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What are Role Playing Games?

Jeff Petersen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A role playing game is, at its most basic, a grown-up version of Make Believe. It can be as simple as a conversation between two people who each pretend that they are someone else. On the other hand, a game can include complex rules with many source books, pencils, character sheets, dice, and miniatures. Some people enjoy Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, in which they might dress up as their characters and act out the actions they perform. No matter what form it takes, these games can be a fun, entertaining way to spend time with friends.

There are as many different types of role playing games as there are different types of people who play them. A typical game includes a story teller, or game master, who leads the action, and a number of players who take on various roles or characters. From that point on, the game can change and grow to encompass the furthest reaches of the players’ imaginations.

Because a role playing game is an exercise in imagination, the story often takes place in another world or at another time. Common settings include fantastic worlds of dragons and magic, futuristic space adventures spanning multiple planets and galaxies, or alternate versions of our own world, where vampires and werewolves prowl the night. Players usually act as heroes or adventurers, and they might work together to save a town or to seek their fame and fortune.

Most role playing groups follow a particular set of rules, developed by a number of different companies. Some popular game systems are Vampire: The Masquerade, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, and Warhammer. Each of these role playing game systems has its own rule books and may require special dice. Many role playing groups prefer to use miniatures to represent their characters. Books, dice, and miniatures, as well as many other optional items such as maps and adventures, can be purchased at most game and hobby stores. LARPers don’t always dress up, but those who do can find costumes online or may prefer to make their own.

There exist some rumors that role playing games are evil, or that only immature people with poor social skills play them. In reality, they are a very social activity enjoyed by people of all ages. A key demographic of these games is 20 to 30 year-old, successful adults. The games are a fun, creative hobby, and role playing groups are notoriously friendly and welcoming to new players. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to slay a dragon, explore the moons of Mars, or rescue a town from a zombie invasion, you can experience it yourself role playing.

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Jeff Petersen
By Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Creighton University and loves putting his skills to work creating captivating content for Sports n' Hobbies. Jeff's articles cover a broad range of subjects, keeping readers informed and entertained with his insightful writing style.
Discussion Comments
By anon262997 — On Apr 22, 2012

I'd had some of the normal prejudices about people who play these, but now I'm starting to think it's just another hobby and actually much better than traditional games or TV because you're actually thinking. It's just an exercise in creativity, like writing with other people.

By cougars — On Mar 24, 2011

I personally think that playing live action role playing games are more socially productive than playing many of the 3D computer role playing games that people become addicted too. Locking yourself in a basement with a group of people playing dungeons and dragons for days is a little weird, but getting together for a couple hours a week to interact with friends is fine. I never really understood the stereotypes or criticism because it is simply a hobby for most people; just the same as watching a sports game, playing chess, or playing poker.

By aplenty — On Mar 23, 2011

@Comparables- One of my good friends just started playing role playing games. He is a 27-year-old musician and sales manager. He would not fit the stereotype of a person who plays role playing games, and he is far from socially awkward. He is well aware of the stereotypes, and he does catch the occasional joke at social gatherings (mostly form his girlfriend).

The way he describes it, role playing games are free, and it’s a good reason to get a group of friends together and have a few beers. The game is timeless, and has likely been played in some form for centuries. It involves a lot of strategy, and it exercises the brain.

By Comparables — On Mar 21, 2011

I thought this article was interesting. I would have never assumed that the key demographic for fantasy role playing games is the 20-30 year old professional. I guess I was always under the impression that it was socially awkward adults who played role playing games. Now I can see I was just stereotyping certain people. I guess I just don't know anything about role playing games and how they work.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A....
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