A tabletop role-playing game (TRPG or TTRPG), also called a pen-and-paper role-playing game (P&P RPG) or sometimes (as in the context of this wiki) simply a role-playing game (RPG), is a sort of creative game in which players tell the story of characters in an imaginary world. Although solo role-playing games exist, role-playing is generally a social activity for groups of players at a (real or metaphorical) table, who play the game through a conversation or discussion and agree on the events of the story according to the system of the game.
Definition of a role-playing game
Although there is no universally accepted definition of a role-playing game that includes everything that is considered a role-playing game and excludes everything that is not, a general idea of a role-playing game can be derived from the following principles:
- A role-playing game takes the form of a narration, with play consisting of a series of logically connected events (the narrative principle).
- Critical game decisions are made collaboratively by using an agreed system (the Lumpley Principle).
- At least one player takes on the role of a specific character, making decisions as if they are that character.
- Any possible action that could be taken by a character can be adjudicated within the immersive framework of the game (the freedom principle).
Games other than role-playing games
In an improvisational game, criterion one is not present. An example would be a theatre game in which participants had to act out characters called out by an MC or the audience.
In make-believe, criterion two is not present. Decisions are made using standard social conventions. Cops and robbers and freeform LARP are make-believe games.
In a narrative game, the third criterion is not present. Players are narrating about characters, not as them. Once Upon a Time is a game like this; you can tell a story about just about anything, but you are not truly any one character within the game.
In a traditional game, the fourth criterion is not present. If there is no rule for it, you cannot attempt it. An example would be a board game, or a storytelling game that allowed only certain kinds of actions or decisions. Talisman is a game like this, as is the Baron Munchausen Role-playing Game (despite the name).
Note that since role-playing games include all the elements, they may at time incorporate other modes. But all the role-playing criteria have to be present at least some of the time to be a true role-playing game. At times, players might participate in a narrative mode; this is called meta-gaming. Traditional game elements come into play when the rules specify the kinds of results from specific actions. Some parts of role-playing require few rules; this is often described as immersion, and operates in the make-believe mode. Role-playing games often emphasize decisions or action more than continuity; when narration becomes disconnected or unimportant, the game might be described as beer-and-pretzels, gonzo, hack-and-slash, or surrealism.