RPG (Role-Playing Game) Research - Overview List of the Pros and Cons of Each Role-Playing Game Format Updates

Overview List of the Pros and Cons of Each Role-Playing Game Format by W.A. Hawkes-Robinson

 · 24 min read

Overview List of the Pros and Cons of Each Role-Playing Game Format

W. A. Hawkes-Robinson

Original December 4th, 2004

Revised April 10th 2007

Revised November 29th, 2014

Revised March 28th, 2019

Revised October 19th, 2020

Revised January 25th, 2021


This document attempts to summarize with a brief list the pros and cons of each role-playing game (RPG) format. The hope is that this differentiation between formats will improve the quality of future research studies and program planning for those professionals in various disciplines using these recreational activities as intervention modalities.


This is still and ongoing work in progress, continuing to be updated as the body of new research and evidence-in-practice data grows. This document has been intermittently updated based on the research and evidence-in-practice available from public and private third-parties, as well as the evolution of the Hawkes-Robinson Role-Playing Game (RPG) Model and the Four Major RPG Formats initially outlined in 1983 and 2004.

I am embarrassed at the level of self-citation in this document, but it is necessary for brevity sake, to build upon the information already covered in my other papers, rather than turn this document into another hundred page document.

There are many ways to look at the potential pros and cons of role-playing games in each of their formats. This paper briefly summarizing perspectives from the bio-psycho-social educational and therapeutic perspectives, especially the recreation therapy and neuroscience knowledge domains.

In 1983, at Realms of Inquiry, I wrote an eight page essay on what role-playing games actually are, and their potential effects on participants. This was written in response to the growing anti-gamer and anti-RPG movement of the 1980s as elaborated upon in the documents:

  • The Battle Over Role-Playing Gaming (2007).

  • See the Defamation of Role-Playing Gaming and Gamers (2008). 

  • Role-Playing Gamer Floater Theory (2013)

  • Anecdotal Experiences of Stigma as a Role-Playing Gamer (2014)

  • Self-Deception & Propaganda Against Role-Playing Gamers by B.A.D.D. and Others. (2014)

  • The Defamation of Role-Playing Gamers, Conflict and Barriers to Interpersonal Effectiveness, Addressing Inculcated Stereotyping and Prejudice. (2014)

In general, if allowed to have a conversation with those skeptical or hostile toward role-playing gamers or gaming, I have generally not only been able to deescalate the situation, but once explained, supported with research and evidence-in-practice, many become new advocates for the potential benefits of RPGs. An example of this is elaborated in the paper Why The Popular Negative Stereotypes About Role-playing Gamers is Important to Address And What You Can Do to Promote Change. (2013).

Fast forward through the decades, and my first publicly posted paper, An Overview of the History and Therapeutic Value of Role-Playing Gaming (2004) laying out some of the many potential benefits of role-playing games. But this still remained mostly focused on the pros and cons of tabletop RPGs, or else lumped together the multiple RPG formats for the list of potential benefits and deficits. As further elaborated upon in:

  • The Potential Benefits and Deficits of Role-Playing Games (2007)

  • Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Change, Therapeutic Recreation and Role-Playing Games (2014)


Most Activity Assessment Forms (AAFs) used by industry professionals in recreation therapy, occupational therapy, and other related fields, have terrible inter-rater reliability coefficients of only <0.2 to 0.4, we have been improving upon the standard forms with more objective assessment questions, and steadily increasing the quality of the assessment tool. In addition to the standard AAF, we have been working on a role-playing game specific variant to assist researchers and applied gaming professionals in the process of identifying the ideal game for the desired population and client goals.

This paper will hopefully be especially helpful for those researchers and professionals undertaking methodical assessment approaches as illustrated by the Therapeutic Recreation Activity Assessment Form Adapted for Role-Playing Games (TR-AAF-RPG) (2014, 2020). 

The aforementioned AAF is a key part of the multi-step iteratie process when assessing the Game Tier Ranking for Higher-Risk Populations (GTR-HRP) as listed (and periodically updated) on the RPG Research website at https://www.rpgresearch.com/game-tiers.

Some examples of program plans that provide greater specificity about the efficacy of different RPG formats to use to achieve targeted goals are elaborated at length in the papers:

  • Extreme Medieval Sports Community Program for At-risk Youth with EWU and NEYC (2007).

  • Signed Role-Playing Game Program in American Sign Language for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (2007)

  • TBI Client and Recreation Therapy Treatment Using Role-Playing Games as Intervention Modalities (2013)

  • ASD and Toddlers Cooperative Quest: Save the Royal Family (2014).

  • PAVE ASD Bus Adventure, “Z-Day Tacoma” (2014)

  • Role-Playing Games to Enhance the Learning Process from the Cognitive-neuropsychology Perspective (2017).

This document mostly assumes the main bell curve of most populations and not the statistical outliers. There are a number of documents cited herein that do cover the important considerations for other populations.

This document is based on research and evidence-in-practice summaries from external sources, and the hundreds of studies (and thousands of sessions) and evidence-in-practice programs I have been involved with to various degrees across 6 continents and dozens of countries and cultures between 1977 to 2021. This overall aggregate of obsrvational data indicates significant universal benefits for participants across many areas and all cultures studies so far. For different cultures, the key to the enjoyment and efficacy of an RPG is not usually the game system rules, it is the cultural story context. As long as the cultural context of the setting and narrative is adapted correctly for the culture of the participants involved, the results, so far, appear to be fairly consistent across dozens of very different cultures. For more information on this topic, see Multi-and-cross-cultural considerations for role-playing games: Most RPG systems are cross-cultural, but the narrative must be adapted for other cultures (Hawkes-Robinson, 2020)

This document is generally not covering at-risk, higher-risk, incarcerated and other populations for the most part. There are significantly more serious caveats that must be taken into account when using role-playing games with these populations. These issues are covered in the document Basic considerations for programs using role-playing games with higher-risk populations. (Hawkes-Robinson, 2018)

One of the most important considerations regarding any game, including LRPGs, when working with special populations that need more time to make decisions, is whether the game is real-time or turn-based. Turn-based games are the recommended approach for those with more significant physical or cognitive delays, otherwise significant adaptation of the game may be required to involve these participants, and in some cases, such as some combat larps, they are generally excluded from participation due to the game’s reliance on the actual abilities of the player, not the PC’s abilities.

Example populations to consider for turn-based games: People with various brain injuries (BI) and spinal cord injuries (SCI), slower cognitive processing (genetic, developmental, degenerative, substances, etc.), neuro-muscular discorders (MD, CP, MS, etc.), brain-computer interface (BCI) devices (technology is improving but still have inherently high latency).


A useful concept to help assess the best RPG format for a program’s goals, is drawing from various interaction pattern theories. A useful source on this top is from the Therapeutic Recreation profession, is the Avedon 1974 book Therapeutic recreation service: An applied behavioral science approach. 

 It is recommended that those performing assessments of role-playing game formats become familiar with the Interaction Patterns chapter in the Avedon book, and then use the Hawkes-Robinson Applicable role-playing game formats and Avedon interaction patterns inherent in recreation activities one-page guide to help determine the best RPG format and interaction pattern match for the program designer’s goals, and cross-referenced with the Hawkes-Robinson RPG Model’s RPG Formats diagram.

While there are many variations and permutations, some of the most common interaction patterns worth noting are that tabletop role-playing games (TRPG) are typically intragroup. Electronic role-playing games (ERPG) are typically extra-individual for solo games, and a variety of interactions with multiplayer games, commonly intergroup and multilateral. Live-action role-playing games are more frequently intergroup for combat larps, and multilateral for non-combat “salon” style larps. Hybrids cover nearly every combination, but specifically the interactive fiction (IF), and solo adventure books and modules (SABM) are normally extra-individual.


This is the quintessential role-playing game modality used as the benchmark reference format against which all the other role-playing game formats and other activities are evaluated. This section illustrates some of the more commonly considered aspects. Note again most of the content of this document is focused on the general population and not special populations, as covered in the other referenced papers throughout this document. This is not a fully comprehensive list. There is a larger, more detailed spreadsheet attempting to cover all aspects, and ranking their impact significance from highest to lowest, as further research questions are answered. This spreadsheet is a constant work in progress as more research studies and evidence-in-practice data continues to come in. 


  1. Typically the most cooperative (intragroup interaction pattern) 

  2. Highly social.

  3. Collaborative problem solving.

  4. Easily adaptable to playing online with remote tools (though with universally reduced enjoyment scores).

  5. Game play and game rules encourage impulse control, turn-taking, and behavior regulation

  6. Commonly included meta discussions about PCs and NPCs increase theory of mind understanding.

  7. Many adaptive and accessible options, especially with games like BFRPG providing the “source” documents to maximize accessibility for the books as needed.

  8. Quite accessible for Deaf and hard-of-hearing groups where all participants can sign. Other than seating placement and visibility considerations, very little adaptation is necessary as long as all participants are proficient in a common sign language.

  9. Many of the game systems that include behavior guidance rules significantly reduce maladaptive thoughts and behaviors.

  10. Game play and system rules in many games generally increase empathy (note reduction of this benefit in many newer games that are now missing behavior guidance rules).

  11. Cooperative game-play (rather than competitiveness of CRPG and LARP).

  12. Most accessible to widest range of populations. - allows going beyond their own natural abilities through their PC (ERPG and LRPGs often depend on the players actual abilities to some degree, coordination, reflexes, mobility, etc.).

  13. Inexpensive initial investment (compared espcially to ERPG) – (with games like BFRPG can very inexpensive for complete printed set, or legally completely free for pure PDF version).

  14. Very little to no recurring financial cost necessary for ongoing years of game play (no need to upgrade hardware, software, access subscriptions, breaking combat gear, etc.).

  15. Highly reusable.

  16. Encourages creativity.

  17. Nearly unlimited flexibility of options in game play (not limited by physical or software programming).

  18. Easy to find players/groups in small cities or larger.

  19. Easy to find locations to play – just need somewhere to sit and gather (table is common but optional).

  20. Very little equipment needed, typically just paper, pencil, dice, rules, & place to gather.

  21. Often encourages many other ancillary other interests (literature, history, philosophy, math, cartography, drawing, painting (miniatures), geography, sculpting, metallurgy, physics, geology, meteorology, astronomy, theology, terrain building, etc.).

  22. Very portable.

  23. Very flexible genre and setting options.

  24. Moderate quantitative measurable statistical information available from the game system itself.

  25. Extensive qualitative data available through the narrative process of the game itself.

  26. Levels of engagements observable.

  27. Levels of immersion observable.

  28. Many game system provide structure that help provide clearer definitions of roles in a team, beyond their primary PC archetype and skills, the group identity.

  29. Competence building through “safe place to learn how to fail successfully”.

  30. Self-esteem building.

  31. Builds resilience.

  32. Quality of life (QoL) improvement (see Kohei Kato (2016a, 2016b) for example explanations of QoL in this context).

  33. Practical skills regular practice and development, including but by no means limited to:

    ◦ math

    ◦ map reading

    ◦ imaginary spatial mapping and relationship visualization (aides may be necessary to help those with aphantasia to also benefit)

    ◦ reading 

    ◦ reading comprehension

    ◦ vocabulary

    ◦ spelling

    ◦ speaking

    ◦ writing

    ◦ logic


  1. Sedentary, not physically active (I am not aware of any currently published research on obesity rates on tabletop gamers, or live-action gamers, while there are many about computer-based gamers, this is a study I would like to perform).

  2. Cognitively exhausting. While one of the least physical active formats, it is one of the most cognitively strenuous formats. Many long-time players of video games (including ERPGs), LRPGs, and HRPGs, that that are new to TRPG often show very early-on signs of cognitive exhaustion much more quickly than other formats, over time they build up cognitive stamina, but especially in the case of gaming marathons, there are clearly significant differences between the formats.

  3. Difficult to find players/groups/GMs in smaller cities & towns (unless go online which has reduced experience)

  4. Unlike larps and ERPGs, 99.9% of the mainstream published tabletop role-playing games are poorly designed. The standard method of rules and materials provided cause unnecessarily high barriers to entry, putting an excessive burden on the game master and players, rather than the game designer and writer. Even with the so-called “introductory” or “starter” sets, Almost all main-stream published role-playing games are overly dependent on massed learning (Hawkes-Robinson 2017) and the mentor model (2007, 2019a, 2019b). To-date systems can be complex and difficult to learn with a high barrier to entry for players and especially GMs, depending on the game system and the GM teaching style. And the game systems that have been “dumbed down” to be simpler to understand lose many of the aforementioned “pros”, and create complex social dynamic and group-transition issues, that are addressed in the “more complex” games.

  5. Ongoing societal stigma, and outright hostility in many locations, with ongoing reports of bullying and even sometimes outright vandalism and violence against gamers perpetrated by non-gamers, worldwide, because of their gaming involvement.

  6. Participants need minimum sufficient sufficient social & communication abilities. Requires some minimum ability in social skills, communication skills, and cooperative problem-solving skills at a sufficient level, otherwise highly participant can be highly disruptive to the gaming group, and may require one-on-one training before can join in group play. Without strongly skilled GM or Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (TRS) or other professional supervision, if participants lacking in social skills due to age or developmental differences, the situation can break down and lead to group dissolution

  7. Requires lengthy time investment per session (3-4+ hours) and for ongoing campaigns 

  8. Coordinating time for the group scheduling is very challenging

  9. Need special accommodations for blind and visually impaired participants, such as Braille rulebook or dice, from the Dots RPG Project (full disclosure I am a board member), screen readers, and other accommodations.

  10. Need sufficient minimum matching communication level (reading/writing & speaking) abilities that match closely enough the other players & GM (Spanish, ASL, etc.)

  11. Necessary to travel to gathering location (unless using adaptations like tech, remote, etc.)


An up front disclaimer on this section. I have been involved with software development and information technologies since 1979, and been the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for many companies, so I am always looking for ways that technology can improve the human experience.

I also worked in nursing and healthcare over the decades, and have been trying to find solutions to the quality of life issues for people with Locked-In Syndrome (LIS) and Completely Locked-In State (CLIS) since 1990. 

The data from my own experiments over the decades shows great potential from electroencephalogram-based (EEG) brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies for accessibility and integration with xR (augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), etc.). However, in other areas, despite my best creative efforts, and the many partnerships in trying to understand this nuanced issue, the data continues to indicate very strongly that game masters (GM) and program planners trying to optimize the RPG experience (should be cautious and frugal in the use of technologies with in-person TRPG, especially those with screens. These issues mentioned here are less conclusive with other interfaces like BCI and xR. (Hawkes-Robinson 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020f).

Virtual Tabletop Tools (VTTs) can provide some “wow” factor for TRPG sessions, and if all of the technology works smoothly for all participants, in the short-term can provide an exceptional experience, though with a bias nudging play styles to have an increased tendency toward more roll-playing than role-playing.

Research and evidence-in-practice data indicate that adding screens used for referencing rule books, supplements, character sheets, VTTs or other digital visual effects to an in-person recurring TRPG adventure series fairly consistently decreases the player participation enjoyment and immersion scores by anywhere from 0.25 to 3 points on a 10 point scale (10 is best). The scores were less dramatic for one-shots when the technology all worked smoothly, but was significantly higher if there were any technical issues for any participants. Technical issues causing these interference patterns have been noted in 80-90% of more than 1,000 game sessions observed, and commented on by 40-60% of participants as part of the reason for their lower scores, (Hawkes-Robinson 2012, 2014, 2020b). However, for those with various degrees of Aphantasia, scores were generally higher, though not any higher than using analog visual aides such as whiteboards, battlemats, miniatures, maps, etc.

It should be stressed that study after study, and program after program we have run shows that any screens at the table, including smartphones, tablets, projectors, tabletop flatscreens, etc. overall reduce the TRPG experience. Even one player using a screen as a rules reference not only lowers that player’s score, it impacts the score of all other players at the table. This has been discovered repeatedly, despite decades of efforts and the openly admitted bias of my pro-technology stance, in trying to use technologies to improve the RPG experience whenever possible. 

Not counting screens, research and evidence-in-practice data indicate that using aides or technologies that create non-visual appropriately timed sensory or multi-sensory stimuli during the game, dramatically increases the enjoyment and immersion scores of participants by 0.5 to 5.0 points on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is best).

“Sound effects, music, props, effects lighting (careful with strobes!), smell, fog machines, candles, tasting, and many other sensory enhancements using technology seem to help INCREASE immersion and enjoyment. Physical props, lighting, environment, miniatures, whiteboards, maps, all help.  However, there is a nuance to this. It is easy to overdo such things and interfere with the actual immersion in the game itself. Be especially mindful with auditory and visual.

Running constant background sounds or music is highly distracting to about 80% of participants (the other 20% were either neutral or helped).

Be careful that visual impairments aren’t being worsened by any of the lighting or other visual effects.”

– Hawkes-Robinson. Impact of technologies on in-person tabletop role- playing game participant enjoyment and immersion scores (2012, 2014, 2020b).

Regarding tabletop RPG sessions using online tools such as Jitsi, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and others, with and without additional aides such as VTTs and the like, the general consensus from most participants is “it is better than nothing”. Most report a richer, more rewarding experience (even if some reported more immersion being online, their overall satisfaction and enjoyment scores were interestingly still inline with those reporting lower immersion). Most evidence-in-practice data indicates that if going to run a recreational TRPG session with remote online players, the best option, for the fewest technical glitches interfering with enjoyment, is to be as analog aspossible under the circumstances. Point cameras at physical whiteboards, maps, etc. and minimize the number of technology breaking points. These sessions have been shown to have better consistency in higher scores than those using more technology tools.


As per the Hawkes-Robinson RPG Model: The Four RPG Formats (1983, 2004, etc.), LRPGs are an off-shoot of TRPGs, and as illustrated in the diagram, the further away from the tabletop-centric focus, and the more “pure larp” end of the spectrum, the more significant the differences between the modalities.

LRPGs and larps span many spectra in variation. The discussion here is focused on two major branches: combat (soft through hard), and non-combat (“Salon” and similar).


  1. Physically active (degree varies, beneficial overall, far more active than TRPG, most eRPG, and many HRPGs).

  2. Potentially enhanced immersion (addition of movement, costumes, props, physical settings, multi-sensory factors (touch, sound, smell, taste, etc.) can be more strongly immersive than all the other formats).

  3. Larger groups (Allows larger cooperative (and/or competitive) groups to participate simultaneously (mostly advantage of TRPG and some HRPG, ERPG can take this to an even larger scale).

  4. Real-world physical skill building

The above list is not complete, but highlights some of the most distinctive differences form the other formats. The following list, depending on the LRPG, tends to overlap with the other formats, but some specific games may promote a stronger distinction in some areas compared to the other formats:

  1. Synchronous/simultaneous play (potentially less waiting for turns or in queue for chance to play, compared to TRPG, some ERPG turn-based games, and some HRPGs).

  2. Encourages physical real-world problem-solving skills (all RPGs encourage problem solving, but LRPGs have potential to have them figure them out in the real-world physical setting, such as a hedge maze, puzzle box, hybrid larp escape room, etc.).

  3. Generally lower cognitive barrier to entry than TRPGs.

  4. Accessible to wide range of populations (though with some caveats depending on LRPG/Larp).

  5. Often encourages team-work (intergroup interaction pattern) (often better than many ERPGs (though not all) though often not as fully cooperative play like TRPG)

  6. Encourages creativity (as is the case with all formats except most eRPG format, especially things like costume making, props, etc.)

  7. Potentially strong social connections (as is the case with many other RPG formats, stronger for LRPG and TRPG than for ERPG, and some HRPGs.


  1. Physical risk (physical safety issues the highest risk for LRPGs, especially combat larps, but even with other larps more likely to experience physical exhaustion more quickly than TRPGs)

  2. Accessibility issues (most complicated accessibility issues for LRPGs, especially combat larps, difficulty finding places safe to engage in activity, issues for disabilities, the combat-centered LARPs more athletics-focused, excluding many other player-types and athletics requirements. More likely to exclude populations compared to TRPG and some ERPGs. Accessibility problems (often not beyond the participants own abilities of the players in some larp, while the other formats more often allow going beyond their own actual abilities, this varies significantly depending on the LRPG of course).).

  3. Highest misunderstanding risk. In this case it is the much higher risk for misunderstanding (aka bleed), requires more extensive bleed management rules, training, & time., example with “faked versus real heart attack”.) I cover bleed in other papers. An excellent primer on bleed in gaming is freely available online through Nordliclarp.org, an article and video from Professor Sarah Lynne Bowman (2015). 

  4. Greatest stigma (ongoing social stigma, and downright hostility in many locations (more than all the other forms of RPG). The high visibility of combat & in-costumed larp makes it much worse than other formats typically.)

  5. More often competitive (Often more competitive rather than cooperative (especially more typically competitive in US, more cooperative in other cultures)).

  6. Can be somewhat expensive for equipment, costumes, armor, weapons, props, facilities, etc. Though often still less expensive long-term than Computer-based RPG (especially the CRPGs requiring subscriptions, DLCs, and hardware upgrades).

  7. Most difficult of the formats to find groups in area.

  8. Most larps do not adapt easily to online options (though it is do-able, participants report significantly less rewarding experience online (unless implementing xR), compared to the in-person experiences. Remote game play very difficult (non-combat), to almost impossible (combat), without major technology additions and changes in game place (AR, VR, laser/motion/camera trackers, surrogate combat dummies, etc.)

  9. Location accommodations can be challenging and/or limited by weather if outdoors.

  10. More complex potential legal issues (related to physical safety, as well as misunderstandings, emotional liability, etc.)


As per the version of the RPG model discussed in this document, ERPGs include any role-playing game variant that requires electricity in order to be played. There are many subsets under this definition, two very notably different variations are the audio-based role-playing game (ARPG, which may also use analog audio rather than digital) and computer-based role-playing game (CRPG).

This document does not break down the pros and cons of all the ERPG variants. These are covered in other Hawkes-Robinson documents as part of the greater RPG Model, such as the sections on The Pros and Cons of ARPGs, The Pros and Cons of SCRPGs, etc.

As with the other lists in this document, this list is not fully comprehensive, but does cover the more notable aspects.


  1. Readily available in many styles, formats, genres, titles, languages, devices.

  2. Very popular and now more culturally accepted than TRPG or LRPG. (less stigma)

  3. May allow for solo play, some possible to play without other players or DM. 

  4. Allow for playing with others over great distance. Online versions can join with existing friends/family, or make new friends online, easy to find others to game with online.

  5. Can help bed-ridden or socially phobic participants connect with world when they would otherwise normally be socially isolated, thanks to the safety of the screen/keyboard/console/Internet.

  6. Can stop and start (flexible time commitment).

  7. Easy to find others to game with online.

  8. Most modern eRPGs offer more flexible options than SABM, but more structured limitation of options may be helpful for some players than open-ended TRPG. (though usually not as many options as TRPG or LRPG)

  9. Research shows about 1-2 hours per day very beneficial to key brain development. (This may be so for TRPG, but not enough research to know.)

  10. Many adaptive interfaces available for those with severe disabilities.

  11. For those with Aphantasia it can be helpful as adaptation to help with visualization.

  12. Many adaptive interfaces available for those with severe disabilities., including in the near future Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) available, (we are working on this with others to make BCI RPGs www.bcirpg.com).

  13. Increasing number of xR options leading to new and hybrid forms of game play and accessibility options (also see bcirpg.com for opensource project including xR with BCI)

Note: One of the most important considerations regarding any game, especially ERPGs, when working with special populations that need more time to make decisions, is whether the game is real-time or turn-based. Turn-based games are the recommended approach for those with more significant physical or cognitive delays, otherwise significant adaptation of the game may be required to involve these participants, and in some cases, such as many real-time action ERPGs, they are generally excluded from participation due to the game’s reliance on the actual abilities of the player, not the PC’s abilities.


  1. Struggling with technical issues or technical abilities as barrier to entry & ongoing enjoyment.

  2. Not physically active, research does show higher levels of obesity due to stress hormone release extremes for sustained levels, sedentary, & eating habits. (exception with some more physically active Wii, AR, VR, and platforms with games with more physical options).

  3. Offline versions are not social (though some few games are designed to still help with social benefits, such as empathy, those are uncommon).

  4. Online versions often can have “rough” online communities and poor social experiences.

  5. Much more limiting/controlling structure than TRPG or LRPG (less freedom of choice).

  6. Typically doesn't encourage strong communication skills.

  7. For those at-risk for “addictive personalities”, can be problematic due to game developer companies (mis)using psychological manipulation to build in too much “grinding” and “hooking” to make money rather than just enjoyment of the game, this can lead to what others may misconstrue as “addiction”, from these reinforcement techniques developing dependencies on dopamine rewards leading to “addiction-like” behavior patterns (by design a “built-in Skinner Box”).

  8. Often encourages too much screen time, excessive screen-time (more than 2 hours) diminishing returns and potential harm. Some games reinforce/reward for excessive daily hours played and penalize trying to have more balanced life schedule (“casuals”).

  9. Can be expensive starting & maintaining, with up-front costs per game, monthly subscriptions, gaming hardware initial purchases (have the “right” platform for each game), hardware upgrades can be hundreds of dollars, micro transactions, DLCs, etc.

  10. Online “anonymity” can lead to incendiary behavior and mistreatment of others, and research shows reduced empathy.

  11. Need electricity (problematic in remote situations).

  12. Need Internet for the online ones (especially expensive broadband).

  13. Potential eye strain.

  14. Reduction in creative and other life-balance activities to achieve in-game goals (while TRPG & LRPG usually increase and enhance additional interests and activities).

Examples of highly empathy building solo ERPGs or ERPG hybrids: 

  • That Dragon Cancer. 

  • Life is Strange.

  • Dragon Age (socio-political)

Some notable growing number of exercise-targeted ERPGs (2020h).:

  • Physically active and exercise-targeted: Audio RPG (ARPG) 

  • Physically active and exercise-targeted: Augment Reality (AR-RPG).

  • Physically active and exercise-targeted: Virtual Reality (VR-RPG).

  • Physically active and excercise-targeted BCI RPGs and hybrids.

Details about the pros and cons, availability, and analysis of audio role-playing games in depth is covered in the documents Research and reviews of Audio-based RPGs. (Hawkes-Robinson 2016, 2020g), and Research and analysis of exercise-targeted ERPGs (Hawkes-Robinson 2019, 2020h).


Hybrid role-playing games (HRPGs), according to the Hawkes-Robinson RPG Model, are the “bit bucket” catch-all for the many other variations of role-playing games available. These are far to numerous to cover all variations in this document. Many of the most common examples are covered in the document Pros and cons of the various hybrid RPGs (Hawkes-Robinson 2020i).

One very notable subset of the HRPG format that is included here, and used as comparison with the other three major formats (TRPG, LRPG, & ERPG), are the HRPGS closest to the interactive fiction (IF) quadrant of the RPG formats diagram: solo adventure books and modules (SABM).

The most famous of the IF books are the Choose Your Own Adventure (TM) (CYOA) books by ChooseCo. These are not within the role-playing game model, rather they are one of the boundary indicators outside of the “what is a role-playing game” definition.

Solo adventure books (SABs) and solo adventure modules (SAMs), collectively referred to as SABM on the other hand are withing the role-playing game model. The only significant difference between an SAB and SAM is a legal issues regarding binding, as discussed in Hawkes-Robinson 2020i.

Some in-print example products are briefly summarized here, but covered in much greater detail in the aforementioned 2020i document.

In print SABs include Fighting Fantasy book series by Steve Jackson Games (more linear story-driven adventures), and Fabled Lands book series by Fables Lands Publishing (distinctive open-world sandbox adventures).

Some out of print but important to not SABs include Lone Wolf and Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) Tolkien Quest and Middle-earth Quest.

While there are a fair number of SABs, there is a relative paucity of SAMs. Some of the most notable recent in-print are the 2018 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu (CoC) Alone Against the Flames (solo adventure module) and Alone Against the Dark (solo campaign module), the 2020 Pathfinder 2 Beginner Box solo adventure, and slated for creative commons open source release in 2021 two SAMs from RPG Research adapting concepts from BECMI to BFRPG (titles pending, as an example to guide game developers to improve the accessibility of their products, especially the barrier to entry issues).


  1. Solo play (extraindividual interaction pattern), not dependent on finding others in order to participate, do not need a GM, mentor, or any other players to begin playing almost immediately.

  2. Low barrier to entry, generally one of the lowest barriers to entry of all the formats for full participation as quickly as possible.

  3. Most flexible time commitment, can stop and start immediately as desired, and do not have to juggle other people’s schedules, wait for a “save game spot”, logout, shutdown, etc.

  4. Accessible to many populations, though sometimes some adaptations (like screen readers or ebook editions) may be necessary.

  5. Well structured, clearly defined parameters, these can be very helpful for a number of neurodistinctive and at-risk populations.

  6. Fairly reusable, though not as much as TRPG and many LRPGs.

  7. Very inexpensive, potentially the least expensive of all the formats.

  8. Easy facilitator learning curve for adaptation helping others or running adapted groups.

  9. Highly portable.

  10. Improves reading literacy. Does not help as much as TRPGs, but can improve alone without an RPG group, help improve literacy (reading skills, comprehension, and vocabulary)

  11. Potential mild empathy improvement possibilities (though also see cons), for some specific adventures.

  12. Improve creativity, much like TRPG but in more individual way, and not to as strong a degree as the TRPG and LRPG formats, but more than most of the ERPG.


  1. Very sedentary, most sedentary of all the formats.

  2. Not social (unless modified/adapted to be read aloud by others). 

  3. Lacking cooperation with others.

  4. Does not typically help verbal communication skills (though vocabulary may grow).

  5. Rigidly structured, doesn't allow flexibility outside of the if/then design.

  6. Far less creative than TRPG, moderately less than LRPG, but slightly more than most ERPGs.

  7. Sight required, being able to see is a requirement otherwise needs adaptation.

  8. Requires matching language literacy ability which may be difficult to find in a translated version, or the reader may lack sufficient reading development (for example 2 years old) without adaptation (read aloud by someone else). 

  9. Requires sufficient reading comprehension (slightly different aspect from the language ability), or else someone/something to read aloud for them, explain concepts, and change pages, etc. 

  10. Book availability. These books often go in and out of print.


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Blashcko, T. M., Burlingame, J. (2009). Assessment tools for recreational therapy and related fields.  Idyll Arbor. 

Bowman, S. L. (2015). Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.            https://nordiclarp.org/2015/03/02/bleed-the-spillover-between-player-and-character/

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2004). An overview of the history and therapeutic value of role-playing  gaming. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2007a). Extreme medieval sports community program for at-risk youth  with EWU and NEYC. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2007b). Signed role-playing game program in American Sign Language for  Deaf and Hard of Hearing. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2007c) . The potential benefits and deficits of role-playing gaming. RPG  Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2007d). The battle over role-playing gaming. Other Minds Magazine.

June 29th, 2007.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2008). The defamation of role-playing gaming and gamers. RPG Publishers  dba. 

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2013a). TBI Client and Recreation Therapy Treatment Using Role-Playing  Games as Intervention Modalities. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2013b). Why The Popular Negative Stereotypes About Role-playing Gamers  is Important to Address And What You Can Do to Promote Change. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2013c). Role-Playing Gamer Floater Theory. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014a). Self-Deception & Propaganda Against Role-Playing Gamers by  B.A.D.D. and Others. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014b). The defamation of role-playing gamers, conflict and barriers to  interpersonal effectiveness, addressing inculcated stereotyping and prejudice. RPG Publishers  dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014c). Applicable role-playing game formats and Avedon interaction  patterns inherent in recreation activities. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014d). ASD and Toddlers Cooperative Quest: Save the Royal Family. RPG  Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014e). PAVE ASD Bus Adventure, “Z-Day Tacoma”. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014f). Anecdotal Experiences of Stigma as a Role-Playing Gamer. RPG  Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014g). Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Change, Therapeutic Recreation  and Role-Playing Games. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2017). Role-Playing Games to Enhance the Learning Process from the  Cognitive-neuropsychology Perspective. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2018). Basic considerations for programs using role-playing games with  higher-risk populations. RPG Publishers dba.

Original draft published 20181223.

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Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2014, 2020c). Therapeutic Recreation Activity Assessment Form Adapted for  Role-Playing Games, Revised. RPG Publishers dba.

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Hawkes-Robinson, W.A. (2020e). Multi-and-cross-cultural considerations for role-playing games:  Most RPG systems are cross-cultural, but the narrative must be adapted for each culture. RPG  Publishers dba.

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Hawkes-Robinson, W. A. (2016, 2020g). Research and reviews of Audio-based RPGs. RPG Publishers dba.

Hawkes-Robinson, W. A. (2019, 2020h). Research and analysis of exercise-targeted ERPGs. RPG  Publishers dba.

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TODO: Placeholder for tracking the previously read obesity studies on ERPGers from Central Washington University and others.

Hawke Robinson

A Washington State Department of Health Registered Recreational Therapist with a background in Therapeutic Recreation, computer science, neuroscience, cognitive neuropsychology, research psychology, nursing, play therapy, education, and role-playing gaming.
Hawke Robinson has been involved with role-playing games in community settings since 1977. Studying methods for optimizing the experience of role-playing games since 1979. A paid professional game master since 1982. Studying the effects of role-playing games upon participants since 1983. Providing role-playing games in educational settings and for educational goals since 1985. Working with incarcerated populations since 1989. Researching and using role-playing games to achieve therapeutic goals for a wide range of populations from 2 years old through senior adults since 2004.
Founder and CEO of the non-profit 501(c)3 charitable research and human services organization, RPG Research.
Founder and President of the for-profit <https://rpgtherapy.com">RPG Therapeutics LLC and RPG.LLC.
Author of the RPG Professional Workbook available on Amazon.
Creator of the wheelchair accessible RPG Mobile fleet.
Founder of the RPG Museum.

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