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Typical graphics and gameplay of roguelikes.

Roguelikes are a particular subgenre of Role Playing Games, so named for being like Rogue, a very early computer game. The most traditional roguelikes have the following characteristics:

  • Roguelikes are centered around Dungeon Crawling through randomly-generated environments randomly stocked from a huge list of monsters and items. Some (such as ADOM) also have a static overworld and/or special levels, but even those games rely on random content in other places. This means that memorization is not enough to win a roguelike, and walkthroughs as such cannot be made for them, but they have increased replayability.
  • Roguelikes take Final Death to the extreme. When your character dies, that's it - he's dead for good. Saving the game is often possible, but it is only used for having a pause from playing. Save Scumming is thus flatly disallowed.
  • Roguelikes have only a single controllable character, with a turn-based engine in which everything moves at the same time. Some allow you to have allies or pets, but they can't be directly controlled, only given general orders. The power of your character, companions, and items are crucial, so roguelikes tend to be extremely heavy on Level Grinding and Min-Maxing.
  • Confounding the player's need for Level Grinding, most Roguelikes have some kind of built-in time limit that requires the player to push on into harder content. The original Rogue, for example, required you to eat food every so often or starve to death, and it was nearly impossible to find more food on a dungeon level once you'd cleaned it out — but going down to the next dungeon level meant fighting tougher monsters.
  • Most roguelikes have randomized appearances for items. In one game, for example, potions of healing might be green potions, and in another purple. Items must be identified either by blindly using them and see what happens (beware of Poison Mushrooms) or by careful observation - or by using scrolls of identify. It's typical, after dying, to be revealed that you had an item which could've saved you, but was unidentified at the time.
  • Roguelikes, especially the well-known or popular ones, have often been under continual development for many years, making them extraordinarily large and complex. Many have to use both capital and lowercase letters to have enough inputs for their commands, and some go even further. Interactions are also often very intricate; The Dev Team Thinks of Everything is named for a catchphrase among the Nethack community.
  • As a result of the above points, roguelikes are mostly very hard. Death is expected to be fairly frequent, enough so that the community has developed the acronym "YASD," for Yet Another Stupid Death. It is easily possible to play many roguelikes for years without even coming close to victory.
  • Most roguelikes have little more than an Excuse Plot. Some have less. A rare few have more.
  • Traditionally, most roguelikes have ASCII or similar text-based graphics, although support for graphical tiles has become increasingly common.

Roguelikes can be roughly classified into a few different Subgenres that occasionally overlap:

  • Hacklikes, influenced mostly by Nethack. They mostly focus on Dungeon Crawling, and have mostly finite resources to force the player to manage them well.
  • Bands, influenced by Angband. Bands usually feature a non-permanent dungeon, infinite resources and very tough bosses, so the games are focused on taking levels in badass until the player is ready to punch dragons to death.
  • Open worlds that typically have content beyond simple Dungeon Crawling, such as multiple quests and a nontrivial plot.
  • Coffee break Roguelikes are Roguelikes that are simple and easy to pick up and play for a while.

Though they have a very steep learning curve, many roguelikes are incredible time sinks, which is only exacerbated by the fact that most of them are entirely free.

Although roguelikes are more readily associated with Western RPGs, oddly enough the gameplay style is much more popular in Japan, resulting in quite a few Eastern roguelikes as well.

See also Multi User Dungeon (MUD) for a related genre of RPG with its roots in Text Adventure games.

Notable games in this genre:

  • 3059 has no real goals, just a big sandbox roguelike. One of the few Real-time roguelikes. Needs More Love.