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The Tech Deck

Tabletop Roleplaying Definitions

The following is a list of abbreviations and definitions. If you aren't sure what something is, then let me know I may add it to this list.


Alignment - A Dungeons and Dragons system for loosely defining a character's personality and opinions. The system involves choosing one from each of the following lists. List 1) Chaotic, neutral and lawful. List 2) Good, neutral, evil. This will give a character one of 9 personalities (ie Chaotic Neutral, Neutral Good or Lawful Evil). See other sources for what these combinations mean.

Be warned: In-depth discussion of alignment can stop an entire gaming session! As interpretations of what these 9 "personalities" actually mean neigh infinite. Suggestion: If this discussion begins, STOP the discussion immediately! Before it gets heated.

Critical Success - Due to amazing rolls the character has done the impossible. The character has not only succeeded at whatever task they have attempted, but did it well and then some. For example, dealing extra damage on an attack, convincing the veteran guard to let you inside or climbing a cliff faster.

Natural 20 - Dungeons and Dragons term/requirement for a Critical Success.

Critical Failure - Due to terrible rolls the character has failed whatever task they attempted. Not only has the character failed, but they have actually done worse then failing. For example, losing hold of your weapon when you attempt to attack, getting imprisoned by a veteran guard after some miscommunication or losing your grip as you were climbing up a cliff.

Natural 1 - Dungeons and Dragons term/requirement for a Critical Failure.

LoreThe explanations and backstory of the various different factions and/or characters. This information rarely covers game mechanics and is instead used to explain why something is a particular way. For example, a railgun deals a lot of damage, because it is firing a large caliber slug at incredible speeds. The information after the "because" would be considered lore.

Fluff - See Lore

Dungeon Master (aka DM) – The person who runs a roleplaying game, they are the arbitrator of the rules, teller of the story, and they role-play the non-player characters in the game. This moniker is most often used in the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Game Master (aka GM) – See Dungeon Master. This is more often used in games other then Dungeons and Dragons.

Player – A person playing in the Dungeon Master’s game.

Player Character (aka PC) – The individual a Player plays as in the game. These are often the main characters in the story.

Non-Player Character (aka NPC) – These are any characters the players are not roleplaying. DM’s are often the ones who role-play these characters. Some examples of NPC’s are innkeepers, nobility, monsters, arch-villains, other heroes. They are usually the most common character in a storyline.

Party - Typically refers to the group of PC's in an adventure. Can contextually also refer to the players and DM as a group.

Quest Giver – An NPC whose main focus is to give the players a Quest. A DM can make any NPC into a quest giver, or make one up on the spot. For example, Idea 2 in this post, talks about a madman in the bar. The madman is a quest giver, as he’s an NPC that gives the players a quest to accomplish.

Dice Notation – The standards used in most tabletop gaming use the following: XdY. Where X equals the number of dice to roll and Y equals the size/type of the dice. Some examples are:

1d6 (one, six sided die)

5d8 (five, eight sided dice)

2d10+1d6 (two, ten sided dice added to one, six sided die)

Explosive Dice – If you roll the maximum amount on the dice. You pick up the die and roll again. For example rolling 3d6 you get 3, 4 & 6. Since you rolled a 6, you roll it again and get a 5. What these rolls mean vary from game to game.

Game Session - A single period of time usually several hours in length where the players and DM get together to play games. Typically this happens at a house or online via chat rooms. I have been in these that lasted longer than 12 hours and some as short as 1 hour. It really depends on what works best for your group.
P.S. As a matter of courtesy and friendliness I suggest showering beforehand and bringing a unit of snacks or drinks to share. If everyone does it, there should be plenty to go around.

Quest – A short storyline that generally takes 1-3 game sessions. It works best for most quests to be straightforward from start to finish.

Adventure – A longer storyline that generally involves 2-4 quests whose plots intertwine. It works best if you think of where you want the players to start and where you want them to end up. From there you break down what you want to happen into quests that move the players from start to finish.

Campaign – A grand storyline that brings together multiple adventures. These take a significant amount of time. Requirements: A dedicated group, DM and an epic storyline.

Hooks – Situations that are left ambiguous and/or confusing, making the players interested in seeing what happens next. Most commonly used at the end of a game session to make your players wanting to come back next time.

Character Driven – These are storylines that focus entirely on the characters and what they would like to do, leaving the players to drive the story. A DM for a character-driven game does not have to prep as much, but will benefit from good improvisation. The game "Vampire the Masquerade" is often prone to these kinds of storylines as the players come up with plans to gain/maintain power.

Roleplaying – Taking on the role of a character in a game.

Tabletop Roleplaying (aka “Pen and Paper” Roleplaying) – This roleplaying is generally done by gathering the group’s Players and DM to a single location. The names come from the fact it is usually played on a table with characters written down on paper character sheets.

Video Game Roleplaying – Is a broad term describing video games that are often long, story-driven adventures for one or more players. The role of the DM is done by the game/computer instead of a person.


A positive anything is better than a negative nothing.” – Elbert Hubbard

Andrew Smith is one of The Spokesman-Review's IT gurus and resident dungeon master.