Role-Playing Game
aka: Role Play

This article refers chiefly to video games. See Tabletop RPG for old-fashioned pen and paper games.

A type of game in which the player controls a character or party of characters in a statistically abstracted way. Most are based around one or more quests, items, stats, Character Customization, and experience points, as characters grow in power over time. While RPGs are a diverse genre, they are all defined by the core reason why people play them—namely, the desire for a sense of achievement that does not require an intense commitment to mastering them. To this end, most RPGs give you easy checklists to tick off (like side quests) at your leisure and clear success metrics and rewards (like leveling up), and also let you tune out and come back at any time. Another way a lot of RPGs engage players is by satisfying their desire to watching their characters grow as the game progresses (both in power and as people).

Role-playing games (commonly known as "RPG") have their origin not as video games but pen-and-paper systems with dice-based combat and character generation, descended from a combination of tabletop wargaming and collaborative theater. Dungeons & Dragons was the first such system to be sold, followed by other early systems such as The Fantasy Trip, Traveller and Tunnels & Trolls. These type of role-playing games are all now known as Tabletop RPGs.

The early video game RPGs focused mostly on simulating the combat aspects of Tabletop games, with other aspects following after. Video game RPGs can be divided in a number of ways, which are elaborated below.

  • Western RPGs (WRPGs) often focus on greater Character Customization and free-roaming exploration. The main Player Characters in this genre tend to have little predefined personality, allowing the players to determine their characterization via interactive dialogue. Western RPGs traditionally bore a great resemblance to Tabletop RPGs, Turn-Based Strategy, and Tactical RPGs—thanks to their roots in War Gaming—but many modern examples go against said roots by emphasizing real-time combat, while de-emphasizing tactical control of the Player Party, which is often delegated to the AI. Western RPGs come in three main flavors (though hybrids are also common):
  • Eastern RPGs (ERPGs) often focus on cinematic narratives and memorable characters, usually (but not always) with more linear gameplay and less direct customization than Western RPGs; Eastern RPGs typically feel like visual novels, movies or anime. Until recently, most such games came from Japan, and are thus nicknamed JRPGs. A good point of distinction is that WRPGs typically have some Character Customization, whereas an ERPG will more likely have a preformed Player Character, who might have some customization applied to their abilities but always looks the same. Eastern RPGs tend to use a turn-based or pseudo-turn-based system where the player individually inputs actions for every character in the team each turn. Good examples of this genre are the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokémon franchises.
    • Action RPGs (ARPGs) is an amorphous collection of gameplay styles united mainly by having real time combat whilst still remaining an RPG (as opposed to an Action Game with RPG Elements, though distinction is rarely easy). In the Eastern RPG context, ARPG is a distinct subgenre, defined by its opposition to turn-based and menu-based combat of traditional ERPGs, while in the Western tradition, it is more of a "genre modifier" (see Video Game Genres), as real time combat can be introduced into any of its three subgenres. Most common categories of Western ARPG are Diablo-clones, FPS/RPG hybrids in the vein of Deus Ex, and Hack and Slash/RPG hybrids like Dark Souls.
    • Tactical RPGs are related to Eastern RPGs but with a high focus on moving around a gridlike system, often with abilities that take advantage of this to attack multiple people at once, or to fight from a distance note . However, what separates the Tactical RPG subgenre from other RPGs is that they tend to greatly resemble Strategy Games, but with RPG Elements. On TV Tropes, this type of game is thus lumped in with Turn-Based Strategy, as the two genres are very close. More recent examples of Eastern Tactical RPGs, however, have also incorporated Real-Time Strategy elements. note 
    • A further subdivision is a Strategy RPG (SRPGs) which more closely resemble Real-Time Strategy or Tabletop RPGs. The distinction separates games that are on a grid system with standard Eastern RPG characters (with abilities, more attack options, and so on) and games that are on a grid system but characters are more properly units (they typically have only base attacks, may not have equipment, and so on). A good comparison would be Final Fantasy Tactics to the Fire Emblem series. The former is a "Tactical RPG" and the latter is a "Strategy RPG". note .
  • Roguelikes take their name from the early 1980s ASCII graphics game Rogue. They are defined by the combination of randomly generated worlds and permanent death, meaning that every time time your character dies you have to start completely over in a different set of levels. The focus also tends to be much more on very complex Nintendo Hard gameplay than story.
  • Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) can be any of the above genres, though they gravitate around a fusion of Action and Western RPGs (as the Trope Maker Ultima Online arose out of a Western RPG series). They also have their own distinct elements, mainly focusing around large boss battles known as "raids" and Player Versus Player interactions, as well as more tedious grinding such as fetching 20 Bear Asses.

Whether any actual "Role Playing" is involved in many role-playing video games is often debatable. See also How to Play a Console RPG and PC vs. Console.

For the trope about assuming roles in order to practice something, see Comic Role Play.

This genre is home to many specific tropes.

Types of Role Playing Games:

For Dungeons & Dragons etc. see:

Official Subgenres:

Related Genres:

Tropes that are commonly found in Role Playing Games:

Alternative Title(s): RPG, Role Play, CRPG, Role Playing Games