A role-playing game (RPG) is a sort of creative game in which players tell the story of characters in an imaginary world. This wiki relates specifically to the type of role-playing game called tabletop role-playing games (TRPG or TTRPG) or pen-and-paper role-playing games (P&P RPG), although other forms exist (including live action role-playing games and computer role-playing games).

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:

  1. A role-playing game takes the form of a narration, with play consisting of a series of logically connected events (the narrative principle).
  2. Critical game decisions are made collaboratively by using an agreed system (the Lumpley Principle).
  3. At least one player takes on the role of a specific character, making decisions as if they are that character.
  4. 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.

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