RPGs - Glossary
A typical RPG adventure is a fairly self-contained mission or scenario played over one or more sessions.
These often describe natural abilities shared by all characters, such as physical strength or wisdom.
This involves players who log their characters’ activities after the actual gameplay to record continuous character histories. The records are then available to support play involving actions separate from those of the rest of the group.
A build usually refers to rules-heavy RPGs where hours may be spent preparing players’ characters to customize and optimize the resulting character through the rule set.
A campaign involves a whole series of inter-related adventures within a consistent game-world.
This is the method used to create a character. For example, points may be spent across a range of skills or a character may have a well-defined class/ set of complementary, specialist skills.
Character or PC Sheet
Player characters’ specializations, game statistics, and background information are summarized and brought together on a PC Sheet for easy access during play.
A character or adventurer is an avatar or fictional character representing a role or characterization within a RPG.
A character is typically sketched out with a cluster of related abilities and skills. One quick way to help players to adopt a basic role is to group these skills and/ or abilities into a character class. E.g. a Fighter that is strong, familiar with a wide range of weaponry and skilled in battle.
Clones or Retro-Clones
These are remakes or remixes of early RPGs made under a range of permissive license conditions. They fall into a number of categories including: retro-clones that emulate an earlier rules set; ‘pseudo-clones’ that make significant changes to the earlier rules; and, more recently, clones that emulate a rules system - but add new content to set the gameplay of the earlier version alongside a range of extra options.
The highest natural die rolls available within a RPG often indicate a strong outcome, which may be amplified through knock-on bonuses, e.g. a natural 20 on a D20 often guarantees success or a damage multiplier.
Crunch is the mechanical side of the rules, which measure actions and outcomes during play.
The classic dungeon-crawl is mainly about taking a party of ‘good’ adventurers into dungeons and caverns where they encounter a mix of basic traps, slay as many ‘evil’ monsters as possible and recover any treasure. Typical options include raiding tombs and clearing out evil temples.
Freeform gameplay is typically a rules-light style of play that invites players to lead the narrative. This often places mechanical rules in the background and relies on players developing gameplay more through the contexts and situations they encounter than the rules set.
Content that doesn’t contribute directly to the mechanics of a system, (including descriptions, hints and tips or support for building adventures), is known as fluff.
A fumble is usually a major error committed while trying to carry out a difficult task, e.g. a natural 1 on a D20 may be an automatic fail, regardless of the circumstances.
The game-world is the imaginary world and the activities within that imaginary world that players explore through their characters. Some game-worlds thrive on the expectations and authenticity offered by a particular genre, e.g. Western RPGs. Others may be quite alien and unfamiliar, e.g. alien SciFi cultures.
GM or Gamesmaster
The GM is the player who often designs adventures, runs play and settles outcomes. Some games have their own specialized term, such as Dungeon Master.
A game may stick to a single genre or look to support a number of genres. These are the core tropes – and associated expectations – underlying imaginative gameplay. Obvious examples include fantasy and SciFi.
Grimy gameplay is run along similar lines to the gritty gameplay mentioned below, i.e. a dose of real world options running through the overall RPG gameplay mix. However, rather than relying on typical grit the game uses mess, deformation, disgusting local food and maybe the odd intestinal parasite to make play slightly more slapstick, earthy and/ or comic. This taps into the very realistic history found in books or shows like Horrible Histories.
Play that aims to include greater real world authenticity involves adding grit. This can be intended to make play more realistic, e.g. wounds take a long time to heal. However, it may also be aimed at delivering improvisation and authenticity, through borrowing from real-world circumstances and situations. This can involve realism, e.g. a realistic, but flexible, consideration of the effects and knock-on effects resulting from a meteor strike and/ or adding familiar themes and expectations into play.
A Hex-crawl offers one of the simplest approaches to forming open-ended campaign worlds. A blank or barely marked map of hexes is uncovered as players proceed from one territorial zone to the next. The crawl can be kept entirely random with players and/ or the GM rolling to find out what appears as each hex is encountered. Terrain and core political boundaries/ capital cities may be put in place to allow links and knock-on effects between hexes - to present opportunities for plot or character development.
Initiative is often a dice roll, with modifiers, that decides who gets to go first when groups of characters first encounter one another.
Level can refer to the floor levels of the dungeons or complexes that characters are exploring. However, it is also commonly used to indicate the experience or advancement a player has accumulated, which then matches some of the characters’ capabilities to those available to everyone at the same level.
Live Action (Roleplaying)
LARPs are a type of role-playing game delivered as a physical performance in the manner of a group of improvisational actors.
These are massive, multi-leveled dungeons, which vary greatly in that some are simply sprawling traditional dungeons, while others are subterranean settings for more deeply plotted and/ or imagined worlds.
The use of out-of-character knowledge or understandings to solve in-character problems is known as meta-gaming. Such knowledge or understanding may also be used to explain or justify actions carried out in-character.
Players who make characters based on optimization instead of characterization may be known as Min-Maxers for disregarding attributes and skills which they consider non-essential in exchange for boosting attributes and skills that gain an advantage. This often involves enhancing combat skills at the expense of areas like intelligence and diplomacy.
Munchkin is a term used to describe a self-orientated player who likes to grandstand and stay in the spotlight. They are often willing to find ways of adapting, or twisting, rules to get round the limitations placed on other players’ characters.
This means an unmodified roll such as a natural 1 or a natural 20.
The now rather dated New School refers largely to more recent versions of Dungeons and Dragons, 3.0E – 4.0E, which generally involve multi-volume rule sets with rules-heavy combat options.
NPC (Non-Player Character)
These characters are the people and personalities that player characters (PCs) encounter during their adventures. Some are likely to be hostile; but many are likely to be open to some form of negotiation or trade-off.
The OSR, (Old School Revival/ Old School Renaissance), refers to games similar to the early versions of Dungeons and Dragons, OE to 2E, which tend to offer rules-light, improvisational play based around relatively short rule sets. The appearance of clones/ re-mixed copies of older titles has made many Old School games widely available after a lengthy break.
PC (Player Character)
A player’s avatar or character in a game is usually known as a PC.
This usually refers to making characters using a wide choice of skill and/ or ability options selected by the player. All players’ PCs get the same number of points to spend on skills or abilities, which they may choose to group to make a more specialist character – or to spread around to gain a wider range of skills.
Powergamers are focused on gaining maximum advantage from mastering the rules in great detail. Most players will make some effort to optimize a PC, but a Powergamer takes this to the extent of seeking an unfair advantage or badgering the GM.
This is a term often used to describe exceptional abilities which make a character extraordinary, e.g. flight or telepathy. Powers are commonly used in superhero games.
A character's genetic and cultural heritage can include anything from the standard human races through to fantasy races, mutants, robots and aliens.
This involves the GM, the rules or a shrink-wrapped setting limiting player choice by requiring players to take certain actions and/ or channeling players towards particular choices. Railroading is often associated with GMs spelling out elaborate plots with fixed outcomes. While some measure of plot direction or railroading can be helpful in terms of providing an immersive setting, beyond a certain point railroading undermines player choice.
A reverse dungeon or scenario flips the standard model of adventurers ‘conquering’ a dungeon by placing the party in the position of defending a dungeon against intruders.
Rules-heavy RPGs that rely largely on mechanical rules typically involve lots of dice rolling. This approach tends to set aside areas like characterization, storybuilding, discovery and exploration – so the term roll-playing simply recognizes that play is focusing on game mechanics at the expense of roleplaying.
These players try to use knowledge of a RPG’s rules set to press for an unfair advantage by calling for interpretations of the rules to consistently fall in their favor. They may also be keen to insist that particular rules which are widely known for unbalancing a game have to be adhered to.
The multi-volume hardback set is a staple for games that tend to have a mechanical rule to cover most actions and situations within the game. Such rules tend to favor simulation over a sense of authenticity.
These are cut-down or level limited games that are often given out as demonstrations. The term may also be applied to particularly short rule sets, such as Risus, but such games, perhaps, belong in the rules-light category, as they are able to support a series of adventures.
Rules-Light (to Medium)
Games with limited mechanics that rely on players to fill in the gaps using negotiation and their imaginations are probably the largest RPG category. They may be quite short with simplistic mechanics that leave a lot for players to fill out. Alternatively, a rules light system may contain a solid rules framework and lots of fluff aimed at helping GMs to design and deliver adventures and settings.
There’s a certain amount of confusion over the use of the term sandbox, as the RPG definition tends to vary from more general use of the term. In a RPG placing an adventure in a sandbox often means the opposite of railroading, as adventures are driven by players’ choices, which the GM reacts to on the basis of expanding on a basic framework through improvisation.
A ‘save’ or saving throw is a very common game mechanic in which dice are used to try to avoid some kind of negative outcome.
The term scenario is interchangeable with the term adventure.
A game session is a single meeting of a roleplaying group.
These are the fictional worlds in which gameplay takes place. The term is comparable to a campaign, but a campaign is, possibly, a combination of a setting and the actions and event going on within a setting.
The results of training and learning are often described as skills, e.g. fencing or navigation skills.
These systems allow the game to be run without a Referee/ GM either by distributing the GM’s tasks or by offering options similar to solo RPGs.
TPK (Total Party Kill)
There are some games, such as horror titles, where it’s part of the entertainment to kill off the players – eventually. However, in most cases killing a PC, (without some magical or technological means of recovery), isn’t such a good idea, as a player may have put time and effort into the character. A full-blown, no way back TPK against experienced characters often collapses the gameplay/ a campaign.