Welcome to the Treasure Tables RPG Glossary, one of the largest lexicons of gaming terms online. Built with the help of TT readers, this system-neutral glossary provides simple, concise and extensively crosslinked definitions of every general gaming term that GMs might encounter, from the building blocks of RPGs to jargon and obscure slang.
Entries are crosslinked, so clicking on a link within a definition will take you to the glossary entry for the linked term. If you’d like to link to an individual definition, just click on the word “link” next to any entry.
Adventure (link / top)
A series of linked encounters, often played out in one or two sessions, in which the PCs overcome a variety of obstacles. Adventures can be linked together to form a campaign. (Synonymous with scenario, and sometimes called a module.)
Bag of Holding (link / top)
A reference to the D&D magic item of the same name, this is where a PC keeps the seven longswords, two chests, 4,200 gp and other various and sundry items that they insist on carrying around, despite the obvious logistical issues. Synonymous with rectal storage facility.
Balance (link / top)
Also called game balance, the idea that all PCs should start the game at the same power level and that enemies and challenges should be appropriate to that power level. Can also apply to other game elements, such as monsters and items. Elements that are not balanced are often referred to as being broken; nerfing broken elements is a way to make them balanced again.
Balanced Party (link / top)
A party in which at least one PC fills each of the stereotypical character roles: combat (tank), healing (healer), technical skills and sneaky stuff. From the classic D&D party consisting of a fighter, a cleric, a wizard and a thief.
Boss (link / top)
Originally a video game term, bosses are powerful foes who require significant resources to defeat. In a given area, there is usually only one boss (though a boss will sometimes have sub-bosses).
Boxed Text (link / top)
Flavor text in a published adventure that is intended to be read (or paraphrased) aloud to the players. Boxed text can sound rather wooden, and is often mocked for its lack of interactivity.
Campaign Journal (link / top)
A record of what happens during your gaming sessions. Campaign journals can range from a simple list of events to prose-style accounts, generally used to keep track of what happens during your campaign. Also called a campaign diary.
Canon (link / top)
Established elements of a published setting, including history and NPCs. Published supplements generally support the canon. Some gamers are quite passionate about sticking to canon, and prefer not to diverge from it.
Cat Piss Man (link / top)
The stereotypical unwashed, foul-smelling, socially retarded gamer who lives alone in his parents’ basement and has never touched a girl. Gamers like this do exist, but they’re increasingly uncommon. There are “cat piss women,” too, but that phrase isn’t part of the gamer lexicon.
Character Sheet (link / top)
The piece(s) of paper on which a character’s abilities, background and other details are recorded (most often used for PCs). Most RPGs include standardized official character sheets, but many gamers prefer to create their own.
Clone (link / top)
A PC who is a carbon copy of that player’s previous character. Blatant clones are the exact same PC with only the name changed (”I’m playing Frodo’s brother, Grodo”); most simply share the majority of their abilities with the cloned PC.
Co-GM (link / top)
A game master who shares GMing duties with another GM. There are a variety of ways to do this, from switching off who runs sessions to having one primary GM and a secondary GM who plays some of the NPCs, handles details during combat, etc.
Cocked Die (link / top)
A die that lands funny (resting half-on, half-off the edge of a pad of paper, for example), so you can’t tell which number is showing. Most groups reroll cocked dice. Sometimes called a “cracked die.”
Combat (link / top)
A battle, generally between PCs and NPCs or PCs and monsters. Generally broken down into turns or rounds, and by default the lives of every character involved are the stakes of the combat.
Convention (link / top)
Called a con for short, a convention is a gathering where gamers get together to play RPGs and buy gaming stuff. Most cons include the word “con” in their name (GenCon, for example).
Core Mechanic (link / top)
The baseline mechanic used in an RPG to determine the success or failure of the actions of the characters. In d20 System games, for example, the core mechanic is “Roll a d20 + bonuses - penalties vs. a target number” with rolls equal to or above the target succeeding. Most recent games have a core mechanic; some older ones did not.
Crit (link / top)
Short for critical, from “critical hit.” A blow so powerful that it deals extra damage or has additional effects on the target. Can also be used to describe any exceptional roll, such as a skill check.
Death Spiral (link / top)
A game mechanic whereby characters who take damage also suffer other ill effects, thus making it more likely that they’ll take more damage and suffer more ill effects, thus making it more likely…
Denouement (link / top)
French for “an untying,” the denouement is a scene at the end of an adventure that wraps up any loose ends, providing resolution and a wind-down period. It’s often a good idea to end a session with a denouement.
Deus ex Machina (link / top)
Latin for “God from the machine,” a deus ex machina is a plot device that dramatically alters the outcome of a situation without regard to suspension of disbelief or the actions of the PCs. Closely related to GM fiat, and generally frowned upon.
Dice (link / top)
Unlike the dice found in most boardgames, RPG dice come in a variety of types. Shorthand is generally used to indicate the number and type of dice to be rolled: #d# means “Roll # dice that have # sides,” so 3d6 would denote rolling three six-sided dice. Sometimes called “polyhedrals.”
Disbelieve (link / top)
A reference to illusion spells in D&D, where having a reason to disbelieve the illusion grants a PC a roll to avoid being affected by it. Often used by players in other games when faced with impossible situations, as in “I disbelieve.”
Dungeon Crawl (link / top)
A type of fantasy adventure that takes place in an underground complex (the dungeon) featuring a variety of monsters, traps and treasure. Can also be used more generally to describe any fairly linear adventure focused on combat that takes place in a limited area.
Encounter (link / top)
A self-contained event or series of events in which the PCs do (or have the opportunity to do) something of significance. Attending a royal ball would be an encounter, picking a lock would not. Linking together several encounters is the most basic way to build an adventure. Encounters can be random or status quo.
Errata (link / top)
Corrections to a published RPG product, most often the core rules. Errata is usually incorporated into subsequent printings and later editions of a game, but is often also offered as a download on a publisher’s website.
Established Setting (link / top)
A setting for which there is a lot of published support, in the form of sourcebooks, maps and the like. Established settings often feature a metaplot and a canon storyline.
Explode (link / top)
An open-ended die roll, where rolling a specific number (usually the maximum for the die type, such as a 6 on a d6) entitles you to roll again. Most exploding die rolls continue to explode as long as you keep rolling the requisite number.
Figure (link / top)
Synonym for miniature, a tiny sculpted model used to represent a character or other game element, most often in conjunction with a battlemat. Figures are available both painted and unpainted. (Fig for short.)
Flag (link / top)
Any aspect of a PC that can be used to drive the game, most often a personality trait or background hook. For example, a mercenary PC’s rivalry with an NPC merc from another unit would be considered a flag, as it provides the GM with a hook for involving that PC in adventures.
Fudge (link / top)
When the GM alters the results of a die roll, usually without the players knowing that they’ve done so. Fudging is one reason many GMs use a screen. The only form of cheating that’s widely accepted in gaming, though it can be a hotly debated issue. Can also refer to making up NPC stats on the fly.
Game Time (link / top)
Time within the game world, as opposed to time in the real world: “It takes you three hours of game time to reach the mountains.” Game time almost always progresses much faster than actual time.
Gazebo (link / top)
Shorthand for “Anything the players are afraid of solely because they don’t know what it is, even though it’s actually not a threat.” From the Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo, and popularized by the Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip.
GMPC (link / top)
Game Master Player Character. A PC, not an NPC, controlled by the GM. GMPCs are tough to run well, and all too often they are treated much like pet NPCs, and given unfairly powerful abilities or other advantages.
Handwave (link / top)
Skipping over something that would normally be played out. For example, if you normally describe each day of travel during a journey, you could handwave that time by saying, “After two weeks of riding, you all arrive safe and sound.” Similar to GM fiat, but generally used to get to the good stuff.
Homebrew (link / top)
Most often used to refer to a setting or world created by the GM, either out of whole cloth or using bits and pieces from published settings. Can also refer to systems, as in a “homebrewed RPG.”
Hook (link / top)
There are two kinds of hooks: background hooks and plot hooks. Background hooks are elements of a PC’s history that the GM can use to tie that PC into the game world, or as fuel for adventures. A plot hook is anything the GM describes to get the PCs involved in an adventure.
Immersion (link / top)
“Immersion in the game world.” An immersive description is one that makes the setting or the action come to life in the imagination of the players. Also a play style focused on staying in-character and seeing the game world from the perspective of one’s PC.
In Media Res (link / top)
Latin for “in the midst of things,” a storytelling technique based on starting an adventure or campaign in the middle (usually with an action sequence), rather than at the beginning.
Item Management (link / top)
Item management encompasses a variety of activities centered around the party’s gear, such as tranferring items from PC to PC, buying new stuff and identifying magic items. Most commonly undertaken during downtime.
Jack of All Trades (link / top)
A character with a wide range of abilities (most often skills), few or none of which are highly developed. These characters can do a little of everything, but often can’t do anything particularly well.
Kitchen Sink (link / top)
A campaign in which the GM allows all (or nearly all) optional and additional rules. Also used to describe a campaign that prominently features a vast range of setting elements (often so many that it becomes unwieldy).
Kludge (link / top)
A kludgy system is one that features clunky, cobbled-together and poorly designed rules. One can also kludge something together, grafting rules onto an existing system in a way that is functional, but inelegant.
LARP (link / top)
Live Action RolePlaying game. An RPG in which the players are in-character nearly all of the time, and everyone roams throughout the gamer area rather than staying seated around a table.
Lasersharking (link / top)
Trying to improve a game element that doesn’t really need improvement by piling on kewl powerz or other extra features. A reference to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, in which Dr. Evil’s lair features a pool of sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads.
Linear (link / top)
An adventure or plot in which the various plot elements proceed along a line: A leads to B leads to C, etc. Linear plots are a tried and true staple of gaming, although an overly linear plot can lead to railroading.
Live Action Roleplaying Game (link / top)
An RPG in which the players are in-character nearly all of the time, and everyone roams throughout the gamer area rather than staying seated around a table. LARP for short.
Lumpley Principle (link / top)
“System (including but not limited to ‘the rules‘) is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.” Coined by Vincent Baker, who also goes by lumpley.
MacGuffin (link / top)
Any game element that serves primarily to get the PCs involved in an adventure, most often a physical object (prototype robot, magical statue, etc.). For example, the idol in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a MacGuffin. (The classic example is the Maltese falcon in The Maltese Falcon.)
Meat Shield (link / top)
Somewhat derogatory slang for a combat-oriented character (usually a tank), because these PCs can usually absorb a lot of damage, keeping the rest of the party from getting killed.
Metagame (link / top)
Technically, any game-related concerns that are not part of the game itself, such as out-of-character or rules discussion, but more often used in reference to a player who uses knowledge not possessed by their PC to their advantage (in which case it has a negative connotation).
Miniature (link / top)
A tiny figure used to represent a character or other game element, most often in conjunction with a battlemat. Miniatures are available both painted and unpainted. (Mini for short, and also called a figure.)
Min/Max (link / top)
Short for minimize/maximize, a technique where you maximize a character’s abilities in one area while minimizing them in others. Often done by power gamers. A player who min/maxes their character is called a “min/maxer.”
Monty Haul (link / top)
A play style in which the party’s tangible rewards (usually items or treasure) far outweigh the risks involved for the PCs. Named after Monty Hall, host of the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal.”
Named NPC (link / top)
An NPC who is important to the game, and is generally more fully developed than NPCs who won’t get as a much screen time. Incidental and otherwise non-critical NPCs often don’t have names unless the PCs express unexpected interest in them. The opposite of a mooks.
Niche (link / top)
A PC’s role in the party, based mainly on their specialties and area of expertise. Part of the idea behind a balanced party is that each character has their own niche, ensuring that none of the players will feel sidelined.
NPC (link / top)
Non-Player Character. Any character in the game world who is not a PC. NPCs are nearly always played by the GM, although they are occasionally controlled by players (as hirelings, for example).
One True Way (link / top)
The notion that there is only one real way to play RPGs, rather than a myriad of ways. There is no wrong way to game — as long as your group is having fun, that’s all that matters (the Golden Rule).
PDF (link / top)
Short for Portable Document Format, but most often used to refer to an RPG product released in PDF form. PDFs can be opened on any computer with a PDF reader, making them nearly universal.
Pen and Paper (link / top)
A term describing the way RPGs are traditionally played: around a table, with paper (books and character sheets) and pens (to draw maps, adjust stats, etc.). Generally synonymous with tabletop.
Player Character (link / top)
Any character that is played by a player, not the GM (PC for short). The player characters are the center of attention in any RPG, and the game revolved around their activities.
Power Creep (link / top)
The tendency for RPG publishers to increase the power level of characters created with (and found in) sourcebooks, often beyond the power of those created solely with the core rules. Also the tendency for the PCs and their adversaries to grow in power beyond the original scope of the campaign.
Power Gamer (link / top)
A player whose PC utilizes the rules in such a way as to give them an extra edge, usually in combat and at the expense of non-combat skills. Power gamers are often rules lawyers. Sometimes called twinks or munchkins, although the terms are not completely synonymous.
Q is for “Quick, pick another letter!”
Railroad (link / top)
A linear play style in which the players have very few options, so named because much like a train, adventures like this proceed as if on rails. Railroading gets a bad rap, but it can be a good thing in certain situations (at con games, for instance).
Random Encounter (link / top)
An encounter that isn’t written into the adventure, but instead occurs randomly, often as a result of a roll on a table of possible encounters. The opposite of a status quo encounter.
Raw Roll (link / top)
A roll that hasn’t been modified by any bonuses or penalties. Also called an “unmodified” or “pure” roll, and covered by the term “on the die,” as in “Read me what’s on the dice.”
RBGM (link / top)
Rat Bastard Game Master. A GM who fights dirty, but fair. Forcing the PCs to choose between saving the residents of a burning building and capturing their nemesis is something an RBGM would do.
Recap (link / top)
A brief summary of what happened in the last session, and of broader events in the campaign, that many GMs use to kick off each session. Recaps bring the players up to speed and get them in the mood to play.
Rectal Storage Facility (link / top)
Where a PC keeps the seven longswords, two chests, 4,200 gp and other various and sundry items that they insist on carrying around, despite the obvious logistical issues. RSF for short. Synonymous with bag of holding.
Red Shirt (link / top)
From Star Trek, a friendly NPC whose only real function is to get killed in a dramatic fashion, thus giving the PCs something to fight for. (In the original Star Trek series, when the bridge crew beamed down to a planet, they almost always took a guy in a red shirt — and he was always killed right away.)
Retcon (link / top)
Short for retroactive continuity, when previously established game elements (often including the actions of the PCs) are changed after the fact. This can range from “taking back” actions during combat to adding background elements to a character after the game has begun.
Rewrite (link / top)
A more extensive retcon, where major established elements of the game are changed after the fact. For example: “We’re doing a rewrite: Last week, instead of attacking the king, the party decided to negotiate with him.” Generally a bad idea.
Roleplay (link / top)
To act out or describe your character’s interactions with other characters (most often by speaking in-character) and the game world. More generally, the act of playing RPGs in general. Sometimes defined as “diceless social interaction.” Also written as “role-playing” and “role playing.”
Roll and Shout (link / top)
From the gaming adage “When in doubt, roll and shout!” — in other words, make a lot of noise and confidently roll the dice. A technique employed by players to give a questionable strategy a greater chance of success, and by GMs to cover up ambiguities and plot holes.
Rollplaying (link / top)
“You’re not roleplaying, you’re rollplaying.” An insult leveled at gamers who the insulter believes don’t put enough emphasis on roleplaying, focusing instead on combat and dungeon crawling.
Round (link / top)
A discrete unit of game time, generally a few seconds long and most important during combat. In high-pressure situations, rounds allow every character a chance to act in turn and help keep the game flowing smoothly.
RPG Theory (link / top)
The study of the underpinnings of roleplaying games: how we play them, what impact different design decisions have on play and a variety of other concerns. Closely associated with The Forge.
RSF (link / top)
Rectal Storage Facility. Where a PC keeps the seven longswords, two chests, 4,200 gp and other various and sundry items that they insist on carrying around, despite the obvious logistical issues.
Rule One (link / top)
There are many opinions on the definition of Rule One (also called the Golden Rule). “The GM is always right,” “Have fun” (shown here as the Golden Rule) and “Don’t give the GM ideas” (listed here as Rule Zero) are all popular choices. Less commonly, “Don’t wear your con badge outside the convention.”
Rules Lawyer (link / top)
A player who knows the rules extremely well, and prefers to stick to them very closesly. Often, rules lawyers use their extensive knowledge of the rules to exploit loopholes that favor their characters. Rules lawyers are often power gamers.
Rules-light (link / top)
Rules-light RPGs tend to have fewer (and simpler) rules than more “traditional” games (like Dungeons & Dragons), and those rules are used to cover more ground during play. GM fiat often plays a larger role in rules-light RPGs.
Rule Zero (link / top)
Most often defined as “Never give the GM ideas” or “The GM is always right” (the latter is listed here as Rule One). As with Rule One, different people define this term in different ways.
San Check (link / top)
Short for sanity check, a measure of how frightened or disturbed a PC is, as in “I failed my San check — my character is getting the Hell out of there.” The term comes from the Call of Cthulhu RPG that has drifted into more common usage, even when playing games that don’t feature a Sanity stat.
Scene (link / top)
A discrete event or sequence of events, much like a chapter in a book, that has a definite beginning and end. An encounter is often (but not always) also a scene; an adventure is never a scene, as it is composed of multiple encounters.
Scenario (link / top)
A series of linked encounters, often played out in one or two sessions, in which the PCs overcome a variety of obstacles. Scenarios can be linked together to form a campaign. (Synonymous with adventure.)
Scry and Fry (link / top)
When the PCs use a form of remote viewing to scope out an opponent, transport themselves directly to that location and then attack their foe with overwhelming force. (In D&D, the remote viewing would be scrying, a form of divination magic.) Sometimes called “scry and die.”
Situational Bonus (link / top)
A bonus to a roll that is dependent on the character’s current circumstances, such as having the high ground in a fight. Situational bonuses go away when the circumstances change.
Situational Penalty (link / top)
A penalty to a roll that is dependent on the character’s current circumstances, such as having the sun in your eyes in an aerial dogfight. Situational penalties go away when the circumstances change.
Skill-based (link / top)
A system in which characters are defined by player-chosen skills and abilities, rather than by predetermined packages of abilities or character roles (as they would be in a class and level system.
Social Contract (link / top)
The unwritten (often implict, sometimes explicit) rules under which your gaming group operates, covering everything from when and how often you game to how much out-of-character discussion is allowed at the table.
Splatbook (link / top)
A sourcebook that further fleshes out an element of the game, most often focused on the PCs. A sourcebook just for warrior characters would be an example of a splatbook. Often shortened to just “splat.” “Fat splat” can be used to describe a larger book, while “thin splat” is for shorter ones.
Splitting the Party (link / top)
When the PCs split up to tackle two or more things at once. Splitting the party can slow down the game, although it’s sometimes the most logical option. Agreeing not to split the party can be part of a group’s social contract.
Stakes (link / top)
What is at stake for each of the parties involved in a conflict. Stakes are implicit in most RPGs (PC death is at stake in nearly every combat, for example), but some RPGs have rules for setting them.
Stats (link / top)
Short for statistics, the mechanical attributes of a character or item. For example, strength is a stat in most RPGs; the amount of damage caused by a gun would be one of that weapon’s stats.
Story Arc (link / top)
A series of linked adventures within a campaign, connected by shared plot and/or thematic elements. Resolving a story arc does not resolve the entire campaign (unless it’s the final story arc).
Theory (link / top)
Short for RPG theory, the study of the underpinnings of roleplaying games: how we play them, what impact different design decisions have on play and a variety of other concerns. Closely associated with The Forge.
Third-party (link / top)
As in “Third-party company,” a publisher licensed to produce material for another publisher’s game. Some gamers dislike third-party material because it sometimes doesn’t mesh well with the original publisher’s rules.
Thread (link / top)
A subplot the GM brings to the attention of the players, which they can choose to follow or ignore. Threads or often thrown out in groups, with the GM developing the one that catches the interest of the group.
Unbalanced (link / top)
A rules element that is too powerful, but not so overpowered as to be broken. Generally used in connection with PC abilities, and significant if all of the PCs are supposed to start out on a level playing field.
Union Card (link / top)
A metaphor for the party’s ability to immediatly accept a new PC (often due to the death of a previous PC) as part of the group, no matter how strange the circumstances in which they encountered the new character. Best summed up by The Gamers: “You seem trustworthy. Would you care to join us in our noble quest?”
V is for “Vee GMs don’t use zis letter.”
Wandering Monster (link / top)
An enemy or threat that the party stumbles into, or vice versa, resulting in a random-encounter. The term comes from old school fantasy gaming, which often featured wandering monster tables for the GM to roll on.
XP (link / top)
Short for eXperience Points. In many RPGs, the PCs are awarded XP after each adventure. In some games, players can spend XP directly to improve their PC’s abilities, while in others reaching certain XP thresholds automatically earns new abilities (as in Dungeons & Dragons).
Y is for “Years and years of gaming, and still no words that start with Y.”
Z, the 12-sided die of the GMing glossary.
The first draft of this glossary was a TT post, and it was substantially improved by suggestions and contributions from readers and members of our forums. I took the same approach when I expanded the scope of the glossary a few months later, and was fortunate enough to get tons of help then, too.
These fine folks all helped whip this glossary into shape: Alan De Smet, BluJai, carnivore, Carolina aka Troy Taylor, cedrictheblack, clem, Crazy Jerome, Daemon, DMN, Gerald Cameron, GilaMonster, Gospog, hellibrarian, Jdvn1, joe.caffeinated, longcoat000, Mark, Matt, masterzora, MountZionRyan, Nephlm, Paul Adams, Samir, Scott M., Shawn, Spleen23, Stefanie, Steve, Stillfoxx, Trollsmyth, tsuyoshikentsu, twwombat, VV_GM, Walt C., xcorvis and Zachary Houghton. Thank you!
After the initial version of this glossary was established, I drew on several other RPG glossaries to catch terms that I’d missed (writing my own definitions, of course): RPGnet Wiki: Terminology, the RPG Theory Glossary and A Glossary of Selected Role-Playing Terms. My thanks to the gamers who assembled these three glossaries.