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Typical graphics of early roguelikes. Typical gameplay of all roguelikes.

"The RNG giveth, and the RNG taketh away..."
Common saying in roguelike circles
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Roguelikes are a broad genre of video games in which the gameplay is built around two main features:

  • Random procedural generation: Level designs are generated randomly and are intended to be different on every playthrough.
  • Permanent character death: If the player dies, their character is lost and the game must be restarted from the beginning with a new character.

Roguelike games use these two features in concert to challenge the player with unscripted and perilous scenarios, testing their ability to adapt on the fly and make meaningful decisions in the face of uncertainty. As such, there is no way to create a definitive Walkthrough for a roguelike - one can only advise the player on which decisions are generally best to take. This gives roguelikes a greater replay value than games in which levels are hand-designed.

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The Trope Maker for the genre is the 1980 video game Rogue, a terminal-based Dungeon Crawling game which originated the gameplay combination of random level generation and permadeath. Rogue's design inspired a huge family of dungeon crawlers throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which became known as "roguelikes", and the term eventually came to be applied to any game which uses the design philosophy of procedural generation and permadeath.

The alternative term roguelite is also sometimes used to describe games which use roguelike-style design principles, but in a toned-down or simplified way. This term is often used to distinguish modern roguelikes from their more complex dungeon-crawling forebears. However, there is no universally agreed-upon definition for the term. Indeed, even defining "roguelike" itself has proven to be an extremely tricky task, with the definition having shifted a number of times over the years. See the Analysis page for more details.

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Common tropes and mechanics in roguelikes include:

  • Macrogame: Some aspect of the game carries over from one playthrough to the next, even when the player gets defeated and has to start over. Examples could be a currency that persists beyond death, or items that become available in future playthroughs once unlocked in-game. This was less common in early roguelikes, which fully expected you to restart from the very beginning. In modern roguelikes, it is common for your in-game actions to have at least some indirect effect on how the game will play out next time.
  • No Save Scumming: Roguelikes typically do not allow or expect you to reload a save, other than to resume a game already in progress, as this would negate the purpose of Permadeath.
  • RPG Elements: The original dungeon crawlers were essentially single-character RPGs, and thus naturally had RPG mechanics such as stats, Experience Points and levelling up. However, modern roguelikes still often retain RPG-like mechanics, even if the game is not a Role-Playing Game.
  • Perks: In modern roguelikes, it's common for the player to be regularly gifted with special abilities which remain with them for the rest of the game, often as a reward for level completion. A common practice is for the game to offer a random selection of perks (usually three) and allow the player to pick one.
  • Randomly Generated Loot: Since roguelikes are designed for a random challenge, it's not too uncommon for this principle to be applied to the game's loot system too. Several of the early classic dungeon-crawlers had quite sophisticated item generation mechanics, making it possible to acquire powerful items simply by good luck.
  • Random Drops: Often used as a way to reward the player for defeating an enemy.
  • Dungeon Shop: Shops appear periodically during gameplay, even in places where you wouldn't expect them, and can be vital lifelines for a flagging player. Sometimes they are random and only appear if you're lucky; other times, they appear in predictable locations and may be useful as safe stopping points. Some games may even provide perks which are specifically geared toward finding shops, or getting in-store discounts. If staffed by a shopkeeper, Shoplift and Die may be in effect, especially when the shop is a physical location in the game world.
  • Resources Management Gameplay: Since roguelikes are randomly generated, the resources available to the player are not guaranteed and may be different each playthrough. For example, an item that got the player out of a tough spot before might not be available the next time around. Thus, there is an element of carefully making use of whatever resources the player has to hand. Sometimes this involves carefully rationing the resources you have, or taking risks to secure resources that you need.
  • Limited Loadout: On the flipside of resource management, some roguelikes are capable of giving the player too many resources, since random generation can provide a potentially limitless supply. To counter this, games may put a tight limit on the player's inventory and force them to choose which items are most important to them.

Roguelikes have a reputation for being infamously difficult and unforgiving, which is largely due to the influence of early dungeon-crawlers such as NetHack and Angband - these games took Permadeath very seriously indeed and did little to protect the player from fatal mistakes, instead using death as a way to teach the player what not to do next time. NetHack, in particular, originated the concept of "Yet Another Stupid Death" due to the absurd number of different ways a player can die in the game.

Some modern roguelikes have taken steps to soften the punishment of permadeath, such as by limiting failure to just the current level, or by allowing the player to carry some of their efforts over to their next playthrough so that they at least have a better chance on future runs.

Compare Video Game Randomizer, a type of Game Mod which adds roguelike-style randomness to a previously hand-designed game.


Roguelike games

Alternative Title(s): Roguelikes, Roguelite, Roguelike Like

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