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Useful Notes / Role-Playing Game Terms

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Media complement one another: Movies, TV series, video games, etc. often convert into one another. As they do so, tropes in one genre often become tropes in another. One of these is the Role Playing Game or RPG, a popular form of video games. RPGs themselves are conversions from table-top paper gaming, which often involved acting. (Hence the "Role Playing" part of the name.) As this has increased, we see more and more RPG aspects in series, especially Anime & Manga. See also Role-Playing Game 'Verse.

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  • Aggro (short for "aggravation" or "aggravate"): A multifaceted term used primarily in MMORPGs but slowing seeping into the single-player RPG corner, as well.
    • At the most basic level it refers to the act of an NPC enemy ("mob") attacking a Player Character. If the mob is not programmed to attack on sight or only does so when a PC comes within a certain range, the player can prepare for battle ("before you aggro") and attack first, forcing the mob to retaliate ("draw its aggro"). During the battle, a mob can usually target only one of the PCs attacking it, so "aggro" is used in relation to its current target (which can stay the same or change depending on circumstances).
    • Confusingly, the term can also be used interchangeably with "threat" — another MMORPG mechanic that has been bleeding over into single-player games. Threat is a (normally) hidden score that the enemy AI assigns to each player character attacking it, so it can prioritize its targets: the higher the score, the higher the likelihood of the AI targeting ("putting the aggro on") that character. Threat score can be raised by a variety of means, including damaging the enemy, assisting your allies who damage the enemy, as well as by special abilities; some special abilities also help lower the threat. "Threat management" refers to players manipulating the threat scores to keep the enemy attacking the Stone Wall characters, while keeping the aggro off Glass Cannons and Combat Medics at all times.
  • Alignment, see: Character Alignment.

  • Caster: Short for "spell-caster", i.e. any character who uses magic ("casts spells"). This is thanks to many RPGs categorizing their Functional Magic systems into separate types and using different terms for their users (e.g. "wizards" use "arcane" magic, "clerics" use "divine" magic, etc.), necessitating a neutral umbrella term to differentiate them from characters and classes without magical powers (sometimes referred collectively as "martials"note ).
  • Character Alignment: A system used as a guide to aid in role-playing specific character types, and sometimes as a straitjacket to prevent you from playing against your character type. The Dungeons & Dragons scale of Law vs. Chaos and Good vs. Evil with Neutrality in the middle of both is the one most role-playing gamers will be familiar with. Accordingly, some people find it a useful tool, while others find it a pain in the ass. Not present in all Role Playing Games — often rendered as a Karma Meter for simplicity, though almost all D&D-based games will have straight-up alignments included.
  • Character Classes: Your place in the Order of Things is strictly defined, usually in terms of Fighter, Thief, Magic User, Cleric, or Background Character. Along with these roles usually comes standard physical/mental types—fighters are always huge and burly, and not always swift; magic users are always skinny, weak and clumsy while being geniuses; thieves are nimble and clever, and often smaller than other characters. Sometimes subvarieties like Paladin, Barbarian, Illusionist and Druid are available, and sometimes races like Elf and Dwarf will be treated as classes. Clerics will have divine magic (a dead giveaway for a Role-Playing Game 'Verse). Changing classes is difficult if not impossible.
  • Character sheet: In Tabletop RPGs, a slip of paper containing all the important information about a Player Character, their Stats, and their current status (e.g. Hit Points) for the benefit of their respective player. Character sheets go all the way back to OD&D and are ubiquitous in pen-and-paper gamingnote , although recent indie titles have challengednote  their traditional understanding and some, like Fiasco and Heroine, have done away with them altogether.

  • Dice: Usually signified by "dX", where X is the number of sides on the die you roll. A traditional die is a d6. Multiple dice are handled by YdX, Y being the number of dice rolled—4d6 means you roll four traditional dice, or one traditional die four times, and add the results. Added to this is the occasional static number, or extra dice—this is usually written out as follows: 4d8 + 2d6 + 3, which means you roll four eight-sided dice, then two six-sided dice, and then add those all up and then add three. Even when there are no actual dice involved, a spell that does 2d12 damage will deal between 2 and 24 damage, tending toward 13.

  • Endgame: In MMORPGs, this usually refers to all of the content (such as repeatable instanced dungeons or "raids") that is restricted to the player characters who have hit the Level Cap of a particular game. This contrasts "regular content", which serves to level the characters up to said cap from zero and is of main interest to more casual players, who, for example, only play the game for its narrative campaign. Endgame content, on the other hand, is the major focus for long-term hardcore players, who usually breeze past the regular content (due to having seen it many times over previous playthroughs already).
  • Experience (aka EXP or XP): Curious phenomenon where killing things makes you stronger. It was probably originally supposed to mean that the "experience" of killing the monster (learning from your mistakes, when to duck, physical exertion, etc.) was symbolically represented, however it has evolved to an almost vampiric act. Killing something and absorbing the essence of the opponent builds up the body and mind far more than an equivalent exercise workout. The game-runner can also give out experience for roleplaying and non-combat actions, but as originally conceived...

  • Fiction-first: The mindset of some pen-and-paper RPGs (particularly those associated with The Forge), wherein the fiction of the game must invoke the mechanics of the game, rather than the other way around. To give an example, in traditional RPG combat, you roll to hit the enemy and, if the roll is good, may take your time to describe the attack in detail, or just move on to the next character; in a fiction-first game, you first describe how you attack, then choose which stat best fits your described approach, and roll for it to see how well it goes. The purpose of fiction-first gaming is to let players create a fluid narrative that is influenced, but not governed by game mechanics.

  • Game Master (GM): The person or persons (in case of large larps or multi-table events) running a role-playing session or campaign. Traditionally wears a lot of hats, but their two most essential functions are describing adversity for the player characters to struggle against and deciding how to open a scene (an encounter), when to draw the curtain on it, and which scene comes next — in other words, managing the game's overall pacing. Some games, known as "GM-less", do away with this role entirely by distributing the aforementioned powers equally among all players (often by Round Robin). Goes by a lot of different monikers in different games.

  • Heartbreaker: A re-writing or modification of a rules set by a fan designed to either overcome its limitations or be a "game killer" and replace it in the market. This typically refers to a Dungeons & Dragons clone like The Fantasy Trip, Chivalry & Sorcery, or Tunnels & Trolls.
  • Hit Points (aka Life Points or Health Points; abbr. as HP for short): How healthy are you? Physical damage can be boiled down to a simple number out of a maximum. Sometimes parts of the body no longer functioning may be included in the loss of HP (such as bones being broken or limbs severed) but often one just glows a bit and grimaces. Full HP or 1 HP is the same in terms of what you can do. Once you get to zero, though...
  • Holy trinity: A tongue-in-cheek shorthand for the Damager, Healer, Tank setup, so called because of its seeming omnipresence in (MMO)RPGs — even ones that are explicitly designed to curtail it (like Guild Wars 2).
  • Homebrew: Anything created for a tabletop RPG system that is not published by a commercial publisher. In other words, it's something that a player or Game Master creates for a game from their own mind. This could be something as small as a weapon, an item, an NPC, or a monster. However, homebrew can go all the way up to quests, campaigns, and settings. As long as it was not published by the rights holder, it's homebrew. This is exclusive to tabletop RPGs — homebrew in a video game is practically nonexistent. Compare Third Party.

  • Immersion: An altered mental state of being so engrossed in the story of your player character that you are no longer conscious of your Real Life concerns. Arguably, the end goal of all role-playing, though very subjective and hard to define.

  • Kiting: Attacking an enemy from afar while maintaining enough distance so that it cannot fight back and has to chase you. Named after visual resemblance to flying a kite.

  • LARP: Originally an abbreviation for "Live-Action Role-Play", but slowly becoming an anacronym ("larp", "larping"), particularly in Scandinavia. A format of role-playing where players physically act out some or all of their in-character dialogue and actions, resulting in much deeper immersion than in classical tabletop RP. Whereas in pen-and-paper role-playing, the fiction exists mainly in the players' heads, in a larp, it is superimposed onto their physical reality, bringing it closer to improv theater. Nevertheless, supernatural abilities (if any) and actions players may find uncomfortable (such as violence or physical intimacy) typically remain confined to the theater of the mind.
  • Line: A technique for handling sensitive material in pen-and-paper RPGs, originally proposed by Ron Edwards in Sex & Sorcery. A line is an agreement made by all players prior to the game that certain topics (ranging from political or religious debate to torture and rape) will not be brought up during play. This does not require an in-story justification, only that everyone avoids introducing elements to the fiction that would make other players want to leave the game altogether. Compare Veil, where the act happens in-universe but is skipped over in narration for the purpose of not making anyone uncomfortable.

  • Magic Points (aka mana, furyoku, chi, Force strength, "power levels" etc. often abbreviated as MP in RPG games ): Spiritual strength can also be quantified. The spirit is like a container of liquid, with "magic" filling it up. The act of casting a spell or equivalent cleanly depletes a percentage of this total. What brings it back up again varies.
  • Meta(gaming): In pen-and-paper RP, making decisions for player characters based on information only their players are privy to, ranging from in-universe secrets communicated by other players out-of-character or by GM directly to the player, to numeric character stats (instead of the characterization they abstract). Metagaming is a very divisive practice: in more classical RPGs like D&D, it is strictly off-limits, but more experimental and indie games, as well as larps, often take a stance that the "player vs. character knowledge" distinction is entirely artificial and inconsequential (as long as it doesn't lead to immersion breaking). In MMOs, metagame usually surrounds PvP and PvE endgame content, regarding the best character builds for the respective activity; this is much closer to the usual usage of this term in competitive gaming.
  • Murderhobo: A term for the common style of play where the characters are homeless wanderers, killing things and stealing their stuff.

  • Playbook: A particular kind of character sheet popularized by Vincent Baker's Apocalypse Worldnote  and nowadays found in most Tabletop RPGs that are Powered by the Apocalypse or Forged in the Dark. Whereas classic character sheets are generic in that the same blank form can be used to stat out any character, games that use playbooks commonly come with a distinct one for each character archetype found in their respective setting — in other words, playbooks function as both character sheets and character classes. Playbooks are also often self-contained in that they include all gameplay rules relevant to a player (including any special rules unique to their particular archetype), so they often don't have to read the full rules before hopping into the actionnote .

  • Race: Refers more to species than skin color (elves versus hobbits for example). Even subraces (dark elves versus wood elves for example) are distinguished by more than just skin color or nationality. These are popular for giving you another choice, another set of flavor and, most important, another set of bonuses to work with. It also gives the player a chance to play against type (Dwarf wizards and halfling barbarians for example).
  • Roleplay (RP): Performing the actions of a character as they would do it. For example, a person playing a greedy thief may jump at the chance to snatch a quest-giver's purse, or a person playing a vegetarian may stand aside while their party gets massacred by a bear. As mentioned above, dedicated roleplayers may go as far as saying exactly what they characters say, sometimes with silly voices and accents for added fun. Blatantly doing something a character wouldn't (such as a Lawful Good knight massacring a village of innocent puppies) is called "Breaking RP" or "OOC" (out of character), and is often considered bad form (see: Meta(gaming)). In video games, this may refer to designing and performing the actions of the Player Character to create a cohesive character in the game's universe, rather than simply being the player's avatar, and an RP playthrough may be considered a Self-Imposed Challenge.

  • Spell slots: The alternative to Magic Points in Vancian Magic systems. Instead of each spell depleting a variable quantity from the same resource, spells are separated into "spell levels" and the character can cast N level 1 spells, M level 2 spells, etc. each day. Depending on character class, the caster may or may not need to "prepare" a small list of spells each morning.
  • Splats: Also called "splatbooks", splats are books that expand on or add new classes or other character options. Named after the various "Clanbooks" and other such books from the White Wolf era, and after the "*" asterisk to denote a wildcard, as it sort-of looks like a bug that's been "splatted".
  • Stats: Numerical ratings that describe your character's parameters in various ways. Your Strength score determines how much you can bench-press, your Intelligence score determines how well you can think, your Charisma score determines how successful you are with the ladies, etc. Some games have dozens of Stats for each character, while a few, such as D.U.D.E., have only one. Generally, each Stat is a numeric score on the same scale as every other Stat; if 10 Strength is how strong an average person is, then 10 Intelligence is how smart an average person is. In some game systems, gaining experience points can increase your Stats. In most systems, Stats will be broken down into Attributes (innate measures of a character’s aptitude) and Skills (reflecting training, learning, and study).

  • Third Party: Professionally published material for a game created by an entity other than the official publisher - this is allowed by some companies (for example, there are numerous third party Dungeons & Dragons products. Compare Homebrew.
  • Total Party Kill: When the entire Player Party is wiped out. In tabletop games, it is usually a result of either GM malice or of a series of bad calls on the parts of the players, the GM, or both; the end result is the players having to roll up new characters. In single-player video games, a total party kill is usually the only thing that leads to a Game Over (unless We Cannot Go On Without You is in effect), since individual party members only ever suffer a Non-Lethal K.O.. In multiplayer games, a TPK may kick the players out of an instanced dungeon but rarely has consequences more severe than that.

  • Veil: Another technique for handling sensitive material in pen-and-paper RPGs proposed in Sex & Sorcery. Similar to a line, a veil is an agreement made by all players prior to the game to moderate certain topics. The difference is that rather than avoiding them altogether as one would with a line, a veil has these events occur in the fiction but not explicitly described or acted out by the players. It's as if the narration fades out, then comes back in again after the act is over. A common veil, for instance, is consensual sex between characters; for the purpose of not making anyone uncomfortable, the narration makes it clear that sex happened, but glosses over the exact details of how it happened.

  • Wandering Monsters: Walking through the countryside, one is likely to be attacked by a weird-looking beast. This creature is unlikely to be part of the natural ecosystem, and may not leave a body after its hit points are driven to 0.
  • Whiff Factor: In pen-and-paper, the propensity of seasoned player characters to fail pathetically ("whiff") at things they are supposedly extensively trained in at a whim of the Random Number God — i.e. when their players' dice roll poorly. Whiffing can instill a substantial sense of failure in the players and often threatens to derail the Game Master's carefully laid-out campaign plans because the PC just failed to spot the vital clue: for this reason, many GM manuals recommend blaming such failures on external circumstances rather than the PCs' incompetence, and preparing several backup ways to give players the clues they need. The whiff factor is particularly noticeable in systems that use uniform distributions over large numeric domains, such as the d20 System, while others (like Gumshoe) are designed specifically to counteract it.

  • X-card: A common safety tool in pen-and-paper role-playing, intended as a signal to other players that the direction that the narrative has taken is making you so uncomfortable, you are about to leave the table. Often, it is a physical card with a large "X" on it, laid out in the middle of the table, which anyone can tap to invoke it. The invoking player is not required to justify the invocation, but may be asked what exactly they found uncomfortable, so the group can self-correct.