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A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game; abbreviated 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.[1]

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.[2] In both of these forms, an arranger called a game master (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.[3]

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 games (MMORPGs). Role-playing games also include single-player role-playing video games 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.[4]

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 activity may be present in such games, but it is not the primary focus.[5] 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. Events, characters, and narrative structure give a sense of a narrative experience, and the game need not have a strongly-defined storyline.[6] 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.[7] 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, 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 in games ranges from just enough internal consistency to set up a believable story or credible challenge] up to full-blown simulations 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.[8] Beneficiaries commonly include young people with learning difficulties such as Autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia.[9][10]


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 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 conventions, 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.[11] Some outcomes are determined by the game system, and some are chosen by the GM.[12]

This is the format in which role-playing games were first popularized. The first commercially available RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), was inspired by fantasy literature and the wargaming hobby and was published in 1974.[13] 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 retronyms 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.[14]


  1. (Tychsen 2006:76) "The variety of role-playing games makes it inherently challenging to provide a common definition. However, all forms of role-playing games – be they PnP RPGs, CRPGs, MMORPGs, or LARPS – share a group of characteristics, which makes them identifiable from other types of games: storytelling with rules, control of fictional characters, a fictitious reality, usually the presence of a game master (or game engine), and at least one player."
  2. (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")"
  3. "Narrative" or "Tabletop" RPGs
  4. (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."
  5. (Heliö 2004) "In the family of role-playing games there are also a whole bunch of other game types and game-like activities that can be included or excluded, like the collectible card games (such as Magic: The Gathering) and board and strategy games (like Warhammer 40.000), or different forms of theatrical and larp-like combinations, such as fate-play. The action of role-playing is usually somehow present in these game forms, but the focus can be more either in the competitive nature of the game (MtG, Warhammer), or in the immersive performance (as in fate-play), than in role-playing itself."
  6. (Heliö 2004) "Still, we must note that there is no actual story in the game of the role-playing game, though there are events, characters, and structures of narrativity giving the players the basis for interpreting it as a narrative. We have many partially open structures that we may fulfill with our imagination during the course of the game – within its limitations. We also have the ability to follow different kinds of narrative premises and structures as well as imitate them for ourselves to create more authentic and suitable narrative experiences. We have the 'narrative desire' to make pieces we interpret to relate to each other fit in, to construct the plot from recurring and parallel elements."
  7. Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing, Caliber, p.333–356. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  8. Dungeons & Dragons is now being used as therapy
  9. Dungeons of the mind: Tabletop RPGs as social therapy
  10. Helping dyslexic students with role-playing games
  11. (Tychsen 2006:77) "In PnP RPGs, the general game process consists of information-feedback cycles between the players and the GM, or internally within the group."
  12. (Tychsen 2006:78–79) "The GM assumes a variety of responsibilities in PnP RPGs, depending on the playing style used, however, these normally include facilitation of game flow and game story, providing environmental content of the fictional reality, as well as administrating rules and arbitrating conflicts. ... In RPGs, the rules specify a great deal more than how pieces are moved on a game board. Because these games are focused on player characters, the rules are designed to govern the nature of these story protagonists and the fictional reality they act in. ... Note that the rules systems in PnP RPGs can be modified or ignored on the fly by the GM or players if so desired."
  13. (Copier 2005:3) "...fantasy role-playing as a commercial product was developed in the 1970s as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D, 1974) by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The game was based on a combination of their interests in table-top wargaming and literary fantasy."
  14. "Narrative" or "Tabletop" RPGs