Remember when every RPG had a little section at the beginning entitled "What is Roleplaying?" or something similar? Do you remember all those examples of play most RPGs also included, the ones that gave you a play-like outline of a typical roleplaying session, usually right before something really bad went down and the characters were about to suffer mightily? I certainly remember them and I recently found myself thinking about them a lot.
As I finish up the revision of Thousand Suns, I've noticed that I didn't include either of these things. Sure, I talk about "roleplaying" and I often make little digressions into the philosophy behind, say, random rolls and the like, but there's no specific section where I address the question of what roleplaying is for the benefit of a newcomer. Likewise, there's no example of play to give an idea to said newcomer of what it's like to actually play a tabletop RPG.
Partly, I didn't include these sections, because, honestly, after three decades in this hobby, I don't need this stuff explained to me. Many contemporary RPGs still include such these sections but I rarely read them and, when I do, they don't offer me any insights that encourage me to make it a regular practice. There's something else at work, too. On some level, I've come to accept without question that tabletop roleplaying isn't an expanding hobby and certainly not one that anyone comes into blind. If you get into tabletop RPGs nowadays, odds are you already know what they are -- at least, that's my unthinking assumption.
But is that really the case? I don't know and I'm not sure anyone does. Likewise, I'm not sure anyone knows if a "What is roleplaying?" section or an example of play serves any useful purpose beyond checking off a box on the "what every RPG rulebook needs to include" list. Of course, as I said, I'm a jaded, long-time gamer and my contact with kids at the age I was when I entered the hobby is limited to my children's friends, so I don't necessarily have a representative sample on which to draw any conclusions about what a RPG should or should not include. All I know for sure is that many RPGs do include these sections, though they almost always seem halfhearted and pro forma and, when they're not, as in the case of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG, I find them cloying and wasteful of space.
Yet I find myself second-guessing myself and wondering if maybe the fact that so many of us find these sections useless is a symptom of a wider problem within the hobby. Then, I dismiss such thoughts, because I remember well that, even in the heyday of such sections, I rarely read them and even more rarely did I find them helpful. I learned to roleplay from other people who were already doing it rather than by reading a book and I still think, in the heart of hearts, that that's the best (only?) way to do so. Is it, though? Again, I have no idea and so I go back and forth on this topic in my head, never knowing whether to trust my gut, which tells me no one, not even newbies cares about those sections, or whether maybe guys like Raggi are on to something RPGs need to make a better effort to explain what they are to newcomers, for many of whom a tabletop RPG is a bizarre concept.