A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game, RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. There are several forms of role-playing games. The original form, sometimes called the tabletop role-playing game (TRPG), is conducted through discussion, whereas in live action role-playing (LARP), players physically perform their characters' actions.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "LARPs can be viewed as forming a distinct category of RPG because of two unique features: (a) The players physically embody their characters, and (b) the game takes place in a physical frame. Embodiment means that the physical actions of the player are regarded as those of the character. Whereas in an RPG played by a group sitting around a table, players describe the actions of their characters (e.g., "I run to stand beside my friend")" In both of these forms, an arranger called a
game master A gamemaster (GM; also known as game master, game manager, game moderator, referee, or storyteller) is a person who acts as an organizer, officiant for regarding rules, arbitrator, and moderator for a multiplayer role-playing game. They are ...
(GM) usually decides on the rules and setting to be used, while acting as the referee; each of the other players takes on the role of a single character. Several varieties of RPG also exist in electronic media, such as multiplayer text-based Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) and their graphics-based successors,
massively multiplayer online role-playing game A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is a video game that combines aspects of a role-playing video game and a massively multiplayer online game. As in role-playing games (RPGs), the player assumes the role of a character ( ...
s (MMORPGs). Role-playing games also include single-player
role-playing video game A role-playing video game (commonly referred to as simply a role-playing game or RPG, as well as a computer role-playing game or CRPG) is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character (or several party members) immers ...
s in which players control a character, or team of characters, who undertake(s) quests and may include player capabilities that advance using statistical mechanics. These electronic games sometimes share settings and rules with tabletop RPGs, but emphasize character advancement more than collaborative storytelling.(Tychsen 2006:75) "PnP RPGs are an example of interactive narratives. The rules and fictional worlds that form the basis for these games function as a vessel for collaborative, interactive storytelling. This is possibly the most important feature of PnP RPGs, and one that CRPGs have yet to reproduce." This type of game is well-established, so some RPG-related game forms, such as trading/collectible card games (CCGs) and wargames, may not be included under the definition. Some amount of
role-playing Role-playing or roleplaying is the changing of one's behaviour to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role. While the '' Oxford English Dictionary'' offers a definition of role-playing ...
activity may be present in such games, but it is not the primary focus. The term ''role-playing game'' is also sometimes used to describe games involving roleplay simulation and exercises used in teaching, training, and academic research.


Both authors and major publishers of tabletop role-playing games consider them to be a form of interactive and collaborative
storytelling Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural pr ...
. Events, characters, and narrative structure give a sense of a narrative experience, and the game need not have a strongly-defined storyline. Interactivity is the crucial difference between role-playing games and traditional fiction. Whereas a viewer of a television show is a passive observer, a player in a role-playing game makes choices that affect the story. Such role-playing games extend an older tradition of storytelling games where a small party of friends collaborate to create a story. While simple forms of role-playing exist in traditional children's games of
make believe Make believe, also known as pretend play, is a loosely structured form of play that generally includes role-play, object substitution and nonliteral behavior. What separates play from other daily activities is its fun and creative aspect rather t ...
, role-playing games add a level of sophistication and persistence to this basic idea with additions such as game facilitators and rules of interaction. Participants in a role-playing game will generate specific characters and an ongoing plot. A consistent system of rules and a more or less realistic campaign setting in games aids suspension of disbelief. The level of
realism Realism, Realistic, or Realists may refer to: In the arts *Realism (arts), the general attempt to depict subjects truthfully in different forms of the arts Arts movements related to realism include: * Classical Realism *Literary realism, a mov ...
in games ranges from just enough internal consistency to set up a believable story or credible challenge up to full-blown
simulations A simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. Simulations require the use of models; the model represents the key characteristics or behaviors of the selected system or process, whereas the s ...
of real-world processes. Tabletop role-playing games may also be used in therapy settings to help individuals develop behavioral, social, and even language skills. Beneficiaries commonly include young people with learning difficulties such as
Autism spectrum The autism spectrum, often referred to as just autism or in the context of a professional diagnosis autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism spectrum condition (ASC), is a neurodevelopmental condition (or conditions) characterized by difficulti ...
disorders, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (
ADHD Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by excessive amounts of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that are pervasive, impairing in multiple contexts, and otherwise age-inapp ...
), and
dyslexia Dyslexia, also known until the 1960s as word blindness, is a disorder characterized by reading below the expected level for one's age. Different people are affected to different degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, r ...


Role-playing games are played in a wide variety of formats, ranging from discussing character interaction in tabletop form, physically acting out characters in
LARP A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically portray their characters.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "LARPs can be viewed as forming a distinct category of RPG because of two unique featu ...
to playing characters virtually in digital media. There is also a great variety of systems of rules and game settings. Games that emphasize plot and character interaction over game mechanics and combat sometimes prefer the name storytelling game. These types of games tend to reduce or eliminate the use of dice and other randomizing elements. Some games are played with characters created before the game by the GM, rather than those created by the players. This type of game is typically played at
gaming convention A gaming convention is a gathering centered on role-playing games, collectible card games, miniatures wargames, board games, video games, or other types of games. These conventions are typically two or three days long, and often held at either a u ...
s, or in standalone games that do not form part of a campaign.


Tabletop and ''pen-and-paper'' (PnP) RPGs are conducted through discussion in a small social gathering. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes. Some outcomes are determined by the game system, and some are chosen by the GM. This is the format in which role-playing games were first popularized. The first commercially available RPG, ''
Dungeons & Dragons ''Dungeons & Dragons'' (commonly abbreviated as ''D&D'' or ''DnD'') is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The game was first published in 1974 by TSR (company)#Tactical Studies Rules ...
'' (''D&D''), was inspired by fantasy literature and the wargaming hobby and was published in 1974. The popularity of ''D&D'' led to the birth of the tabletop role-playing game industry, which publishes games with many different themes, rules, and styles of play. The popularity of tabletop games has decreased since the modern releases of online MMO RPGs." This format is often referred to simply as a ''role-playing game''. To distinguish this form of RPG from other formats, the
retronym A retronym is a newer name for an existing thing that helps differentiate the original form/version from a more recent one. It is thus a word or phrase created to avoid confusion between older and newer types, whereas previously (before there were ...
s ''tabletop role-playing game'' or ''pen and paper role-playing game'' are sometimes used, though neither a table nor pen and paper are strictly necessary.

Live action

A LARP is played more like
improvisational theatre Improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improv, is the form of theatre, often comedy, in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers. In its purest form, the dialogue, a ...
. Participants act out their characters' actions instead of describing them, and the real environment is used to represent the imaginary setting of the game world. Players are often costumed as their characters and use appropriate props, and the venue may be decorated to resemble the fictional setting. Some live-action role-playing games use rock paper scissors or comparison of attributes to resolve conflicts symbolically, while other LARPs use physical combat with simulated arms such as
airsoft gun Airsoft guns are replica toy guns used in airsoft sports. They are a special type of low-power smoothbore air guns designed to shoot non-metallic spherical projectiles (pb) often colloquially (but incorrectly) referred to as " BBs", which ar ...
s or foam weapons. LARPs vary in size from a handful of players to several thousand, and in duration from a couple of hours to several days. Because the number of players in a LARP is usually larger than in a tabletop role-playing game, and the players may be interacting in separate physical spaces, there is typically less of an emphasis on tightly maintaining a narrative or directly entertaining the players, and game sessions are often managed in a more distributed manner.

Electronic media

Tabletop role-playing games have been translated into a variety of electronic formats. As early as 1974, the same year as the release of Dungeons & Dragons, unlicensed versions of it were developed on mainframe university systems under titles such as ''dnd'' and ''Dungeon''. These early computer RPGs influenced all of electronic gaming, as well as spawning the role-playing video game genre. Some authors divide digital role-playing games into two intertwined groups: single-player games using RPG-style mechanics, and multiplayer games incorporating social interaction.Yee, N. (2006). The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 309-329.


Single-player role-playing video games form a loosely defined genre of computer and console games with origins in role-playing games such as ''Dungeons & Dragons'', on which they base much of their terminology, settings, and game mechanics. This translation changes the experience of the game, providing a visual representation of the world but emphasizing statistical character development over collaborative, interactive storytelling.


Online text-based role-playing games involve many players using some type of text-based interface and an Internet connection to play an RPG. Games played in a real-time way include MUDs,
MUSH In multiplayer online games, a MUSH (a backronymed variation on MUD most often expanded as Multi-User Shared Hallucination, though Multi-User Shared Hack, Habitat, and Holodeck are also observed) is a text-based online social medium to which mult ...
es, and other varieties of MU*. Games played in a turn-based fashion include
play-by-mail game A play-by-mail game (also known as a PBM game, PBEM game, or a turn-based game) is a game played through postal mail, email or other digital media. Correspondence chess and Go (game), Go were among the first PBM games. ''Diplomacy (board game), D ...
s and play-by-post games. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) combine the large-scale social interaction and persistent world of MUDs with graphic interfaces. Most MMORPGs do not actively promote in-character role-playing, however, players can use the games' communication functions to role-play so long as other players cooperate. The majority of players in MMORPGs do not engage in role-playing in this sense. Computer-assisted gaming can be used to add elements of computer gaming to in-person tabletop role-playing, where computers are used for record-keeping and sometimes to resolve combat, while the participants generally make decisions concerning character interaction.



One common feature of many RPGs is the role of a gamemaster, a participant who has special duties to present the fictional setting, arbitrate the results of character actions, and maintain the narrative flow. In tabletop and live-action RPGs the GM performs these duties in person. In video RPGs, many of the functions of a GM are fulfilled by the
game engine A game engine is a software framework primarily designed for the development of video games and generally includes relevant libraries and support programs. The "engine" terminology is similar to the term "software engine" used in the software in ...
. However, some multi-player video RPGs also allow for a participant to take on a GM role through a visual interface called a ''GM toolkit'', albeit with abilities limited by the available technology.

Player character

Another standard concept in RPGs is the player character, a character in the fictional world of the game whose actions the player controls. Typically each player controls a separate player character, sometimes more, each of whom acts as a protagonist in the story.

Non-player character

In contrast to player characters, non-player characters (NPCs) are controlled by the gamemaster or game engine, or by people assisting the gamemaster. Non-player characters fill out the population of the fictional setting and can act as antagonists, bystanders, or allies of the player characters.(Tychsen et al. 2005:216) "The environment needs to be filled out with non-player controlled characters (NPCs)

See also

* Role-playing game terms *
Gaming convention A gaming convention is a gathering centered on role-playing games, collectible card games, miniatures wargames, board games, video games, or other types of games. These conventions are typically two or three days long, and often held at either a u ...
s * History of role-playing games * Timeline of role-playing games * List of role-playing game artists * List of designers of role-playing games *
List of game manufacturers This list includes publishers (not manufacturers, contrary to title, see external links) of card games, board games, miniatures games, wargames, role-playing games, and collectible card games, and companies which sell accessories for use in thos ...
(including role-playing games) * List of role-playing game publishers * List of role-playing games by name * List of campaign settings * Polish role-playing games * Japanese role-playing games * List of role-playing game software * Play-by-post role-playing game * Conversation games



* * * * *

External links

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