rpg glossary

LeadBelt gaming Guides

The RPG glossary is a series of works from different websites and all credit goes to them and their hard work. Copied across to just make cross-referencing here easier. This site is using the information for reference and if in any doubt do go visit the pages themselves as they host a lot of great content and provide a lot of useful resources.

Besides the terms listed here, there are numerous terms used in the context of specific, individual RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), PathfinderFate, and Vampire: The Masquerade.

For a list of RPGs, see the List of role-playing games.

Lists from RPG Geek Glossary and Wikipedia RPG Glossary

Numerical Dice Terms

#+#d+a, or dice+adds – Dice roll notation convention used in several older games. The first number is the number of dice, the second is added to the total – e.g., 3+4 is 3 dice plus 4, or 3d+4 in modern notation (see d[X] below). Most games using this notation use only 6-sided dice. Also can be expressed as a subtraction: 4-2 would be 4d6-2, and 9-8 is 9d6-8. Possibly saw its first use in early wargaming and certainly was in GURPS 2nd Edition, though not in common use today.


Ability(ies) – See Trait.

AC – Armor Class. Used in many fantasy RPGs to represent how difficult it is to hit a character.

Action Resolution – A general mechanic used within the game to drive the story forward. Action resolution most commonly is determined randomly with variable chances of success based on character skills/abilities/stats and often involves dice or a table lookup to determine the outcome and may include degrees of success or failure. Probably originated in discussions at the Forge but has become part of a wider body of language.

Actual Play – 1) A reference to the recording or transcription of a session of play into a form intended to be read by a third party. Actual Play is considered in some quarters to be the sole basis for criticism of game mechanisms as anything “intended” or “expected” is irrelevant in the face of the actual play. 2) Having figuratively played a game.

  • Actual play (or live play): A genre of podcast or web show in which people play tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) for an audience.[47][48][49] Actual play often encompasses in-character interactions between players, storytelling from the gamemaster, and out-of-character engagements such as dice rolls and discussion of game mechanics.[49]

Advantages – Skills or traits the character has that aid him in the course of gameplay. Often set at the time of character creation.

Adventure – A single challenge, often short enough to be completed in one session. Often makes up one smaller piece of a larger story with a beginning and an end, but maybe stand alone. Contrast with Campaign.

Adventure Seed – a short description of a setup for an adventure, intended as a jumping-off point for a GM to expand into an adventure.

AoO – Attack of Opportunity

AoE – Area of Effect. The area affected by an attack/spell/etc affects more than one creature or object.

AP – Action Points. 1) Often given to players for use during the game and maybe spent to allow their characters to perform actions above and beyond what they may normally do. 2) An acronym for Actual Play (q.v.) 3) Adventure Path or more appropriately Pathfinder Adventure Path.

Attack of Opportunity – Special attacks that a character can make as a reaction to some game event or Character / NPC action.


Badwrongfun – 1, Refers to gameplay that some players find morally objectionable; a character or campaign based on rape would be considered bad wrong fun by many. 2. Sometimes used to refer to playing a game in a non-thematic way to achieve a comedic effect.

Battle mat – A piece of paper, vinyl, cardboard, lucite, or other substance marked off in a grid (hexagons, squares, offset squares, triangles) for use in simulating combat. Often they are designed to be drawn on with an erasable marker of some kind. Usually used with miniatures to determine precise position information during play.

BBEG – Big Bad Evil Guy. Most often the main antagonist boss NPC for a particular adventure or campaign.

BECMI – Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal. This abbreviation is sometimes used to refer to the various versions of Basic D&D which existed as a separate game from AD&D until the line was renamed D&D with version 3.0.

BMX Bandit – A character who, while competent alone, is rendered useless in the playgroup by the superiority of another character. This can be a sign of a badly designed system or poor choices in character generation. Taken from the Mitchell and Webb Radio and TV sketch Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit, featuring a superhero team in which one can summon hordes of intelligent superpowered angels at will and the other is quite good at riding his BMX bike.

BNG – Bitter Non Gamer. The person who is unable to join or arrange a gaming group and games by proxy, usually by complaining about RPGs that aren’t the ones they’d prefer to play.

LARP – LARP is a subset of Historical reenactment. Players dress up as combatants and fight using foam weaponry or tickets to represent various skills, spells or effects. It may range from small groups and skirmishes to full reenactments among hundreds of people. So-called for the common term for the type of weapon simulator most commonly used.

Breath or Breath Weapon – Commonly used to refer to a weapon/attack type of a creature, (i.e. dragon, white wolf, hell hound, etc).

Broad Skills – Skills that cover a wide range of activities, such as “Wheeled Vehicles,” “Medical,” “Melee,” or “Artisan.” Systems with broad skills tend to have short lists, often 30-60 skills. Usually seen in design discussions.

BTB – By the Book. See RAW.

Buff – an ability, spell, rules change, or another game mechanic that improves a character’s capabilities.

Bug Hunt – Most often used in a Science Fiction RPG involving nothing more than killing some alien creature(s). See Dungeon Crawl.


Called Shot – An attack made by a character which targets a particular area on an opponent or object. Depending on the system a called shot will trade off increased difficulty for increased damage and/or an additional effect. See Hit Location.

Caltrops – A common slang term for 4-sided dice where the traditional tetrahedron shape of the die means a pointy end is always pointing up waiting in ambush for poorly shod gamers.

Campaign – A longer story told by chaining or linking a number of adventures together. Sometimes, one single very long adventure can be called a “campaign”. Whereas an adventure may only encompass one to three levels of character improvement, a campaign will allow Player Characters to achieve much more levels of character improvement. Also, the story and overall goals tend to be much more epic than an adventure. Campaigns almost always require more than two or three gaming sessions to complete.

Campaign Setting – The (fictitious) world where a specific adventure or campaign takes place. Lord of the Rings stories is set in the campaign setting of Middle Earth.

Canon – Original material, or referring to “official source material”, which is created or accepted by an RPG’s designer(s). Canon is often used to ensure continuity within an RPG or fantasy setting. May refer to mechanics or fluff material.

Caster Supremacy – Games in which magic-using characters are outright better than those without magic. Multiple variations of this exist, such as permissions (the thief has to roll to Hide and have the right circumstances, but the mage can just declare they are turning invisible), subsumption (the thief has to keep their Pick Lock skill levelled at continuous cost; the mage casts Knock), and defence (the fighter spends hundreds of gold on armour to avoid melee, the mage casts Fly).

CGen – Common forum abbreviation for Character Generation.

Chamber LARP – This is a short live-action role-playing game which lasts for no longer than a few hours and which takes place in a compact area, maybe just one room. Compared to larger LARPs a Chamber LARP is a type of game which easily can be produced in different cities by other groups than the original organizers. (Blackbox LARP).

Character – The persona being played by a player within the context of a game.

Character Points – A pool of points used to advance a character’s abilities / level / skills / etc. Players often begin with a large pool to design a character, and then earn more as they adventure with the character.

Character Sheet – The document containing a character’s basic traits, skills, carried equipment, background, etc. Historically a single sheet of paper, but is more commonly becoming an electronic document or spreadsheet and/or may be made up of multiple sheets.

Character creation: The method used to create a player character.[11][12][13]

Class – The “main area of expertise”, “role”, or “job” for a player character. Typical classes in role-playing games with a fantasy setting are fighter, cleric, thief, or wizard. The chosen class typically affects what skills/abilities the player character can learn/use. Classes usually incorporate a fixed set of abilities appropriate to the fiction the class represents.

Class-Based – An RPG using character classes to define a player character’s job or role within a group, commonly limiting a player character to one or two areas of expertise. For example, a Fighter class is generally best at melee combat, a Magic User class is generally best at spells and their use in a game.

Clone, X – A character that is a clone of a popular fictional character. In D&D clones of Drizzt Do’Urden are endemic, recently Traveller began to suffer an invasion of Malcolm Reynolds clones.

Collapsing Die – Opposite of an Exploding Die. A collapsing die, when a minimal result is rolled, is rolled again and the result is subtracted from the total roll, often resulting in a major failure.

Combat Round – See Round.

Core Rules – The subset of rules that is basic and core to the game. The rules are commonly shared between different games published by the same publisher, (often culled out into a separate book to save duplicate information in each book published). In most cases, the core rules are the only rules needed to play an RPG.

CP – Character Points.

Crack, X – 1) Referring to an addictive aspect of gaming. 2) Irresistible new material. Example: “Those cool new dice are total gamer crack.” “D&D 4-point-crack is so cool. I have to buy all the supplements.”

Creature – Term used generically to refer to anything that can take actions / interact within the game/story. (Character / NPC / monster / living objects/undead / etc.).

Crit – Abbreviation for Critical.

Critical – A “critical hit”. Generally speaking, a successful attack that causes greater than normal damage to the target. Depending on the RPG may also inflict negative status or effect on the target hit.

Cross-Class – 1) Often used to reference a skill or ability that may be used by more than one class. 2) Used to mean a skill, or ability generally reserved for a specific class which a different class may pick up, often at a reduced level of effectiveness.

CRPG – Computer Role-Playing Game. Refers to role-playing games designed for computer or console play. These are typified by the presence of character development and tactical combat but usually lack the other features of tabletop role-playing games as they are usually designed for solo play. Some exceptions exist.

Crunch or Crunchy – Rules-heavy. Referring to rules which detail how actions and/or action resolution is determined. Also includes rules which specify abilities, statistics, monsters, equipment, etc. Often includes little or no story information.


d[X] or D[X] – Dice roll notation in which the number in place of X represents the number of sides on the die to roll. For example; d6 refers to the roll of a six-sided die, d8 refers to the role of an eight-sided die, d20 refers to the rolling of a 20-sided die, etc. (See also d100, d% below.) Strictly, dX refers to the generation of a value between 1 and X, inclusive, and need not refer to an actual physical die: for instance, d3 usually means that a d6 is rolled and divided by two, rounded up, to produce a value between 1 and 3. Numbers before the d[X] refer to rolling (and usually summing) that number of dice – e.g., 2d6 means adding the rolls of two six-sided dice for a total between 2 and 12. Finally, a plus or minus symbol followed by a number after the d[X] represents a modifier to the dice-roll total – e.g., 1d8+3 = roll one eight-sided die and add 3 to its result for a total between 4 and 11.

d100 or d% – Notation for a percentile die roll, made with a 100-sided die or with two ten-sided dice numbered 0–9 in which one die refers to the tens place and the other refers to the one’s place. (A roll of 0 and 0 is most commonly read as 100, not zero.)

Damage – Any harm that comes to characters is usually expressed as damage. It comes in many flavours, not the least of which are: Normal damage (in some systems with multiple damage types, a type of damage with potentially lethal side effects, but most likely to stun or injure. Also called half-lethal damage. In several other games, used as merely as a contrast to Lethal or Aggravated Damage), Stun Damage (in some systems with multiple types of damage, Stun may be a type of damage resulting only in unconsciousness or impairment of function), Aggravated Damage (a synonym for Lethal Damage). Damage types may be distinguished by the particular kind of hit point that is reduced, as with Composure Damage.

DC – Difficulty Check.

Decker Problem – occurs when a game mechanic results in one player becoming the only one at the table able to participate for a long period of time, leaving the other players bored. The name refers to “deckers” – hackers – in the original Cyberpunk game, which features a complex and tactical hacking minigame in which non-deckers could not participate, and because the game specified that the hacking took place in only a few seconds of in-game time, could not do anything else either.

Deus Ex Machina – An unexpected NPC or plot device, often only appearing for a single scene, that saves a seemingly hopeless situation. Generally seen as a bad design choice in adventure design. Derives from the classical term with a stricter definition: a sudden and unexpected resolution to a seemingly intractable problem. Figuratively, the god from the machine is a solution that seems to arise from outside the fiction.

Dew – Any soda or beverage used during the game. A term used to honour the all venerable Mountain Dew soda, enjoyed by many gamers due to its high sugar and caffeine content.

Dice Training – The superstition that rolling dice repeatedly outside the game will change its statistical behaviour (“I rolled all the 1s out of it”) or that storing dice with a favourable value showing will “train” it to roll that number more frequently. Sometimes the belief is the reverse, and storing dice with the least favourable value showing will “use up” the value.

Difficulty Check or Difficulty Class – The player must meet or exceed this, (often a number of a die roll + modifiers), to succeed in an action resolution.

Disadvantage – Skills or traits the character has that deter him in the course of gameplay. Often set at the time of character creation and used to enhance/encourage role-playing.

DM – Dungeon Master. (See Game Master.)

DM Fiat – See GM Fiat.

Drama – A method of action resolution where the GM chooses the result based on what would be most interesting for the story. Probably originated in discussions at the Forge but has become part of a wider body of language.

DMG – Dungeon Master’s Guide the GM book for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. A core rule book. Sometimes also an abbreviation for “damage”.

Dump Stat – A Stat with little or no perceived value, thus one that is often sacrificed or shorted in favor of another one if there is an opportunity to distribute points. Example: Charisma in a D&D dungeon crawl.

Dungeon Crawl – A role-playing game scenario or adventure in which the main focus is exploration of the environment, engaging and fighting any monsters, and collecting treasure. Commonly set in a dungeon made up of hallways and rooms with little to no storyline.

Dungeon Master – See Game Master.


Effect – A positive or negative element which affects a character, almost always causing modifiers to abilities or allowable actions. Example: stunned, poisoned, hasted, unconscious, etc. Sometimes called a “status effect” or, depending on the context, a “buff” or “debuff”.

Experience Points – A system for improving characters in role-playing games. Typically, a character will be awarded experience points for succeeding at challenges, like defeating a monster or completing a mission. After a certain amount of collected experience points, the player’s character will improve, usually either by increased stats or by achieving new skills.

Expiration Level – Term coined in 3. X Ed. D&D refers to a level at which a particular class peaked for the most efficient character improvement. In other words, taking any level of a class above the expiration level is less efficient in character improvement than taking a level in other available classes. (Example: Fighter expiration level is level 2).

Exploding Dice – When a certain number is rolled and you get to roll again, adding the second result to the first. Often this may be repeated as long as you continue to roll the trigger number.

Extra – See Minion.


Family – Geekdo defines this as a group of games, articles, and paraphernalia associated with a single identifying factor. Examples include Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS.

Fanon – A play on Canon, referring to fan-created material that has become so ingrained in the community it is accepted as canon even though it hasn’t been ‘canonized’ by the designer/publisher of the RPG.

Fantasy LARP – A LARP with a fantasy theme. Many Fantasy LARPs are also Boffer Larps (q.v.).

Fluff – Opposite of Crunch. Most often story based material is designed to enhance role-playing. This material includes background information for NPCs, scenarios, settings and/or even scenes. The material used to ‘flesh out’ elements of a role-playing game so they appear in the mind’s eye as more than just a list of statistics. Non-mechanic-based material.

Formless – When freeform (see below) goes wrong and the GM judgments become contradictory or so unpredictable it is impossible for players to decide what to do; or when there is no GM, and nobody is prepared to make any judgment at all.

Fortune – A method of deciding the outcome of an action resolution where the GM chooses based on the result of a randomizer (dice, cards, etc).

Frag – 1) To kill another player character. 2) To kill something. 3) To kill using a fragmentation device. 4) Referring to a warhead and/or grenade-type device.

Freeform – A role-playing game without a rule set (or a very minimal rule set). All actions and results are decided by the GM, (or sometimes vaguely suggested in the scenario). A role-playing game which emulates improvised theatre with a director.

Fudge – Secret modification of a roll or other action resolution by the GM to achieve desired results. Example: GM secretly rolls a 20 on a d20, (in many games considered an automatic hit). Instead of applying a hit to the player character which would kill them outright, the GM declares the roll a miss. GMs may fudge to the Player’s detriment instead of benefit as well.

Fumble – A “critical failure”, generally speaking, a particularly bad result when attempting a particular action, usually brought about by a bad die roll or another randomizer. In game terms, results in the worst possible outcome.


Game Master – Term referring to the person who runs the adventure, tells the story, determines what action resolutions mean, etc. for their players. This person, (or persons), runs also all of the NPCs.

Game Master Player Character – Term for the character that is part of the party, and played by the GM as if the GM were “just another player.” Though it is entirely a personal choice for the game group, it may be perceived as a bad form by the community.

Gamist – 1. A player whose primary objective is to overcome challenges to achieve his goal. 2. A player who typically manipulates game rules to overcome challenges or win points. 3. A game system which encourages players to play to win against fixed challenges, and supports players in doing so.

Gearhead – A player who loves to create weapons, vehicles, equipment, etc in deep detail, the more detailed the better.

Generic: A system that can support a wide variety of settings.[52][53]

Gestalt – Combining classes or other game elements, generally in an attempt to maximize the benefits of all users.

Gish – a character that is primarily a fighter, but with some magical ability that is used to enhance their fighting.

Glass Cannon – A unit or character capable of doing a great deal of damage, but is easily defeated.

GM – Game Master.

GM’s Buddy – The player who always gets preferential treatment from a GM.

GM Fiat – The ability for the Game Master to make a judgment that may not follow the rules explicitly but is usually done to speed up play (rather than spend the time looking through the rules during a session) or to re-balance the game while playing.

GMPC – Game Master Player Character.

GNS or GNS Theory – A way of describing players’ “creative agendas” – that is, the basis on which they decide what creative aspects to bring to an RPG in terms of defining their character and choosing their actions – in terms of three sets of priorities: Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism. First coined by Ron Edwards, but widely misused since – frequently now applied to individual RPG experiences or game systems.

Goon – See Minion.

Grainy – Having rules without many fine distinctions between character attributes.

Gun Bunny – A player who loves to have detailed guns for his character.


Hack – An adaptation of one RPG’s system into a different setting, generally by other authors.

Heartbreaker or Fantasy Heartbreaker – an independent game that has had a great deal of work put into it but is likely doomed to fail. A common error is that mechanics the author thinks are innovative actually are not, or have been tried before and failed. However, the most common usage of the term is for low-budget games that attempt to copy or improve Dungeons And Dragons, which are likely to have no chance of succeeding simply because of market dominance and budget. Usually taken to refer to the author’s heart being broken by the idea that their labour of love isn’t up to much, but in its original use by Ron Edwards, referred to the fact that many of these games contained genuinely good ideas and the broken heart was the player’s, that those ideas did not propagate.

Hit Location – In detailed systems the actual location of a particular hit made be rolled after a successful attack. Damage and effect of the attack may be modified based on where the strike lands. Some systems don’t always randomize location but allow players to make a “called shot” to target a particular area.

Hit Points – A number which is used to track how much punishment a character can take in combat before collapsing. (Possible dying.) Often subtracting from the total until a character reaches zero or lower.

House Rule – A new or altered version of the current rule used by a given group. This rule is not part of the published material for the game.

HP – Hit Points.

Hex map or Hex grid, rarely Hexgrid – 1) A map or mapping system using hexagonal (six-sided) divisions rather than square ones as in traditional graph paper. Often used for large-scale terrain maps, such as those from The World of Greyhawk campaign setting or the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set: games such as GURPS and HERO also use hex maps for tactical situations. 2) A game that uses such a mapping system (e.g., “EABA is also a hex-grid game”).

Hexcrawl – a style of gaming, typically Sandbox in nature, where the goal of the play is to explore and interact with a geographical region that is mapped using a hex grid. There are often specific rules associated with “revealing” the contents of each hex, travelling between hexes, etc. A Pointcrawl is a similar type of game, but with no hexes, only gamemaster-defined points of interest on the map, sometimes with lines of travel marked between them.


Imploding Die – See Collapsing Die.

Improvement Points – See Character Points.

In Character (IC) – 1) An action or discussion which is meant to be performed by a character in the story of the game. 2) Character behaviour in line with the character’s personality.

Indie or Indie RPG – 1) A role-playing game which is created, produced and released outside of traditional mainstream ways. These are often self-published or done by very small press publishers where the creative control generally remains with the designer. 2) Occasionally refers to anything not produced by the big companies, (Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, White Wolf, etc.), in the RPG industry.

IP – Improvement Points (See Character Points.)



Karma – A method of deciding the outcome of the event where the GM chooses the result based on a static attribute of the acting character (your Strength, Dexterity, etc). Originates with Ron Edward’s design essay, System Matters.

KTAATTS – an acronym for Kill Them All And Take Their Stuff. As a verb, it refers to doing just that. As a noun, it is a style of play focused on killing and looting. It originates on forums, mostly those dedicated to Old School Renaissance games. Used especially fondly by Hackmaster players.


LARP – Live Action Role Playing. Role-playing as a theatre, without the use of character skills, die rolling or cards. Instead, players assume set roles and then act them out in an improvised theatre play. In fantasy LARPs, combat is usually resolved using latex (rubber) swords. Huge-scale LARPS are held outside and can involve hundreds or thousands of players.

  • Live-action (or LARP): A type of role-playing game physically enacted in a troupe acting style.[3][55]
  • Living campaigns (or shared campaigns): A gaming format within the table-top role-playing game community that provides the opportunity for play by an extended community within a shared universe.[56]

Lasersharking – The act of combining two or more “cool” elements in one setting, character, or game; based on the erroneous assumption that combining two cool things will result in something twice as cool. Unless you are specifically going for comedy, it is often too easy to go over the top, turning the end result into a ridiculous self-parody that cannot be taken seriously — thus making it actually less cool. (e.g. The setting for Rifts. In common parlance at the website The Forge.) Reference: From the Austin Powers movies.

LBB – 1) When used in reference to Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) — Little Brown Books. 2) When used in reference to Traveller — Little Black Books. Both are the digest-sized original published forms of each game.

LBEG – Little Bad Evil Guy. Refers to an antagonist NPC meant to challenge the PCs but is not the BBEG. (Often a lieutenant of the BBEG in a campaign).

Lethal Damage – Also called Killing damage. In systems with multiple damage types, lethal damage has more debilitating effects, requires longer healing time, is affected by armour differently and/or may kill the target. See Subdual Damage.

Level – A seriously overloaded word in the RPG world, usually used to refer to a clump of related changes that happen at once when a character advances, though often put to more vigorous duty. In AD&D the term was used to refer to Character Level, Spell Level, Dungeon Level and Monster Level. Context usually was enough to resolve, so a sentence such as “My 3rd level fighter fought 4th level monsters on the 5th level and with hit with a 6th level fireball” could be understood.

Level-Based – Having character proficiency defined by a discrete number; all else being equal, a character of greater level will generally be more capable than a character of a lesser level.

Life Points – See Hit Points.

Line of Effect – The term used to describe if an effect, (spell, attack, trap, moving object, etc), may affect something, (Another creature, object, location, etc.). Most often used to determine if something targeted may be affected by an effect.

Line of Sight – The term used to describe the ability of one creature to perceive something, (another creature, object, location, etc.), at any distance. Most often used to determine if something may be targeted.

Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard (LFQW) – The idea that the wizard accumulates power much more rapidly than the fighter.

Little Hitler – A player who seeks to dominate the entire group, not just the characters but the other players and GM. ***BJM: needs reference (this is a common term outside the context of gaming — show me a special place it has in gaming) October 8, 2009, ***

LoE – Line of Effect.

Lone Wolf – The act of playing an RPG with just a DM and a single player. Possibly stems from the Lone Wolf solo adventure books, later turned into an RPG.

LoS – Line of Sight.

LRP – Live Role-Play, a synonym for the more common term LARP.

Lumping – A system where skills are lumped together into broad groups, such as “pistols” covering ALL pistols from derringers to desert eagles. ***BJM: needs reference October 8, 2009, ***


Magic Points – A designation of the amount of magic power a given character has to perform magic.

Magical Tea Party or MTP – a derogatory term for play dominated heavily by GM Fiat or the use of non-codified abilities. Very occasionally considered a bad thing in itself, but far more often objected to because no rulebook should be needed to do it, so a game system that depends on it too heavily delivers limited value for money.

Mana or Mana Pool – See Magic Points.

Mary Sue – A character who is over-the-top perfect and exists to fulfil the fanciful thinking of the player. The original Mary Sue was a fictional character in a set of fan-written Star Trek stories where this nothing cadet out-smarted Spock, slept with Kirk, saved the Universe, etc.

Meat Shield – A term used to describe a tough character able to withstand powerful attacks. A term oft used in fantasy games with fighter classes. The fighter would place itself between the enemy and the party to shield them from attack. Effectively acting as a shield of meat.

Mech Pilot or Mech Piloting – in addition to the regular meaning from anime, of a character who drives a giant robot, this refers to a player or game system which focuses on choosing between a list of rules codified actions (“you’re not saying what a person does in the world, you’re pressing buttons on a mech”).

Melee – 1) Hand-to-hand, hand-held weapon combat or to fight in close proximity. 2) A long, knock-down, drag-out fight.

Metagame – 1) Things discussed the rules by the GM and players as opposed to things happening in-game (by the characters). 2) To calculate the success/failure of action by reviewing character stats and game mechanics, as opposed to acting based on character’s personality and what the ‘character’ knows.

Metaplot – Figuratively, “the plot about the plot”, where the second plot is what develops at the gaming table. Usually, an ongoing storyline was written by the setting publishers changes or moves forward the setting over the course of the supplements. Sometimes called metastory.

Min-max a.k.a. Min-maxing – 1) A technique of using the rules to try and squeeze every last advantage out of a character rather than design a character that is more reflective of warts, quirks and disadvantages we all possess. Often this is the result of a player trying to build a character which will achieve unbalanced success in a game. 2) A term used to describe a character designed to maximize one set of abilities, at the expense of minimizing all others. Example: A fighter with high attack, damage, and strength, but little to no intelligence or abilities out of combat.

Miniature – a small model representing a person, persons, a vehicle, or other pawn or actor to be manipulated during the combat simulation portion of the game. Sometimes these can be very elaborate (highly detailed metal sculptures, hand painted). Strictly speaking, only those that are three-dimensional representations are considered miniatures, but in some circles, the term has been broadened to encompass any token used for representation.

Minion – A minimally detailed NPC; usually hostile, easily defeated; subject to special rules which require less bookkeeping than a normal NPC.

MM – The Monster Manual for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. A core rule book.

Moderator – See Game Master.

Monty Hall or Monty Haul Campaign – A type of adventure centred around accumulating as much wealth as possible, as fast as possible, where the story takes a back seat to kill the next monster and taking its stuff. Named for the host, Monty Hall, of the game show Let’s Make a Deal, featuring a set of three doors. The association with this type of campaign was due to the host’s catchphrase “What’s behind door number 3?!”.

Mook – See Minion.

MP – Magic Points.

Munchkin – A player who uses the rules to try and gain power that is unbalancing to the game including possibly resorting to cheating. See also Min-max.

Murderhobo – 1. A player character who wanders the gameworld, unattached to any community, indiscriminately killing and looting. 2. A style of play in which characters aren’t very connected to the world and casually kill those who oppose them.

Murphy or Murphy’s Rule – A rule which has bizarre consequences in certain special cases. Sometimes these cases are reasonable and the Murphy becomes an actual problem, but in most cases, they are rare or obviously inappropriate cases and the Murphy is suggested purely as a joke.

Multi-Class – Combining or using aspects from more than once class/role in a single character. Similar to Gestalt, but frequently done with a sacrifice. (Halting all progression on one of the classes and only advancing the other one, or notably higher costs to advance either class).

Mutt – See Multi-class.


Narrativist – A player who plays primarily in order to explore story or narrative properties generated by the game, rather than to prioritize winning or optimization (see Gamist). Or, a game or game experience emphasizing dramatic (or thematic) events and development.

Narrator – See Game Master.

Narrow Skills – Skills that cover a fairly small rage of closely related activities, such as “Drive Passenger Auto”, “First Aid”, “Broadsword”, or “Painter”. Systems with narrow skills tend to have long skill lists, often 100-200 skills. Usually seen in design discussions.

Natural # – The result of the actual dice roll, before any modifications are made. For example: a “natural 1” or a “natural 20” on a D20 are often considered “fumbles” or “critical”

Nerfing – Change made by an authority to the rules reducing the overall effectiveness of a particular ability or system. Can be caused by the publisher revising rules or providing errata or the GM imposing house rules. Generally seen as a negative. It is a reference to Nerf® brand foam toys, especially balls and toy weapons, designed for safety through the use of soft foam. In-game abilities that reduce the effectiveness of a character are generally referred to as debuffs, not nerfs (although the same word, buff, is used for in-game abilities and out-of-game changes that improve a character).

Non-Player Character – Any creature in a game that is not controlled exclusively by a player. Most often run by the GM, in certain cases, a player may determine the actions of a Non-Player Character.

NPC – Non-Player Character.


OA – Opportunity Attack, see Attack of Opportunity.

OGL – Open Game License, see Open Content

Old-School or Old-School Revival or Old School Renaissance – 1) A style of game that harkens back to the early days of role-playing and seeks to capture what was best about those games. 2) Often used by older gamers to refer to the time when they first started playing RPGs.

One Character Game – A type of game where there is basically only one type of character to play. Examples would be games like “Judge Dredd” where the players are all assumed to be Judge characters. Some of these games have expansions that allow other character types. ***BJM: needs reference October 8, 2009, ***

OOC – Out of Character.

Open Content A portion of a rule set that can be freely republished by other people without being considered a challenge to a publisher’s trademark or copyright, after that publisher voluntarily releases it to the public. The first official open content was included in the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2000, published under the “Open Game License” (OGL). It has since expanded to several other games and game systems. Setting material, such as places and characters, is rarely Open Content, but in many cases certain monsters are. Content that has not been “opened” by the publisher is referred to as Closed Content and cannot be legally reprinted.

Opportunity Attack – See Attack of Opportunity.

Opposed Action – A direct conflict between characters, whether PCs or NPCs. Many games handle this differently than unopposed actions. Examples: fighting, seduction, persuasion, forcing your will on someone, etc.

Optional Rules – Published rules but used at the discretion of the Game Master. Rules are not designed to be part of base rules but can be used, (often by experienced players), to alter gameplay. (The RPG glossary)

Ouija Board Gaming – where a group wants an RPG experience to have a particular property or quality but does not want to deliberately or explicitly take steps to achieve that quality. The most common example is players who want the game to have narrative qualities, but at the same time do not want to make choices for their characters on the basis of narrative priorities. Coined by Ron Edwards, who believed it to be dysfunctional, but for some groups, it may be a necessary aspect of suspension of disbelief.

Out of Character – 1) An action or discussion made between GM and Players not meant to be performed by characters in the game. 2) An action that is not in line with the character’s personality.


Party Charter – 1) In-character document establishing the adventuring company, its shares, inheritance and dissolution procedures. 2) Out-of-character document which may include the elements of definition 1, as well as other aspects of play and environment, including roles in the party, snack schedules, and attendance policy. It is a form of Social Contract.

PBEM – Play by E-Mail.

PBP – Play-by-Post. Usually played on a web forum, though it is possible to PBP in any content-sharing medium. A slower style of play, but often incorporates much more depth into character role-playing.

PBF – Play-by-Forum. Synonymous with PBP.

Percentile – 1. Rolling either a d100 or two ten-sided dice in which one die refers to the tens place and the other refers to the ones. 2. A system where the primary resolution mode is based on the use of percentile dice.

Player – The physical person playing the game – i.e. not the character(s) they play.

Phase – Usually a sub-unit of a round (a round may comprise several phases). See Round.

PHB or PH – The Player’s Handbook for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. The latter abbreviation is sometimes spoken as “Fuh”. May be used to denote a “Player’s Handbook” from other game systems as well. A core rulebook.

PnP – Pen and Paper. Usually referred to as tabletop RPGs (as opposed to CRPGs – Computer RPGs, etc).

Pseudo-clone – 1) A game designed to make use of supplements for an older out-of-print game, but with significant rules changes, EG: Castles & Crusades. 2) A rework of the mechanics of a recent system to recapture the feel and setting tropes of an older system. EG: Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game (1st & 2nd Editions). 3) A game designed by mimicking the mechanics of an older game, without concern for compatibility but focusing on similar mechanical approaches. Usually done as a “What if they had been inspired by ___.” EG: Mazes & Minotaurs (1st Edition). Sometimes called a Similacrum.

Point-Based – Having characters that are ‘constructed’ with a budget of points for attributes, skills, abilities, etc; generally as opposed to being determined randomly at character creation.

POD – Print on Demand. Instead of paying for a large print run and then storing it while it sells unit by unit over a period of time, some publishers decide to print only on demand. No warehouse for the stock is needed; physical copies are produced when customers buy them.

Politician – A player who frequently discusses his politics at the game table. ***BJM: needs reference October 8, 2009, ***

Powers – Supernatural abilities possessed by a character.

Progression Tree – A list of skills, powers, or anything else designed in a linear advancement tree. Advanced abilities are unlocked by earning/buying prerequisites lower on the tree.

Psionics – Powerful abilities of the mind. Maybe the same as spell-casting but often used in an otherwise magic-free system. (i.e. mind reading, telekinesis, etc).

PvP – Player vs Player. The ability or allowance for players to attack each other directly.

PWYW (“Pay What You Want”) – a pricing method where the customer sets his own price to purchase an RPG item (usually a PDF file or electronic book) from a publisher or online retailer. In some cases, one can set a price of zero and still complete the “purchase”, in essence getting a free game or supplement.


Quantum Bear or Grudge Monster – An enemy placed by the GM via GM Fiat that was not previously determined to exist or written in pre-prepared material. Quantum Bears are used in most games to make environments realistic, but some players argue that they can create problems where resource management is involved in combat (“how can we plan how many grenades to take if the number of enemies keeps changing?”) or the PCs are encouraged to perform set-up before fighting (because this requires the GM to be very careful that appearance of a Quantum Bear does not contradict the PC’s previous actions or information they obtained). Originally taken from a criticism of the Apocalypse World system, although that original criticism was more about the GM running out of ideas for partial costs of actions rather than the random creation of enemies.

 Jeremy Crawford wrote, “In a perfect world, RAW and RAI align perfectly, but sometimes the words on the page don’t succeed at communicating the designers’ intent. Or perhaps the words succeed with one group of players but fail with anothe

 Game designer – The RPG glossary


Race – The biological being the player chooses to play. In typical fantasy role-playing games, this can be human, elf, dwarf, gnome etc. The choice of race typically affects the basic traits of the character.

Railroading – Refers to a game’s story being forced in a particular direction most often by the GM, usually by the environment being constructed or manipulated to make only one action viable. Commonly perceived as bad form.

RAW – Rules as Written. The literal meaning of the published rules, as opposed to the designer’s intent, is either assumed or explicitly stated.

Range Bands – 1) System of abstractly measuring movement for combat or chases one-dimensionally. Used in Classic Traveller, Pendragon, and Diaspora. 2) Measurements of the various distances at which a weapon’s efficiency changes. Used in d6, and several others. 3) System of labelling various distances rather than giving explicit measures. Used in Classic Traveller, and MegaTraveller.

Ranged – Ranged combat or an attack/effect that takes place over a distance.

Redshirts – An NPC that has little purpose other than to die. Commonly used in a Sci-Fi RPG setting. Derives from the classic Star Trek television show in which a security detail wearing red uniform shirts accompanied the bridge crew on adventures, almost always to their regret.

Referee – See Game Master.

Ret-Con – Retroactive Continuity typically refers to a change in previous events due to either a rules issue or because of some other mistake on the part of the players or, more often, the GM.

Retro-Clone – a game that is designed to emulate the rules of an older out-of-print game (so as to be compatible with anything produced for the older system).

Rez – Resurrect a character. The act of bringing a character back from the dead in a game as opposed to having to create a new one. May be achieved through spells or story plots.

Romeroading or Roads to Rome – a reduced form of Railroading in which PCs have a choice of action, but no action they can take can change what ultimately happens (“take any road, but all roads lead to Rome”). This is usually invoked in order to create dramatic set-pieces, especially at the end of campaigns. Much less controversial than railroading, in part because it is much harder to avoid.

Roll-Play – Instead of role-play. 1) Often derogatory, used to imply that manipulation of the game system has replaced imagination. 2) Referring to the desire to roll dice instead of acting out character interactions.

Root/Branch – A system where skills start off at a root level, and then branch out into various sub-skills. An example would be a system where players started off with a basic pistol skill they could use for any pistol but then had to specify specialities when they raised the skill, such as a revolver, semi-auto, auto, etc. ***BJM: needs reference October 8, 2009, ***

Round – Unit of time in a game which generally limits the number of actions a character can take before another creature/character can act.

Role-play – The act of taking on the role of a character. May be done in any of several modes, including 1st-person dialogue, the 3rd-person narration of action, or even 1st-person improvisational acting.

Role-playing Poems – These are short, often LARP-like games designed to be played in 15 minutes. They often focus on a specific experience, rather than character or narrative.

RPG – Role-Playing Game. 1) In terms of what we tend to list at RPG Geek this means a) a Defined set of rules. b) Allows the player to take on the role of a character. c) Allows the player a strong measure of free will to choose what the character does d) The actions are chosen by the player shape and influence the story which unfolds during the game. 2) Under Geekdo classifications, this stands for a game which has a separate set of rules differing from any other role-playing game, even those with similar names.

RPG Item – Geekdo defines this as any single item of role-playing game paraphernalia.

Rules – The explicit part of the system, specified in the text.

Rule as Intended (or RAI): The rules with the context of the designers’ intent.[68]

Rule as Written (or RAW): The rules “without regard to the designers’ intent. The text is forced to stand on its own”.[68]

Rules-Heavy– Having many rules to guide action and resolution. Opposite of Free-form.

Rules Lawyer – 1) A person known for arguing GM rules calls by recourse to quoting the rules from the rulebooks. 2) A person who disrupts play by excessive references to rules in play. 3) A player who misrepresents the rules for their own advantage in play.

Rules-lite: A game system that uses very general mechanics, usually more focused on narrative actions in a game. The opposite of rules-heavy.[58][59][60][61


Sandbox – a style of gaming where the gamemaster purposely avoids providing much or any overt plot or guidance to the players as to what they should be doing. The gamemaster provides a situation (typically a geographical location), and the players interact with that location as they see fit. The metaphor is that players are children playing in a sandbox; within the sandbox, they can do anything they want. See Hexcrawl for one specific type of sandbox game.

Save or Saving Throw – An attempt to avoid a detrimental effect or success at such an attempt. Often phrased as “making a save” (though this can still refer either to the attempt or to success).

Save Or Suck – An ability or spell which requires the target to make a Saving Throw or suffer a debuff severe enough to make them useless (possibly temporarily) in a fight. Such abilities are quite difficult to balance and may indicate Caster Supremacy.

Seed – See Adventure Seed.

Series – Geekdo defines this as a group of RPG Items sharing enough common factors to indicate continuing theme.

Session: A single meeting of a role-playing group.[36][37]

Session Zero (or Session 0): The first game session where the game master and players determine the playstyle, mechanics and themes they will use as a group in their game. Groups will also determine the expectations and limitations (including the use of safety tools) of their game. Some groups also use this session to create characters and establish other parts of worldbuilding for their game.[35][38][39][40]

Simulationist – Originally, a gamer who plays in order to discover the results of applying actions within a simulated world (eg, “What if Luke Skywalker never met the droids?”), as focused on the setting without authorial intervention. More commonly, a game experience is typified by adherence to simulating the imagined world impartially, as if it were real, often with a high level of detail.

Skills – Area of proficiency. In a typical role-playing game, a character will have a number of ‘skills’, namely things they are especially good (or especially not good) at. For example “hide”, “discover hidden things”, “hit with a sword”, etc. Skills are often trainable so they may improve during the course of the game. For more information see Broad SkillsNarrow Skills.

Skill-Based – Having characters that are defined by narrowly-defined skills, e.g. “Broadsword,” “Fast-Talk.”

Skill Points – See Character Points.

Skill Tree – See Progression Tree, but exclusively for skills.

Social Contract – Agreements between a group of players, often implicit, often unique to each group, that guide and/or constrain action. E.g. “no one should interrupt except the GM.” “No character in the story should attempt to rape any other character.” “It is your responsibility to make sure you have fun.”

SOP – Standard Operating Procedure. A series of actions is taken mechanistically by a PC, usually because the game world or system requires them to. A classic example is “TLP” – (Check For) Traps, Listen, Pick – representing the steps taken by a rogue when opening an unknown door in dungeon crawling games. Sometimes considered a complaint about older games which required very explicit descriptions of what the PCs were doing (eg, “we search ahead and probe the floor with a 10-foot pole”) but where such descriptions became commonplace and thus boring (“can’t we just always search ahead and probe the floor with a 10-foot pole?”)

SP – Skill Points

Spell-Slinger – Casting class (magic user, sorcerer, etc).

Splat Book – Supplementary book for a game system covering an individual class, race, clan, tribe or like the concept.

Square grid – A game that used squares as a map base and for measurement.

SRD – System Reference Document, a term used in the context of the Open Game License (OGL) for all the rules text and mechanics released under OGL to allow other publishers to produce compatible material.

Stats – The numerical value applied to elements of a game. 1) A character’s abilities. 2) The numbers detail how much damage a sword does. 3) The details of how an object, such as a vehicle, interacts with its fictitious environment.

See Above – Statistic: Any attribute, advantage, disadvantage, power, skill, or another trait. In the plural, statistics refer to the information on a character sheet. Often abbreviated as “stats”

Status – See Effects. Usually referring to the condition a character is in due to effects.

Story Games – These are RPGs which focus more on the overall story than character building or rules enforcement. Most RPGs can be made to be more story-driven given the predisposition of the GM/Players, but clearly, some RPGs are more tailored to this style of play. Epistolary Richard compiled a blog post on the origin of the term.

Storyteller – See Game Master.

Subdual Damage – Also called Non-Lethal or Bashing damage. In systems with multiple damage types, subdual damage can generally be healed more quickly. It may be affected differently by armour and usually results in unconsciousness rather than death. See Lethal Damage.

System – 1) The big-picture of a game’s mechanical choices, including not just rules but also design philosophy etc. Or from a story point of view: the method in a game by which new facts are added to the fictional setting. 2) Geekdo defines this as a set of base rules used by more than one RPG.


Talent(s) – See Trait.

Tank – Similar to Meat Shield, but refers to a character which can dish out lots of damage as well as take lots. Generally, a character able to go toe to toe with the biggest baddies.

Take X – Where X is a number. Indicates that a roll for a check of some kind (usually skill) is not made but rather it is assumed that X is the result of the roll. Modifiers are added as normal and the result is calculated. Examples from the d20 system include “Take 10”, indicating the reliable effect of a skill and “Take 20” indicating the use of the skill while taking an arbitrary amount of time under no pressure to succeed.

Target Number – the number that a player is required to roll on a die for an action to be successful. In D&D and other d20 games, also sometimes called Difficulty Class or DC, or just Difficulty.

Template – 1) A set of abilities laid on top of a character/creature to add abilities and/or specialize the character. 2) A pre-made example of a PC, NPC, Item, etc. used to assist in quickly generating multiple copies of something.

THAC0 (pronounced “thack-oh” even though the final character is a zero) – To Hit Armor Class 0. The system of rolling To-Hit used in D&D and AD&D 1st and 2nd editions, where the player’s character sheet showed an initial target number and values were added to or subtracted from it based on the opponent’s armour or defensive abilities. Modern versions of D&D use a simpler system where the opponent’s armour sets the target number and the PC’s fighting ability sets the value added to the dice roll.

Third-Party – Publications for a game that is from someone other than a game’s current publisher. Often printed under license.

To-Hit – the most common dice roll in combat; a roll to see if the PC successfully hit their enemy, or vice versa.

TPK – Total Party Kill. The event of an entire group of player characters in a game being wiped out by a threat or challenge. “The dragon caught us by surprise and it became a TPK.”

Trait(s) – A distinguishing characteristic of a character. This could be the ability for a character to size up a fight better than most or perhaps the person has exceptional leadership skills. It doesn’t have to be positive – a bad trait could be a phobia or uncontrollable greed. Some games give advantages/disadvantages for traits. Traits can be further defined by being assigned a numeric or textual value to indicate the competency of the ability being described by the name of the Trait. When numerical, this is normally called an Ability (Typically Strength, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, or Spirit).

Trap Choice or Trap Option – an option for character generation or development which is listed in a rulebook yet is outright worse than other options, especially if its surrounding description suggests it is better. Generally considered a bad thing since it can result in new players building ineffective characters and not knowing why they are ineffective.

Transhuman – A RPG setting based on transhumanism, the idea that through genetic engineering and cybernetics, humans will be able to modify themselves to extreme degrees, becoming “transhuman”, possibly even becoming software-based entities living in cyberspace. Not technically a term specific to gaming, but perhaps obscure enough to be valuable here.

Turn – See Round.


Unopposed Action – An action which requires action resolution, but does not directly involve an opponent. Many games handle this differently than opposed actions. Examples: scaling a cliff, forcing open a door, creating a magic item, etc.


Variant Rules – See Optional Rules.

Verisimilitude – “Realism, if this world was real”. What’s usually actually meant by someone who complains that a minor rule is “unrealistic” in a game with wizards throwing explosive rainbows?

Virtual Tabletop – A computer program or website/web application that enables live play online. Usually involves a randomizer for live die rolls and may also include maps, counters, character sheets and even rules references. VTs enable play through Voice over Internet, often on a global scale.




XP – Experience Points.





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