Three for Thursday: Classifying Roleplaying Games

2 minute read

Classifying roleplaying games in an objective way that makes it easy for people to find a game that suits their needs isn’t easy. Much of the existing terminology carries the accumulated baggage of years of arguments in blogs and online forums. Theories of game design can be helpful in understanding a given game, but they weren’t created for sorting and classifying games. We need something better.

I’ve been noodling on this for some time, and I’ve come up with a variety of classification systems. Most of them sucked. This one may still suck, but it’s been simmering for a while and it may have promise. It’s certainly not perfect, and I’ll likely tweak it a bit. My examples are likely off. But it’s time to the basic concept some exposure. Here are what I’m calling, for lack of a better term, The Three Factors:

Why use beetles to represent game factors? Why not?


Scope refers to the narrative space of the game. The larger the scope rating, the broader the scope. A game with a high scope is designed for a wide range of settings, genres, and situations. Medium scope games, while hackable, are generally bound to a genre. Games with a low scope value hone in on very specific characters and situations.


Whether you’re looking at mechanics or setting, some games are dense with information, while others aren’t. A game with low granularity often requires less time investment to absorb, while one with high granularity provides a wealth of detail. Medium games, as their name suggests, occupy a middle ground between the two poles.


Control here explicitly refers to how much players (rather than the GM) can consciously manipulate the narrative as a whole, rather than allowing the narrative to flow solely from the actions of characters in the game. In a game with a low control value, players influence events solely by what their characters do. In games with a high control value, players are provided tools to shape the narrative directly, rather than solely through the actions of their characters. In the middle, there are games in which the players are given limited ability to manipulate the narrative through unique characteristics or metagame currency.


This is the tough part: putting theory into practice. Here goes:

  • Apocalypse World : Scope 2, Granularity 3, Control 4
  • Degenesis : Scope 3, Granularity 5, Control 1
  • D&D : Scope 3, Granularity 4, Control 1
  • Fate Core : Scope 5, Granularity 3, Control 4
  • Star Wars : Scope 3, Granularity 4, Control 3

Keeping it Objective

My intent with this classification system is to avoid even a whiff of subjectivity, because ultimately I’d like to use The Three Factors or some variation of it throughout UJ. So I’m curious what you think of it and how you’d tweak it, especially if you’re passionate about a particular type of game. Would The Three Factors work in classifying your game(s) of choice without appearing too subjective?