I always assumed that a roguelike was a nethack-esque game with ascii graphics, but apparently there is more to it than that. Note that I never actually played nethack and all I know about it is that is an rpg.

So what makes a game a roguelike?

  • So many great anwsers, but nobody linked to the roguelike developers wiki, where this question has been answered. Look for what is roguelike, here, also read the berlin interpretation. – Ids Jul 6 '12 at 18:51

The two core components that define a roguelike tend to be random generation and a special style of turn-based action. There's a lot of other attributes common between a lot of roguelikes, such as one-way dungeons where there are no stairs to go back up, but these aren't required to be a proper roguelike. Even one of the most common aspects, "final death" where death deletes your save, is not present in all roguelikes.

Random Generation in roguelikes is a completely different scale than most other games. Entire dungeons are randomly generated. Some roguelikes feature specific dungeons that might have the same layout, but the majority of the game's dungeons will be randomly created. Some times these have persistence, where revisiting the same floor will have the same layout. Other times, there is no persistence and even returning backwards yields completely new floors.

A common extension is that items are randomly generated, and randomly attributed. Instead of seeing a staff and knowing that it's a staff of lightning bolt, you might see it as an oak staff before identification. But when you start a new save, an oak staff might be for healing hands while the staff of lightning bolt is now a cherry staff.

The end result is that past experience in the game will help you in forming strategies in roguelikes, but it will be difficult to play through with the same strategies since you can't rely on everything being the same.

Turn-based Action is the other main component. When you take a turn, all other entities will also take their turn. Until you take your turn, nothing will change. It gives a lot of time for people to plan their strategies. The methods in which turns advance will very greatly between many roguelikes: ADOM has a complex speed/energy system for getting your next turn while POWDER has a simple 5-tier turn system for different variations of speed. But you'll always be able to breathe when it is your turn.

  • Grace, please review my addition. Can't believe perma death wasn't mentioned! – badp Sep 12 '10 at 21:32
  • @badp Did you skip the first paragraph? 'Even one of the most common aspects, "final death" where death deletes your save, is not present in all roguelikes.' There are so many roguelikes where your save isn't deleted - some resolve to just destroy your inventory and/or your levels. And some actually leave you with everything identified and you can run back to where you died. – Grace Note Sep 13 '10 at 11:08
  • Reverted. – badp Sep 13 '10 at 11:12
  • @badp Would you consider doing the roguelikes tag wiki perhaps? I wanted to keep my answer here to what attributes truly make a roguelike, but the wiki is an excellent place to also feature the more common aspects such as permadeath, unforgiving difficulty, and extreme item resourcefulness. – Grace Note Sep 13 '10 at 13:30
  • on it. – badp Sep 13 '10 at 14:45

According to its Wikipedia article, a roguelike is characterised by replayability by randomization, permanent death and turn-based movement.

The fact most roguelikes have ASCII graphics is because the game Rogue was, and if it's not age, it's still a novelty thing mostly.


Generally, it's an overhead, turn-based, dungeon crawler, with randomly generated rooms.

For more information, see


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.