What is the difference between RPG and LitRPG?

Unraveling the Threads of the LitRPG Genre: Embracing the Blend of Gaming and Literature

In the realm of fiction genres, there’s an intriguing crossover that combines the thrill of immersive gaming with the allure of a good novel. You might ask, how does that work? Welcome to the world of LitRPG. This relatively new genre, an offspring of the wider science fiction and fantasy families, is captivating readers and gamers alike with compelling narratives enriched by game mechanics. In LitRPG, literature meets role-playing game elements, treating you to a literary roller-coaster that spirals through quest lines, stat builds, and leveling up.

At the heart of LitRPG lies the amalgamation of the immersive elements of Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and the story-telling prowess of literature. RPGs – whether as tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, video games or Live Action RPGs (LARP) – score high on character development, storytelling and gameplay. Capitalizing on these elements and transporting them into the realm of literature gives birth to LitRPG.

Much like RPGs, LitRPG cannot do without characters who experience growth, a gripping plot, and gameplay mechanics. However, what uniquely sets LitRPG apart is the seamless blending of real-world and in-game experiences, effectively bridging the gap between virtual and reality. Reading LitRPG isn’t passive; it catapults you right into the gameplay as if maneuvering the joystick yourself.

With roots firmly planted in both gaming and literary worlds, LitRPG heightens the reading and gaming experience to a level not typically achieved by either independently. Understandably, some misconceptions about the genre have cropped up, blurring the line between RPG and LitRPG. This article aims to clarify these distinctions and demonstrate what an exciting and rewarding journey LitRPG can offer. Unleash your adventurous spirit and immerse yourself in this fascinating world where words and character sheets become one.

RPG (Role-Playing Games)

First, let’s take a look at role-playing games.

Definition and History

Role-playing games (RPGs) represent a rich and diverse subset of games where players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. One draws the lineage of RPGs back to make-believe games children play, where they assign characters and roles to themselves, bringing an imaginary world in play. However, the first formalized RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), was published in 1974 and set the groundwork for RPGs as we know them today.

  1. Tabletop Games (e.g., Dungeons & Dragons): Tabletop RPGs are perhaps the purest incarnation of role-playing games, designed around a table with a group of players guided by a game master or dungeon master, who describes the game world and the results of players’ actions. Dungeons & Dragons is the seminal example of this genre, but many others have followed, including the Pathfinder RPG, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
  2. Video Games: The 1980s and the rise of personal computers saw the birth of digital RPGs. These games took the foundation laid by tabletop RPGs and brought them to a new medium. Examples include the Ultima series, The Elder Scrolls franchise, and the Final Fantasy series. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV, allow players from around the globe to play together in vast virtual landscapes.
  3. Live Action Role-Playing Games (LARP): Live Action Role-Playing Games take RPGs into the physical world. Players dress up as their characters and interact with each other in-person, role-playing their characters within the established game world. Well-known LARPs include the Lightning Bolt Wizard and The World of Darkness series.

Key Elements of RPG

  1. Character Development: The heart of any RPG is its character system, involving aspects such as class, race, and alignment in a tabletop RPG, or the statistic-based character sheets of a video game. As a narrative progresses, characters gain abilities, new skills, and level up, reflecting their growth and achievements.
  2. Storytelling: RPGs are narrative-driven games. Whether crafted by a game master in a tabletop RPG or designed by game developers in a video game, the storyline is crucial. Players’ actions shape the narrative direction, lending an engaging dynamism to the storytelling.
  3. Gameplay Mechanics: A critical part of RPGs is their gameplay mechanics—the rules and systems that govern the game world. These can include combat mechanics, magic systems, skill checks, and more, providing framework and structure to players’ actions.

Community and Culture

Role-playing games have fostered a vibrant culture around them. This spans conventions that gather thousands of players, fan-generated content and modifications in video games, and online communities where players share strategies and stories. Over the past five decades, RPGs have built a significant place in modern pop culture, impacting media from films to music. Through shared enjoyment of these games, RPGs have fostered a global community centered around storytelling, creativity, and complex game mechanics.

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LitRPG (Literature Role-Playing Games)

Next, let’s look at What is LitRPG?

Definition and History of LitRPG

LitRPG, abbreviated from Literary Role-Playing Games, is a genre of fiction where narrative and role-playing game mechanics are interwoven. The game mechanics, including statistics, experience points, and leveling up, are visible to the characters within the story and used to advance the plot.

The era of LitRPG unofficially began in the late ’90s with writers imagining plots incorporating aspects of Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). However, the term LitRPG itself was firstly used in Russia in 2013 by EKSMO, the country’s most prominent publishing house. Gradually, the LitRPG wave reached the west, where novels like “The Land” series by Aleron Kong became widely popular, catapulting the genre into the limelight.

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Key Elements of LitRPG

  1. Integration of RPG mechanics into Narrative: One of the defining features of LitRPG is the integration of RPG mechanics into the narrative. Whether it’s a character’s stats, the effects of a specific skill, or the process of leveling up, everything is a vital part of the story itself.
  2. Characters and their Growth: Characters in LitRPG experience growth just like in RPGs. They gain skills, equipment, and allies, and overcome increasingly difficult challenges, mirroring the common progression system in gaming.
  3. In-Game and Real-World Blending: Many LitRPG stories involve a blending of in-game and real-world elements, blurring the line between what’s virtual and what’s reality.

Examples and Popularity

LitRPG has seen a rapid increase in popularity, with many notable books in the genre. Along with Aleron Kong’s “The Land” series, other successful titles include “Awaken Online” by Travis Bagwell, “Ascend Online” by Luke Chmilenko, and “Play to Live” series by D. Rus. The genre has a large following, spawning numerous online communities where fans discuss their favorite LitRPG books, characters, and game mechanics.

Impact on Modern Literature

LitRPG has challenged traditional boundaries in literature, integrating a gaming framework into storytelling. It has, to some extent, revolutionized the concept of interactive reading, offering an immersive experience where readers can almost visualize their progress, akin to advancing in a game. Furthermore, LitRPG has influenced other sub-genres, paving the way for GameLit, which also features game-like worlds but without a mandatory system of explicit rules and mechanics. The genre’s blend of gaming and literature could potentially redefine how we perceive storytelling in the digital age.

Comparing RPG and LitRPG

While there are numerous parallels between RPG and LitRPG, given their shared origin in role-playing games, it’s important to note the distinct variances that characterize each genre.


  1. Roots in Role-Playing: Both RPG and LitRPG have their origins grounded in role-playing games. Notably, many RPGs were directly inspired by tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons, which laid the foundation for the integration of narrative into interactive gameplay.
  2. Character Focus: Regardless of whether you’re engaging with an RPG or reading a LitRPG novel, the characters and their growth journeys invariably remain a key focal point. The maturation of characters and their interaction with others forms the essence of both genres.
  3. Thematic Links: Thematically, both RPGs and LitRPGs share common threads. These can include quest structures, exploration of virtual or fantastical worlds, and canonical themes of adventure, magic, or science fiction.


  1. Medium of Engagement: The most fundamental difference between RPGs and LitRPGs lies in their mediums of engagement. RPGs are interactive experiences, traditionally either video games or tabletop games, while LitRPGs are a form of literature, often novels or novellas.
  2. Audience Interaction: While playing an RPG, players typically step into the shoes of the protagonist, making choices that directly impact the narrative and future progress. Conversely, LitRPG readers are observers operating outside the game’s universe. They witness the protagonist’s decisions and growth but cannot influence the storyline directly.
  3. Depth and Complexity in Storytelling: RPG games, due to their interactive medium, often focus heavily on gameplay mechanics and character development, whereas narrative depth may be constrained by the game’s technical limits. On the other hand, LitRPGs being a form of literature, have the freedom to delve more deeply into intricate storytelling, examine character psyche, add nuanced layers to the plot, and explore higher levels of complexity.

Though RPGs and LitRPGs stem from the same source, it’s clear that their evolution has lead them down different paths. Yet, both genres continue to impact their respective fields with RPGs offering thrilling gaming experiences, while LitRPGs pioneer fascinating stories in modern literature. They coexist in harmony, catering to audiences who appreciate a good character-focused narrative while offering different dimensions of engagement. As technology and society progress, it will be exciting to see how these genres continue to evolve and shape our modern culture.


RPG and LitRPG vary significantly in medium and audience interaction but share the background of role-playing and a focus on character development. RPGs, primarily experienced as video, tabletop, or live-action games, allow active user engagement and decision making to steer the narrative. Conversely, LitRPG novels provide a passive reading experience where readers acquire richer storytelling depth but lack the power to influence events directly.

Reflection on Cultural Impact

It’s undeniable that both RPG and LitRPG have imprinted a deep cultural impact. RPGs have fueled an entire generation’s imagination, giving rise to numerous franchises and conventions. They have also played a significant role in pushing technological advancements in game design and virtual reality.

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LitRPG, though a relatively new genre, has tapped into the gaming generation’s love for narrative complexity and character progression, bridging the gap between traditional literature and the digital world in a unique and engaging way.

Potential Future Developments in Both Genres

Looking ahead, RPGs are likely to see further integration with emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality, making gaming experiences even more immersive and interactive. Social and cooperative gaming may also become even more popular, fostering global communities bonded by shared game experiences.

As for LitRPG, its future is no less exciting. As this genre continues to grow and draw in a diverse audience, readers can expect more complexity, variety in game worlds and mechanics, and deeper explorations into the intersection of reality and gaming.

We may also see more crossover between these two genres, with successful RPGs being adapted into LitRPG novels and vice versa. These developments not only signify an exciting time ahead for both gamers and avid readers, but they also hint at how these genres can revolutionize storytelling and human interaction in the digital age.

Paul Bellow

LitRPG Author Paul Bellow

Paul Bellow is a LitRPG author, gamer, RPG game developer, and publisher of several online communities. In other words, an old school webmaster. He also developed and runs LitRPG Adventures, a set of advanced RPG generators powered by GPT-3 AI. Here at LitRPG Reads, he publishes articles about LitRPG books, tabletop RPG books, and all sorts of DND content that's free to use in your personal tabletop campaign - i.e. non-commercial use. Enjoy your stay and reach out on Twitter or Discord if you want to make contact.

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