RPG Lexica:DEF

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Abbreviation for dice, either upper or lower case. Because dice are used so frequently in role-playing and other forms of games, an abbreviated notation is used for describing dice types, consisting of two numbers seperated by a letter 'd'. The number before the 'd' indicates how many dice are referred to (often omitted if only one), and the number after indicates how many sides are on the dice. The common cubic dice is a d6 (six-sided), but other dice shapes designed for gaming include the d4, d8, d10, d12, and d20. For example, 5d6 indicates "5 six-sided dice". This can be further extended with mathematical symbols, indicating a math operation should be applied to the result shown on the dice after they are rolled: 5d6+3 indicates "roll 5 six-sided dice, add them up (the default way of calculating the result of multiple dice), then add 3 to the result". A further extension, not so popularly used, adds the letter "k" (for "keep") to indicate that having rolled the dice, not all of the dice should be added up; the number after the "k" indicates how many dice results should be added. For example, "4d6k3" means that 4 six-sided dice should be rolled, then 3 of those results (usually the highest) selected and added together to give the final result.

An example of the d- notation, but also a special case. Although 100-sided dice do exist (specifically the "Zocchihedron"), they are relatively rare (for several reasons, not the least important being that they tend to tumble for a long time, and like a golf ball tend not to be perfectly symmetrical, allowing some results to come up more frequently than others); the more common way of rolling a d100 is to roll two d10s, designating one as the tens digit and one as the units.

A twenty-sided die; also a generic roleplaying system controlled by Wizards of the Coast. The d20 system is a customizable generic system based on a twenty-sided dice (hence the name), and reusable freely by authors under certain terms and conditions. These terms and conditions include the need to seek explicit approval to refer to the game as supporting "d20" (a controlled trademark), and the provision that certain key rules must be omitted from third-party games, thus forcing players to purchase books produced by Wizards of the Coast in order to obtain them. The impact of the d20 system on the hobby has been considerable, and players are divided as to whether the strong adoption of a common system for games has simplified and streamlined the hobby, or whether it has harmed the hobby by reducing diversity and forcing games to be written with a system which does have documented flaws and is not necessarily ideal for every setting.

An apparent example of the d- notation, but in fact a special case; there is no such thing as a 666-sided die. The d666 system was used in the game In Nomine, in which players take the roles of either demons or angels. To "roll a d666", the player rolls 3d6, allocating two of the dice to be added together to indicate whether they have succeeded or failed at a task, and the one remaining die to be read alone to indicate the magnitude of the success or failure. A roll of 6-6-6 is a critical if the player is playing a demon, or a fumble if the player is playing an angel; a roll of 1-1-1 is vice versa.

Darkness Isn't Dark
A phrase indicating that a given game system is acknowledged to be flawed, but is played anyway because it delivers a good entertainment experience. "But it doesn't make sense!" "What do you expect? In this game darkness isn't dark."
Origin: From the Dungeons & Dragons revised third edition, in which the Darkness spell was described as creating "an area of shadowy illumination" in which it was hard to see. Since "shadowy illumination" is still better than no illumination at all, this implied that casting Darkness in a room that was already pitch dark would make it lighter.

Death Spiral
Any combat system in which acquiring an injury or bad die result leads to increased chances of bad die results, which increases the chance of receiving further injury, and so on, so that the character, once wounded, starts to spirals down into death.

Decker Problem
One of the most infamous published game design errors ever to exist, and also a classic example of the Specialization problem (q.v.) In two of the most well-known cyberpunk games, Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020, the rules explicitly state that only a character who is specialized at operating in cyberspace (the "virtual reality internet" common in the genre) could do anything at all within it. (Such a character is usually called a "decker" or "netrunner", thus the term.) The range of characters in both games was such that any given group would need only one decker. Both games then specified large, detailed tactical rules systems for resolving encounters in cyberspace, which - while involving and interesting in theory - were unplayable in practice, because it would be socially unacceptable to leave the other players with nothing to do while the decker's player played through them. (Cyberpunk 2020 made things even worse by specifying that an entire cyberspace adventure could take only a few seconds of game time - meaning that the other characters were not only unable to be involved in the cyberspace encounter, but unable to do anything at all, because in the game world they would not have had time to do so.) Generically speaking, the Decker problem could be said to be any elegant, novel and original rules solution to a problem of genre emulation, that nevertheless cannot be implemented in-game on a regular basis because it would be socially unacceptable to use it.

refers to any of a number of circumstances or behaviours that disempower player characters from taking a strong role in the development of the game world. The term refers to the idea that the players are supposed to be the "protagonists" in the story being told in the game: deprotagonization is then any process which causes them to cease being protagonists, or cease being able to act as protagonists. Railroading, pet NPCs, and similar are all forms of deprotagonization, as is (arguably) metaplot.

A situation where the Game Master screws over the players by pulling some arbitrary element the players "forgot to consider" out of his ass. Can be extended to any situation where the GM complicates the PCs' lives with something arbitrary that they haven't had to deal with until now.
Origin: A particular episode of the webcomic "Full Frontal Nerdity", by Aaron Williams.

Dice Pool System
A game system in which a player is given a particular number of dice, each of which may be rolled only once before being taken away from them. When a dice roll is needed, the player can choose to roll any number of dice from the pool; choosing more dice increases the probability of a better result, but also consumes the limited number of dice in the pool faster. Usually, some game action or the passage of some amount of time will cause all dice to be restored to the pool.

Said when a character has just gained a level or otherwise reached a significant point of advancement. Origin: The online RPG EverQuest, which played a dinging sound effect when a PC gained a level; this convention was adopted by several other online RPGs.

Ding-dong battle problem
A problem arising in any game where attacks are unlikely to hit, and thus a battle comes down to a long sequence of misses by both sides. Typically applied to systems (such as Tri-Stat) which require a dice roll by the attacker to attack correctly, followed by a dice roll by the defender to see if they block the attack. In this situation a long series of blocked attacks can leave the players bored and frustrated.
Dumb Fighter problem
A problem arising in a game where the base fighter or warrior archetype has no particular special abilities and is the easiest archetype to make a character for (especially where the prerequisite attributes for a warrior character are sufficiently low that it's almost impossible to avoid qualifying for it). The DFP is typified by original Dungeons & Dragons, wherein Fighting Man characters had very few tactical options other than to move and attack, but had the most hit points in the game and the largest weapons. Many RPGs compensate for this by allowing warriors to take special abilities not available to other characters, or in having detailed tactical maneuver systems.
Dungeon Crawl
A style of gameplay wherein the main activity is the mapping and conquest of underground regions. Such regions are usually man-made "dungeons" wherein various different creatures make their residence with little regard to ecology, economy, or common sense. Generally a very combat-oriented type of gameplay, and thus usually a subset of Hack and Slash.


An acronym for "Elf Dwarf Orc", a label for games or settings which wallow in the stereotypes of high fantasy established by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and the game Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically refers to the tendency of these games to always feature these three races as primary elements, even if there is no compelling reason to do so.

Exploding Dice
The term for open-ended rolls that may potentially give very high results; more often, a specific roll that does so. So named because the results of these die rolls are generally low, with a few slightly higher... and then a very few that are ridiculously high, usually resulting in extreme results. (see critical hit, and multiply it.)
An exploding dice result at the right time can change a game (or even a gameworld) radically. The best ones are right at the climax of an adventure, to do things like destroy the villain and his plans utterly; unfortunately, Murphy's Law says you're probably going to see them at either unimportant rolls (like a simple Vision Check to spot a light on a panel), or at times when an extreme result would be bad (such as trying to knock out someone without killing them). Murphy's Law also says your opposition will get them at the absolute worst time.


Common fan assumptions about a particular fictional work. The line between fanon and canon is heavily blurred in an RPG, which often causes the metaplot to trample the unique combination of assumptions and play experiences which builds each individual GM's campaign world.

Fantasy Heartbreaker
A label for a specific kind of RPG, examples of which surface with regularity in the hobby. Common elements include publication by a small company or vanity press, a length of several hundred pages, a rule system with deliberately baroque aspects and an incorporated setting built from generic fantasy tropes (see EDO above). Inevitably the writers of such games are trying to approach the same assumptions used by Dungeons & Dragons and improve on the systems built from them. These games are Heartbreakers because their creators have obviously put a great deal of time and effort into getting them published, but the chances of them finding a niche in a field so thoroughly dominated by the established leader is nil. The term was originated by Ron Edwards in a series of essays posted on the Forge (see below).

Farnsworth Combat
Any combat system where injury does not cause accumulated negative effects until zero or fewer life counters (such as hit points) remain, at which point the stricken character falls over dead (or badly injured and bleeding). Derived from the Futurama episode When Aliens Attack, during which Prof. Hubert Farnsworth utters the line, "Cough, then fall over dead."

Filing Off the Serial Numbers
An expression used when a rule, setting or other element of an RPG has obviously been heavily influenced or outright copied from another design. Not so much an accusation of blatant plagiarism as a bemused observation of not having fully acknowledged one's antecedents. Derived from the method allegedly used to render stolen handguns and automobiles untraceable.

Fine Red Mist
What is said to be left of a character who has just taken an obscene amount of damage, much more than what was needed to kill him. As an example, a character who was right next to a large bomb when it went off could be said to have been "reduced to a fine red mist".

Portmanteau of the words "fish" and "Malkavian", the latter being a clan of deranged undead in the game Vampire. The term describes a character posessing a mental illness who uses thier derangement as a catch-all excuse for ignoring the social rules of the setting's society. At best, such characters are merely corny, but at worst they serve only as vehicles for wildly inappropriate behaviour, the player justifying every ridiculous action through said character's alleged craziness. Essentially, the player has found an excuse to do whatever they want yet can make a show of defending it as good role-playing. The term may be derived from a single infamous character, a Malkavian who either believed it rained fish or attacked people with fish.

Flat dice
Any form of dice roll on which all results are equally likely (ie, "flat distribution"). Any roll of a single dice will be a flat roll, as will percentile rolls. Using flat dice to decide success or failure can produce rather paradoxical results. A classic example is that of two kayakers paddling down a river; one is a novice, and one is a professional. The GM decides that the characters will successfully make it down the river if the players roll over a 15 on a d20, but that the player of the kayaking professional may add +10 to their roll to represent the professional's extra skill. Although it sounds reasonable, it creates a bizarre situation: the river is so hard that a professional has a 25% chance of failing, and yet at the same time so easy that a complete beginner has a 25% chance of succeeding.

An abbreviation of Friendly Local Game Store, referring to traditional store-based game retailers. Generally acknowledged as important to the hobby, such stores provide a visible presence, space to play and a community gathering point. They are nearly always small locally owned businesses run by individuals with a personal stake in the hobby rather than distant entrepreneurs. However, they are notoriously short-lived and poorly managed as their owners often lack adequate business training and experience. Expertly managed, prosperous FLGSs do exist, but in recent years they are continuously under threat from online booksellers who can typically undercut their prices easily due to a lack of comparable overhead.

Slang for the parts of a RPG book other than the rules--such as setting details, game fiction, history, et cetera. Usually contrasted with Crunch, which is the actual rules.

A "metasyntactic variable". "Foo" is used when generalizing a case or giving an example; if more than one such variable is needed, the sequence proceeds "Foo", "Bar", "Baz", "Qux". Eg, "So I've been sent by King Foo, to save Princess Bar.." Most well known for being documented in the Hacker's Dictionary, but occasionally shows up on RPGnet.

Forge, the
The Forge (originally "Hepheastus's Forge") is a discussion website for RPG players and designers which "is dedicated to the promotion, creation, and review of independent role-playing games". It was created and is still run by Ron Edwards, author of the independant game Sorcerer, and originally showcased several documents written by him describing the design principles followed in that game (although these are now considered to have been superceded by discussion and have been moved to a less prominent location). Advocates of the Forge claim that the discussion there is stimulating and inspiring, encourages the development of new ideas, and has been responsible for the development of some of the best independent RPGs avaliable. Critics claim that the discussion is over-analytical, incomprehensible to outsiders, and ultimately vacuous, and that those independent RPGs would have been developed anyway regardless of whether their authors had participated in the Forge or not.

Freight Train (From Hell)
A roll of all 6's on three or more dice, by extension of the term "boxcars" for a roll of 2 6's on 2 dice. The "From Hell" is specific to games like GURPS, where a roll of all 6's is a fumble or critical failure (and even more so in In Nomine, where a roll of 6-6-6 on the d666 means "Infernal Intervention", i.e., the Devil himself helping his demons!)

Skill in [foo], especially if the approach to that could be said to come from extensive learning or training. Often used with pseudo-Zen sentence constructions, such as "My [foo]-fu is strong." to indicate a high level of skill.
Origin: Generalization of the -fu in "kung-fu". (Note that this is actually wrong: according to Dictionary.com, it's the "kung" part that denotes skill.)
GM: "How the hell did you manage to create a character this powerful at the starting level?"
Player: "My chargen-fu is strong."

  1. As a verb, for a GM to clandestinely modify aspects of a game system, known to him and not the players, that would otherwise be random or impartial. Thus, the GM may be said to “fudge the dice”. The term usually carries the implication of pushing things towards the players' benefit in the cause of improving the game experience for all involved. For example, ignoring a situational modifier and declaring that a character succeeded in striking a mighty blow against a protagonist during a climactic confrontation. A strict interpretation of the game's resolution method would say otherwise, but it better serves the dramatic needs of the game for the blow to be struck.
  2. As a noun, a specific RPG written by Steffan O'Sullivan in collaboration with the newsgroup rec.games.design. Besides having a strong influence on subsequent designs, noteworthy for being the first significant “open source” RPG.

A rare dice result indicating a catastrophic failure at a task. Typically a fumble will be a failure regardless of the task attempted, and may be a worse failure than a non-fumble would have been (e.g. a shooter doesn't just miss but his gun jams, a lock breaker doesn't just fail to break the lock but sets off an alarm).

Funky Dice
Dice of a form other than the regular "cubes with pips" most people think of at mention of the word dice; see D above. Since four-sided, eight-sided, ten-sided and other such non-traditional randomn number generators see little use outside of the RPG hobby, they are generally only available from specialty retailers (such as a FLGS) and thus the acquiring of one's first set of Funky Dice is often an early step of initiation for a beginning gamer.

  1. As a noun, slang term for an "anthropomorphic animal" character, i.e., a character that is obviously based on an animal, and yet has human characteristics such as intelligence and/or a bipedal stance. The classic example is the "Catgirl" that keeps cropping up in science fiction and anime. Note that, despite the term, "furries" aren't necessary furry; the term can also be applied to characters based on species without fur, such as birdmen or lizardmen.
  2. As an adjective, something with which furries in sense 1 play a major part--for example, the RPG Ironclaw could be described as a "furry fantasy game"
  3. Term for a fan of furries in sense 1, whether a fan of artwork featuring furries, stories about furries, games involving furries, or just the "idea" of furries. Also furry fandom.
  4. A subculture of people who enjoy pretending to be anthropomorphic animals. Some of them wear "furry" suits to represent the fur of their animal alter ego; these people are also known as fursuiters. In gaming, it can also refer to a player who commonly plays anthromorphic animal characters.
Furries are a somewhat controversial subject, primarily because of the media's focus on the more extreme fringe elements of furry fandom, such as the (tiny minority) of people who believe themselves to be "animals trapped in human bodies", or those who have fetishized furry characters to ridiculous extremes. Due to the prevalence of the geek social fallacies in furry fandom, and the forthrightness and utter lack of pride of the aforementioned minority, these unsavory individuals are the primary public face of the furry fandom.
Much more information can be found at WikiFur, a relatively new community-built furry encyclopedia.

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