Treasure Tables is on hiatus as of December 13th, 2007 -- after two years of daily posts, I needed a break. If you're looking for GMing material, I have two recommendations: the hundreds of posts in TT's archives, and my new project: multi-author GMing blog Gnome Stew. Happy GMing! -- Martin

RPG Glossary

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.

The Glossary: 269 RPG Terms Defined

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.

Jump To: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

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.)

A Team (link / top)
Slang for the party in groups where there is also a B Team, a second party that the players don’t play as often.

B

Background (link / top)
Most commonly, the story of a PC’s life before the start of the campaign. In an adventure, the events leading up to the point where the party gets involved.

Background Hook (link / top)
Any element of a PC’s history that the GM can use to tie that PC into the game world, or as fuel for adventures.

Backup Character (link / top)
An already-created PC held in reserve in case a player’s character dies or is otherwise removed from the game.

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.

Bang (link / top)
A situation that forces the PCs to take immediate action to avoid dire consequences, without constraining exactly what actions they take.

Battlemat (link / top)
A map on which encounters are played out with counters or miniatures, often eraseable. Typically marked with a square or hexagonal grid.

BBEG (link / top)
Big Bad Evil Guy, slang for the central villain in an adventure or campaign. Often shortened to just big bad.

Beer and Preztels (link / top)
Slang for a quick, casual game that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to run or play. Originally a boardgame term.

Bennie (link / top)
Short for benefit. An advantage or other in-game bonus given to a player by the GM, often to shore up a weak character ability or reward exceptional performance.

Big Bad (link / top)
Short for big bad evil guy. Slang for the central villain in an adventure or campaign. Abbreviated as BBEG.

Bonus (link / top)
A modifier that adds to your chance of success when making a die roll (and the opposite of a penalty).

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.

Broken (link / top)
A broken rule is flawed in some way, most often by being too powerful.

B Team (link / top)
Slang for the “backup party” in groups where there is an A Team composed of the main characters.

B-Teamer (link / top)
A player who doesn’t show up for every session, and who usually doesn’t know what’s going on in the game (leading them to contribute less).

Buddy (link / top)
A player who is playing primarily because one or more of their friends are part of the group, not because they’re genuinely interested in the game.

Buff (link / top)
A temporary boost to a character’s stats or abilities, most often from a spell.

Burnout (link / top)
When you need to take an extended break from GMing, you’re suffering from burnout. Burnout is most often caused by GMing too often or under frustrating circumstances.

C

Campaign (link / top)
A linked series of adventures, usually with a central theme or storyline that ties them together.

Campaign Diary (link / top)
A less-common synonym for campaign journal.

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.

Canned (link / top)
A pre-written game element, most often a published adventure, that was not created with your specific group in mind. The opposite of tailored.

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.

Chair (link / top)
Short for “GM’s chair.” Most often used in groups with multiple, rotating GMs, as in “Who’s taking the chair this week?”

Character (link / top)
Everyone in the game world is a character. This term applies to both PCs and NPCs.

Character Creation (link / top)
The process by which a player creates a character. Also called character generation.

Character-driven (link / top)
A type of plot where the PCs actively advance the story, rather than reacting to GM-initiated plot elements. Roughly synonymous with player-driven.

Character Engineer (link / top)
A player who min/maxes their character.

Chargen (link / top)
Short for character generation, the process by which the players create their characters.

Character Generation (link / top)
The process by which a player creates a character. Also called character creation.

CharOp (link / top)
Short for Character Optimization, the process of wringing every possible mechanical benefit out of a character. Synonymous with min/max, and common among power gamers.

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.

Check (link / top)
Another term for a die roll made to determine a character’s success or failure at a task.

Class and Level (link / top)
A system whereby characters have clearly defined roles and increase in power at regular intervals. D&D is the archetypal class-and-level system.

Cliffhanger (link / top)
When the GM ends a session just as something exciting is about to happen, leaving the players wanting more.

Clippy (link / top)
Short for paperclip. A player who reminds the GM of facts or rules that adversely affect the party. Named after Microsoft Office’s incredibly annoying Office Assistant.

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.

Closed Campaign (link / top)
A campaign that has a predetermined endpoint, rather than being open-ended.

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.

Combat Monster (link / top)
A character who is exceptionally skilled in combat.

Combat Round (link / top)
One round of game time that takes place during combat.

Con (link / top)
Short for convention, a con 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).

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 Book (link / top)
A book (sometimes on of several) that contains the core rules required to play an RPG.

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.

Core Rules (link / top)
The main book (or books) of rules required to run an RPG. Sourcebooks, house rules and other additions are not part of the core rules.

Counter (link / top)
A cardstock or cardboard chit that represents a character or monster, generally used in conjunction with a battlemat. Counters are an alternative to miniatures.

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.

Critical Mass (link / top)
The minimum number of players who need to be present to make it worth running a session. Sometimes called a “quorum.”

Crunch (link / top)
Slang for the mechanical elements of any RPG. (The setting info and other non-mechanical elements are called fluff.)

Crunchy Bits (link / top)
Powers and abilities availables to the PCs. Coined by Robin Laws, the author of Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering.

D

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.”

Diceless (link / top)
A diceless RPG is one that does not employ dice for resolving the success or failure of character actions.

Dice Monkey (link / top)
Slang for someone who plays RPGs, or a collector of gaming dice.

Dice Pool (link / top)
In RPGs where multiple dice are rolled to determine success or failure, the dice pool is the total number of dice available for a given roll.

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.”

DM (link / top)
Short for Dungeon Master, the Dungeons & Dragons-specific term for game master. Widely used in place of “GM,” regardless of system.

Downtime (link / top)
The time between adventures, when the PCs get a chance to rest, heal, train and resupply.

Difficulty (link / top)
A general term for the target number a character needs to roll to succeed at a task, as in “What’s the difficulty?”

Drama Queen (link / top)
A player of either gender who plays their character in an overly-dramatic, spotlight-hogging manner.

Drift (link / top)
Taking an idea or rules element from one RPG and incorporating it into a different RPG. For example, importing the critical hit tables from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay into D&D.

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.

Dungeon Master (link / top)
The Dungeons & Dragons-specific term for game master. Widely used in place of “game master,” regardless of system. DM for short.

E

Emergency Break (link / top)
A player who is never ready to take their turn during combat, bringing the game to a halt.

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.

Engine (link / top)
Synonymous with system. Commonly used to refer to game systems that are designed to work with multiple settings or genres, often universal systems.

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.

Engineer (link / top)
Short for character engineer.

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.

F

Face (link / top)
The PC who acts as the face of the party — their spokesperson and chief negotiator. Face PCs generally have very high social stats and skills.

Fantasy Heartbreaker (link / top)
A homebrewed RPG defined primarily by what it does differently from Dungeons & Dragons, while retaining many of the conventions of D&D.

Feedback (link / top)
Opinions and criticism of the game, generally solicited by the GM from the players after a session.

Fig (link / top)
Short for figure, and synonymous with miniature.

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.)

Fistful O’ Dice (link / top)
A derogatory term for dice pool systems.

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.

FLGS (link / top)
Short for Favorite Local Gaming Store.

Flavor Text (link / top)
Descriptive text that doesn’t include any rules elements, most often found in published scenarios.

Fluff (link / top)
Slang for the non-mechanical elements of any RPG, such as setting material. (The mechanical elements are called crunch.)

Four Basic Food Groups (link / top)
Slang for a balanced party.

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.

Fumble (link / top)
A roll that is failed so spectacularly that something exceptionally bad happens as a result. Sometimes called a “critical fumble.”

G

Game-breaking (link / top)
A rules element (most often a PC ability) so broken that it has the potential to ruin an entire campaign.

Game Master (link / top)
The player who guides the other players through adventures, describes the game world and plays all of the NPCs. GM for short, and also written as “gamemaster.”

Gamer (link / top)
That’d be you, Tex.

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.

Gaming (link / top)
Another term for the hobby of roleplaying, or playing RPGs.

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.

Glass Cannon (link / top)
A character who deals a lot of damage in combat, but isn’t very tough. In many RPGs, ninja are glass cannons.

GM (link / top)
Short for Game Master. The player who guides the other players through adventures, describes the game world and plays all of the NPCs.

GM Fiat (link / top)
When the GM simply decides the outcome of an in-game event, without rolling dice or involving the rules in any way. Often has a negative connotation.

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.

Golden Rule (link / top)
“Have fun.” Sometimes called Rule One.

Grognard (link / top)
Slang for a veteran wargamer (someone who plays tabletop battle games). Sometimes applied more broadly to old school gamers, particularly older ones.

Group (link / top)
Several friends who get together to play RPGs. A minimum of one player and one GM are required to form a gaming group.

Guisarme Glaive Voulge Glaive (link / top)
Simply the finest polearm ever created.

H

Hack and Slash (link / top)
A play style that focuses on killing things and taking their stuff. Often associated with dungeon crawls.

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.

Healer (link / top)
A character who can perform first aid or other healing on the party. Often used even when a more genre-appropriate term (like doctor or medic) would be more accurate.

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.

House Rule (link / top)
Any game rule that is altered, added to or removed from the original rules.

House System (link / top)
The system an RPG publisher uses in most or all of their games. Not all publishers have a house system.

I

IC (link / top)
In-Character. Speech and actions performed as if spoken or done by a character, much like an actor in a play.

Illuminati (link / top)
The archetypal “secret masters of the world,” used as a general term for powerful, secretive organizations.

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.

Improvise (link / top)
What the GM does when working without notes or pre-written adventure material, often as a response to the players having done something totally unexpected.

In-character (link / top)
Speech and actions performed as if spoken or done by a character, much like an actor in a play. IC for short.

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.

J

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.

Just Playing My Character (link / top)
“I’m just playing my character” is an excuse used by a troublemaking player to justify disruptive actions taken by their PC.

K

Kewl Powerz (link / top)
Interesting abilities available to characters. Sometimes used in a derogatory manner, as in “He only wants to play a Jedi because of the kewl powerz he’ll get.”

Kibbitz (link / top)
To influence another player action’s out-of-character, generally by sharing metagame knowledge. Usually frowned upon.

Kicker (link / top)
A type of background hook created by a player that is intended to propel her character forward during the game in ways that the player finds interesting.

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.

L

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.

LGS (link / top)
Local Gaming Store.

Level Up (link / top)
When your character gains a level in a class-and-level system.

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.

M

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.)

Marching Order (link / top)
The order in which the PCs travel when in a confined space, such as a corridor. Most often used in dungeon crawls.

Max (link / top)
Short for maximum. The top score or roll possible, as in “I have max Strength” or “She did max damage.”

Meat Grinder (link / top)
An encounter or series of encounters that is tougher than usual, making PC death much more likely.

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.

Mechanics (link / top)
All of the rules elements of an RPG. Roughly synonymous with system.

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).

Metaplot (link / top)
Background story elements that exist throughout a campaign, often built into the setting. Metaplot elements are often peripheral to a game’s main storyline.

Mini (link / top)
Short for miniature.

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.”

Module (link / top)
An older term for adventure or scenario.

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.”

Mook (link / top)
An NPC with limited abilities whose only role is to be taken out by the PCs during combat. Mooks usually come in groups, like extras in a kung-fu film.

Munchkin (link / top)
A player who exploits loopholes in the rules (but does not break them) to build PCs that are more powerful than average. Synonymous with twink, and often used as an insult.

My Guy (link / top)
When a player starts every sentence with “My guy,” it’s often a sign that they’re not really into roleplaying, and sometimes a sign of dysfunctional play.

N

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.

Nerf (link / top)
To make a rules element significantly less powerful (sometimes too much so). Nerfing broken rules is one way to make them balanced.

Newbie (link / top)
Someone who is new to RPGs. Sometimes shortened to noob (or “n00b”).

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.

Noob (link / top)
Short form of newbie, someone who is new to RPGs. Also written as “n00b.”

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).

O

Old School (link / top)
A reference to a play style that hearkens back to the early days of D&D, most often involving hack and slash play and dungeon crawls.

One-shot (link / top)
An adventure designed to be played in a single session, and not as part of an ongoing campaign. One-shots often feature pre-generated PCs.

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).

OOC (link / top)
Out-Of-Character. Anything that a player says or does that is not spoken or done in-character, such as asking a rules question. Sometimes used as a synonym for metagame.

Open-ended Campaign (link / top)
A campaign with no predetermined endpoint, theoretically intended to be run indefinitely. The opposite of a closed campaign.

Out-of-Character (link / top)
Anything that a player says or does that is not spoken or done in-character, such as asking a rules question. Sometimes used as a synonym for metagame. OOC for short.

P

Padding (link / top)
When a GM stretches out a session solely to make it last longer, most often with a random encounter. Can also be used in reference to “filler” text in published RPG material.

Paperclip (link / top)
A player who reminds the GM of facts or rules that adversely affect the party. “Clippy” for short, and named after Microsoft Office’s incredibly annoying Office Assistant.

Party (link / top)
A general term for the group formed by the PCs. Many RPGs use a game-specific term instead.

Party Leader (link / top)
The PC designated by the rest of the party as their spokesperson and chief decision maker.

PBeM (link / top)
Play By eMail. An online RPG which is played via email, with no face-to-face interaction between the players.

PbP (link / top)
Play-by-Post. An online RPG which is played on a messageboard or forum, with everyone posting their actions for the rest of the group to see.

PC (link / top)
Player Character. Any character that is played by a player, not the GM. The PCs are the center of attention in any RPG, and the game revolved around their activities.

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.

Penalty (link / top)
A modifier that reduces your chance of success when making a die roll (the opposite of a bonus).

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.

Pet NPC (link / top)
An NPC that receives favored treatment from the GM, often outshining the PCs during the game. Pet NPCs are very frustrating for players.

Play by Email (link / top)
An online RPG which is played via email, with no face-to-face interaction between the players. (PBeM for short.

Play-by-Post (link / top)
An online RPG which is played on a messageboard or forum, with everyone posting their actions for the rest of the group to see. PbP for short.

Player (link / top)
Technically, everyone involved in playing the game is a player, but the term is most often used to mean everyone but the GM. Each player generally plays a single PC.

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.

Player-driven (link / top)
A type of plot where the players actively advance the story, rather than reacting to GM-initiated plot elements. Roughly synonymous with character-driven.

Play Style (link / top)
A distinctive approach to gaming. Every gaming group has its own play style, as does every individual player and GM. Some RPGs encourage particular play styles.

Plot (link / top)
The story that unfolds during an adventure. In RPGs, the plot can start out one way and wind up somewhere very different because of the actions of the PCs.

Plot Hook (link / top)
Anything the GM describes to get the PCs involved in an adventure.

Point System (link / top)
A type of system in which players spend points on character abilities, theoretically producing balanced PCs. Most common in skill-based systems.

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.

Pre-gen (link / top)
Short for pre-generated character, a PC that is created by the GM (or found in a published adventure), most often for con games or one-shots.

Pre-generated (link / top)
A PC that is created by the GM (or found in a published adventure), most often for con games or one-shots. (Pre-gen for short.)

Prep (link / top)
Short for preparation, all of the activities that the GM does before each session (and when planning out a campaign or building a world).

Prop (link / top)
A real-world object that is connected to the game, such as a parchment map that the GM draws for the players to represent a map that the party finds in the game.

Q

Q is for “Quick, pick another letter!”

R

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 (link / top)
Rules As Written. The original, unaltered rules text of an RPG (not modified by house rules, for example).

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 Herring (link / top)
A game element intended to mislead the players, most often one of several possible clues.

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.)

Relationship Map (link / top)
A diagram showing the links and connections between characters, specifically those links that are important to the players.

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 (link / top)
A single roll of the dice, or the results of a die roll.

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.

RP (link / top)
Short for RolePlay.

RPG (link / top)
RolePlaying Game. A game in which the players take on fictional roles (characters) and take part in a shared narrative (the campaign, usually guided by a GM.

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 (link / top)
The mechanics that are used to resolve what happens during the game. Most RPG rules incorporate dice. (Also called system.)

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.

S

Sage (link / top)
An NPC who the party seeks out to obtain specialized knowledge. Knowledgeable NPCs are often called sages even when a more genre-appropriate term is available.

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.

Scene Framing (link / top)
A mechanic by which players exert narrative control over in-game events by describing and setting up scenes for the group.

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.)

Screen (link / top)
A three- or four-paneled cardboard “shield” that many GMs set up in front of them to prevent the players from seeing their notes, maps and die rolls.

Screen Monkey (link / top)
Slang for game master, in reference to the common practice of using a GM’s screen. Made popular by the Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip.

Screen Time (link / top)
How much time a character spends in the spotlight, as in “Gary’s character gets too much screen time when we play.”

Scripted Scene (link / top)
A scene consisting entirely of narration by the GM. Scripted scenes can be very annoying for players, especially when they describe PC actions.

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.”

Session (link / top)
One day/afternoon/night of gaming, which often (but not always) involves playing through a single adventure.

Setting (link / top)
The world in which the game takes place, or in some cases a specific portion of that world.

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.

Solo (link / top)
Short for solo campaign. A game played with one player and one GM.

Sourcebook (link / top)
General term for any RPG supplement (except for adventures). Sourcebooks can cover setting material, new options for the PCs, new rules and the like.

Space Bar (link / top)
“Skip the flavor-text and get on with the adventure.” From computer games, where the space bar is used to do just that.

Splat (link / top)
Short for splatbook.

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.

Spotlight (link / top)
When a PC is at the center of the action in a given scene, they’re in the spotlight.

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.

Status Quo Encounter (link / top)
An encounter that is pre-planned as part of an adventure. The opposite of a random encounter.

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).

Subplot (link / top)
A secondary plot that runs parallel to the main plot. Subplots are often designed so that they can be ignored (or missed) by the PCs.

System (link / top)
Another term for a game’s rules. Synonymous with engine

T

Table Talk (link / top)
Any conversation at the gaming table that is not directly related to the game itself, such as quoting Monty Python lines. Excessive table talk can be disruptive.

Tabletop (link / top)
A term that describes any RPG that is played in person (as opposed to online) and is not a LARP. Generally synonymous with pen and paper.

Tailored (link / top)
Any game element that is specifically written for the PCs, ranging from an entire adventure to individual encounters or even game mechanics. The opposite of canned.

Tank (link / top)
A combat-oriented character.

Target Number (link / top)
The minimum roll needed for success. Whether you need to roll equal to or greater than or equal to or less than the target number varies by RPG.

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.

To-hit (link / top)
The target number to hit an opponent in combat, as in “What’s my to-hit.”

Total Party Kill (link / top)
When the entire party of PCs is wiped out in a single combat, most often due to a run of unlucky die rolls. Abbreviated as TPK.

TPK (link / top)
Total Party Kill. When the entire party of PCs is wiped out in a single combat, most often due to a run of unlucky die rolls.

Turtle (link / top)
A player who rarely does anything in-game without prompting from the GM or the other players.

Twink (link / top)
A player who exploits loopholes in the rules (but does not break them) to build PCs that are more powerful than average. Synonymous with munchkin.

U

Uber (link / top)
“Powerful,” most often used in reference to PCs or their abilities. From the German über, which translates to over, above, meta and super, depending on context.

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?”

Universal System (link / top)
A type of game system designed to be used across multiple genres and settings, as opposed to one that is built only for a specific setting.

V

V is for “Vee GMs don’t use zis letter.”

W

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.

Whiff (link / top)
To fail a roll very badly, sometimes resulting in a fumble.

Wing It (link / top)
Slang for improvise.

World (link / top)
The game world where the campaign takes place. Nearly always synonymous with setting.

Worldbuilding (link / top)
The act of creating a homebrewed setting.

X

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).

XP Sponge (link / top)
A PC who does little to contribute during an encounter (usually a combat), but soaks up a full share of XP nonetheless.

Y

Y is for “Years and years of gaming, and still no words that start with Y.”

Z

Z, the 12-sided die of the GMing glossary.

Credits & Acknowledgements

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.

This glossary was inspired by the Motive Web Design Glossary, which I discovered via Performancing.