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Playing a tabletop RPG usually assumes using specific game system — character sheet and statistics, conflict resolution mechanics, particular dice rolls and other conventional rules like "in order to determine the outcome of action A — expend your resource X, roll Y and add Z".

However, there are tabletop RPGs without any mechanics. "Without mechanics" doesn't mean "without rules" though — there are rules, that's why it is called a "role-playing game", not "collaborative fiction". The most basic rules are:

  • There are two distinctive roles: "players" and "game master"
    • Each game has only one game master and at least one or more players
    • These roles do not change during the whole game
    • Each player is responsible for one particular character (so-called "Player's Characterer"). Instead of using a specific character sheet, this character is supposed to be described in any format
    • The game master is responsible for the rest of the world, including people, other living beings, laws of physics, forces of nature, etc.
  • The play of the game goes according to these pattern:
    • The game master describes a situation
    • The players describe their characters' actions — what are they trying to do
    • The game master narrates the results, creating a new situation
  • Being a player, you can't "win" or "lose" the game. The point of playing the game is so that everyone has fun.
  • The game master is the ultimate referee and always has the last word. He/she does not play "against" players, but helps them to move the story forward.

What words should I use to call this kind of game? "Freeform role-playing game" term comes to mind, but as far as I know, it is more about LARP games, not tabletop ones.

Usage example:

We played a game last night. It was D&D 5e technically, but there were no combat encounters yet, and even no skill checks, so we were basically playing ...

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Free-form roleplaying is the term most often used to describe this type of roleplaying game that lacks mechanics. It applies to tabletop games as well as live-action roleplaying. The term "free-form" is defined by the lack of game mechanics which encumber other games' conflict resolution systems.

I suspect LARP games are more likely to use free-form rules systems because they fit the genre better: in an outdoor LARP, players are often spread out too far for a single GM to adjudicate all the rules, and there is rarely a flat surface to roll dice.

Online roleplaying within fan communities (anime, Harry Potter, etc) widely uses a freeform system, since the goal is for players to explore story and characters rather than to "win". Such communities normally refer to this as simply roleplaying or RP.

Storytelling game is used to refer to a game which focuses on the collaborative story told by the players. That term is sometimes used to describe games which have some rules or mechanics, but the storytelling or in-character experience is the primary goal.

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The tabletop RPG you're describing is a Homebrew Free-form RPG. Free-form because you aren't using dice or mechanics to determine outcomes, it's entirely DM discretion. Homebrew because it isn't necessarily a canonical RPG system (like D&D, Numenera RPG, FATE, or any other of the countless RPG systems out there).

If you wanted to get more granular or descriptive, you could add more adjectives to the term: diceless being the one I might add. Mostly as a note that it is, because something being free-form doesn't necessitate that it doesn't use dice: a free-form GM could always have a die handy to help make decisions or spice up the story, even if there aren't specific mechanics tied to it.

It's notable that extra modifiers or adjectives aren't strictly necessary to qualify the RPG you're playing. However, since it appears to be a system that isn't really codified, the more specific you can be in naming the type of system (e.g. more modifiers), the more likely people will understand exactly what you're playing (there's a different system that comes into my mind when you say Homebrew RPG vs Homebrew Free-form RPG vs Diceless Homebrew Free-form RPG vs Dice-assisted Homebrew Free-form RPG vs Rotating GM Diceless Homebrew Free-form RPG, etc.).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 28 '18 at 21:51
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Systemless

The emphasis is that there is formal (or even informal) system about how characters are recorded, skill levels, or dice rolls.

Characters (and NPCs) do have skills and knowledge but those are described using words with only English as a guideline. One could be a great swordsman or a swordsman of great repute. Both give an idea of a skill level without putting it in any system.

Actions success or not are determined by the referee with input from the player(s). Some randomness can be added with a dice roll those result is interpreted as the GM chooses it at the time.

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Magical Tea Party (or just Tea Party) is a somewhat derogatory term for this kind of tabletop free-form roleplaying. See this thread discusses the term in some detail (although Caution: Fierce Language and 11 pages!)

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Narrative Game

In France (at least), we call a game centered around the story and not the mechanic “narrative”. Sphynx or Happy Together use this appellation and so do their communities.

They are both diceless but not rule-less (we could say rule-light). Both involve a DM and players but the DM role is small. There is not really a win condition. You win if you have a good time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "In France (at least), we called narrative a game center around the story and not the mechanic" — "narrative" is your translation from French, isn't it? What is the original term? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 26 '18 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Indeed but as far as I know, the word is the same in english. I think the forge use this term also. \$\endgroup\$ – aloisdg Jun 26 '18 at 17:35
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I don't know if it fully fits, but the term that springs to my mind is diceless RPG. See generally: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diceless_role-playing_game

However, a diceless rpg is less "no mechanics" and more "no random chance," so I'm not sure that's what you're going for.

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