What is a Tabletop RPG? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

The world of gaming keeps growing and expanding day by day. As more people come to discover the joy of playing games of all kinds, newcomers may stumble across terms they are not familiar with. We don’t really have a set place where gamers learn all these terms, or a manual of some sort… Except for the Internet, of course! In any case, you may have heard the phrase “tabletop RPG” before, but you may not know what this kind of game entails. Well, not to worry, we here at Honey’s Anime are about to unpack this genre, just for you!

We’re going to split this phrase up into its two distinct parts – “tabletop” and “roleplaying games” (or RPGs) – to explain each one separately so you understand the individual pieces of this style of game. Then, we’ll offer you a few examples to concrete that explanation. Some of these may be well-known games you have heard of, while others might be completely new to you. At the end of it all, we hope you will understand some of the different terms involved in gaming, and maybe even want to try your hand at your own tabletop RPG! Let’s get started!

Tabletop Games

The purpose of tabletop games is pretty self-explanatory. Tabletop games are those that were developed to be played around a table, or other flat surface, with friends or family. These kinds of games vary all over the place, using dice, game boards, pen and paper, cards, tiles or even miniature figurines. Basically, if you can think of a type of game you might like to play, chances are there is a tabletop game related to that. And if there’s not, well then you might just have come up with the next gaming craze! Tabletop games have something for everyone to enjoy.

So why are tabletop games an important part of the gaming culture? These types of games were designed purposefully to be more social, to have the players interacting with one another in competition or working together to solve some problem. Or even like in a game similar to Betrayal at House on the Hill, where players start out working together only to have one person eventually turn on them! Whereas most of the video games available for play are either designed for solo play or have little face-to-face human interaction, tabletop games create a space for people to get together and play. This is especially important in the technology-heavy society we live in today – the days of families coming together to play The Game of Life or Monopoly are unfortunately dwindling. The opportunity for family or friends to get together and have fun is very important, and something that should not be overlooked.

However, as technology continues to expand, tabletop games have even found their way into the wide expanse of the Internet. Projects such as the Tabletop Simulator and websites like Roll20 allow for people from all across the world to play games with one another. While this doesn’t have the same level of social interaction that tabletop games were originally designed for, using face cams and microphones does allow for gamers to communicate with one another. And who are we to say that one type of interaction is best? Perhaps all your friends live across the country from you and you just want to play a more social game together. Tabletop games offer a wide variety of options – whether you play them in an online setting or in person shouldn’t deter you from enjoying these kinds of games.


Roleplaying Games (RPGs)

As we stated earlier, the gaming industry is growing. This has lead to an increased number of newcomers who are not up-to-date on all of the terms swimming around the gaming world. And while many people may be familiar with what RPGs are, there may be a few among you who don’t yet know (or who haven’t heard that RPG is just an abbreviation). For those who aren’t familiar or who just want to learn more, this section is for you!

RPGs encompass a wide style of games, under many different genres. A roleplaying game is any game in which players act out a different character than themselves in a fictional setting. Because of its wide definition, RPGs cover everything from Pokémon, to Final Fantasy, to Persona 5! In most isekai anime, characters will be thrust into RPGs, as in Sword Art Online and Re:Zero. Roleplaying games are open to any possibilities. This makes them an ideal market for most gamers, as they can appeal to a wide variety of people, depending on the other aspects of the game, of course. The main emphasis of these kinds of games is their ability to immerse players in a new world – in short, to allow them the opportunity for roleplaying a distinctly different character than themselves.

The game industry puts out hundreds of new RPGs each year, on all types of consoles and at all different levels of difficulty. And roleplaying games can have aspects of multiplayer cooperation/competition in them, even though a good majority of RPGs are solitary-based. While not all games are for everyone, there is certain to be an RPG out there for you. After all, no one expects for every gamer to enjoy hardcore RPGs like Dark Souls. But if you like the style of Dark Souls, there are easier games like Skyrim for those who might want the setting without as much of a challenge.


Bringing It All Together…

So what do these two types of games have in common, you might ask? Well, if we combine the two definitions from these terms, a “tabletop RPG” becomes a roleplaying game that you play in a tabletop setting with your friends or family. Sounds amazing, right? Combining the fun camaraderie of a tabletop experience with the immersive roleplaying aspect of any good RPG, tabletop games require an imagination. Often, these types of games fall under the category of pen-and-paper style games, meaning they can be cheap and easy for anyone to join in on. Sure, you can have as many tangible things to add to your tabletop game as you want, but the willingness to place yourself in another world with a group of people is the number one requirement. If you have a good enough imagination, tabletop RPGs can be quite fun!

Dungeons and Dragons is the paramount example of a classic tabletop RPG. D&D has been around for a long time, and has an almost infinite number of ways to play. While many people might be inclined to pass D&D by because of its negative stereotype, the possibilities of making a game anything you want it to be and playing in person with your friends (or even family) can’t be beat. D&D can be customized to as much or as little roleplaying as you and your friends want to do; you can make your game a sci-fi paradise, a fantasy adventure, or even delve into some of the more variant styles of games that seem more like an anime series! And with the recent popularity of D&D shows like Critical Role, Dungeons and Dragons actually seems to be becoming more accepted by society.

While D&D is the most well-known tabletop game, within the genre of games lies a host of options to appeal to every style of gamer. If you really enjoy video games like Fallout, you might love Apocalypse World, an indie game set in a post-apocalyptic land. There’s a Star Wars roleplaying game for those who love sci-fi – and a Star Trek option as well if you’re more into the intellectual side of space travel. Of course, there’s the classic Call of Cthulhu for people who want a more horrific experience. But really, tabletop games are open to interpretation. You can take almost anything you and your group are interested in and find something related to it. And tabletop games come with a great amount of customization – whatever you don’t like about a style of game or prepackaged campaign, you can always change!


Final Thoughts

The world of tabletop RPGs is vast and exciting. While the stereotypes built up over the years against games like Dungeons and Dragons have hindered people’s mainstream enjoyment of such games, the wide array of choices to pick from means that there is something out there for everybody! The combination of a roleplaying game with the tabletop experience is something unique to this style of games, and is becoming more popular as people discover what tabletop games actually are – playing games of imagination with your friends.

We hope that this article has taught you something. Have you ever played any particularly good tabletop RPGs with your friends? Perhaps now that you know what it is, you will consider playing a tabletop RPG of your own! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! As always, we at Honey’s Anime love to hear from you!

by Meghan May Dellinger