Wednesday, 15 June 2011

An Australian Convention Roleplaying Glossary

Back in the early 90s, there was an attempt to put together a glossary for Australian Convention Roleplaying. Given it's 20 years later, it can do with some updating.  Below is the original list (minus some 90s specific references).
I'd like your thoughts, what needs updating?  What needs to go and what needs to be included?

{EDIT} The original list is below.  I've created a new draft on a wiki for people to help me update.

An Australian Convention Roleplaying Glossary

This document is Public Domain: no copyright applies.

This Glossary is partial and incomplete. Because it attempts to document a living, growing and creative subculture, it will always be partial and incomplete. What it does document is Australian roleplaying's development and unique brand of self-depreciating humour. Submissions, feedback and alternative definitions are always welcome.
  • Version 1. March 1991. Compiled by Andrew Chapman, John Hughes, Philippa Hughes, Robert MacLean and Cathy Simpson
  • Version 2. September 1991. Modified for the Necronomicon Convention Booklet, October 1991. Definition of 'BattleTechie' as 'a male virgin' removed after complaints from male virgins.
  • Version 3. March 1993. Thrown open to the hungry maws of, with a request for extra terms, alternative definitions and general abuse.

Alpha Test
The first, rough testing of a module idea to determine its main ingredients. Usually done with friends, its aim is to accept fresh ideas and honest criticism. The designer should be prepared to scrap just about anything and substantially modify her vision for the module. See Conceptual Playtest.

Roleplaying stories guaranteed to be of interest to 5% of the population. To be avoided, especially at prizegivings. See YHTBT and Big Banana.

In roleplaying, a module exploring existential anxiety, guilt or remorse. Angst modules grew out of the realisation that a good cathart is hard to come by, and that catharsis every three hours during a roleplaying convention is just too hard on everyone. (See Catharsis).

A psychological pattern or idea that we use in our life journey and in our roleplaying.
Common archetypes include the Innocent, Orphan, Warrior, Caregiver, Seeker, Destroyer, Lover,
Creator, Ruler, Magician, Sage and Fool. Cultural universals that help us understand ourselves.

A module where the prime aim of characterisation and plot is to evoke and maintain a strong atmosphere or tension, where theme and style is equally important as the story.

A roleplaying personality type. 'Up and at 'em!'

Beta Test
The testing of a conceptually complete module prior to the final write up. The aim is to iron out minor bugs and cover unexpected player reactions and strategies. ('No module ever survives contact with the enemy'). The designer should be prepared to change or modify scenes, but not to rewrite the entire second session.

Female roleplaying personality noted for things other than roleplaying. See Mimbo, Sexism.

Bits of Paper Freeform
A Freeform (including 'money driven' games) driven by the pursuit and exchange of 'bits of paper'. These may represent items of special significance, information, or money. A 'wheeling and dealing' game.

Block of Wood
A roleplaying convention award. See Lumberjack.

(a) A module in which a certain environment (a house, city, world...) is defined and players are free to explore it according to their own volition.
(b) Any sealed environment (spaceship, house on the moors, subway train) used as a setting for a module. Players cannot escape from this box.

Big Name Gamer. A term of abuse and/or respect.

Big Name Team. A team who have won enough prizes to be noticed, and who therefore should be designing and/or GMing at least some of the time. See Lumberjack.

Brick Wall
Any GM device that prevents players pursuing a course of action outside the scope of a module. See Glass Wall, Stone Wall.

(Formerly known as 'the girlfriend').
(a) Someone who roleplays because their peer group does. See Wallflower.
(b) Anyone who owns a car and who will take you to the convention.

A roleplaying event that propels the module along to the next stage. Most buttons are character based (the thief will surely open the safe) and they are usually non-tactical. The player will 'press the right button'.

In drama and roleplaying, the pleasurable release of emotion accompanied by insight or selfrealisation. 'Cathartic' modules are a roleplaying type, the mainstay of Systemless Gaming. Catharsis may be immediate (within the module) or occur afterwards as a player reflects on the experience and their reaction to it.
Catharsis is treated by roleplayers with proper respect and seriousness, hence the popular phrases, 'Cathart me gently with a chainsaw', and 'Who catharted?'. (See Angst).

(a) A communal event organised by roleplayers for roleplayers.
(b) An altered state of reality induced by constant andrenalin, high blood sugar levels, lack of sleep, and a diet of meat pies, Coke and Mars Bars. See Post-Con Depression.
(c) Any long weekend.

Convention Organiser
An oxymoron.

Campaign Module
A convention module that has been drawn directly from a home campaign with little modification or thought for changed conditions. Dangerous beasties that can easily misfire.

A roleplaying personality type. 'I haven't tried that before - I'll do it and see what happens.' Someone with no sense of team play.

Character and Plot Driven Freeform
A freeform, usually one session in length, that is driven by characterisation and subplot. Its objectives are the mechanisms used to drive character interaction.

Conceptual Playtest
'I've got this idea for a tournament module, see, but I don't know if it will work. It'll be rough, but what are you doing Sunday night?' (An idea that saves much writing and rewriting). See Alpha Test and Devil's Advocate Meeting.

A style of gaming in which the GM sees him/herself as an adversary of the players, and therefore must oppose and attempt to frustrate their actions. Some tournaments give prizes to the GM who achieves the highest 'body count' (number of player character deaths). See Cooperative Dramatism.

The Contract
The Roleplaying Contract is the heart of team play, setting the standards for cooperative dramatism. It asks players to agree to two things.
1). That players will work as a team. That they take responsibility for each other by ensuring opportunities for everyone to participate fully; drawing out or involving each character.
2) That characters provide opportunities for characterisation by responding to cues from other players.
If a player asks a question or makes a comment, there is a responsibility to respond so that the idea or character insight is fully developed.

Cooperative Dramatism
A style of gaming in which the GM and players see themselves as holding separate sides of an untold story, and do their best to allow that story to be told by encouraging each other and creating opportunities for the story and its characters to unfold. See Confrontationalism.

A four sided die. Easily lost - found with bare feet.

Devil's Advocate Meeting
A Conceptual Playtest without an actual playtest.

A module characterised by lots of dice rolling.

Dinner Party
A freeform that occurs in real time in a literal space, usually based around a social event or meal.

(a) (General usage). An aging, but unrepentant (and unretired) roleplayer. A term of affection.
(b) (Specific). A gamer who has outlived his or her original peer group, who considers chucking it in but doesn't.

Dog's Breakfast
An undercooked, messy, runny pizza. (not a polite term). See Pizza.

A convention gamer who parties all night and then catches up on their sleep during a game session. Almost an acceptable form of behaviour, but not if you blame it on the module.

Drag Queen
A gamer of either sex who simply can't roleplay unless they're in costume.

Dry Run (GM Run)
A final playtest of a module designed to familiarise GMs with things that can't be written down, and to acquaint them with the module under tournament conditions. (Also a way to screen potential GMs.)

Dungeon Bash
(a) A traditional adventure game. Where it all started.
(b) (more generally) a module involving lots of combat, little choice, and little else.

The Roleplaying Engine is the complete experience - module and gm and location and props and player interaction and teamwork and mutual storytelling; trust and alertness and support and shared vision. It helps us remember that we can never judge the worth of a module in isolation, but have to consider everyone's collective imput.

Envelope Stuffing
What freeform designers for the two days before a con.

(a) Unplayable (Sydney definition).
(b) Not playtested (Melbourne definition).

Module ending in which a narrator figure draws back from the immediate events, commenting on the resolution and on likely futures for the (surviving) characters. Also known as a long shot or a pan.

Faust Eddie
A roleplaying personality type. Someone so lucky in dice throwing that their playing style has evolved to one of constant risk taking. Someone so lucky they must have signed a contract with the devil. Indentified by the constant use of the term 'Critical'.

Roleplaying device whereby important events from a character's past are replayed ('remembered') in game time to emphasise a particular point or to educate and entertain other players. Flashbacks may be either be:
  • Closed - where the events and their outcomes are fixed and cued on a character sheet.'You met your lover. You argued. You shot him.'

  • Open - where the events are cued but their outcomes are indeterminate, to be decided by the player(s) involved. 'You were alone at last. The mutual attraction wasobvious. You made your move...'

Module in which the actions of separate teams can influence each other. Teams play unique characters who can communicate and interact within the same module (e.g., independent teams of police working within the same city). A form developed by and mostly associated with Tonio Loewald.

Theatrical roleplaying events in which a large number (up to two hundred and fifty!) roleplayers simultaneously interact in a single area with minimal plot or gm intervention. In a freeform, one assumes a character and goes for broke!
Freeforms are characterised by a low GM to player ratio and by a large degree of player independence - participants being free to characterise, plot, scheme or generally wheel and deal according to simple character sheets or game mechanics. Freeforms may or may not be driven by external plot events.
Freeforms are an Australian invention. The world's first freeform was run by Peter Quinton at Octocon in Canberra, October 1982. The next was run at Cancon '83 and involved nearly 150 players.

Gag Module
A short, high energy scenario written to evoke frivolity and humour.

An old fashioned term for Roleplayer, used when most roleplayers were wargamers and played dicedriven strategy games (i.e. Rollplayers).

Garden Gnome
[a]. (specific]. A fat bearded male convention organiser who also answers to 'Unca Wes'.
[b]. [general]. Any fat, bearded male convention organiser (who may or may not wear black].

The conventions, background assumptions and playing styles of a given module, book or film. The 'culture', or unwritten rules of a given roleplaying environment. Common genres include sword and sorcery, romance, chivalry, gumshoe, gothic, slapstick, swash buckling, soap opera...

Glass Wall
A well executed brick wall. See Brick Wall.

Gamesmaster, God, Keeper, Storyteller, DM, Dungeon Master, Dramatic Mediator, Director. The person or persons responsible for running and mediating a roleplaying session.

Hierarchical Freeform
A Freeform in which social climbing, power struggles, intrigue, and the acquisition of power and status drive the module. Such freeforms are not usually driven by external events.

(also known as a stage hog). A roleplaying personality type. A gratuitous character player who continually takes centre stage, ruining it for the other players because he or she doesn't understand team play. Good character roleplaying involves knowing when to stop.

A strong plot device (NPC, event, artefact) that provides the rationale for characters involvement in an adventure. To quote Steve Reynolds, 'There are only two basic plot hooks in DnD - find the magic widget and lose the magic widget.'

Ultimate term of roleplaying abuse. The module was a hose. 'Hose it down'. (Please do not use this term lightly - it can cause divorce, designer suicide and mental anguish).

Intrigue Freeform
A freeform involving political intrigue between two or more factions. This type of game usually runs over two or more sessions.

Also known as a Tragedian. A roleplaying personality type. A player who enjoys setting his or her character up for a spectacular and tragic exit, preferably halfway through the last session. Some Laurences are also Hogs.

Linked Module
A module that has connections with, or carries on from, previous tournament modules. (i.e., Winners Don't Do Drugs II, The Ironspike Tetralogy, Bride of Aboth.)

Live-Action Roleplaying
(a) Australian usage. Outdoor, costumed events involving wide open spaces, rubber weaponry and special effects.
(b) The US usage is more general, embracing our definition of live-action roleplaying plus Freeforming, Multiforming and Theatreforming.

An event or object suggesting a person, idea or image that is 'quoted' throughout a module to indicate that person etc.

A roleplaying personality type. A determined collector of Blocks of Wood.

Magic Door
A device that leads players from the end of one session to the beginning of another. Most common in multi-designer modules.

Magic Railroad
See Ring Through the Nose. Not to be confused with Magic Door.

A false hook. Something that draws characters into a module but has nothing to do with real events. A term originating with Alfred Hitchcock. (Warning: because players never believe a GM is lying to them, they will often keep on following a Maguffin).

A roleplaying personality type.
(a) A gamer obsessed with weaponry and violence. (I don't know any ... do you know any?)
(b) A person who talks loudly in a crowded public place (esp. Cafe Troppo or the Pancake Parlour) about how they seduced the barman, killed the security guard and planted a bomb in police headquarters.

A roleplaying personality type.
(a) A gamer who uses outside knowledge or rules knowledge to game advantage.
(b) A gamer who continually breaks out of character to discuss the rules or plot. (See Space Out).

Mexican Goblin
[a]. Generic roleplaying accent. The result of a roleplaying Tower of Babel. In a module where the characters are Irish, Scottish, French, German and Texan, you can guarantee that in five minutes everyone's accent will be Mexican Goblin .
[b]. A cutsie cutsie type of module involving funny accents and not much else.

(Male, interesting and muscular - brain optional). Male roleplaying personality noted for things other than roleplaying. See Bimbo.

A player who manipulates game mechanics to optimise their character. Almost any Champions player. See Power Gamer.

A type of module. Sad but true, though fortunately very rare. 'I didn't finish the last session cause I want you to buy the module.'

Monty Haul
Monty Hall was the host of an American game show called Let's Make a Deal, where contestants traded game money for hidden mystery items. They were equally likely to win a car, a vacation, a goat, or a bucket of rubber monkeys. Gary Gygax dubbed a style of play where treasures are hidden behind some doors and monsters behind others 'Monty Haul' style, punning on the game show's host. The term is also used to describe a style of gaming that gives you anything you want and lets you kill Cthulhu with a toothpick.

Mood Breaker
Insensitive oaf who starts talking about The Simpsons just as the medium in the party starts shivering uncontrollably.

A gaming style (e.g Memory, Sundowners, Past Tense, Lifelines) that moves away from a seated tabletop to allow players to explore body language, scene construction and basic theatrical technique. Players act and move as if 'on stage". Multiforming places much emphasis on team trust and mutual storytelling, and provides time and freedom for players to explore characters, interrelationships and situations. John Hughes describes a generic Multiform as, 'locking five characters in a room and
turning up the heat'. Multiforming is an Australian innovation usually associated with Systemless Gaming.

A roleplayer who insists on playing everything in three dimensions, even Talisman.
(a) A verb meaning to kill off a team. 'I munned them.'
(b) A killer DM, a headhunter. 'She was one special mun.'

A prepubescent roleplayer. Beware of patronising munchies - some of them may have been to many more conventions than you have.

A thirteen to sixteen year old roleplayer.

GM role in which she comments on the actions of player characters as a narrator might introduce a stage play. Anyone see Henry V?

(Pronounced Nid-wi). Nice Idea - Didn't work.

Non-Player Character. A GM tool. A personality assumed by the gm or played by an extra under gm guidance.

Objective Driven
Module in which progress or success is achieved by strategic play in order to achieve set objectives.

(a) 'Peeling the skins off the onion". A form of paper chase.
(b) A module that makes you cry (often in anguish).

Paper Chase
A module that concentrates on the gathering of clues to solve some mystery. See Onion.

A module that mixes a variety of differing styles in such a way as to offer something for everyone. When they're good they're very very good, and when they're bad they're a Dog's Breakfast.

A freeform GM disguised as a player.

Playing out roleplaying ideas in an elementary form as a design and writing tool. The single most important aspect of roleplay design, sadly still ignored in some quarters. Playtesting is also used to familiarise potential gms with the conventions of a module.

Post-Con Depression
Traditional illness experienced after a roleplaying convention. Induced by the stress of returning to mundanity, a lack of sleep, an empty purse or wallet, and your blood sugar level returning to normal.

Power Gamer
A gamer who uses his / her character solely as a vehicle for power fantasy, collecting artefacts, money, weapons and experience points. S(he) always takes the most powerful character.

Pro from Dover
(a) A player whose character must always be the best something in the entire universe (e.g., best lefthanded gully dwarf cattle prodder).
(b) A player who is never second best at anything. 'Let me do that.'
(The term originates from MASH, via Champions).

A convention roleplayer. You pays your money and you takes your chances...

Radio Play
Module format where the plot is focussed on characterisation and improvisation rather than rigidly plotted external action.

Real Time Module
A module played in real time, with no use of GM devices to compress or stretch the passage of time.

A nasty and unforgiving dungeon that you have to face whenever it's not a long weekend, though you can probably escape for a few hours on ......... nights. Warning: reality has no saving rolls. The GM is unbribable. However, reality is great for brushing up on roleplaying technique.

Red Herring
A plot device intended to mislead or take up time. Not to be confused with a Maguffin. Any building in Cthulhu that has a library; any corridor in DnD that branches in two or more directions. (Pembroke's favourite plot device.)

A device to infuriate your players and fill out half of the second session, possibly involving a chess puzzle.

Ring through the Nose
Also called a Magic Railroad. A Tunnel of Fun that isn't.

A character-driven gamer. See Rollplayer.

A dice-driven gamer. See Roleplayer.

A module that is very loyal to the games system it was designed under, making full and strict use of game mechanics, dice, character and tally sheets.

Rules Lawyer
A gamer who insists on arguing rule interpretations to the detriment of the game. Usually recognised by the two hundred white mice carried in their backpack.

Safety Valve
Incidents build into a module to be used if the atmosphere and tension levels need to be lowered. Usually a gently humorous event, or a background intrusion such as music.

Gamer who enjoys screaming in the places where its ok to scream.

The reason why roleplaying has more male players than female. (still!) Prejudices inherited from our culture, and from roleplaying's male-oriented, wargaming past. Stomp on it at every oportunity.

Secret Master of Gaming. A mythical roleplaying personality or personalities. Anyone claiming to be a SMOG or know a SMOG is lying, and probably feeling insecure.

Space Cadet
Someone who continually and habitually Spaces Out during a tournament game.

Space Out
To Space Out is to disrupt focus and interupt the flow of a game by talking out of character about real-life events or trivia unrelated to the module in hand. While it is common (and polite) in home gaming, it can be very destructive and wasteful in a tournament game, where time, atmosphere and focus can be all-important. Accidental spacing out is Moodbreaking; someone who does it continually is a Space Cadet.

Stone Wall
An obvious Brick Wall. 'Your car breaks down, the trains aren't running and none of the villagers will help you get away.' Once players are fed a stone wall, they are within their rights to line the designer or GM up against it and shoot them.

Stress Testing
Playtest in which players seek to exploit the holes and weaknesses of a module in order to better the  final design. 'No module survives contact with the enemy.' Not to be confused with Trashing. See Devil's Advocate.

Structured Freeform
A freeform in which characters may leave the main playing area to 'tabletop' incidents and adventures. The first Cancon freeforms were structured freeforms.

System Snob
A gamer who denies the rights of others to have fun and be creative in their own way. System snobs prefer one type or style of game and attempt to belittle all others.

Systemless Module
A module that does not use dice to determine outcomes. Obviously, these modules emphasise characterisation and mood over scaling tall buildings or fighting orc hordes. Most systemless modules concentrate on relationships between people or inner terrors, and are run as Multiforms.

Roleplaying conducted seated around a table. The traditional form of roleplaying. See Multiform.

A module that makes full use of performance space, lighting and special effects, costume, props and large numbers of NPC extras. eg Shadows in Eden by Streetwise Productions.

Thematic Module
A module that concentrates on exploring a particular theme (patriotism, gender roles, guilt, deceit) as its main aim.

A module that uses plot and character primarily to explore or evoke a given theme.

Module that draws its inspiration from an item of popular culture - usually a movie, book or song (e.g., Xenomorph, The Silver Land freeforms, Hotel California). The advantage is that most players have a good idea of the module background and genre. The disadvantage is that their interpretation of the background may differ from yours.

Time Driven
A module in which the passage of external time is a significant factor in its successful completion. 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Gate has been activated. Azathoth will arrive over central Wollongong in three hours.'

To trash a module is, in its simplest form, to use it in a way it was not intended. Trashers may subvert the intent of a module by playing outside its genre conventions (e.g., soap opera DnD, SWAT team Cthulhu, bimbo anything). Some teams trash a module that they are not enjoying in order to spice it up. Trashing is always controversial and is bad roleplaying etiquette. However, in certain circumstances it can be very entertaining and may be justified.

Tunnel of Fun
Module in which plot events lead into each other. A leads to B leads to C leads to D. Most tournament modules are tunnels of fun. In a well designed tunnel of fun, the players have an illusion of free action.
They believe they are making the decisions and are not aware of the design constraints. In reality, however, they have little effect on the outcome.

A player who sits quietly in a corner, not entering into character or contributing to the module. Possibly a nervous beginner who simply needs a little encouragement and some roleplaying hooks from other players.

Anyone who quotes Yeats in a tournament module. (Archaic usage - a systemless gamer).

A roleplaying personality type. 'What's in it for me?' A player who sacrifices consistency of haracterisation or genre to supposedly attain a winning advantage. A winner is often a Lumberjack, but not a very successful one.

You Had To Be There. The reason why anecdotes should be banned at prizegivings.

The 'love it or hate it' syndrome. A module (usually experimental) that attracts strongly divided player reactions. (Many convention feedback forms ask players to rate modules they have played between zero and five).


  1. Experimental needs a Canberra definition now. I would suggest:
    (c) Standard (Canberra definition)

  2. Have to say, while I find that definition hilarious, I don't think the geographical descriptions are very current anymore.

  3. OMG. 1990. I haven't heard some of those terms in decades. The system toolkit stuff holds up, though our box of tricks has expanded exponentially AGAIN.

    Tear it to pieces Jaz, pull out the useful bits and dump the decades old attempts at humour. :)

  4. Now I feel old.

    Need to include the term JOG - jaded old gamer.

    That came from in the late 90s.

    But yeah - a lot of that needs updateding


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