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Role-playing game
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Role-playing game

A role-playing game (RPG) is a type of game where players assume the role of a fictional character, via role-playing. In fact, many non-athletic games involve some aspect of role-playing; however, role-playing games tend to focus on this aspect of behaviour.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 History
3 Controversy
4 Types of RPGs
5 See also
6 External links


At their core, these games are a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling. Whereas cinema, novels and television shows are passive, RPGs engage the participants actively, allowing them to simultaneously be audience and author. An example of this difference could be the classic scene in a horror film when a doomed character ventures alone into the basement to fix a broken fuse. The audience experiences dramatic irony and says, "Don't go down there!" because they know the monster is lying in wait.

In an RPG, the player may choose what to do about the broken fuse. The cooperative aspect of RPGs comes in two forms. The first is that the players are generally not competing against each other. Most sports, board games and card games place players in opposition, with the goal of becoming the winner. An RPG is not a zero-sum game; the only way to actually lose is to not enjoy the game. The second form of cooperation is that all of the players are writing the story together, as a team. At the end of an RPG session the events that transpired could be written into a book that would tell a story written by all of its participants.

In such games, each player's character gains various abilities through play, typically involving the use of several ratings (such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, charm, etc.), which may in some game systems be advanced. These ratings can be used during game play to evaluate the outcome of various chance events. The various ratings and other information are written down on a character sheet for ease of reference.

The term RPG is used for a few distinct methods of play. One is typically a pen-and-paper game played with dice by several people. These frequently use several types of polyhedral dice. Some games and gamers also use figurines on a grid, usually hexagonal, to depict strategic and tactical situations for play. This is especially used during combat which is often a significant aspect of such games. When figurines are used then position, terrain, and other elements can affect the probabilities (provide bonuses or penalties to a player's dice rolls). (For example a character making an attack from an opponent's rear or flank typically gains a significant bonus on their chances "to hit" and may also gain advantages on any damage they inflict).

Sometimes figurines are only rarely or even never used and sometimes a whiteboard, chalkboard or similar drawing surface is used in lieue of any figures or tokens. However, many gamers are also collectors of the figurines and engage in the related hobby of painting and customizing them.

Historically RPGs evolved from wargaming, generally simpler, more fantastic (less historically exacting) and requiring far less space and equipment than the older and more traditional hobby.

The term is also used as a name for a genre of video games that for obvious reasons lack the "role-playing" element of pen-and-paper games but borrow many gameplay elements from said games.

Computerized simulations based upon the aforementioned tabletop rulesets have become more prominent recently. Over the last two decades, these CRPGs have endeavored to incorporate social interaction via networking, beginning humbly in the realm of text based chat rooms, and soon moving to static persistent worlds represented in the text MUD and the like (MUSHes, MOOs and MUXes). Currently, these have evolved to incorporate graphical representations of tokens (characters, equipment, monsters, etc.), as well as physical simulations obscuring much of the underlying rules of the games from users. The popular term for the current, Internet driven, CRPG is MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.

See Computer role-playing game for more information.

In pen and paper RPGs, participants play the parts of characters in an imaginary world that usually is organized, adjudicated, and sometimes created by the gamemaster, usually with the support of rules, simple or complex. Some newer RPGs expand the players' powers beyond dictating the actions of their player characters, making them "mini-GMs". At the most radical, an RPG may have rapidly rotating GM duties, or no GM at all. See also role playing.

Many roleplaying games use a common bestiary of creatures which are easily recognizable.

Another mode of play is the LARP (Live Action Role Playing).


Of course, interactive and impromptu dramas have included elements of play long before the advent of modern wargames -- the children's games of "Playing House" or "Cowboys and Indians" are in essence very simple role-playing games.

Modern RPGs evolved from wargaming roots in the early 1970s. Where a marker or miniature once typically represented a squad of soldiers (although "skirmish level" games did exist where one figure represented one entity only), in early proto-RPGs each token invariably represented a single character.

Each player controlled the actions of that one character. The first edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons; (abbreviated as D&D) betray these roots in the use of a distance scale of one inch per ten feet (or ten yards, outdoors). D&D is considered the first modern role-playing game, and it has influenced nearly every RPG produced since its inception in 1974.

D&D was phenomenally successful, bringing numerous players into the field of role-playing games and spawning a cottage industry centered around the hobby. As with all successful games, D&D spawned a large number of imitators and competitors, some of whom blatantly copied the "look and feel" of the game (one of the earliest competitors to D&D was Tunnels and Trolls). Along with D&D, early successes in the "first generation" of role-playing games included Traveller and RuneQuest.

D&D soon became Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which took the game (and the role-playing game industry in general) away from amateur hobbyism and into the realm of "professional" gaming. As more elaborate, more expensive role-playing game products appeared on the market, organized conventions and professionally published magazines (such as Dragon magazine) catered to the growing field, while role-playing moved out of college campuses and into mainstream life.

RPGs were originally played on a tabletop, because they involved paper, dice, and, often, miniatures or tokens of some kind. From these origins, RPGs have evolved in different directions. Some RPG rules systems are complex and attempt to be realistic simulations; other rules systems place a priority on game balance or on personality, character development, and storytelling. (Gamers later examined the differences in gameplay among RPGs and came up with explanations on the different types of play, such as GNS Theory.)

The 1980s saw a glut in the role-playing game market, as numerous rulebooks, game systems, adventure modules, and other materials crowded the shelves of hobby shops. The biggest game in the field continued to be Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which grew into a mass of consistent and inconsistent rules, reaching as many as fourteen different hardcover rulebooks. These games that relied heavily on obscure rules eventually folded, and D&D itself was simplified somewhat with the release of "second edition" Advanced D&D in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The advent of trading card games, most notably , outshone the popularity of role-playing games during the mid-1990s. The sudden appearance and remarkable popularity of the Magic card game took many gamers (and game publishing companies) by surprise, as they tried to keep pace with fads and changes in the public opinion. For a while, some pessimists forecast the "end" of role-playing games as a serious hobby because of the onslaught of trading card games, though eventually the dust settled and role-playing continued to thrive. The makers of Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast, bought out TSR and adapted the venerable D&D and AD&D games into a newer, streamlined version of the game. The "third edition" of the Dungeons & Dragons game brought mainstream appeal to the growing "third generation" of role-playing games: ones that placed more of an emphasis on simplistic (yet realistic) game play and characterization over myriad volumes of rule books.

The 90s proved to be a innovative decade seeing many new role-playing games flooding the markets. Perhaps the most popular RPG from this period was . A game designed as an immersive storytelling experience, VtM lent easily itself to LARPing. However there were darkling glimmers that skirted the fringes of the hobby as well when, all too unfortunately, a series of murders were committed by a gang of teenagers whom the media dubbed a "Vampire Cult". Luckily the backlash was minor, brief, and quickly overshadowed by the buyout of TSR by Wizards of the Coast and the subsequent release of the D20 System/OGL rules.

The 1990s also saw many advances in computer technology taking role-playing into new technological frontiers. Computer role-playing games (CRPGs) were already well established in the computer world. However, with the proliferation of home computers, the ability to play games online over BBSes or networks paved the way for MUDs, MMORPGs, and play-by-email (PBeM) gaming. Alas the first stirrings of copyright and intellectual property concerns had already been felt during the latter part of the 80s with TSR leading the way in litigation precedents, first against the publishers of the Role-Aids line of game supplements, and later against file sharers.

In 2000, a significant change occurred in the tabletop role-playing industry. Wizards of the Coast released their Open gaming license for use with their D20 system. This has allowed many small roleplaying game publishers to quickly and easily create roleplaying material that a large body of roleplayers could easily adapt for their own campaigns.

In recent years, D&D has dominated the hobby economically, after a period of decline in the late 1990s. Owing partially to heavy marketing from corporate parent Hasbro, products branded Dungeons & Dragons, including small lines of subsidiary products developed by Kenzer & Company; (Kingdoms of Kalamar) and White Wolf Game Studio (Warcraft: The Role-Playing Game), made up over fifty percent of the RPG products sold overall in 2002. Perhaps predictably, the economic dominance of D&D has led to resentment from fans of competing game systems.


Almost from the beginning of the role-playing hobby there have been those who have leveled accusations of connections to devil worship, as well as claims that RPGs lead to suicide. The most famous case perhaps being the work of author Rona Jaffe that exploited the whole hysteria surrounding Dungeons & Dragons in her thinly-veiled novel, Mazes and Monsters. The book was turned into a TV movie featuring a young Tom Hanks in the key role of a mentally unstable collegian who experiences a psychotic episode and loses himself in the game world.

Such negative portrayals of role-players, ironically, may have originated from an initial inability of some outside observers to properly differentiate between reality and the immersive role-playing aspects of game play. Perception, or rather misperception, has been the major prejudice that role-players have had to face over the years. For instance religious fundamentalists have found the fact that roleplaying characters, for all that they existed solely in imaginary fantasy worlds, were given the "ability" to cast "spells" and use "magic" to be anathema and anti-God. Such accusations continued well beyond the 1980s and into the 1990s. There have been numerous studies exploring this allegation that have generally concluded that not only does it not seem to encourage suicide, but players of this kind of game are in fact less prone to take their own lives.

The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs has published a report on "Roleplaying as a hobby". The report describes roleplaying as a stimulating hobby that promotes creativity.

Types of RPGs

The term "role-playing game" can be applied to a number of distinct genres:

See also

External links