May 4, 2009

What is a roleplaying game?

Just about every RPG ever written has tried to answer this question. Usually devolving into discussions of childhood cops & robbers games. I don't know that anyone has written the perfect answer. I'm working on that section of the Dungeoneer RPG, and I've borrowed from various sources to come up with this:
A Roleplaying Game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of fictional characters and are rewarded for making choices that are consistent with the character's motivations or further the plot of the story. Participants collaboratively create stories by determining the actions of their characters, and these actions succeed or fail according to the rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players can improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game.
I don't know if I've succeeded, in fact posting it here has made me aware of how esoteric this sounds. Your thoughts?


  1. It sounds pretty good to me. A little abstract, but I'm not sure it's possible to describe roleplaying games in a few sentences without being abstract.

  2. Glad to see the project moving along. I was wondering if in the book is the going to be a section on how the game is played? Covering player interactions, how the GM creates a story, and how the players interact with the story. A lot of rpgs on the market don't have this. I'd love to see an intro rpg with this.

  3. I would rewrite the first sentence. "Assuming roles" is not a given (yes, I am serious here... player characters can also be used as glorified playing pieces, and that is not wrong), and the whole "rewarding for being consistent within roles" bit sounds like no RPG I have ever played. Maybe these things are both true for Dungeoneer, I don't know, but they don't belong in a general "what is a roleplaying game?" section, because they are too specific and, frankly, not true of all roleplaying games. The second half of your description sounds fine, since your mention of "story" seems to refer to the outcomes and consequences (whatever they might be) of player decisions. Although technically if the GM is a railroader, that won't be true either... not that I would encourage railroading GMs!