OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


RPG Rating: Provide a standard rating for your game

RPG ratingA while ago I asked Sarah Carney the creator of the RPG Rating system for an interview. Because I’m an idiot I forgot to publish the article, & it wasn’t until Sarah emailed me a year later (almost on the exact same date – freaky!) that I realised I hadn’t published it. So here’s the interview!

To give you a bit of background info, RPG Rating is a universal rating system which comes as a little graphic you can add to your site to display the levels of bad language, sexual content or violence the game allows. Sarah’s created a snazzy website at where you answer a few simple questions and can get your own graphic.

So anyway, here’s my interview with Sarah:

Why rate your game?

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarThere are a zillion different things that factor into a writers’s choice to join an rpg – and for many role-players content enters in at the very top. Will I be allowed to swear? Is there a chance I’d find myself reading about torture? How far can my love scene go? Some writers demand free reign, and others are looking for clear limits on things like language, sex, and violence. Creating and displaying a clear content rating allows GMs to show clearly what’s allowed and what isn’t.

I think one of the best ways to establish and maintain a healthy, long-lived role-playing community is to take the time to make sure expectations are clear all around. The members need to know what to expect from each other, the game, and its staff, and all the other ways around. Clear expectations give members a feeling of security; they know what to expect and what will be expected of them. A good content rating can begin that positive relationship.


Why not use the MPAA ratings?

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarBecause the MPPA ratings totally suck! We’re talking about PG, PG-13, R, etc – the content ratings that appear on almost all films. There’s a million reasons why this method totally sucks for rating movies, and a million more why it sucks for rating rpgs. Rantings aside, the MPAA ratings are vague, arbitrary, and in their attempt to delinate what is appropriate for what age groups, they make value judgements about what is good and bad, and usually at the expense of minority groups, or groups outside of the mainstream. (For example, you’ll find examples of homophobia, racism and sexism when you examine the trends of what gets a higher rating and what’s allowed in PG and PG-13 movies.)

The system breaks down even further when we try and apply it to rpgs. There is no standard or guide to refer to, and so each individual has their own vague understanding of a rating that they have somehow absorbed from the inconsistent patterns of the MPAA’s decisions. And so PG-13, the most used rpg rating, becomes so generalized and its scope so broad that it is essentially meaningless.

Our medium of online role-playing is stable, prolific and widespread – it needs its own system.

RPGR rating

You might have seen RPGR used on another roleplay site?

Why use the RPG Rating?

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarA role-playing game is not a static work nor is it consumed passively. Ratings for movies, television, books, and video games don’t work as well for rpgs because they were not created for rpgs. Also, these types of media are bought and sold and so rating them becomes a politicized action because a rating can affect the sale of a product. But online rpgs aren’t like that. We should use a system that serves our needs.

Need 1: Independently address important content areas

Roleplayers generally have very specific interests in what content they want to see at an rpg, and it’s often a major factor in whether or not they join/stay at a given rpg. If the rpg does not allow the liberty in language, violence or sexual content the roleplayer prefers (regardless of the presented rating) they will probably not stay. The opposite is also true: many writers have strict ideas on what they definitely donot want to see and will categorically avoid rpgs that go beyond their comfort level in the areas of language, violence and especially sexual content. The RPG Rating System clearly displays three numbered ratings – one each for language, sex, and violence.

Need 2: Clear rating levels that do not judge

The ratings of 0 through 3 does not judge what content is inappropriate or bad, nor does it make any mention of age. Instead, the RPG Ratings describes how much or to what extent swearing, sexual scenarios, and violence is present. The levels are defined as clearly and consistently as possible.

Need 3: Easy to use, no funny business.

No linkbacks, memberships, approval, or citations required. The RPG Rating is free to use with no strings attached. You do not need to sign up for anything, notify anyone, fill out any forms, or provide credit. You may use our generated images, or create your own.


Who is using the rating?

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarSince it began in 2009, I have received notifications that more than 400 rpgs have used an RPG Rating, and there are likely many many more. From my records, these rpgs span all kinds of settings, and over a dozen different play-by-post softwares.

Examples of sites using RPG Rating:


How do I start using RPG Rating?

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarVisit and fill out the chart to generate a rating image. Apply the rules and ratings you might already have in place to describe what kind and how much of a certain type of content is allowed. Use the generated code and image to show visitors what you’re about, and perhaps rework your rules to remove vague references to an MPAA rating. But remember – it’s up to you.

Most common RPG ratings in games

Most common ratings of games using RPG Rating

Thanks Sarah for the interview!

  • Andy Locke

    I was never a fan of this idea – a shorthand rating system encourages new players not to bother doing any background reading; by the time you apply to join a game, you should *know* what the limits on language, sex and violence are in the game, regardless of some rating system, and if you don’t, you’re just insulting the other players and moderators by not having read any of the backstory

    I guess you could try to argue that the content rating system helps new readers understand what they’re letting themselves in for in advance, but quite honestly: if you’re upset by harsh language, smut or violence, all you have to do is get over yourself, or stop reading it