RPG Formats

by Hawke Robinson published 2019/01/08 14:42:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-10-26T02:21:34-07:00
Terminology for Role-Playing Game Formats.

This page is an attempt to standardize terminology throughout the RPG Research ecosystem. Please consult this (and the related) pages for all of your documentation needs, whether blogs, essays, fora, chatroom, books, presentations, etc.

As with everything on our site and in our books, we welcome your input, suggestions, corrections, citations, clarifications, etc. to help benefit everyone in these broad fields of study.

See the ongoing RFC drafts of the RPG Model by Hawkes-Robinson for more information on all of the formats and their relationships. This page just provides a quick list of the most common terminology we use, and hope that people will further standardize as the RPG industry matures.

Why make these distinctions? Why does it matter?

Clarity of language, reduce confusion, efficiency, clarifying the RPG model and theories. Lots of reasons.

RPG Research's founder has been involved with role-playing games since the mid-1970s. Originally RPG only meant the tabletop game "Dungeons & Dragons". But then as computer games, live-action games, and solo adventure books and modules were created based on RPG components, using the term "RPG" began to create confusion.

This seems to have a very strong cohort effect to. What you were "raised around" as popular or in the media at the time seems to impact heavily (not really surprising).

When presenting at mostly professional and academic non-gamer (though sometimes gamer/fandom) conferences/conventions, we often have a slide that asks "What do you think of when you see the term: 'Role-Playing Game'" (or just RPG).

Older members generally mentioned tabletop games like D&D.

Slightly younger members usually describe LRPGs (though they often don't know to use larp or any other term), and had always assumed _that_ was RPG.

And the rest tend to associate it with electronic role-playing game variants.

Format vs. Form

While some prefer the term form, we use the term format to define the different manifestations of role-playing games.

According to the RPG Model by Hawkes-Robinson (2004, 2012, 2018, 2019), there are 5 major RPG formats under the root of RPG.

Over the years since writing our first RPG Research essay in 1983, we have gone back and forth between "Form" and "Format" when referring to the different manifestations of role-playing games from tabletop, to live-action, to electronic or solo adventure books/modules.

Since about 2004 we're been more consistently using Format rather than form, pending more objective and conclusive reasons why Form should be used instead of Format. In lectures form often gets used in a lot of other areas and creates confusion, while format is used lower in the model tier of popular language parlance, and so seems to create a clearer distinction. This is not (yet) 100% locked into, but for now we are sticking with Format to differentiate between tabletop, live-action, electronic, hybrid, and SABMs.

As with everything on our site and in our books, we welcome your input, suggestions, corrections, citations to help benefit everyone in these broad fields of studyl.


Role Playing, Roleplaying, Role-play Therapy vs. RPG Theapy, versus Role-playing

For the games we generally stick with the hyphenated version, role-play, role-playing, role-playing gamer, etc.

For psychological reference we use the spaced version, role play, role playing, etc. (unless there is good documentation for using as one word or hyphenatedin recent psych literature?).

There are a number of arguments for using roleplaying  and role playing in modern language, but this has not yet become standardized enough for consistent use. If the trend continues, we will remove the hyphen and use a single word if that becomes more pro forma standard.

Here are some examples debating each variant:





If talking about the psychology of playing roles, then role playing, if references the games then role-playing.

It gets a little more wonky with those people that play the games, role players versus role-playing gamers?



RPG = Role-Playing Game

Role-playing Game. The root term, also synonymous with tabletop role-playing games originally, but different cohort populations in later years conflate with live-action role-play (Larp) or various electronic role-playing games (ERPG), or computer-based role-playing games (CRPG). We use RPG either as the root all-inclusive term, or just tabletop, depending on the sentence context.

We list the 4 major RPG formats alphabetically when in a list: ERPG, HRPG, LRPG , & TRPG.

See the RPG Model diagram for further illustration.

RPG Variant Suffixes

  • RPGs = Role-playing games (noun) (plural)
  • RPGer = Role-playing gamer (noun), plural RPGers.
  • RPGing = Role-playing gaming (verb)


RPG Formats 4 Primary Variants

  • ERPG = Electronic Role-Playing Game
  • HRPG = Hybrid Role-Playing Game
  • LRPG = Live-action Role-playing Game
  • RPG/TRPG/TTRPG = Tabletop Role-Playing Game (tabletop is one word and not ambiguous so only one "T" is necessary)

RPGs have many components contributing to their existing, with varying amounts depending on the format.


Quintessential RPG Vs. "Not an RPG"

It often comes up in many different communities a debate between "IS and RPG" versus "NOT an RPG".

For the sake of this discussion, I generally start the conversation with consensus on where we can agree on what is and is not an RPG.

Generally everyone can agree that the original Dungeons & Dragons, as the worlds first published role-playing game, is the Quintessential RPG.

Definitions of Quintessential:

"perfectly typical or representative of a particular kind of person or thing" --Merriam-Webster

"of the pure and essential essence of something:" "of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something:" --Dictionary.com

"being the most typical example or most important part of something:" Cambridge Dictionary

While maybe some argument can be made about the "perfect" representation, generally everyone agrees this is the where it all begins for the definition of an RPG. Specifically Tabletop RPG (TRPG).

On the other end of the spectra, what is not an RPG, everyone can generally agree that a non-modified version of the game Tetris is definitely not an RPG.

Where the debate occurs is roughly everything else in between.

It is important as a profession and discipline develops to establish boundaries, language, standards, etc., as part of becoming a profession.

These models attempt to better define what is inherently riddles with fuzzy boundaries.

The model diagram below tries to represent, without being all inclusive, a range of examples of the different areas (quasi-Venn diagram), the many components that make up RPGs, and the many offshoots, overlaps, and hybrids thereof.


ERPG - Electronic Role-Playing Game

All role-playing games in any kind of electronic format. If it uses electrical current in some form to play the game it is likely to fall under the ERPG category unless it is a hybrid (like DUNGEON! electronic board game for example) more appropriately under HRPG.

All computer-variant RPGs are a subset of ERPG.

ERPG allows to include non-CRPG electronic RPGs such as audio cassette based RPGs, 8-track selectable RPGs, phonographic RPGs, solid-state electronics RPGs rather than integrated (computer) circuit RPGs, etc.



HRPG - Hybrid Role-Playing Game

A "catch all" for all the other variations that are either significantly overlapping the top 4 formats, or mix other products with the top 4 formats (i.e. card games, board games, etc.).



LRPG = Live Role-Playing Game (included larp = live-action role play as a subset)

While Larp will likely remain the standard for laypersons, for the RPG model tying to improve clarity from an academic, theoretical, and applied programming perspective, larp seems more a subset or continuum of LRPG, with LRPG having more rules, structure, and similarities to TRPG but with active motion, while larp having more emphasis on the improvisational "play" aspet and less on the "Game" aspect, thus many say larps rather than larp games.

This article mentions OED making it larp rather than LARP - https://bienia.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/role-playing-vs-role-playing-hyphenation/

This is another reason for my suggestion to use LRPG for the acronym of the noun (Live Role-Playing Game), and then use larp (live-action role play) for the activity itself (larping, etc.).

Should we make a further distinction between LARP and LARPg/LARPG/LRPG?

It might be arguable that Live-Action Role-Play is somewhat, or substantially, different from the more gamifed rules-structured form.

LARP training in professional settings like medical and executive settings can be Live-action Role-plays, but without the statistical numerical representations of a game. While a LARPG/LRPG has specific rules and numerical information appropriate to a game.

For now we'll use LARP interchangeably between the variants, but it is possible we may in future literature make a clearer distinction with something like LARP vs. LARPG vs. LRPG (keeping to the 4-letter acronym limit for the primary tier variants, and holding off one 5+ letter acronyms for subsets further down the chain)?

Thoughts on this?

This claims that the OED has ruled that the noun for LARP is all lower case "larp", rather than an acronym now. I understanding doing so for the verb, larping, but seems odd for the acronym, I guess this means it has become accepted as a complete word unto itself. - https://bienia.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/role-playing-vs-role-playing-hyphenation/

Perhaps when being used in an list of formats when the rest are acronyms we will stick with LARP, but then reference it in the lower case when not?  That is bad inconsistency yes? I need to get access to the OED's listing for the use before we make a final decision (I let my OED subscription lapse years ago).  I guess for the sake of acronyms this is where the argument for LRPG (unknown by general public, but technically more accurate in our context of research) makes more sense when talking about formats, but when otherwise discussing, use larp?

What does everyone think?



TRPG = Tabletop Role-playing game.

While some people prefer to use Pen and Paper role-playing game, that seems a much less oft used term than tabletop role-playing game, all the way back to the 1970s.  Often those same people will say the very long "pen and paper tabletop role-playing game" (PPTRPG?). Phew!

Until recently, it seemed pretty standard to use TRPG, but in the last few years, for some strange reason an increasing number of people are starting to use TTRPG with 2 Ts. Why?

TTRPG or TRPG? One Word or Two? Etymology?

When we reference the original role-playing game format, adjective before noun. Noun = role-playing game, adjective is the type of RPG: tabletop.

Table top has been found used as one word "Tabletop" since 1751

Tabletop is one word since about 1810, we do not use TTRPG.

So, since Tabletop is one work, we use a single T.

We also often refer to just RPG as synonymous to TRPG (when used in correct context) since it is the original RPG format.

Another reason to use a single T instead of TTRPG, it just shorter and easier to say aloud, with one less syllable, and as far as we know there is no need to add a 5th letter to the acronym to help make it distinctive from another form of TRPG that may be causing confusion.

So we are following a logical approach, whether or not a popular approach.

So in summary, to date we are unable to find any legitimate reason for using TTRPG over TRPG. If you disagree or have examples that would illustrate otherwise, please (politely) comment, and we will consider your suggestions accordingly.

Otherwise, for all RPG Research content (and it would be nice if other folks would too), please try to standardize all literature to use TRPG and not TTRPG, if nothing else you are saving a lot of keystrokes, paper, bits, and syllables that are unnecessarily wasted if you use two Ts. :)


Comments from other sources:

Twitter: @tabletopduck: "I think it just comes down to phonetics. Tabletop is a portmanteau, and I've never seen it without the second T." 20190316.

Twitter: @JenHott: "I figured it was Therapeutic Tabletop RPGs, but I could be mistaken if you've seen it in general RPG sources..." 20190316

Twitter: @RPGResource: "I always thought was for Table Top Role-Playing Game." 20190316


If you enter "table top" instead of "tabletop" all of these sites will redirect the former to the latter.


Update: 20190316-1705

I have found some debate in the Wikipedia.org community, about TRPG for Tactical: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Tactical_role-playing_game  Versus Tabletop: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabletop_role-playing_game It looks like most agree with TRPG, though debate about PnP and TT, but most just RPG.

Disambiguation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRPG

But the talk archive for tactical RPG folks indicates preference for Strategy (S/RPG) and looks like Wikipedia politics were more the deciding factor than anything in the TRPG debate, neither community really wanted TTRPG and the Tactical folks didn't want TRPG. Interesting, and another data point to mull over.

SABM as subset of HRPG = Solo Adventure Books / Modules (SAB / SAM)

It is critical that all of our literature uses the correct acronym when referring to products that provide solo adventures in book or module form. DO NOT USE CYOA or "Choose Your Own Adventure" (TM) unless you are specifically referring to the specific product now owned by Chooseco. See the $25 million USD lawsuit Chooseco vs. Netflix, as just one example of a good reason to be very careful about confusing format with product.

Solo Adventure Books (SAB)

Any product in a standard book bound form that provides branching options as you read and allows for more than one ending result based on the reader's choices, not a single ending.

CYOA - Choose Your Own Adventure

This includes book format products like Chooseco's Choose Your Own Adventure (TM) which we abbreviate as CYOA which only use the book and no character sheet, maps, randomizing agent, etc. CYOA generally are not really RPGs, rather they are more like Interactive Fiction (IF) with basic branching but no real character development, customization, randomization, or other distinctive elements of RPGs. But they are a close cousin and inspired, so they are included in this category, mostly because of the other SAB and SAM variants.

"Truer" RPG Variants

SAB can also include other book-form products like AD&D, ICE Middle-earth Quest, Tolkien-Quest, etc. Which include character sheets that can be customized or at least grow and change considerably based on reader/user decisions, includes randomizing agents, maps, etc, allow for far more variant results than just the simple IF branching options of CYOA and related books.

Potentially we may want to create a clearer differentiating term and acronym between these to variants. Open to suggestions. Maybe what I used in 2004-2007 just calling it a Solo Role-playing Game for the primary format (SRPG), and then under that branch for form Solo Role-Playing Game Book (SRPGB) or Solo Book Role-Playing Game (SBRPG)?

SRPG would be differentiated from electronic and computer-based solo RPGs by their appropriate designation. For example SCRPG for solo computer-based RPG vs. SBRPG (solo book role-playing game)?

Solo Adventure Module (SAM)

Less complication or confusion with this format. These are published in classic TRPG "module" form, thin in page count, typically 8"x10" or so, etc. There might be some hardcovers of large versions available, but do those exist for solo adventures?

As far as I know there are not any CYOA style IF in this form. Anyone know otherwise?

For distinction perhaps SMRPG (solo module role-playing game), SRPGM (Solo role-playing game module)


RPG Settings & Business Sectors














Writing, Designing, Creating, Publishing

















See the section on Genre here...





Participant Role

Not to be confused with the player character roles, these are the roles that the real-life participant is in (and maybe multiples in many combinations), related to their kind of participation in the role-playing game activity.






Game Master











Player Archetype Specialist




Other more typical RPG Industry roles
























Visual Artist



Many others .....































Document Actions