I’m a word nerd. I’ve loved words since I started reading as a wee lass at the age of three, and still enjoy learning new ones. In decades of playing, I’ve picked up some gaming lingo along the way through articles, books, conventions, conversations, gaming sessions, internet, shows such as Vox Machina, and writing. I’ve even joined the 21st century and viewed several gaming channels on YouTube. (Once you burrow down that RPG rabbit hole, it’s hard to resurface. It’s a struggle resisting that RPG carrot.)
I could share many gaming phrases that I’ve learned over the two centuries I’ve lived in, but will exercise restraint and share 5 of them with you that I’ve found on my long RPG journey. I’m leaving the more colorful terms out (sorry swearers). Although my experience is heavily D&D based, I have played Pathfinder, so I think the terms can be somewhat interchangeable.
- Old Word: Dungeon Crawl
The word Dungeon Crawl was one the first terms I picked up as a youth in the late 1970s. Originally, a Dungeon Crawl was simpler, more goal-oriented, less story-based although there is a setting and a background, located in a dungeon or another closed-in type of scenario. Basically, the players needed to make it through the adventure without dying in a trap (D&D 1e is notorious for that) or being obliterated by monsters. Survive the encounter, kill the monsters, and steal their treasure.
Not only does the Dungeon Crawl formula work for RPGs, but also for board games (Gary Gygax put this term on the map with board games around 1975), and later, computer games. I remember playing several Dungeon Crawl computer games on the PS with Steve when I was attending library school. Sometimes you don’t have the spoons for a story but only feel like hacking monsters and pilfering their loot.
- New Word: Meat Shield
Although this is not a new term in RPG, it’s a new phrase I picked up in a recent campaign. One of my friends plays a Fighter, and he’s always first, front, and center when entering a room or taking hits from enemies. He always used the term “Meat Shield” and I thought it was interesting.
Basically, a Meat Shield refers to a character that battles on the front lines. It’s usually a fighter-type because they can wear more protective armor and wield the strongest weapons. Their hit points also tend to be higher so they can take a hit (or several). A Meat Shield needs a cleric or other type of healer on standby to help the fighter cure wounds and restore hit points.
- Old Word: Rules Lawyer
The Rules Lawyer is that annoying Player who has read and reread and reread the manuals and knows the rules verbatim. This person knows the ins and outs of the game down to the page number and paragraph, argues with the DM and other players, and squeezes every little detail to take advantage. They will outwardly challenge the DM at every corner, even though they should know that the DM runs the universe and has the final say.
In the past, I’ve dealt with rules lawyers, and they annoy the heck out me and many other players. As a busy big-picture narrative-based player who just wants to participate in a fun story and escape life’s challenges for a while, the last thing I need is a person who causes drama by arguing with the DM at every turn. Also, unless the DM is paid, most are volunteers giving their heart, resources, and time to make sure the party’s having fun. Rules lawyering sucks the joy out of the RPG experience. If you happen to be a Rules Lawyer, stop it. Please. It’s not worth ruining a campaign and risking friendships just to be right.
- New Word: Session Zero
This is another interesting phrase I haven’t heard of until recently. I think it’s an excellent concept. Basically, Session Zero is a session before starting the official campaign, although some groups like to dive in and start after the discussion. It’s a forum for open communication that answers questions such as how many people in the game, which game system to use, how often the group will play, will this be in-person, Zoom, or a combination/hybrid, and ground rules, and what is expected at the table.
Based on research, I found that the GM and players can reset and have a Session Zero meeting to change the campaign, clear the air, and solve any unresolved issues. Session Zero could be used in lots of settings, not just for RPGs.
- Old Word: Total-Party Kill (TPK)
Also known as a wipe, Total Party Kill is when all the characters of a campaign die in an adventure or an encounter. Fortunately, I haven’t been in many scenarios where this has happened although there have been some close calls. I’ve played in a quick dungeon crawl on New Year’s Eve with pre-made Level 1 characters and we were obliterated quickly. What an interesting way to ring in the new year, but it was a lot of fun.
There are some reasons why a TPK happens: choices on the part of the players, several critical miss rolls by the PCs or several critical hit rolls on the part of the monsters, or if monsters completely outnumber the party.
So, what are your favorite terms? What new words did you pick up playing RPG?
When we first started rpging as kids in the 80s we used the term ‘cardboard’ if a player was acting on information their character did not have, or if the GM had NPCs do such, or even just introduced anything that seemed too contrived. “Stop being cardboard!” players would shout at each other, or “that’s totally cardboard” would be cast at the GM. I don’t know where we got the term from or if anyone outside our group used it. I guess the reference was to cardboard cut-outs, as in that’s not real, its just a two-dimensional cut-out.
What David Dow describes is what we called ‘Meta-gaming.’ Acting on information that the player has, but the character does not.
Hi, Dave and Ed–
I’ve never heard the term “cardboard” being used in that way before! That’s so cool! I wonder if that was a regional term (kinda like pop vs. soda). Ed, thank you for clarifying the term. 🙂