They’re not RPG elements

They’re just not.

You see “RPG elements” on the back of game-boxes for assorted games, frequently tactical combat games, or mentioned in game reviews. The thing is, that what they’re referring to as RPG elements aren’t actually RPG elements.

The things they’re generally describing are classes, levels, abilities and experience points. Units or characters that get stronger and/or more versatile with experience. Those are what we used to call wargaming elements.

You see, role-playing games (as we know them) are founded in Dungeons and Dragons, developed by Gygax and Arneson from Gygax’s Chainmail medieval miniatures wargame rules, which in turn were based on wargames of the day. Most wargames designed for anything more than one-shot battles have classes, levels, characters, abilities and experience points after one fashion or another, because that encapsulates some of the realities of armies.

RPG elements are everything else. It’s reasonable to say that if you think “Miniatures wargame elements” everywhere you see the marketing term “RPG elements” you’ve pretty much got it right. If you’re thinking about genuine RPG-elements, you’ll generally find none of those at all in any game which actually advertises them.

11 thoughts on “They’re not RPG elements”

  1. Good point.

    I’ve always thought of Role Playing within games as “acting”, while the rest of the stuff is just rules and number-crunching.
    Role playing is more about how Bognor the Bold feels about fighting than about how much damage he does when he hits somebody.

  2. What marketers apparently mean is RPG elements = ROLL playing elements, not ROLE playing elements.

    1. That these elements were around in other gaming before role-playing games were developed doesn’t seem to bother them. Through the 70’s, we called all this stuff ‘Wargaming elements’. Did anyone else have a different name for them back then?

    1. It’s a nit I’m happy enough to pick. We used to divide things up into A and B, and called them A and B. These days people say A when they mean what we used to call B. It’d be like people switching over and calling Republicans, Democrats — if you’ll pardon the example. Or calling a conservative party, liberal (oh, wait. That one’s already happened). Do we profit from the inversion of meaning?

  3. At 39 years old, I played D&D back when I was younger. I have been an RPG gamer for about 30 years.

    I have never heard the term “wargaming elements”

    The birth of RPGs had classes, levels, expereince points, etc. Without taking things too literally, playing Paladin when in real life I am not, is playing a role.

    Also the term “elements” means that it has some aspects but not all of them. Hence Photoshop Elements, etc..

    Writing an article based off of taking something too literally is kind of odd. What’s next? Auto Racing and Golf, not a sport?

  4. You and I are not going to agree so I will end on this and I want you to read it carefully…

    You see, the term “RPG Elements” was never meant to be taken literally as you are. Choosing a class, getting

    experience are “ELEMENTS” that a typical “RPG” has. Therefore these are RPG related elements.

    Now, if someone came out with a Shooter and called it an RPG then I could see your point.

    But an “element” does not make something a whole. I could take a basketball game and add 4 downs to it and call baskets touchdowns. Is it football? No. Does it have football elements? Yes.

    I am not sure how else to explain this to you.

  5. I think we can all agree however that the term “RPG” has been watered down over the years…

  6. I’m with Don on this one. To me, “RPG elements” means “game elements one might find in a typical RPG”. Most popular RPGs have experience, levels, skills, stats, inventory, etc., so if a game has those things, it would be fair — and meaningful — to say the game has “RPG elements”. Deus Ex, for example, had both RPG elements as well as first-person shooter elements (among other things).

    Certain RPG elements might *also* be “wargaming elements”, if a typical wargame has those elements too. But relatively few people are familiar with wargaming, so it would be pretty foolish to market a game as “having wargaming elements”, unless it was being targetted at a demographic who would understand that term.

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