Tabletop RPG Glossary

The tabletop RPG scene is huge. There are thousands of games from nearly as many designers found all over the internet on sites like itch.io and drivethrurpg.

There are a ton of terms and ideas throughout these games and their pitches that could be confusing for someone who stumbles upon a game they would otherwise like.

This page is a glossary of as many of those terms as I could muster a definition for, and will hopefully be helpful for any who come across it!

A

Actual Play - A recording, usually either as a podcast, video, or livestream, of people playing a tabletop rpg for the entertainment of others.

Adventure - A unit of play where the players play their characters across a whole story arc. Usually, a campaign is made up of a long series of adventures.

C

Campaign - A style of play where you meet, usually with the same group, multiple times to tell a longer story. Campaigns can vary in length from a few sessions to decades.

Class - An archetype for a player character, which usually grants access to specific abilities. Sometimes referred to with other names such as playbook.

Crunchy - While everyone's definition of crunchy will vary, it usually refers to a game that has a lot of interwoven rules which the player will be interacting with quite often

D

d# - A die with # sides. For example, a d6 is a six sided die, a d20 is a twenty sided die.

2d6 - A common way to describe rolling two six sided die and sum the results. Also works for other combinations of numbers, like 4d20, 8d4, etc.

d66 or d6d6 - A method used in some games whereby you roll two six sided dice but treat the results seperately.

Dice - Little random number generators often used in tabletop roleplaying games to determine uncertain results.

Dice Roll - Provides a way to randomly determine the outcome of an uncertain situation. Each game that uses a dice roll will have its own set of rules and procedures for resolving them, but the idea is always to leave the resolution of things up to chance.

Diceless - A type of tabletop roleplaying game that doesn't use dice in any way.

E

Encounter - A unit of play where a single situation is resolved. most often, an encounter will consist of player characters fighting against some enemy and the encounter ends when one side wins, but non-combat situations can be encounters as well.

Exploding Dice - Dice tech used in some games where rolling the highest value of a die allows you to roll another one of those dice, which will allow you to roll yet another if it also hits the highest value

F

Fail Forward - A philosophy of play whereby the story progresses even when a character fails a dice role, i.e. failing a dice roll doesn't strictly mean the action doesn't happen, it just means that whatever happens next isn't exactly what you had in mind

Fictional Positioning - A way to refer to the currently established truths of the game world in relation to possible actions that characters can take. For example, if your character is not standing on a table, they do not have the fictional positioning to backflip off of a table.

FITD - Forged in the Dark, which refers to games based on Blades in the Dark by John Harper

G

Game Master - The player in a game responsible for facilitating play and describing the consequences of the actions of the other players' characters. Often has another name within the text of a game, such as Arbiter, MC, DM, Maestro, etc

GM - usually short for Game Master

GMless - A category of games that don't require a GM

H

Hack - when A game designer takes an existing game and changes the rules and setting to create a new game, usually (hopefully) with the permission of the original designer

Hex crawl - A style of play, usually seen in traditional style games, where the GM presents players with a map subdivided into hexagons. The players move from hexagon to hexagon to see what's happening there and go on adventures. Similar to point crawl.

O

OSR - Old School Renaissance/Revolution - too complex a topic to sum up in one definition, but broadly a movement in games to replicate early ttrpg design ethos of lighter rulesets, an emphasis on situational rulings being made by the people actually playing the game, and the players of the games coming up with unique solutions to problems instead of using what's on their character sheet.

One Shot - A style of play in which the aim is to finish the story or adventure in one session.

M

Modifier - A number, usually specific to a stat a character has, that is added to the result of a dice roll. For example, a +1 modifier would add 1 to the result of the dice roll.

N

NDNM - No Dice, No Masters. A style of game based on Dream Askew/Dream Apart by Avery Alder and Benjamin Rosenbaum

O

One Shot - A style of play in which the aim is to finish the story or adventure in one session.

OSR - Old School Renaissance/Revolution - too complex a topic to sum up in one definition, but broadly a movement in games to replicate early ttrpg design ethos of lighter rulesets, an emphasis on situational rulings being made by the people actually playing the game, and the players of the games coming up with unique solutions to problems instead of using what's on their character sheet.

P

Partial Success - A result given by a Dice Roll where a player's goals are met, but not in full; often an unseen complication arises

PBTA - Powered By The Apocalypse - a game that is based on Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker

Playbook - An archetype for a player character, which usually grants access to specific abilities. Sometimes referred to with other names such as class.

Player Character - A character controlled by a non-GM player which is often their primary means for interacting with the world and fiction

Point Crawl - A style of play, usually seen in traditional style games, where the GM presents players with a map into locations clearly connected at points. The players move from point to point to see what's happening there and go on adventures. Similar to hexcrawl.

R

RAI - Rules As Intended - a term for when, while adjudicating a confusing rules situation, the players of the game make a judgement based on what they believe the game designer intended with the rule.

RAW - Rules As Written - a term for when, while adjudicating a confusing rules situation, the players of the game make a judgement based on the precise language written in the games text.

Resolution - Usually what you're trying to achieve with a dice roll - the result of an action which had an unclear outcome

Rules-lite - A game system that has fewer rules than average. Usually refers to games with a GM

S

Session Zero - The first meeting of a campaign where players get together to discuss expectations for the game, determine a game system and player roles (e.g. who is GM if applicable), and create characters

Setting Agnostic - A game system that doesn't have a specific setting in mind and thus can be played in a wide variety of worlds. Often setting agnostic games will be connected to a genre, but not always

System - Another way of referring to a game's rules. Often used as shorthand to describe what type of game something is, e.g. "a d20 system" for a game that uses a twenty-sided die in its main mechanic

System Agnostic - TTRPG content that is designed without a system in mind and thus is meant to be adapted for play in whatever game system you want.

T

TPK - Total Party Kill - when all player characters die in an encounter

T

VTT - Virtual Table Top - websites like Roll20, Role, and playingcards.io where players can emulate what it's like to play games at a table using the power of the internet

W

West Marches - A style of play coined by Ben Robbins where a large pool of players are responsible for getting together, coming up with a quest to go on, and scheduling time to play out that quest within a shared world over time

You've found the hidden stash of terms I want to define but ran out of brain space for! This is as much for my benefit as yours.

Feat
Level
Lines and Veils
Lyric Game
meta-currency
Module
no, but
Sandbox
Simulationist
Skill
success
Supplement
Sword Dream
Theater of the Mind
troupe play
Worldbuilding
X-Card
yes, and