April 25, 2024
6 min read

What is a Roguelike RPG

What is a Roguelike RPG

What is a Roguelike RPG?

The quickest most puritan way to describe roguelike genre would probably be, a dungeon crawler inspired by an ASCII game “Rogue”. 

A bit more modern way to look at it would be, a game where you are put in a generated world (or generate it yourself) and once you “lose”, you’ve got to start from scratch. But as with every video game genre, it became more than that.. So, let’s get deeper into the dunge-, err, topic! 

Introduction to Roguelike RPGs

Ah, early video games. Where tutorials and manuals were a must!
Source: "Rogue" - Steam page

As mentioned above, the general roguelike playthrough is intended as a way to see how far you can get by simply learning and improving on your past experiences (and some luck).

Once you hit the “game over”, you’re back to square one. The only thing you’ll carry over is what you’ve learned. And knowledge in roguelikes, is power.

Defining Roguelike RPGs

There are some VERY defining parts that make it quite essential to “deserve” the title. 

The biggest part is, of course, the permadeath system. 

If it’s not present, the game simply isn’t a roguelike. Things like continuations and unlockables can be present but since we all love to put a descriptor for things, these types of roguelikes are referred as “roguelite”.


Hades is absolutely fun title for any rougelite fan. Or a regular action game enthusiasts.
Source: Hades by Supergiant games

They’re quite often mixed together but the biggest difference would probably be the aforementioned “unlocking” extra things. Which potentially makes each new run easier, changes how it’s played etc. 

Depending on how much of a puritan someone is, they might not consider roguelites as part of the roguelike genre.

Key Characteristics

Continuing from the previous part, the most important characteristics would definitely be the: 


  • Permadeath system, which is meant to put the player back into square one 
  • Procedural generation of each new run the player attempts to keep it “fresh”, 
  • Majority are are turn-based with grid movement
  • Diplomacy is extremely limited, you’re meant to fight your way through
  • You’re on the clock, there’s something constantly driving you forward, either a death clock or simply running out of food
  • Multitude of mechanics and options for your character to allow interesting outcomes. “Accidentally” started a fire? Well it’s spreading fast and now the building is collapsing. But it took down a large group of enemies. So… just as planned?

There might be more but these are quite prevalent in most roguelikes.

Origins and History

As the text-based games were branching off into different types of games and RPG subgenres. One such title simply called “Rogue” focused purely on the “simple” task of going into the dungeon to retrieve the macguffin. 

The premise, while pretty straightforward, wasn't easy. Biggest challenge was that the game was progressively harder the deeper you got and death meant being back at square one. No do-overs, no save-states, it was simply over. 

Rogue offered a generated dungeon crawl with high difficulty, which encouraged players to keep trying after each failure.

Understanding Roguelike Mechanics

You’ve probably had a chance to “enjoy” these in other titles, since they were thought out very long time ago, they are very core to the genre though so let's talk about them in more detail


This is quite often a deal breaker to many. It’s understandable, of course. 

Time spent to create your character, gear them up, level them and maybe even care for them is suddenly just taken away. It could be by miscalculation, a mundane mistake or simply RNG Gods were against you. It still hurts the same and if it was a particularly good run, it may put you off the game completely. 

That’s kind of the point too, the risk of losing adds both the thrill of the adventure and the extra attention on each action you take.

Procedural Generation

How to make sure that players don’t simply memorise the whole game and get bored? You add procedural generation to the mix! 

Of course it’s within the confines of the game, you won’t create a whole new world in Nethack or ADOM. 

Well, you can in Dwarf Fortress. Or Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead… but, point being, the dungeons in the older titles weren’t the same. Items, enemies, layouts, everything was different than your previous run. Everything changes, including you! 

With each run you gain more knowledge, potentially increasing how far you’ll get. Or speed up your doom by experimenting with something you’ve just discovered. 

Warning, “Losing is fun” can become your mantra.

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Popular Roguelike RPG Titles

Here’s some choice (Personal bias? Perish the thought!) titles that can absolutely be enjoyed today. Some may even require high-end computers to handle mid to late game parts!

Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

Finally, a post apocalyptic world where no one will judge you for wearing a fedora!
Source: Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead - Steam page

Is an open source community project with elements of horror, sci-fi thrown into it. It’s a continuation of the game Cataclysm, which was created by user “Whale” in 2010. After being abandoned, was picked up in 2013. It has an active community developing it till this day.

Overview and Gameplay

You are a survivor in a world where the apocalypse basically happened. Zombie apocalypse, specifically, caused by the “blob”, which was found in an alternative universe, after the government investigated a crashed UFO. 

And there’s also Lovecraftian creatures, the Thing and plethora of other franchises thrown into the mix. 

The gameplay itself requires the player to keep his character fed, warm and rested while facing the plethora of hostile beings and on occasion interact with other survivors and either recruit them or help them in some tasks. Unless they decide to fight you instead…

The game is turn-based with grid movement containing an impressive amount of mechanics, crafting systems and things to keep track of, even things like your character's mood can affect the gameplay. 

Unique Features

There’s a lot of options for the player to both stay alive and thrive. From basic crafting to literally building a fortress, from scratch! There's an impressive amount of work put into it and developing skills and abilities to allow players to utilise them.

Each new run allows you to continue playing in the same “persistent world” that you generate using sliders to tailor the world you want to play in. Less/more enemies, smaller/large cities etc. You can restart with a brand new character within the same world or create a brand new one, the option is yours.

It has a surprisingly good vehicle driving(!) mechanic as well. Especially since it is a turn-based grid movement game, which is a REALLY impressive feat. Especially when you consider that it has to calculate the “impact” of said vehicle on the unlucky creatures on its collision course. It’s weight, speed etc.

Ancient Domains of Mystery

Should you jump into the water and risk getting your equipment soaked or should you freeze the water with a magical wand? Hmmm...
Source: ADOM - Steam page

ADOM was developed by Thomas Biskup and was first released in 1994. Drawing inspiration from other roguelikes but also table-top games like Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons, Thomas created ADOM as a passion project. Revisiting the original design in 2012, he and his team created a HD remaster in 2015.

Overview and Gameplay

The game takes place in a fictional world of Ancardia, specifically in the Drakalor Chain. Following rumours and an ancient prophecy, the player character decides to investigate the matter himself. 

Before you depart, you’ve got quite extensive character creation, with gender/race/class/attributes and talents to pick, which also affects your starting equipment as well.

After that you’ll be thrown into the Drakalor Chain as either hero or the villain. The choice is yours!

The game uses standard turn-based grid movement, with plenty of mechanics and interesting ways to engage with the world around you. 

It has a good amount of lore with multiple endings and even towns that allow you to trade/train/accept missions etc.

Unique Features

As mentioned above, the game features an impressive character creation system. There’s an extensive amount of options to choose from and each can lead to a completely different build to test you.

The corruption system adds an interesting twist to exploration of certain areas. The deeper the dungeon, the more corruption your character accumulates, which then materialises as mutations. These can be beneficial or detrimental on your character. 

Tales of Maj'Eyal

Not to worry, it's only confusing for the first couple of hundreds of runs! Then you can increase the complexity further with some mods...
Source: Tales of Maj'Eyal - Steam page

Tales of Maj’Eyal was developed by Nicolas Casalini, aka, DarkGod. His main inspiration was PernAngband, on which he based his previous game on, Tales of Middle Earth (ToME). The formal release of Tales of Maj’Eyal (ToME 4) was in 2012. 

The game is free, with a donation feature that unlocks a few extra options within the game, like using a vault to trade items between characters.

Overview and Gameplay

As per usual, you’ll be asked to create a character. There are plenty of choices, but most are locked until you unlock them through playing the game. Both the race and the class have specific advantages/disadvantages and playstyles.

Depending on the choices, you’ll begin the game in a character-relevant location. Once you return to the “surface” map, you are free to explore any location at your leisure, with an approximate suggested level shown for each location.

The game uses the standard turn-based system with grid movement and tactical combat plays a big role. So creating an effective build is strongly implied!

Unique Features

There are multiple modes that you can play, roguelike with single life (with a chance to get extra life or transform into a lich) or adventure mode, where you can get multiple lives from the start. 

There are also varying levels of difficulty you can pick from once you complete the game, increasing the difficulty of each run.

There’s an impressive amount of community content, allowing you to download mods from within the game and add/remove them effortlessly. There’s also an online mode that allows you to chat with other players and see their “death messages” and what got them.

FAQs about Rogue RPG

What is the difference between roguelike and RPG?

While the original Rogue contained a levelling up system, it’s not strictly a necessity. Certain games are considered roguelikes whether they allow your character to become stronger or not.

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