Role-Playing Game (RPG)

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What is a Role-Playing Game (RPG)?

A role-playing game (RPG) is a genre where players control characters in a fictional setting, undertaking quests and performing actions based on traits, abilities, and storylines. RPGs feature character creation, allowing players to customize a character by adjusting its skills, attributes, and physical features. These games are typically set in a fictional world with traditional fantasy or sci-fi elements that influence game mechanics.


Game progression is driven by storytelling, with narratives or quests moving the game forward. Players explore to uncover secrets, find or craft gear, combat enemies, and interact with other players and non-player characters (NPCs). As players progress they gain experience (XP) to level up, improving skills and abilities.

RPGs can be played in various formats including tabletop games, video games, or live-action role-playing. Modern video games have introduced many hybrid variants, broadening the genre. Regardless of format, immersive storytelling, interactive world, combat system, and character development are key elements of RPGs.

What is a Role-Playing Game (RPG)?

Key Takeaways

  • RPGs allow players to experience the game world through their character’s eyes.
  • In classic tabletop RPGs, dice rolls determine success.
  • Types include single-player, multiplayer, and MMORPGs.
  • Popular RPGs include World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Pokémon.
  • Improve gameplay by using a VPN service, adjust graphics settings, and update video drivers.

History of RPGs

RPG video games stem from tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), where players describe their characters’ actions. In classic tabletop RPGs, clear rules define interactions, and dice rolls determine success.

Video game RPGs mirrored pen-and-paper games but used automated dice rolls. Combat was managed with interactive menus in turn-based or real-time modes. The game master’s role was automated, with artificial intelligence (AI) controlling NPCs and enemies.

Old-school RPGs relied on a central storyline, but modern games, like massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs), often do not require it.

Character options in RPGs, like New World, allow players to personalize their characters.
Character options in RPGs, like New World, allow players to personalize their characters.

How RPG Works

The RPG definition refers to immersive storytelling and character development. They feature a menu-based combat with choices of skills, spells, and inventory items like armor and weapons.

A central quest drives the storyline, complemented by optional side quests delivered through NPCs. Characters are defined by classes like wizard or warrior, which determine skills and abilities.

Modern RPGs combine these elements with features from other genres, creating hybrid RPGs.

For example, “Borderlands” blends RPG mechanics like character progression and skill customization with first person shooter (FPS) gameplay.

RPG Classes

The player class defines a character’s abilities, attributes, and role, altering the gameplay experience. Players choose classes that match their playstyle and personality.

The original Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1975) offered these classes:

Skilled melee combatant using weapons and armor.

Powerful spellcaster with limited combat abilities.

Holy warrior who casts spells, heals, and turns undead.
Stealthy character adept at lockpicking and trap disarming.

Modern RPG classes are based on these originals or introduce entirely new ones that fit the game’s narrative. Classes have evolved into specialized subclasses and customizable hybrids, combining traditional skills with new features, backstories, and personalization to enrich the role-playing experience.

Types of RPGs

Types of RPGs

  • Single player RPGs: Focus on solo gameplay, story, and character development.
  • Multiplayer RPGs: Allow multiple players to interact and collaborate.
  • Massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs): Features large, persistent worlds with thousands of players interacting.

Multiplayer and MMORPGs may offer player versus player (PvP) combat in addition to player versus environment (PvE) gameplay.

Steam uses descriptive tags and genres to help players find RPGs to suit their playstyle.
Steam uses descriptive tags and genres to help players find RPGs to suit their playstyle.

Sub-Genres of RPGs

Sub-Genres of RPGs Features Examples
Action RPGs RPG elements, real-time combat. Dark Souls, Diablo, Path of Exile, Zelda,
Dungeon Crawlers Dungeon exploration, combat, loot collection Core Keeper, Hades II, Torchlight
Hybrid RPGs Combines elements from multiple genres Borderlands, Mass Effect
Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) Games originating in Japan, linear storylines, turn-based combat Final Fantasy, Persona
Mobile RPGs Designed for mobile devices, simplified game mechanics Genshin Impact, Stardew Valley
Narrative RPGs Storytelling, character interactions, player choices Black Book, The Walking Dead
Open-World RPGs Vast, open environments, exploration Fallout 4, Red Dead Redemption 2, New World, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Sandbox RPGs Freedom to interact with the game world, minimal storyline Minecraft, Morrowind, Mount & Blade, Rimworld
Strategy RPGs (SRPGs) RPG elements with tactical, turn-based combat Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics
Tactical RPGs Emphasize strategic, turn-based combat Fire Emblem Engage, XCOM
Text-Based RPGs Uses text to convey the story and actions Zork, A Dark Room
Western RPGs (WRPGs) Western world developed, open-world exploration, player choice Fallout, The Witcher, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) RPGs

Originating in the late 1970s, Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) are early text-based games where players interact in a virtual world via text commands. Played by connecting to a server through a terminal, players explore, complete quests, and engage in combat. MUDs combined role-playing and online chat, laying the foundation for modern MMORPGs.

Features of Role-Playing Games

  • Characters progress by gaining XP, leveling up, and enhancing skills/attributes.
  • Character customization allows players to personalize characters.
  • Combat often involves strategic, turn-based battles.
  • Exploration involves discovering new areas, items, and secrets.
  • Inventory management includes collecting and managing items/equipment.
  • The story and quests progress the game.

4 Ways to Improve RPG Game Performance

  1. Use a VPN service to reduce lag, improve connection stability, and enhance security.
  2. Adjust graphics settings and close background apps to improve performance.
  3. Regularly update your games, software, and video card drivers for improvements.
  4. Protect accounts with strong passwords and 2FA for enhanced security.

RPGs Pros and Cons


  • Immersive storytelling with engaging narratives
  • Multiple endings/paths increase replay value
  • Multiplayer options encourage teamwork and community
  • Personalize character skills, traits, and appearance


  • Can be addictive and lead to excessive playtime
  • Monthly subscriptions and expansions can be expensive
  • Repetitive tasks can become monotonous
  • Steep learning curve for new players

The Bottom Line

The role-playing game meaning refers to a game that allows players to experience the world through their customized character’s eyes by undertaking quests and discovering items and secrets. RPGs offer immersive gameplay and social interactions but can be time-consuming and potentially lead to excessive playtime.

RPG subgenres constantly evolve. The popularity of role-playing – becoming someone else, somewhere else – ensures new variations will continue to emerge.


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Vangie Beal
Technology Expert
Vangie Beal
Technology Expert

Vangie Beal is a digital literacy instructor based in Nova Scotia, Canada, who has recently joined Techopedia. She’s an award-winning business and technology writer with 20 years of experience in the technology and web publishing industry.  Since the late ’90s, her byline has appeared in dozens of publications, including CIO, Webopedia, Computerworld, InternetNews, Small Business Computing, and many other tech and business publications.  She is an avid gamer with deep roots in the female gaming community and a former Internet TV gaming host and games journalist.