May 3, 2024
6 min read

What is an RPG?

What is an RPG?

What are Role Playing Games(RPGs)?

 Odds are that you’ve heard of an RPG before. Probably even played one before, it is possibly one of the most popular game genres in the world after all. Even if most of the time it’s simply borrowing “RPG mechanics”. So how about we talk about them in a little bit more detail? There’s plenty to discover so let's get started with basics!

What is a Role Playing Game?

 Well, this question is not as simple as one may think. 

Role-playing games originally started out as tabletop games. With Dungeons and Dragons becoming the best known franchise. 

The idea was for the DM (Dungeon Master) to use his creativity, rulebooks (mostly for reference), miniatures and A LOT of imagination to craft interesting “campaigns” or stories for players to immerse themselves in. Players get to decide who they wish to play as (usually) and pick their “roles” in the story. This usually included the character's class, their basic stats, starting equipment, backstory etc. 

EVERYTHING is up to players and the DM himself, which means that no game is the same. You could have exactly the same rules, characters and the DM and the game could turn out completely different. 

 When it comes to video games, the term RPG usually refers to the RPG mechanics, such as levelling up your character, quest completion, gathering loot etc. 

It’s hard to replicate the original TTRPG experience in video games but there are still some great and engaging titles out there, so let's try to cover some of them! 

What are the 5 Types of RPGs?

 So how about we list a few (there’s a lot more out there!) subgenres of RPGs to give you a better idea of their key aspects? Hope it sounds good cause we’re doing it nonetheless!

1) Tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs)

Not visible in the shot, empty boxes of pizza and DM arguing with the player over the rules.

The very reason the concept of RPGs exists, these can take place either in a direct sit down around a table (hence the tabletop, get it?) with fellow players and the DM or online with various TTRPG websites that offer a variety of games to be enjoyed with people around the globe. 

As mentioned before, for the game to take place you need a Dungeon Master (DM). DM is basically meant as a narrator and rule enforcer. Any action you take follows “rules” that are usually decided before each campaign on the session zero. Every action a player attempts may require a “dice roll”. 

Success and failure can lead to different outcomes depending on what was attempted. A failed sneak attempt may lead to detection or have the player attempt to “deceive” or maybe quietly “dispose” the alerted guard. It’s up to the storyteller and his ability to manage the story.

Each new campaign allows players to enjoy either an already existing setting (Cyberpunk 2077, Elder Scrolls, Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Vampire the Masquerade etc.) or something new that borrows from other settings. 

Character creation is usually handled by the players themselves. This includes your background, aspirations, basic stats(usually involves “buying” or “rolling dice” for those) etc. 

As your characters progres through the “story”, your DM creates scenarios in which you and other players must use your abilities, items and sometimes just do something completely unhinged and just see what happens. Through each encounter you can gain experience to level up, find better gear to open up new options in the future encounters etc. And that’s it. 

Everything else that happens is up to the DM and the players. Everything, can’t stress that part enough. 

 To overly simplify, TTRPGs are interactive stories where your choices and decisions are the driving force and decide where the story goes (ideally). 

Which, honestly, is what the majority of RPG fans enjoy the most in the genre. Both in video games and the tabletop format.

2) Massive multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs)

You'll probably have to grind a bit to get the gear these guys are packing...
Source: Final Fantasy XIV - Square Enix

A perfect example of the difference video game and tabletop form. 

MMORPGs pick the parts of TTRPGs and create huge worlds full of content. Levelling up your custom character, finding powerful items, completing quests and most importantly interacting with other players around the world. 

While it doesn’t offer the personalised and tailored experience TTRPGs do, other players are a huge part of MMORPGs and how fun(or terrible) your experience becomes. 

The biggest downside of these types of games is possibly the “grind”. As your character becomes stronger by either loot or levelling up, it becomes exponentially longer to gain new levels, causing the diminishing returns situation. Which in turn may keep you from enjoying things like “raiding” or PVP content, which can be quite demanding.

On the opposite side of MMORPG experience, some people simply enjoy the “social” part of it and prefer to spend time with friends while doing some fun activities together, rather than following the “main storyline” or fighting high level bosses and scoring legendary loot.

There is no wrong way of playing MMORPG, which is exactly why they are very popular.

You can read more about some popular MMORPG PVE concepts in our What is PVE in gaming article!

3) Tactical RPGs (TRPGs)

Nothing says post-apocalyptia as much as dusty buildings and party of colorfully dressed, gun totting characters!
Source: Wasteland 2 - InExile Entertainment

 There’s been a recent surge of TRPGs in the west (luckily!), with titles like Divinity: Original Sin series, Baldur’s Gate 3, Wasteland 2 and 3, Darkest Dungeon 1 and 2 or even XCOM if you’re willing to stretch the “RPG” definition. 

The general idea is that you control a group of characters, usually you have a chance to customise them to fit your playstyle. You are then thrown into (usually) tricky turn-based combat situations where a single turn can turn things really sour. 

These games often offer “ironman” challenges, where you get only one save for the whole game, forcing you to deal with even the worst outcomes without reloading to get a better outcome(unless you save-scum, no judgement on that). Adding to the tension and overall challenge of the game.

These games rely on your ability to plan ahead, minimise risk and cut your losses when need be, which often discourages more casual players from taking the plunge due to the learning curve and time required. 

The more accessible ones offer the “easy mode”, which empowers your characters to a degree where combat is meant to be an obstacle rather than a blockade, letting players enjoy the story rather than challenging themselves to reach it.

 If you enjoy the challenge, you should definitely give these a try.

 Interested in finding more about TRPGs? Our “What is a Turn-Based game” article has a lot of relevant info on it!

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4) Sandbox RPGs

POV: You're about to be the last "survivor" of this village.
Source: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Bethesda Softworks

The sandbox RPGs, these are usually offering an open world that basically serves as your playground. The biggest titles from this genre are the Elder Scrolls series. 

Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. The general idea is that your character is starting a “new life”. Letting you make all the decisions as to who you wish to be. 

After you create and customise your character (or pick a premade one) your journey begins.

Main quest? World ending? While these might be important narrative wise, you are not bound by time limitation and can pursue anything you want. 

Since there’s a lot of variety in how you can play these titles, they are popular with both casual and veteran players alike and often offer a wide variety of “mods” by the fans themselves to completely change the game and how it’s played. 

The Elder Scrolls series modding scene is one of the biggest modding communities in the world, so if you ever grow bored of the “vanilla” version, there are thousands of mods that can change your gaming experience completely.

After all, sandbox RPGs are meant to give you as many tools as possible to enjoy yourself in the world that the devs created, no reason not to use the best ones available! 


5) Action RPGs (ARPGs)

Unfortunately for the Griffin, he's the tutorial boss...
Source: Witcher 3 - CD Projekt RED

A popular genre that mixes the adrenaline rush of being thrown into intense combat situations, while letting the player grow in power every time they successfully triumph over their enemies. 

The typical game-loop would involve facing off with enemies on a “similar power level” as you and then gradually becoming more powerful before being challenged by a “boss” enemy to test everything you’ve learned so far. 

As the enemies become stronger, so do you and the game-loop becomes more and more complex to increase both the challenge and the fun that comes from overcoming each new obstacle. 

While not ALL action RPGs follow this exact blueprint, it is quite a popular formula in titles like Diablo, Path of Exile or the Souls series.

A very popular genre, it can offer a great depth, fantastic world building and immersive lore from the RPG genre and an engaging, blood pumping excitement from the action games genre. A great mix when done correctly. 

Looking for a new favourite Action RPG?

Our company Dreams Quest is currently working on a Mobile Action RPG called Origins: The Fall of Azoria. An action packed game, featuring intricate puzzles, rich lore, colourful characters inside a unique world. 

 If you’d like to track our progress, make sure to check out our social media!

FAQs about RPGs

 What is considered an RPG?

RPG in the broadest of terms usually implies the ability for your character to “improve” or “grow”. Whether it’s improving their abilities, increasing stats or finding stronger equipment. 

It’s almost impossible to create the original TTRPG experience in video games. Utilising the "RPG mechanics" is therefore a great attempt at transferring the TTRPG experience to video games.  

And there are many absolute banger RPGs on both PCs and gaming consoles. So kudos to all game developers for all their hard work!

What is the difference between an RPG vs MMO?

MMO stands for massively multiplayer online. It’s a game that offers large groups of people the possibility to play together at the same time. For example Runescape or World of Tanks are considered MMO.

RPGs are specifically a genre that focuses on the Role Playing aspect or its mechanics. For example Diablo, Baldur's Gate, Final Fantasy etc.

Why do people play RPGs?

Pretty simple, it’s fun to take on the role of someone else. Who hasn’t imagined what it would be to become someone else? And if you could be a powerful warrior, what would you do? 

Would you be a benevolent saviour or a great terror and a threat to the world? Why not both on separate occasions? RPGs allow you to take on a role you’d like to act out. Guilt(allegedly) and consequence free. 

When it comes to video games though, it all comes down to how well the game is written. The TTRPGs rely heavily on your interactions with the players and the DM, so every experience can be completely different. 

It’s okay to try out new things here, that’s what RPGs are all about. 

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