Wednesday, January 30, 2019

D&D Is Not An RPG

Pictured: Some White Wolf game. An actual RPG.

Forgive me as I cover ground that Roger G-S covered... nine years ago now. This is not new news, but it's me putting my stake in the ground for all to see.

D&D is not an RPG. 

D&D is a wargame played at 1:1 scale with complicated pieces. It has a fantasy-medieval flavor (except when it doesn't.)

Most of the time, we role-play to some extent when we play it.

But role-playing is not required. You don't need to talk like an elf to play D&D.

On the other hand, there are hours of table time at a stretch where nobody touches the dice. Sometimes we even award XP for those times XP is rarely awarded that way under the rules. Exception: an ad hoc award by the Ref outside of the rules for interesting play or some advancement toward a story goal. An exception to this exception is when a party is able to avoid all the trouble on the way to and from the gold, either by accident or through careful planning.

But when those hours go by and the dice stay still, there is still theoretically a chance to throw those dice. The rules are there waiting to be used to adjudicate a situation even if they are not necessary at that moment.

Therefore you can play D&D without role-playing, but you can't play D&D without the rules. And that makes it a wargame rather than a role-playing game.

UPDATE (same day): This has gotten a lot of responses, and many of them quite passionate. Maybe I should write more clickbait? LOL


  1. Complete nonsense.

    A roleplaying game is one wherein you - surprise - play a role. You act in a fictional world via playing this role, making decisions as them, getting information only through their senses, etc. Essentially, in a roleplaying game, you act as if you are your character and you act through your character. Generally, there is no well-defined spatial or temporal boundary to your actions. Talking like an elf is not required in a roleplaying game. Role-playing (as in - playing the role of your character) is absolutely required to play D&D.

    A wargame, by contrast, is a game where you control a range of units, generally from a god's-eye perspective, and generally in a well-defined spatial and temporal boundary. You do not play a role, and you are not bound by the limitations of a single character.

    D&D is firmly in the roleplaying camp.

    More interesting are games like Kriegspiel, where you do play a role - that of a staff officer running a battle. There the line gets blurry between RPG and wargame.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think you have a good point that there are games that blur the lines between the two passtimes. That’s a good example and counter-argument.

  2. If D&D isn't an RPG and a game published by WhiteWolf is, what separates them?

    1. Good question. White wolf games like Vampire have rules systems that require role-playing to some extent.

      But that’s kind of a fraught example.

    2. here enters the real conundrum; how do you define roleplaying? Because both D&D and the whitewolf system are a set of rules for determining the resolution of specific actions, whether those rules encourage roleplaying is up to the individual interpretation of what role playing is. If you say role playing is simply playing a specific role or class in a game, ie you have a thief so you steal, you play a fighter who fights, etc. Or you could say roleplaying is acting/playing a specific personality, and without that unique personality displayed then it isn't roleplaying. Then how do you determine if a rule is actually effective at promoting what you define as roleplaying? maybe that rule promotes a specific behavior from the player, which one person may call roleplaying, and another might not. Then there's the argument that it's not roleplaying if you're doing it to gain some mechanical advantage/because the rules require it.

      Basically, I think whether a game is an RPG is determined more by how you play it and less on the Rules as Written.

  3. Well, at least you admit it's click bait... Your premise is utterly flawed.

    "Therefore you can play D&D without role-playing, but you can't play D&D without the rules. And that makes it a wargame rather than a role-playing game."

    This statement makes no sense. Your premise seems to be that a "true" role playing game means that you can role play without the rules.

    So, basically, anything more defined than "Let's Pretend" falls outside of this definition of a role playing game.

    Let's turn this on its head. There is a one-page RPG called "Everyone is John". This is a story-stick RPG where each player assumes the role of John (or rather, one of his multiple personalities). It has rules as to how and why the story gets passed from one player to the next. You can't play the game without these mechanics, because you need some way to moderate who currently controls the story.

    By your definition, this also "is not a role playing game" because it requires game mechanics to play.

    So... basically, the entire genre of role playing games are *all* not role playing games because they require mechanics.

    Bzzt! Thanks for playing. You really didn't think this premise all the way through.

    1. You can certainly play D&D without adopting your character's persona. You can treat it like a board game with unusually complex rules.

      Sometimes I call my PC a "pawn" IRL. It makes sense if you separate yourself from your piece.

      I am glad you have done some thinking about this and I like what you have to say. Thank you for making your case!

    2. You actually cannot play D&D without "adopting your character's persona" - at least for any reasonable interpretation of "adopting your character's persona".

      That is literally all there is to the game - making decisions for your character (i.e. adopting their persona). If you remove that, you not only aren't playing D&D, you're not playing anything.

  4. This was a pretty fun read! I don't entirely agree but not for the same reason as others: here's my two cents.

    "Roleplaying" only means "here's a situation, what would YOU do?" - you don't need to *act* or do voices or speak in first person, you can treat your man as a game piece, but as long as you're thinking and talking about a fictional situation and describing how you're interacting with it, that's roleplaying.

    The White Wolf and such crowds just went full artsy about it and think you have to take it all super seriously and "evoke" deep feelings and complex characters or something.

    Where it gets blurry is in how we define "D&D". To me, D&D is something that happens at the table, that's where the essence of the game is. The book itself is just a book with rules and procedures meant to help you run a campaign. The vocabulary used especially in the 1974 edition implies wargaming rules used to do "something new", which is what we call RPGs.