What is a Roleplaying Game?
Anthony Boyd, whom you assuredly know better as Runeslinger, has taken to his Casting Shadows blog to address the question to which I now turn my attention, “What is a Roleplaying Game?“
As game designers, this is a very important question, but no less so for players, regardless of which side of the DM Screen one finds themselves on.
Gary Gygax wrote, “The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience. There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in…“
While I think you should read the whole article, Boyd defines an RPG as “a game in which fun is had by being able to frame and commit to decisions of various types alone or with other people.” He further explains this creates a commonality among all games that fall under the roleplaying game umbrella.
My problem with this definition is that it is too broad. By categorizing an RPG in such a manner, it spreads the net too wide and virtually any game can be misconstrued as a roleplaying exercise. While I thoroughly enjoy games such as Panzer Leader or A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game, for example, these are war games. I am not assuming a role when I play these games. I am myself, attempting to win a simulated battle or campaign by using the rules as written. Both of these games meet Runeslinger’s definition of an RPG, and while you could play them as such by, for instance, making decisions as you think Jon Snow would make them, that is the exception, not the rule.
He himself posits that Monopoly could be an RPG if you played it as such, but then that could be true of absolutely anything, like Chutes and Ladders. I appreciate where Runeslinger is coming from and I like the way his mind works. I’ve been following his blog and youtube channel for nearly a decade now, so, yeah, I’m a fan, but by trying to blanket all so-called roleplaying games under his definition removes what makes RPGs unique.
I define roleplaying games as those games in which players assume the role of a character or characters through improvisation within the framework of a narrative experience using accepted rules and guidelines.
That definition might not be perfect, but it certainly hews closest to the experience and separates it from other tabletop games.