Definitions of terms

Note: some common game-related terms are defined in the rules.



Your typical treasure-hunting, homeless ne'er-do-well that goes around and stirs up trouble for the locals. Sometimes they accidentally do something positive and get branded “heroes.” Of course, they let it go to their heads.

Some alternate names for adventurers are “murder hobos,” “tomb robbers” and “damned thieves.”



A campaign is typically series of interrelated adventures that form the basis of a story line or story arc (intentional or not).

Since this campaign is a sandbox, the stories are interrelated in the sense that they take place in the same setting and often with some of the same characters. While there are story lines that are happening that players may choose for their characters to become involved in, there are no rails that the players must follow to continue the story.

Cat Piss Man

Cat Piss Man, and his attendant bugs

Cat Piss Man is a gamer stereotype that is the worst specimen among gamers (or anime fans, Trekkies or any other category of fandom). Named for the odor that surrounds him, the only thing worse than Cat Piss Man's smell is his social skills.1)

Unfortunately, a lot of people picture this guy when RPGs are mentioned.


The mechanical elements of a roleplaying game. The rules, especially the ones that aren't core to the game. Contrast with fluff.


Dissociated Mechanics

Dissociated mechanics are the crazy-quilt, layer-upon layer of varying resolution rules for every subsystem of old-school role playing games. One thing uses a pile of d6s, one thing uses d20 saving throws, another uses 2d6 plus modifiers… every one a little different. Sometimes there's a rule for something that is well-defined, but in a given spell, monster or adventure locale description there's an entirely different mechanic specified just for that situation.

Dissociated mechanics drive some gamers mad. I love 'em.

The thing is, each subsystem has its own flavor. I like that. Each one must be considered its own entity. The chances and nuances are different; they feel different. Not everything is boiled down to one consistent die roll; players (or DMs even) know what the real chances may be. That's a good thing; it keeps you on your toes and keeps the game from being so mechanical.



A set of observances for online roleplaying (originally described here), typically but not exclusively in D&D-like fantasy RPGs. They allow for players to make a single character and take it between disparate campaigns (so you can always be Fred the Fighter or Marty the Magician in every game you play in, gathering experience and loot in different worlds).


The non-mechanical elements of a roleplaying game. Typically, the setting and background material. Contrast with crunch.



I probably *do* have dice older than you if you're not in your forties or older

Grognard is actually French for “old soldier,” but it's become a term in roleplaying by way of wargames. Essentially, it's someone who likes to play the older games and/or been playing for a long time.

To some (like me), it's a badge of honor. To some, it's a derisive term.

There's an endless debate about whether being a grognard means that you just prefer the older games, or more rules-lite style, or it's about nostalgia… I'm indifferent to the debate. To me, I like what I like. I had fun playing what I liked. It worked. If it's not your style, you don't need to play. If that makes me a grognard in a bad way in your eyes, so be it!



Gotta love those humongous maps! A hexcrawl is typically overland adventuring where encounters are defined at one or two per hex or alternately a very detailed hex may be broken down into several smaller hexes on a separate map for more detail. They are typically (but not necessarily!) part of a sandbox campaign, although not all hexcrawls are sandboxes.

In this sense, a hexcrawl begins to resemble a dungeon crawl, and a very large (continent- or world-spanning) hexcrawl may resemble a megadungeon in that there may be tracts that are empty but there are still encounters, “factions” may be local leaders or monsters or monster groups that can control a region, etc.


Killer DM

Rocks fall, everyone dies... a classic, and a touch more verisimilitude than the old "bolts of lightning from the sky!"The kind of DM that makes players understand the character generations rules exceeding well through the sheer repetition of rolling up replacement characters. Success is never found or fleeting at best, and death is often and arbitrary2). This is likely the result of a munchkin or other bad player becoming a DM.


Yeah, they're kind of like that.A gamer stereotype that, well, knows everything… or claims he does. He's a member of the SCA so he knows you can sleep comfortably in plate armor during the height of summer and do handstands in it as well; is a demolitions expert so that he can speak to the sort of effects that a Fireball spell would really have; is a co-founder of Locksport International so he knows exactly what his chances of picking that chest's lock should be and would always find the poisoned needle trap; he has played (or implies he secretly helped design) every game in existence so he knows how these things should work better than you do; and has baked Dwarven waybread (from a recipe that he got from real Dwarves!).

While the rules lawyer sees the letter of the rules being some sort of laws of physics for the game, the know-it-all will be discontent if one thing goes against his sense of how it should be from his perfect, all-encompassing experience. He makes others who just want to play the game want to gouge their eyes out.



There isn't a single, cut-and-dried definition of this term. Some people claim that a megadungeon is simply a really really, really, really large dungeon, whereas some others claim that you must meet other criteria for your dungeon to be considered a megadungeon. An adventure locale that would be considered a megadungeon will usually meet these criteria:

  1. A megadungeon is large
    1. A megadungeon will typically be at least several levels deep; some may be dozens or more deep.
    2. A megadungeon does not need to be the sole focus of the campaign, but it must be large enough to support the entirety of a campaign's play if it is the focus. This is why some people call them “campaign dungeons,” or “tentpole dungeons” if it is the main “tentpole” of action for the campaign (but not the entire focus of the campaign).
    3. Some megadungeons have no end; as the players find the edge they are added to, becoming ever larger to expand the environment for play. (This often goes hand-in-hand with the mythic underworld aspect.)

  2. A megadungeon is a rich environment for play
    1. A megadungeon has a social aspect, because it typically has many different inhabitants and the environment is expansive enough that there are motivations, politics and power plays going on between the various factions therein.
    2. There is often a sense that the megadungeon environment is the "mythic underworld," and as such may not follow all the logical rules that a player may be used to. In fact, the very environment itself may be hostile to the adventurers.
    3. Typically they are nonlinear, in that there are many paths to accomplish a goal. Whereas some dungeons may require players to go through several encounters to meet a criteria, there may be many physical and logical paths to accomplish something in a megadungeon. (Also, the author may have built out a potential goal without a method of resolution in mind, hoping that creative players will fill that in for him.)

Examples of well-known megadungeons would be the original Castle Greyhawk, Castles Blackmoor and El Raja Key, the Tékumel Underworld, Stonehell, Rappan Athuk and Dwimmermount.

If you're interested in megadungeons, there's a lot of resources available. A really good place to read up is at this forum on Knights 'n' Knaves Alehouse. Also, check out the archive of


Metagaming refers to any gaps between player knowledge and character knowledge which the player acts upon. A player is metagaming when they use knowledge that is not available to their character in order to change the way they play their character (usually to give them an advantage within the game), such as knowledge of the mathematical nature of character statistics, or the statistics of a creature that the player is familiar with but the character has never encountered.3)


Somebody who is all about their character build being “optimized” and to Hell with everything else. They like games with lots of crunch, because it gives them more options to make the statistically perfect character. They are in the same pool as powergamers and munchkins.

These people are better off playing MMORPGs than RPGs, and definitely don't care for rules-lite, old-school games.


A gamer stereotype that is akin to the min-maxer or powergamer in exploiting loopholes to their advantage, but goes so far as to throw a fit if the DM tries to nerf the loophole or has the audacity to tell them no (they typically have a real problem with rule zero). They can make a game miserable for everyone.

Munchkins are often the same players who will do things with the express intention to annoy other players or the DM. They typically have a maturity problem.



The act of adjusting the rules, particularly those that can be (or are actively being) abused. The term comes from the padded Nerf-brand toys, since they are considered safer due to said padding. Nerfing things is one way to add flavor or change tone by de-emphasizing them in play, but it's also a way to deal with some stereotypical gamers without just bouncing them out of the game altogether.


“Old-school” gaming

Yes.  Yes, it does.A grognard after my own heart... as long as he's not a power-gaming douche.

Old-school gaming means different things to different people. To some it's the crusty old rule set with its descending armor classes, cookie cutter character classes and dissociated mechanics. To others it's the way the game is run, with rulings-not-rules, describe what you're doing and don't just use the numbers off your character sheet and the like. To some it's about the game content: a sandbox where you can do whatever you like, you don't ride the rails of somebody else's story.

To me, it's some of all of that; it's hard to define, but I know it when I see it, and I hope what I run could be considered “old-school,” since that's my roots.

The problem with getting an old-school game going is that a lot of gamers have trouble with old-school. They think all their character can do is what's written on their character sheet, or that the plot will come up and bite them on the ass. There's an old-school mindset, and you should get yourself into that mindset.

Here's a couple links of interest to help you get into it:

Orc and Pie

"No, human!  This is my pot pie!"

A parody of a problem new-school gamers perceive with old-school adventures, wherein an orc waits in a 10'x10' room guarding a pie. The new-schoolers see the setup as nonsensical, since there is no logical reason for an orc to be endlessly waiting in a small room guarding anything, much less a pie, with no relation to any of the surrounding encounters, motivations of its own, etc. Presumably, the orc is supposed to be imbued with a personality, semblance of a history, have his own motivations and the like to be realistic as possible.

Usually, people who point to something like this drag out the tired complaint about verisimilitude. Instead, I look at it as an opportunity to do some ad-libbing or riffing on the setting and dungeon factions, making up new NPCs, story ideas, etc., on the fly. Old-schoolers don't need reams of description to help them define every possible thing in an adventure… but to each their own, right?



A gamer stereotype that will often play about any game and may actually be a decent role player, but he will go for whatever the mechanical advantage is. He generally has a favorite game system that he knows all the ins and outs of so that he can exploit them to the fullest. You can identify them easily; for example, consider in first edition AD&D someone who manages to build a fourth level fighter that can kill a very old or ancient dragon in a single blow thanks to rejiggered stats, multiple specializations, class and racial choices, etcetera, ad nauseum. Akin to the min-maxer, but at least more willing to play old-school games.



In many early editions of D&D such as Red Box D&D (but even earlier versions), if one played a demihuman character they did not play an elven mage or a dwarven fighter, they simply played an elf or dwarf, and the racial class subsumed their abilities.

Some people love it because it makes their character more “alien,” while some hate it because they reasonably claim that not all elves or dwarves are the same. To this end, the multiclassing rules should address some of those issues while still keeping race as class.


A game where you're on this nice, fixed linear trail and you can't get off it. This is all there is to do, and much like WOPR discovered in "War Games", the only way to win is not to play. Compare to a sandbox.

This is typically because the DM only prepped this, so let's play this! In one-off or convention games it works well, but for an ongoing campaign it doesn't work for a large swath of player types.

The reality is, though, that there's limited prep time and so a DM will only prepare so much material. If the players go way off the reservation he will do his best to steer them back on track, have a sit-down and tell them this is what he had planned, use some random material he had and do off-the-cuff adventures (which can be awesome or disastrous, depending on circumstances) or just call the game.

Red Box D&D

TODOneeds adjustment based on what ruleset I end up focusing on

Typically, “Red Box” is one of two similar iterations of Dungeons & Dragons: either the Moldvay/Marsh/Cook Basic and Expert D&D version from '81-'82 (known as “B/X” or often just as “Moldvay”), or the Mentzer edition from 1983 on (often known as BECMI, from the names of the five boxed sets: Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal; it was also later released in a slightly abridged single volume known as the Rules Cyclopedia).

We are playing a house-ruled “hack” of Moldvay, or more properly, Labyrinth Lord (an expanded retro-clone of Moldvay).


Short for “retroactive continuity,” it denotes when established game rules or events are changed after the fact. This has been known to cause all sorts of issues, so let's avoid it if at all possible. It's often the result of destructive metagaming seeping in and causing unrest among the natives.


A retro-clone is a restatement of an existing role-playing game, such that the spirit and the vast majority of the rules are still in place. This way, games that have long been out of print can have an effective duplicate available in the marketplace in print.

Many retro-clones are more than restatements, incorporating everything from slight rule tweaks to new systems to new concepts for gaming, while still keeping the spirit of the older system intact (to varying degrees).

Rule Zero

(…a.k.a. “The DM is always right.”)

The unwritten rule in tabletop role-playing games which grants the game master the right to suspend or override the published game rules whenever s/he deems necessary.4)

Rules lawyer

I'm not entirely sure if all rules lawyers have horse teeth or not.

A gamer stereotype that sees the rules as an absolute and a tool to mercilessly beat the DM or other players to the rules lawyer's advantage. The rules lawyer can only accept what's written, word-for-word, as the absolute truth of the game; spirit means nothing… unless it is in his favor. He loves to argue about the rules instead of just playing the game, and as such they usually don't want to hear anything about rule zero and should be reminded that Shakespeare wrote, “kill all the lawyers.” Apparently, Shakespeare was a gamer!

A couple points of irony about the rules lawyer:Once the blood starts, it's the nicest crimson glow...

  • While one would not expect this, often times the best friend of a rules lawyer is a know-it-all, because they can take two different viewpoints to argue towards a common reading of the rules against a DM.
  • Rules lawyers want to play, but want the rules to be their own way. Perhaps rules lawyers should consider starting their own game.
  • Rules lawyers often have a peculiar tunnel vision where they only remember rules that favor them, while not bringing up rules that disfavor them. Funny, that…



The sandbox is sort of like this, but different. A campaign type where players are free to do as they like and explore the world as they see fit. This type of game is more demanding on players to seek out hooks rather than be fed a story, but it's also more demanding on the DM because he has to come up with more on the spot to cover holes the players may find. Contrast with railroad.

The reality is, most games are not pure sandboxes or railroads but a hybrid of the two. There is usually an understood set of limits at the table (or there should be), and if we keep to warning ahead of time what players want to do then we can make things as sandbox-like as possible while not being completely in the vein of, “hey, guys, this is what I have prepped so this is what we're doing tonight, okay?”

Saturday Night Special

“Here too, the role of the 'Saturday Night Special' cannot be overemphasized. Aside from the deliberately or randomly determined 'normal' contents of Underworld areas, it is interesting to develop large complexes inhabited by special beings. These should have special histories, and players should hear legends of their existence on the surface. Their abilities and treasures should be individually devised, since these add interest and spice to the game…”

Empire of the Petal Throne, page 100

In the classic game Empire of the Petal Throne the set pieces of the Tékumel Underworld are known as this. Basically, these are the interesting, static encounters to be found in the Tékumel underworld, basically presented as a megadungeon. As such, I may call the set pieces of any large dungeons (or wilderness areas, or even city encounters) this from time to time myself.

Set piece

In the megadungeon this refers to a detailed, well-planned encounter area, or sometimes an entire zone or sublevel. There is more than your typical sketch to riff off of, and often this is where the major treasures, encounters and the like in a megadungeon occur.

(Compare to setpiece; there's some definite overlap in concept here.)


There are a lot of gamer stereotypes. Unfortunately, they're largely true, and we've all been at least one of these at one point or another. (Have I mentioned that you can certainly be more than one of these at a time?)

Amongst them are the cat piss man, know-it-all, min-maxer, munchkin, powergamer and rules lawyer. None are tolerable.



That's gotta hurt. A Total Party Kill. When the whole party gets wiped out from something (combat, a trap, starvation, whatever). TPKs aren't unheard of in old-school games.

The thing is, players shouldn't take them personally. They happen. Unfortunately, a lot of new-school players who are used to lengthy character builds and will get butthurt instead of just rolling a new character (which may take all of ten minutes in Labyrinth Lord) and getting back in the action.

Excessive TPKs may tend to point towards either very poor gameplay by players or a killer DM.



A big word that tells me that you're going to constantly bitch about everything you don't like in-game and/or you won't be much fun to game with. (See also definition 4 here.)

Image Credits

Lifted more or less wholesale from Urban Dictionary.
Note that this is different than death seeming arbitrary
Adapted (read: “shamelessly stolen”) from Wikipedia's article on metagaming.
Again, essentially stolen from Urban Dictionary.