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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- The process of creating a character in the system, including
setting numbers for attributes,
skills, and other
stats. Common mechanics include
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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
- 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
and another pool to spend on
- 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.
- "Non-Player Character". This is a character in the game
controlled by the GM (as opposed to one of the players).
- A set of advantages, disadvantages, and skills which must be
- "Player Character". This is a character in the game controlled
by one of the players (as opposed to the GM).
- 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.
- This is an almost fully pre-made set of
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).
- 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