A Tabletop RPG Glossary

         This is a basic list of "universal" terminology for tabletop role-playing games. Different games will use different terms for these, so I pick what I see as the most common and note variations.

Action Resolution
The general game method for deciding what the results are for a character's attempted action. Most modern games provide a generic means for resolving an action by specifying a game stat and a difficulty number, and then rolling dice. A function of the stat, difficulty, and die roll(s) determines whether the attempt was a success or failure, and the degree of success/failure.
Advantages
An optional trait which some but not all characters possess. These may be binary or may be taken in levels. Also known as "virtues" (Ars Magica), "talents" (Hero System), or "feats" (D&D).
Attribute
A set of general numerical stats which all characters have such as "Strength" and "Intelligence". Typically there are 3 to 12 of these, and all attributes are on the same scale, such as 1-5 or 3-18. Alternatively called a "characteristic" (Hero System, Fuzion, Ars Magica, Traveller) or "ability" (D&D). The term "attribute" is used by Palladium, White Wolf's storyteller games, GURPS, and GDW games.
Character Generation
The process of creating a character in the system, including setting numbers for attributes, skills, and other stats. Common mechanics include point-buy, classes, and templates.
Class
A character creation mechanic which requires the player to select a category for his character. This is usually a profession (i.e. warrior), but could also be a culture (i.e. barbarian) or a race (i.e. elf). Classes are distinct from templates in that choosing a class has a significant continuing effect on the character.
Diceless
This may mean a game which does not use dice, but it may mean a game which does not use randomizers at all (i.e. no dice, cards, or rock-scissors-paper) for resolving actions.
Disadvantage
This is an unusual problem that the character has. It might be a physical diability such as deafness, a social problem such as being wanted by the police, or a psychological weakness. In some point-buy systems, the player gets extra points for taking a disadvantage. Disadvantages are often encouraged because they add depth to a character, and make good plot hooks.
Free-form
A term which can refer to a "low-mechanics" or even "no-mechanics" system. Some people use "limited freeform" to mean "low mechanics", and "freeform" to use "no mechanics". To be more specific, you should probably explain more thoroughly.
GM
"Game Master" or "Game Moderator". This is the person who is in charge of running the game, including having final say over how actions are resolved. Also referred to as "Storyteller" (in White Wolf games), "Dungeon Master" (in D&D), and innumerable other names.
Point-Buy
A style of character creation mechanic, where the player is assigned a number of points. A cost in points is then defined for all attributes, skills, and advantages. The player then spends points to get what she wants in the character.
There are two variations. Open Point-Buy has a single pool of points is used to buy all capabilities. Limited Point-Buy has several different pools of points, where each pool can only be spent on certain things. For example, there might be one pool of points to spend on attributes and another pool to spend on skills.
Metagame
Dealing with concerns of the players and GM, as opposed to the characters in the gameworld. Meta-game mechanics are actions by the players which do not represent a corresponding action by the PC -- such as drama points spending.
NPC
"Non-Player Character". This is a character in the game controlled by the GM (as opposed to one of the players).
Package
A set of advantages, disadvantages, and skills which must be taken together.
PC
"Player Character". This is a character in the game controlled by one of the players (as opposed to the GM).
Skill
A list of potential stats for specific trained fields, such as "climbing" or "lockpicking. Depending on the game, the list ranges from around 40 skills to 200 or even more, depending on the game. Each character may develop a subset of these, listing those skills that she knows, each with a number for how capable she is in that skill. Some systems have only binary skills: i.e. either you know it or you don't.
Template
This is an almost fully pre-made set of attributes, skills, and other stats -- used for quick player character creation. A template can be modified, but should be fairly close to the final result. A template is distinct from a class in that it has no effect per se after character creation. Also known as an "archetype" (Shadowrun).
Stat
Any game-specific numerical rating for a character. i.e. Height in inches is not a stat, but movement in feet per game-turn is. This includes "ranked" stats which are not written as numbers, but are from an ordered list of distinct rankings that is treated numerically. i.e. FUDGE has 7 ranks from "Terrible" to "Superb" which are functionally identical to a numerical stat from -3 to +3. The three basic types of stats are attributes, derived stats, and skills.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sat Jul 17 10:45:39 2004