Most of the people I know here, do not even know of the existence of such games. To them, an RPG is a computer/console game that involves the leveling up of characters, farming for resources and killing monsters. I pity the people who have never experienced a real RPG before.
A real RPG is played with your imagination. It involves a single arbiter, who is the GM, and a whole bunch of players. The GM controls the game play by giving out scenarios and resolving conflicts. The rest of the players, control their player characters (PC) and interact in this world that is woven by the GM.
Unlike a computer RPG, in a real RPG, you can literally do anything. As a player, you decide what it is that you want to do, and the GM resolves the game play. The GM also controls all of the non-player characters (NPC) and so, you have limitless possibilities for interaction. This allows for a very interesting game play as it is only limited by the imaginations of the GM and the players.
There are many popular RPG game systems that came in volumes of books. The most famous ones are probably the Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS systems. However, there are many other game systems that can be used and you can create your own ones as well.
Attached to the game systems are usually game scenarios that came in many more volumes of books. These were designed to give the GM ideas on what stories to tell and what plot twists to have. A dull and boring GM would probably execute the scenarios as they were written. However, a good GM will use them as a guide and come up with many other interesting scenarios.
In school, I spent quite a bit of time creating alternative game systems and scenarios. They were often scifi or fantasy based and we had a lot of fun playing them all. It was always quite challenging to design a battle resolution system as it was quite difficult to keep all the players happy.
It was also very easy to play the games as all we needed was a pen and paper each. To help with visualisation, we made our own custom maps and I even fabricated little doors and stuff from candle wax. With modern technology today, some RPGers are projecting graphics from a computer onto a table top.
Although it was preferable to have several die, it wasn't strictly necessary. I remember that I had to fork out a small fortune to buy my d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20s. On, my 15th [iirc] birthday, my friends pooled money to buy me a AD&D underdark campaign box that was worth RM 100+. At that time, all these things had to be imported.
We played them whenever we had time. This meant that we played them in between periods of class, during recess, before and after school. All we had to do was sit together, take our our little 555 notebooks and a pen. I don't know of any better/cheaper way to spend hours productively while having amazing fun.
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