfying answer to the question: how do you explain roleplaying?
For something like DnD, it makes sense that they should spend at least a page laying the groundwork for what the activity is, but I see still see it crop up in a lot smaller titles; which feels weird when a 15 page game spent one of those precious pages on the subject…
There’s also the issue of what concrete description would you actually use to explain the concept to someone? I can’t think of any description I’ve seen in published media that accurately groks it. To me it often feels far too grandiose (in a roleplaying game you can do anything) which comes off as bragging, like an artist taking joy in talking down to plebeians. On the other end I’ve seen writing that get so bogged down in jargon it’s almost unintelligible even with 100% comprehension (I’m reminded of the description they brought up in Farrier’s Bellows on Troll Babe, something along the lines of “The medium of Trollbabe is dialog. The substance of play is composed of people speaking and listening. It’s content is the fiction, but…”). Is it possible to hit a sweet spot between the romantic and academic?
I’d love to hear other people’s opinions, both on the writing and reading side of it.
Has anyone actually learned from a written explanation of roleplaying without a more experienced player guiding them?
Has any written explanation ever stood out as exceptionally explanatory?
How do you know if it’s necessary to include one in your game?
If so, how much assumption do you make of the reader’s experience (do you need to explain what 2d4 means, what a GM is, etc.)?
Personally, I had to refer back to Burning Wheel only because to-date it has been the most pleasurable rulebook I’ve ever read. I didn’t remember any specific section on what roleplaying is, because there sort of isn’t one. The first page is aggressively utilitarian, but does halfway explain what roleplaying is in a novel way; it lays out its expectations of the player (You need to build the setting, you need to control a character, you need to live with the outcome of your choices). Its explanation of how to notate dice is curt, which is aided by the fact that D6s are the only dice required, although interestingly it offers a bit of humanity (the paragraph ends with "How’s that for confusing gamer parlance?) that, at least to me, implies a welcoming attitude of “don’t worry if you don’t quite get it, you’ll learn” which does lean on someone being there to teach you.