Is It Roleplaying, or Is It Roleplaying Game?

Recently I entered into a discussion with Carpe Guitarrem at The Player’s Side of the Screen, where he has a series of three posts about immersion and metagame (most recent post), and a part of the difficulty for me, was that a part of the terminology, that I wanted to use, is Danish, and translating the terms while retaining their meaning is not easy.

Roleplaying or Roleplaying Game?

One of the curious things about this hobby of ours, this medium for stories, this art, is the name of the game. Do we call it roleplaying or roleplaying game?

The reason for my asking is language. I am Danish, and once in a while we discuss the definition of RP/RPG at Danish fora, and this sometimes brings the name and its definition to be discussed. The thing is, we do not call it roleplaying game in Danish, just roleplaying. There is a reason for this, so here comes a brief language-discussion.

Roleplaying Game (RPG) consists of three words – role, play and game – thus roleplaying game.

In Danish roleplaying is traditionally translated to rollespil. This was in use before D&D was published, just as roleplaying existed in other areas long before D&D came into existence, for instance as therapeutic practice. Now rolle matches role, but spil is more tricky, as it can refer to either play as in a theater-play or to a game, meaning that rollespil technically could be translated as either roleplay or rolegame (just as playing a game would be spille et spil). However play can also refer to children playing, but that word is leg (e.g. Children playing is Børn, der leger or legende børn).  In order to have all three words – role, play, game – in Danish the translation would end up being either rollespilsleg, rollelegsspil, rollespilsspil – however none of these translations are in use, and they are all a bit clumsy.

No Dice, No System

One consequence seems to be, that no one ever puts an emphasis on ‘game’, when discussing what is roleplaying, nor is the presence of dice or other randomizers mandatory in Danish roleplaying – instead they become optional tools, that some writers may choose include in their scenario-writing, but few does. So many scenarios are therefore diceless, and without any dice, there are no reason to use any of the classical systems such as BRP, D&D, GURPS, Storyteller – as they are designed to use dice – and therefore the scenarios become systemless (systemløst in Danish). However systemløst is not without structure, so we are dealing with a series of structured freeform-scenarios. Some in the traditions related to Swedish Jeepform, others not so much.

A Brief Note About Immersion

In many of the systemløse scenarios one of the desired effects are the equivalent of immersion (in its most general meaning), but it is designated indlevelse, and actually the abscence of rules and dice are important for the players, and for their attaining the desired immersive state. Preferably the GM handles the outcomes, and the players focus on their indlevelse.

LARP without Action

Some of the same applies to LARP. In Danish it is called live rollespil (or levende rollespil as ‘live’ is an English loanword) instead of Live Action Roleplaying (Game) or just rollespil – for most non-roleplayers rollespil is synonymous with LARPing. There may be action in levende rollespil, but there is no emphasis on it. Of course this easily gets confusing, as some LARPers prefer to consider their hobby a rolleleg instead of a rollespil (i.e. rather roleplay than rolegame), and they advocate for the removal of most rules (besides obvious safety rules etc.) reducing the LARP-rules to the most basic and simple.

So that is it, a brief bit about roleplaying in other countries.


  1. Thanks for sharing~
    In a hobby like ours, a sensitivity to the power of a word, and the way that context and semantics influence perception is really quite important.

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    The semantics really do mean a lot. In a few weeks I am going to present a talk about roleplaying styles and tools at the Knudepunkt Convention (a Nordic roleplaying conference with people from all over Europe), and there I really will be tested on my ability to convey the differences in terminology and translations of terms. It is going to be interesting.

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