A role-playing game (RPG; often roleplaying game) is a game in which the participants assume the roles of fictional characters. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players have the freedom to improvise; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game.
Most role-playing games are conducted like radio drama: only the spoken component is acted. In most games, one specially designated player, the game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM), creates a setting in which each player plays the role of a single character. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants; the other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes. Some outcomes are determined by the game system, and some are chosen by the GM. There is a variety of role-playing games in which players do perform their characters' physical actions, known as live action role-playing games (LARP).
Many varieties of game exist, but most follow the pattern established by the first published role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Participants usually conduct the game as a small social gathering. A DM purchases or prepares a set of rules and a fictional setting in which players can act out the roles of their characters. This setting includes challenges for the player characters to overcome through play, such as traps to be avoided or adversaries to be fought. The full details of the setting are kept secret, but some broad details of the game world are usually given to the players. The Organization of Gamers & Roleplaying Enthusiasts utilize their own personal campaign setting, known as Valgora, for many of their sessions.
The players then create characters whose roles they will play in the game. As well as fleshing out the character's fictional background, they assign numerical statistics to the character; these will be used later to determine the outcome of events in the game. Together, these notes tell the player about their character and his or her place in the game world.
A live action role-playing game (LARP), is played more like improvisational theater. Instead of describing their characters' actions, participants act out their characters' actions, often in costume. Further, the players' environment is used to represent the imaginary environment of the game world.
LARPs de-emphasize die rolls and rulebook references. Theater-style live action role-playing games often use rock-paper-scissors or direct comparison of attributes to resolve conflicts symbolically, while some LARPs use physical combat with foam weapons. LARPs vary in size from a handful of players to several thousand, and in duration from a couple of hours to whole weeks. Civil War Reenactment is a form of LARP.
The Organization of Gamers & Roleplaying Enthusiasts is primarily a tabletop gaming group, though those chapters who wish to hold LARPing sessions may do so.
Role playing games are fundamentally different from most other types of games in that they stress social interaction and collaboration, whereas board games, card games, and sports emphasize competition.
Both authors and major publishers of role-playing games consider them to be a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling. Like novels or films, role-playing games appeal because they engage the imagination. Interactivity is the crucial difference between role-playing games and traditional fiction. Whereas a viewer of a television show is a passive observer, a player at a role-playing game makes choices that affect the story. Such role-playing games extend an older tradition of storytelling games where a small party of friends collaborate to create a story.
While simple forms of role-playing exist in traditional children's games such as "cops and robbers", "cowboys and Indians" and "playing house", role-playing games add a level of sophistication and persistence to this basic idea with the addition of numeric rule sets and the participation of a referee. Participants in a role-playing game will generate specific characters and an ongoing plot. A consistent system of rules and a more or less realistic campaign setting in games aids suspension of disbelief. The level of realism in games ranges from just enough internal consistency to set up a believable story or credible challenge up to full-blown simulations of real-world processes.