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A role-playing game is a game in which one or more players take on an imagined persona in pursuit of a common goal.
Tabletop role-playing games
These are traditional RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and includes storytelling games like Vampire: The Requiem where you take on the role of a character. They are played face-to-face using a pen, paper, dice, and sometimes miniature figures.
In some ways, Chess is the first role-playing game. It had basic RPG mechanics, such as a tactical turn-based combat system, a level up mechanic, and character roles with their own unique abilities. Tabletop RPG designer John Wick considers Chess to be no less of a role-playing game than Dungeons & Dragons, arguing that both are combat simulation board games that players could turn into role-playing games.
Role-playing video games
Roots of RPGs
The following diagram shows the roots and influences of various role-playing games: