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Role-Playing Game
aka: Role Playing Games

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"For when I want all the freedom of having a story revolve around my choices without being confined by the choices of either going to work or starving."
Kyle Martin

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

Role-Playing Games (RPGs for short) are a genre of Video Games 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 (usually) 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 watch their characters grow as the game progresses (both in power and as people).

RPGs have their origin in pen-and-paper systems which traditionally have dice-based combat and character generation, descended from a combination of tabletop War Gaming (such as Chess and Go) and collaborative theater. Dungeons & Dragons was the first such system to be sold, followed by other early systems such as Empire of the Petal Throne, The Fantasy Trip, Space Opera RPG Traveller and Tunnels & Trolls. These type of role-playing games are now known as Tabletop RPGs.

The early role-playing video games like dnd and pedit5 focused mostly on simulating the combat aspects of tabletop games, with other aspects following after. Role-playing video games can be categorized in a number of ways, which are elaborated below:

It is debatable whether any actual "Role Playing" is involved in many "role-playing video games". See also Role-Playing Game Terms, 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.

Types of Role Playing Games:

  • Eastern RPG (ERPG or sometimes "Light RPG"): Often focus on cinematic narratives and memorable characters, usually with a more linear gameplay and less direct customization than Western RPGs. A good point of distinction is that WRPGs typically have some Character Customization, whereas an ERPG will more likely have a preset Player Character, who might have some customization applied to things like their abilities and equipment/clothing but their personality and physical appearance will always be the same. Eastern RPGs typically have a similar feel to visual novels, feature films or anime. Until recently, most such games came from Japan, and are thus nicknamed JRPGs. Eastern RPGs tend to use a turn-based or combatant cooldown system where the player individually inputs actions for every character in the team each turn. Examples of this genre are the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokémon franchises.

  • Action RPG (ARPG): 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 the distinction is rarely easy). In the Eastern RPG context, ARPG is a distinct sub-genre, 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 above-named flavors. 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.

  • Souls-like RPG: A very specific sub-genre that focus heavily on managing stamina and dodging, as well as observing enemy reactions to avoid incredibly hard hitting attacks. As the name suggests, the Dark Souls franchise popularized the genre.

  • Tactical RPG (TRPGs): Related to Eastern RPGs but with a focus on moving around a gridlike system, often with abilities that take advantage of this to strike multiple enemies at the same time or to fight from a distance. There are also similiarites to Western RPGs with wargaming-like tactical combat. 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. (Tactical RPGs, however, can usually be distinguished easily from strategy games, as Real-Time Strategy and Turn-Based Strategy games tend to be much more open ended, and about conquering territory, whereas Tactical RPGs usually have an overarching plot typical to an Eastern RPG.)

  • Strategy RPG: Closely resembles 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 a "Strategy RPG". note 

  • Sandbox RPG: Codified by the aforementioned Ultima series from the fourth installment onwards. This subgenre is all about free-roaming exploration, character customization, and environment interactivity. Its incumbent king is The Elder Scrolls series, though the growing number of Wide-Open Sandbox games with RPG Elements threatens to erase the distinction between the two categories (old-school purists would claim that the distinction between the two would be that the Sandbox RPG focuses on simulating a world and allowing the player character to systemically interact with it, as opposed to simply delivering content, although by this definition the genre is arguably already extinct given the evolution of its tent-pole franchises, its closest living relatives being the more tightly-focused Immersive Sim).

  • Narrative RPG: The youngest sub-genre codified in the late '90s by Planescape: Torment and the Baldur's Gate series, which put the spotlight on their storytelling aspects. These games usually have a compelling character cast and an engaging storyline and, in this, are often compared to contemporaneous Eastern RPGs, though on the whole they still provide broader choices (both in gameplay and story) than their Eastern counterparts. More recent examples of this category include Mass Effect, The Witcher, and Dragon Age series.

  • Play-by-Post Games: Commonly referred to as an RP or a forum roleplay, they predate both computers and tabletop role-playing games. They rely on the imaginations of the players as, quite simply, you're taking an online bulletin board and you're running an RPG on it.

  • Roguelike: Their name comes from the early 1980s ASCII graphics game Rogue. They are defined by the combination of randomly generated worlds and Permadeath, meaning that every time time your character dies you must start over in a different set of levels. The focus also tends to be much more on complex Nintendo Hard gameplay than on story with the player relegated to practical decisions but having no decisions pertaining to the inner life of the protagonist(s).

Related Genres:

Tropes that are commonly found in Computer Role Playing Games:

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