On a Basic RPG Terminology Primer

This probably won't be of much interest to my well educated readers, but while e-mailing and "foruming", I realized we use a lot of jargon. Most of the people I game with aren't really super hardcore gamers, and I often find myself having to explain some of these terms. A short painless post covering what most of us already know might help someone who wandered in here off the street not be so confused.

Big Model: Primarily designed by Ron Edwards of The Forge. A method of contextualizing the role playing game hobby. See this for an explanation.

Dungeons and Dragons: The arch-typical role playing game. See the end of the post for a review of the different iterations of Dungeons and Dragons.

GSL: A Gaming License allowing other companies to produce 4th edition material for the Dungeons & Dragons game. It is generally considered more restrictive than the OGL.

Hot Pizza: A term used to refer to any non-tracked inventory (e.g. quarrels, assorted gear) for mid and high-level adventurers.

House Rules: Often made by gamers for stupid reasons ("more realistic" being the most offensive and common). Usually a bad idea. The best house rules are those that come up during play to help the group focus in play on what a group likes to do.

OGL: A Gaming License allowing other companies to produce material for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Allowed the birth (explosion?) of dozens of new games, systems, and retro-clones. The reason this is so awesome is it allows any content indicated as such to allow such use that is "perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive" as long as the license is included.

OSR: The Old School Renaissance. This is not a movement, but rather a term to describe a thing that sort of seems to be happening (am I offending anyone yet?). People like old RPG's, because they are awesome in ways the new ones are not. See A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

Retro-clone: A game published that uses the OGL to replicate an older game. A good listing is here, or here. Big names are OSRIC (replicates 1st edition), Swords and Wizardry (replicates 0e), and  Labyrinth Lord and  Basic Fantasy RPG (replicates Basic D&D Moldvay/Cook). It also includes new games in the old style, such as Legends of the Flame Princess, and Castles and Crusades and the yet to be released Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

RPG: Role playing games. Are you sure you know where you are?

Rule 0: The (unwritten) idea that the first rule of any Role Playing Game is that you can change any rule you wish. A few caveats. If you have to rule 0 a game in order to make it playable, that does not mean that the game isn't broken. Also, if you're going to rule 0 something, let the players know before the game starts. Also referred to as House Rules.

Splatbooks: Small (~100 page) softcover books release en masse to attempt to produce a profit for RPG publishers. The issue is that with a basic book and some dice, you can play for years and never need buy anything again.

SRD: A System Reference Document containing all the rules for basic play of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons online for free. Also available for Pathfinder.

Threefold Model: Words used to describe a way of playing that usually make people very angry for inexplicable reasons. Everyone has a bit of each. (Not surprisingly, this matches up to the internal Timmy/Johnny/Spike model of  WotC). Supplanted by the Big Model.
  • Gamist - A gamer who enjoys systems, manipulation of rules, and tactical play
  • Simulationist - A gamer who enjoys rule models of realism, specifics of play and strategic play
  • Dramatist  - A gamer who enjoys taking a role, acting, and thinking about actions in character.

Iterations of Dungeons and Dragons:
  • Chainmail: A wargame with supplimental fantasy rules (1971)
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Called 0e, released in 1974, came with three little white books. (1974)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: This edition of the game was written by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. One of 2 versions released in 1977, The other version being Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. (1977)
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Hardcover first edition, written by Gary Gygax. The first book released was the Monster Manual Followed by the Players Handbook in 1978, and the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979. What is referred to as AD&D or 1st editon (1977-79)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: A revision of Dungeons & Dragons written by Tom Moldvay (1981)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: A revision of Dungeons & Dragons written by Frank Metzer. This was the start of BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal sets). A hardcover compilation compiled by Aaron Allston was released in 1991. (1983/1991)
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: Called 2nd edition. Mostly compatible with 1st edition. Written by David "Zeb" Cook. Drastically Marked by sales of splatbooks, a large division of many different gaming lines and worlds, and a general decline in sales and attention throughout the 90's. (1989)
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: Called 3rd edition (3e). A new edition based around a basic D20 Mechanic. Released core rules for free under the OGL.  Published by Wizards of the Coast who purchased TSR. A revised edition (3.5e) was released in 2003. This edition was very financially successful. (2000/2003)
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition: Called 4th Edition (4e). This edition breaks away from many traditional Dungeons and Dragons elements. Uses a more restrictive license called the GSL.  It's release was marked by the firing of many key WotC staff, and has nowhere near the success of previous editions of the game. (2008
  • Pathfinder: Called 3.75e. Released by Paizo after the end of the 4th edition line. Continues revisions to the 3.x edition of the game. Very successful financially. (2009)
See the Wikipedia article Editions of Dungeons & Dragons for more information.

So, did I miss anything?


  1. Geeze, This turned out much longer than I intended.

  2. 'Threefold Model: Words used to describe a way of playing that usually make people very angry for inexplicable reasons.':
    This is very subjective(many would say reductionist and wrong, and it's been supplanted by Narrativists with the Big Model anyhow), and is not concrete, like the other entries on the list.(Save perhaps Hot Pizza.)

    'Marked by sales of splatbooks and a general decline in sales and attention throughout the(era)':
    This goes for all the D&D's. 2nd Edition was successful at the start as all were.(Even 4th, to an extent.)

    Aren't the Classic D&Ds generally delineated by their author? Holmes Basic, Moldvay(for Basic)with Cook/Marsh(Expert), and Mentzer for BECMI. And the BECMI compilation is Aaron Allston's Rules Cyclopedia(called the Rules Cyclopedia generally, ime).

  3. Thanks! Added the big model, clarified the 2nd edition bit, and gave Aaron the credit for the cyclopedia.

    The authors of each edition were already noted in each entry.

  4. Oh yeah, you gave credit to the authors, but what I meant was when someone well versed in the history of D&D(especially in the OSR) refers to 1977 Basic D&D, they say Holmes, 1981 Moldvay for Basic, Cook/Marsh(sometimes) for Expert of that year, etc...

    And I kind of wonder why 2nd Edition's entry seems to be a bit negative. 'Drastically marked?' TSR's failure was due less to 2nd Edition's lack of appeal, than general bad business decisions: see the post-mortems; especially spamming card/boardgames games during fads, similar campaign worlds, ignoring viable properties, trying to start a DICE based(!) Collectible Game, and ramping up paper/hardback novel lines(more than double previous allotments!), among others.

    'has nowhere near the success of previous editions of the game.':
    Also, I'd say 4th Edition's success/failure is is too early to tell. Adding 'to date' or something similar would be appropriate, imho.

    The GNR/Big Model is off the mark to me and others, but I can see why it's included(as people run across it fairly often), but I personally would note that it's validity has been effectively questioned.(And it was being developed before Edwards, see Usenet/Compuserve discussions from '96 or so on...[Edwards is merely the one that was seen as the 'champion' of this 'theory']. Though this, of course may be too trivial to mention to the neophyte gamer...) But, as always, YMMV.

    Interesting reference page.

  5. Great post, but just a couple of points. The 0e of 1974 was 3 little "brown" books, not white (well, more beige actually, but who wants to admit that?) And the entry for the Holmes Basic D&D edition is a bit confusing because of the reference to AD&D, which is covered in the listing that follows it. It would be incorrect to say AD&D was released in 1977, since Gygax hadn't finished writing the PHB or DMG at that stage, and the Monster Manual on its own doesn't count as a game.

    Oh and you could probably even squeeze another entry in between 0e and Holmes, which was the four 0e supplements published between 1975 and 1976, as they made some drastic changes to the original game.


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