Role-Playing Games

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A role-playing game (RPG) is a type of game in which players assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create narratives. Gameplay progresses according to a predetermined system of rules and guidelines, within which players may improvise freely. Player choices shape the direction and outcome of role-playing games.

Role-playing games are typically more collaborative and social than competitive. A typical role-playing game unites its participants into a single team that adventures as a group. A role-playing game rarely has winners or losers. This makes role-playing games fundamentally different from board games, card games, sports and most other types of games. Like novels or films, role-playing games appeal because they engage the imagination.

Because the terms "role-playing game" and "RPG" have both to some degree been co-opted by the computer gaming industry, traditional non-digital pastimes of this sort are increasingly being referred to as pen and paper role-playing games (PnP RPG or PPRPG) or tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG).


At their core, role-playing games are a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling. Simple forms of role-playing exist in traditional children's games such as "cops and robbers," "dogs and mailmen," "cowboys and indians," and "playing house." Mature role-playing games are more sophisticated. Unlike the childhood game of "cowboys and indians" for example, participants in a Wild West role-playing game will generate specific, detailed characters and an involved plot. Their goal is to reproduce the themes and enjoyment of a Western film or a Western novel. Like the serial Westerns of old movie matinees, such episodic games are often played in regular sessions that continue for months or even years.


The original form of role-playing game was the fantasy wargame, inspired by sword and sorcery fiction and utilizing miniature figurines and scaled terrain grids to illustrate action in a way similar to that of tactical wargames. Whether or not these supplementary materials are still used, this variety of table-top interaction remains a dominant model for role-playing. Participants usually sit around a table and conduct the game as a small social gathering. Tabletop games that emphasize plot and character interaction over game mechanics and combat sometimes prefer the name storytelling game.

A LARP, short for live action role-playing, is played more like improvisational theatre. Participants act out their characters' actions, often in costume. LARPs de-emphasize die rolls and rulebook references. Freeform role-playing games are a subgenre of LARP with minimal rules and a greater focus on character development.

Computer role-playing games are a genre within the console game and computer game markets. They develop character and plot more than other computer games, and implement game mechanics derived from tabletop RPGs. CRPGs can be single player or multiplayer, often utilizing networks to allow players to participate with separate computers or consoles, either at remote locations or on a local area network.

Computer-assisted role-playing games blend elements of tabletop gaming with computer gaming. Computers are used for recordkeeping and sometimes to resolve combat, while the participants generally make decisions concerning character interaction.

Some players consider Collectible card games to be a kind of role-playing game. This categorization is a matter of dispute within the gaming community.

Game mechanics

Despite their generally collaborative nature, role-playing games have rules. Almost all role-playing games require the participation of a gamemaster (GM), who narrates the game session and acts as the moderator and rules arbitrator. The rest of the participants create and play inhabitants of the game setting, known as player characters (PCs). The player characters collectively are known as a "party".

During a typical game session, the gamemaster will outline a story goal for the players to achieve through the actions of their characters. Frequently, this involves interacting with non-player characters (NPC's), other denizens of the game world, which are played by the gamemaster. Many game sessions contain moments of puzzle solving, negotiation, chases, and combat.

To determine the success or failure of a character's actions, many game systems use weighted statistics and dice rolls. In most systems, the gamemaster uses the rules to determine a target number. The player rolls dice, trying to get a result either more than or less than the target number, depending on the game system.

Character creation

Characters have unequal distributions of basic talents and skills. These shape the character's choices and capabilities within the game. Game rules are usually balanced so that no individual character can excel in every area.

Before play begins, players develop a concept of the role they would like to play in the game. They then use the game system's character creation rules to form a representation of their characters, in terms of game mechanics. The character's statistics are recorded on a special-purpose form called a character sheet. Some systems, like the d20 System, use character classes to define character concepts, while others, such as GURPS, allow the player to create unique character concepts by freely assigning statistics.

Many game systems make distinctions between two key types of statistic: attributes and skills. Attributes are statistics all characters possess: strength, agility, and intelligence are common examples. These are ranked, often on a numeric scale, so that a player can gauge the character's capabilities. For example, a character's strength rating could be used to determine the likelihood that the character can lift a certain weight.

Skills are abilities that only some characters possess, such as negotiation, horseback riding, and marksmanship. Game systems often define skills that are genre-appropriate. For example, Asian adventures commonly emphasize martial arts. Fantasy settings include simulated magic. Science-fiction settings may contain psionics. However, some skills are found in several genres: a medieval rogue and a Wild West outlaw may both be very proficient at throwing knives.

Game mechanics are not a substitute for a character concept. For example, one Wild West gunfighter may become a quick drawing revolver marksman, whereas another with similar game statistics is a mounted rifle expert.


Role-playing games can also be divided into genres by the fictional setting where they take place.


Fantasy role-playing games draw their inspiration almost exclusively from fantasy literature, such as the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. The setting in these games is usually a world with a level of technology similar to that in Europe sometime between years 800-1400. Fantasy elements include magic and supernatural creatures, such as dragons. The genre can be subdivided into high fantasy where supernatural events are commonplace, and low fantasy where there are little or no supernatural aspects. Because the world's most popular role-playing game is part of this genre, it is the most played role-playing genre. RPGs are sometimes collectivelly called "Fantasy role-playing games" ("FRP").

Science Fiction

SF role-playing or sci-fi role-playing games are inspired by science fiction literature. The setting is generally in the future, sometimes near future but also quite often in the far future, though in many cases the setting bears no connection to the world we live in, e.g. Star Wars. Common elements involve futuristic technology, contact with alien life forms, experimental societies, and space travel. Psionic abilities (i.e. ESP and telekinesis) often take the place of magic. The genre can be divided similarly with science fiction literature into sub-genres, such as cyberpunk or space opera. SF is the second most played genre after fantasy.


Licensed games are tie-ins to larger media franchises. They were once rare but the number of these games is increasing. Licensed games are usually considered part of their franchise's genre rather than a genre in and of themselves. Many licensed products are now defunct because of license expiration.


Historical games take place in the past. Settings that have been explored in role-playing games include Feudal Japan, Imperial China, Maya civilization, Arthurian Britain, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Alexandria, Victorian era, the World Wars and the Vietnam War. Because historical games often include magic as part of their milieu, the line between "history" and "high fantasy" can be somewhat blurred; the usual distinction is that a game set in a time period (mythic or real) of past Earth is a historical game, while a game set in an "alternate Earth" is a fantasy game.


Horror games take their inspiration from horror literature. Horror Roleplaying can be divided into two major groups. The first is inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, focusing on humanity's fight against malevolent, extra-dimensional entities. The second focuses on playing supernatural creatures, mostly preying on humanity, such as the books of Anne Rice. The setting in these games is often contemporary or from the 19th or 20th century. Creating the correct mood and suspense is important in these games.

Comic Book superhero

Superhero role-playing games are inspired by superhero comic books and graphic novels. The setting is generally the present, sometimes near future or past, though in many cases the setting is significantly different from the real world. Rubber science, viable mutants, and space aliens are all common in the genre. The RPG games themselves usually have the players as super heroes, saving the common people from crime and supervillains. The genre can be divided into sub-genres that mirror comic book genres and time periods: for example, Golden Age where the heroes are always virtuous and morality is black and white, and Silver Age where the distinctions are less clear.


Humor games are based on creating situations which are funny. Humor is not usually a genre in itself (although it can be), but a modifier added to other genres.


Universal games are based on creating a generic system that can be adapted to any genre. In practice, universal games are typically biased toward a specific style or genre and adaptable to others.

Multi-genre or meta-genre

Several games combine different genres. Ars Magica can be considered a fantasy role-playing game in a historical setting, Shadowrun combines cyberpunk with fantasy elements whereas steam punk games combine elements of science fiction with history. DragonMech combines elements of steampunk and fantasy into a single genre of its own. There also exist games unique enough that they do not fit comfortably into easily-defined genres, but these are rare.

See also

Famous writers

Famous artists

Celebrity players


Types of games



External links

Lists and reviews


  • DHTML RPG, a site for DRPG game developers
  • - a site for players of MMORPGs, including World of Warcraft, DAOC, EverQuest 2 etc.
  • Federation Klingon Alliance - A Star Trek derived RPG group which has existed in varying forms since 1993.
  • Federation Reborn - An active roleplaying community that participates in primarily Star Trek rp's, but also Star Wars and Stargate
  • - a site for developers and players of open-source RPGs; includes a mailing list
  • - "The Forge"; maintained by Ron Edwards, this site for Independent Role-Playing Games includes discussion forum, articles, and other resources.
  • Lakeland Role Playing Guild - an active community of gamers
  • Nightendale RPG Network An expansive OTBRPG network, featuring Dynasty Warriors, Blood of Britain and the Malibora Chronicles. They also cater for other styles of text based roleplaying.
  • RolePlay onLine - Probably the largest forum-based roleplaying and collaborative storytelling site on the Internet. See also Roleplay_Online.
  • Role Players Gaming Network - An online games-server and forums community for role players.
  • - RPG directory.
  • RPG Forum - Discussions about online RPG games
  • RPG Wolfpack - An online community dedicated to the design and creation of many forms of role-playing games.
  • - One of the largest general role-playing game fan-sites.
  • Star Trek Simulation Forum ( STSF) - Founded in mid 2002. It has served as the chat based role-playing game of the official Star Trek website since October 2002. [5]. Remains the only simming organization officially recognized by the site.
  • The UCIP - a community of mostly Star Trek RPGs both via IRC and eMail.

Original Wiki source: Wikipedia