A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game; abbreviated RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.
There are several forms of role-playing games. The original form, sometimes called the tabletop role-playing game (TRPG), is conducted through discussion, whereas in live action role-playing (LARP), players physically perform their characters' actions. In both of these forms, an arranger called a game master (GM) usually decides on the rules and setting to be used, while acting as the referee; each of the other players takes on the role of a single character.
This type of game is well-established, so some RPG-related game forms, such as trading/collectible card games (CCGs) and wargames, may not be included under the definition. Some amount of role-playing activity may be present in such games, but it is not the primary focus. The term role-playing game is also sometimes used to describe games involving roleplay simulation and exercises used in teaching, training, and academic research.
Both authors and major publishers of tabletop role-playing games consider them to be a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling. Events, characters, and narrative structure give a sense of a narrative experience, and the game need not have a strongly-defined storyline. 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 in 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 of make believe, role-playing games add a level of sophistication and persistence to this basic idea with additions such as game facilitators and rules of interaction. 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.