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This thread is a Community Wiki to define terminology specific to the world of RPGs which outsiders looking to come in may not be familiar with.

This question is for terms which are not unique to a given game system. Some terms have special system-specific meanings and/or system-specific synonyms, and those may be noted. But terms that exclusively apply to one system, and are not in use with others, should not be included.

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Discuss utility and future of this glossary: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/935/… –  mxyzplk Jan 18 '12 at 21:12
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closed as not a real question by wax eagle, C. Ross Mar 15 '12 at 12:40

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

10 Answers

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A

  • Adventure
    • Also known as: Story, Scenario, Story Arc, Module
    • A single story that unfolds within a RPG. Generally consisting of a series of encounters and potentially spanning multiple sessions.
    • Can also mean the written prep materials used by a GM to run an adventure.
    • A commercially published adventure is often referred to as a "module" or "scenario."
    • See also: Campaign
  • AEDU or A/E/D/U - An acronym for: At will, Encounter, Daily, or Utility; as used to distinguish Powers in .
  • AoE - An acronym meaning Area of Effect. Used to define a range in which an effect takes place

B

  • Battlemat
    • A gridded sheet, typically gridded in 1" (~25mm) squares, used for showing tactical situations on the table. Often used with appropriately-sized miniatures, though sometimes wooden, plastic, or cardboard tokens are used. 1" (~25mm), 30mm, and 35mm hexagonal grids are also fairly common. 16mm hex grids are the standard for counter-on-map wargames.
  • Battlemap
    • Pre-designed scenes of environments with a grid overlaid. A technical evolution of battlemaps. They are usually printed on cardboard and are modular.
  • Buff
    • A temporary enhancement on a character. Magic, psionic, or even mundanely sourced time-limited enhancements (e.g. drugs, rage) on a character are usually referred to as a "buff." Derives from the pleasing but time-limited effect of buffing something to a high gloss.
    • See also: Debuff

C

  • Campaign
    • Also known as: Adventure Series
    • The term used to describe the entire span of a game from start to finish or to describe the game itself. It may consist of multiple story arcs or adventures, depending on the scope of the campaign.
    • See also: Epic
  • Character
    • A representation of a participant in the fictional story which exists only within the game; a member of the game's dramatis personae. While the behavior and actions of characters are often chosen and controlled by one player or the GM, the actions of a character can also be determined by multiple players or by any other means.
    • See also: PC, NPC

D

  • Debuff
    • A temporary hindrance on a character.
    • See also: Buff
  • Dice Notation
    • The standard notation for conveying polyhedral die rolls is NdS+M where:
      • N = the number of dice to be rolled
      • S = the number of sides each die has
      • M = static modifiers applied to the total of the roll
      • E.g.: The notation 2d12-4 means "The result of rolling 2 12-sided dice and subtract 4 from the total'
  • Dice Pool
    • A group of dice all rolled at once. Results can be either totaled or counted as individual successes or failures. For example:
      • In an individual-success system, a d6 with a 4,5,6 can mean a 'success' while a 1,2,3 is a failure. Therefore a group of d6s would be expected to come up with about 1/2 the number of dice thrown as successes. See: for an example.
      • In a sum-for-success system, all the dice thrown would be totaled to try to reach a target number. Therefore a pool of 3 dice would have a much lower chance of reaching a total of 12 than a pool of 4 dice would. See: for an example.

E

  • Encounter
    • A single scene that occurs within the game - a fight with a monster, a discussion with a NPC, a chase down a cliffside. In a general sense, an encounter provides a challenge that the adventurers have to overcome.
  • Epic
    1. A very long-running campaign
    2. A very high level character in a Dungeons and Dragons world.
  • Experience Points
    • Also known as: XP, XPs, EPs, Advancement Points
    • A number representing the gain in knowledge and experience that a character has earned from his or her achievements in the game. In some games, once enough XP have been accumulated, the PCs gain access to additional powers and abilities.

F

  • Fate Points
    • Any expendable currency used by players to exert control over the game world directly rather than through randomizers. Fate points can be expended to gain additional actions, re-roll dice, add new elements to the game in progress, or to otherwise "break the rules." Fate points are earned through time spent in game, acquiescing to inconvenient circumstances imposed by the GM, or through playing out flaws or complications inherent to the character.
    • Also called: action points, drama points, fate chips, hero points, et cetera.

G

  • Game Master
    • Also known as: GM, Gamemaster, Game(s) Master, Referee, Dungeon Master, DM, Narrator, Storyteller
    • One of the participants in a RPG session that takes the responsibility for running the game. Their job includes: creating the Adventure, playing the non-player characters, and judging the success of actions of the PCs in the adventure. Many RPGs have genre specific terms for the GM - Dungeon Master from Dungeons & Dragons is the best known (in fact, it predates Gamemaster which was a deliberate genericization as other RPGs gained currency). Other popular generic terms are Referee, Storyteller, and Storyguide (note how the term a game uses for its GM can imply the game's approach to roleplaying). An action movie game might call the GM the "Director", a Wild West game might call the GM the "Marshal," etc.
  • Gygaxian

    • A style of prose characterized by the use of archaic terminology, sometimes whimsical or arbitrary. Also, a preference for such a style over substance or clarity.
  • GNS Theory

    • An early RPG theory from Ron Edwards that defined three dimensions to describe RPGs - the Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist dimensions.

H

  • Hack and Slash
    • Also known as: Hackenslash, Hack 'n' Slash
    • A style of playing roleplaying games in which the participants are focused on slaying opponents and taking possession of their assets, usually with little role playing or story. "We kill them and take their boots!"

I

  • In Character
    • Also known as: IC
    • When a player sitting at the game table speaks, thinks, or acts from their character's perspective, this is known as behaving "in character." It does not imply theatrical acting, just that the statements or actions are the character's in the fictional world, not the player's in the real world.
    • Contrast: Out Of Character
  • Indie
    • Independent - a game from a smaller or lesser-known publisher. Frequently creator-owned. Many indie games arose from the community at The Forge.
    • See also: Story Games

M

  • Metagame
    • The metagame is all the external factors influencing the game not contained within the game itself. Attitudes of the players and GM, what game products are at hand, and out of character discussion are all part of the metagame.
  • Metagaming
    • Also known as Metaknowledge
    • Metaknowledge is things which the player knows personally, but the character the player is playing does not or should not know. Using metaknowledge while playing is called metagaming and is looked down on in many gaming systems, especially traditional ones. (It's considered OK or even desirable in some games, especially storygames.) It can be very difficult, especially with long-time gamers, to play their character without metaknowlege leaking in and having their character act in a way not justified from a perspective set within the game's fictional world.
  • Min-Maxing
    • The choice or manipulation of character traits solely to maximize their tangible benefits and minimize their liabilities within the game. Expected in more tactical games, but usually a derogatory term indicating that someone is making power-based decisions with little regard to the integrity/believability of their character as a fictional person.
  • Monty Haul
    • A derogatory term for a campaign or GM that gives out excessive amounts of loot. Named after popular 1960's "Let's Make A Deal" game show host Monty Hall.
  • Munchkin
    • Also known as: Powergamer, Twink
    • A derogatory term for a play style that is solely concerned with gaining in-game power, often by a combination of min-maxing and hack and slash designed to solely gain achievements - XP, treasure, and the like, often at the expense of other characters and characterized by a complete lack of role-playing or interest in the game's fictional environment.
    • A card game by Steve Jackson Games that ironically appropriates this trope, billed as the "card game about dungeon adventure . . . with none of that stupid roleplaying stuff."

N

  • Non-Player Character
    • Also known as: NPC
    • A character, usually part of the game world itself, who is generally controlled by the GM. These characters may be brief concepts, or have full statistics and backstories like a PC, and may have pre-defined strategies and tactics for responding to the PCs' actions.
  • Nova
    • A character designed to do a high amount of damage in a single round. Most commonly encountered in D&D and other tactically-oriented games where the concept of a "character build" is prevalent.

O

  • Out Of Character
    • Also known as: OOC
    • When a player sitting at the game table says something not from their character's perspective, this is known as speaking "out of character." The term itself is not derogatory, though different games have different attitudes to OOC utterances during the game session.
    • Contrast: In Character

P

  • Player
    • A real-world person who is a participant in a roleplaying game. Technically, this refers to both the individuals who control the PCs as well as the GM if there is one. However, it is most commonly used to refer to the former. The set of players is usually referred to as the "gaming group."
  • Player Character
    • Also known as: PC, Player Character, Adventurer
    • A character that is controlled by the players - usually by an individual player - and not by the GM. These are the characters that represent the players' presence in the game world, and typically have in-depth back-stories and statistics recorded on a character sheet. Most commonly, each player has one PC which they use to interact with the game world. The set of characters is most commonly referred to as the party. Different games have genre specific terms for the PCs; Adventurer/Adventuring Party is the classic one dating from early Dungeons & Dragons. But an action film game might refer to the PCs as the Cast, a Wild West game might call them the Posse, and so on.

R

  • Railroad
    • A linear style of roleplaying game in which the players have few or no options and must proceed along a predetermined story. Common in tournament play, in which time limits preclude a more open-ended method. (Antonym: Sandbox)
  • Role Playing Game
    • Also known as: RPG, Tabletop RPG, Pencil-and-paper, Role-playing Game, Roleplaying Game
    • A genre of games that allows players to take on the roles of characters in a setting and have adventures there. RPGs borrow elements from miniature wargames, collaborative storytelling, and improv acting in different amounts. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was the first commercially available RPG and its combination of these elements is often used as a baseline for comparison. The idea spread to live action roleplaying games (LARPs) and computer roleplaying games (CRPGS); as computer gaming has become so popular one often has to refer to the original RPGs as "tabletop" or "pen-and-paper" RPGs for clarity. As with any genre of games, the boundaries of "what is an RPG" is hazy; there are RPGs that abandon some of the common elements of the field and verge on pure improv acting or storytelling, or incorporate electronic elements, card or miniature battle elements, and otherwise mash up traditional RPGs with other genres.
  • Roll-playing
    • A sometimes derogatory term emphasising a game or player's focus on the tactical and mechanical aspects of a game. A game with a focus on roll-playing has its emphasis on combat with tactically complex encounters that usually leave little scope for narrative expression inside the encounter.
    • See also: Role-playing
  • Role-playing
    1. The activity engaged in as part of a RPG, assuming the part of a fictional character or describing the environment for those characters to interact in.
    2. Contrasted with Roll-playing: emphasising a game or player's focus on simulation or narrative at the expense of tactical precision or complexity. Games which focus on role-playing focus encounters on interactions between Players and the environment that are shaped more by the players' creativity than by individual dice rolls.
  • Rule 0
    • Also known as: Rule Zero, GM Fiat
    • An approach to gaming where the GM is the final authority, above the rules and players, and there is an understanding that the game's rules may be changed from what is written in the rulebook to fit a campaign. Some games specify this as their approach - for example, the first edition AD&D Player's Handbook states "THE REFEREE IS THE FINAL ARBITER OF ALL AFFAIRS OF HIS OR HER CAMPAIGN." Some games specifically eschew this approach; many do not really address the question and different groups place final authority in different places based on their inclination. The concept has always existed but became known as "Rule Zero" because the third edition D&D PLayer's Handbook lists a "Rule Zero" of character creation indicating a player should check with their DM for house rules or campaign constraints before generating a character.
  • Rules as Intended
    • Also known as: RAI
    • Rules as Intended is a term used in arguments about the interpretation of rules. It is used to suggest that the developers intent does not match the rules as written and the rule in question should be interpreted or house-ruled in a different way. Generally used to link the interactions of mechanics with flavor text.
  • Rules as Written
    • Also known as: RAW
    • Rules as Written is a term used in arguments about the interpretation of rules. It notes that the rules are the exclusive authority in the game and should be considered in isolation, without the potentially hazy intents of the developers factored in.

S

  • Sandbox
    • A non-linear style of roleplaying game in which the players select from many options and create whatever story they choose. Common in household play, in which stories may take dozens or hundreds of hours to resolve. (Antonym: Railroad)
  • Session
    • One instance of the time where the players meet together and play the game.
    • See also: Adventure
  • Setting
    • The fictional game world where the characters exist. The game world is often expressed to the players by the GM, though some games allow player collaboration in creation/modification of the setting to some degree. A setting can be historical, like "19th century France," or completely fictional, like "the stellar frontier in the year 2503." Often there are genre expectations also coded into the setting; comedy or noir or four-color superheroes, for example. Some RPGs have a default setting contained within them. There are also settings (some for a specific game system, others meant to be generic and used by any game that fits the genre) published by game companies that are used by some gaming groups. Some licensed settings are very specific, like in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" you play within the setting of that TV series.
  • Splatbook

    • One of a line of supplements designed to provide options to one X in a series of X's - classes, races, clans, factions, etc. The term is a generic one for class book, race book, clan book, etc. and the term derives from common programmer terminology for the asterisk wildcard character, '*', "splat." "Those race and class books" shortens to "Those * books" and thus "Those splatbooks."
  • Story Game

    • An RPG devoted primarily to the cooperative creation of narrative. See the Story Games site for many examples.
    • See also: GNS Theory

T

  • Treasure
    • Also known as: Loot
    • An item of value given to a character that may modify their character in some way or represent a reward for the successful completion of a goal within the game. In a traditional fantasy RPG, the most iconic loot is gold, jewels, and magic items.
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Gamemaster/Games Master (GM), aka Referee, Dungeon Master (DM), Judge, Storyteller, Storyguide

One of the Players of an RPG that takes the responsibility for running the game. Their job includes: creating the Adventure, playing the other Characters and judging the success of an action of the Player Characters in the Adventure.

Many RPGs have genre specific terms for the GM - Dungeon Master from Dungeons & Dragons is the best known (in fact, it predates Gamemaster which was a deliberate genericization as other RPGs gained currency). An action movie game might call the GM the "Director", a Wild West game might call the GM the "Marshal," etc.

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Battlemat

A gridded sheet, typically gridded in 1" (~25mm) squares, used for showing tactical situations on the table. Often used with miniatures, tho sometimes cardboard tokens are used.

Half-inch square grids were not uncommon for use with 15mm miniatures and 1/2" cardboard counters, and were generally used for Traveller, FASA's Star Trek, and TSR's Gang Busters and Star Frontiers games.

1" squares are the most common, and are used with D&D, Warhammer FRP (1st and 2nd eds), and several other well known FRPs, due to the wide range of 25/28/30/32mm miniature figures, and 1" round "tokens" of either wood or cardboard.

1" (~25mm), 30mm, and 35mm hexagonal grids are also fairly common; Warhammer FRP included specific adaptations, and GURPS, Hero System, The Fantasy Trip, Dragonquest, and several other older games specifically called for hex grids.

16mm hex grids are the standard for counter-on-map wargames, such as Star Fleet Battles, Starfire, Ogre/GEV, and some gamers used them with 1/2" square counters for RPG use as well.

Battlemap

Almost a synonym of Battlemat. Many games use the terms interchangably. Many D&D battlemaps are actually printed scenes overlaid with a square grid.

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Metaknowledge and Metagaming

Things which you know personally, but the character you are playing does not/should not know. It can be very difficult, especially with long-time gamers to play your character without metaknowlege leaking in and having your character react to things they really shouldn't know about. Using metaknowledge while playing is called metagaming and is looked down on in many gaming systems, especially traditional ones. (It's considered OK or even desirable in some games, especially storygames.)

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As a point of order, there's a completely different definition for meta-gaming that's used as well: "The game outside the game, or the process of designing something for the game which is itself not in character" –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 10 '11 at 4:04
    
Never heard it used that way. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metagaming –  mxyzplk Jan 12 '11 at 3:03
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Buff

An enhancement on a character

Magic, psionic, or even mundanely sourced time-limited enhancements (e.g. drugs, rage) on a character are usually referred to as a "buff." The reverse, effects which degrade a character's stats/abilities/combat/etc somehow are called "debuffs." Derives from the pleasing but time-limited effect of buffing something to a high gloss.

"Buff me up before we bust in on those aliens!" - Markus Oroszlan, Warlion

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Splatbook

One of a line of supplements designed to provide options to one X in a series of X's - classes, races, clans, factions, etc.

Many large RPGs have had splatbooks - the second edition D&D "Complete" series and the White Wolf Clanbooks for Vampire: the Masquerade largely cemented this trend. The term is a generic one for class book, race book, clan book, etc. and the term derives from common programmer terminology for the asterisk wildcard character, '*', "splat." "Those race and class books" shortens to "Those * books" and thus "Those splatbooks."

"Those splatbooks keep making characters more and more powerful! I don't allow them at the table!" - A Meanie GM

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Hackenslash (or Hack 'n' Slash): A style of roleplaying games in which the participants are focused on slaying opponents and taking possession of their assets, usually with little role playing or story.

MinMaxing: The choice or manipulation of character traits solely to maximize their tangible benefits and minimize their liabilities within the game.

Railroad: A linear style of roleplaying game in which the players have few or no options and must proceed along a predetermined story. Common in tournament play, in which time limits preclude a more open-ended method. (Antonym: Sandbox)

Sandbox: A non-linear style of roleplaying game in which the players select from many options and create whatever story they choose. Common in household play, in which stories may take dozens or hundreds of hours to resolve. (Antonym: Railroad)

Gygaxian: A style of prose characterized by the use of archaic terminology, sometimes whimsical or arbitrary. Also, a preference for such a style over substance or clarity.

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RAW vs. RAI

An abbreviation for Rules As Written. It can be contrasted with RAI: Rules As Intended.

(Credit to Iszi and sebsmith for this answer, which I've taken from another thread.)

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With the title change, it now indicates it's covering what people mean when they say each term, or in other words, what the contrast is. I'm not entirely sure we want to cover something so controversial, or in what depth. –  sebsmith Feb 16 '11 at 22:58
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Live action role-playing game: (or LARP, live role-playing (LRP), interactive literature, and freeform role-playing)

A form of role-playing game where the the players physically act out their characters actions.

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Sword & Board: The common or default fighting style of "weapon in one hand, shield in the other".

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