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 Post subject: The Game Design Discussion Lexicon
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 9:32 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:43 pm
Posts: 2112
Location: Melbourne, Australia
The experience an individual has playing a role-playing game is entirely subjective. It is entirely dependent on the individual and the others within the gaming group. When discussing RPGs and game design it is difficult not to see ones own experience as being typical or normal and extrapolating from there. This makes discussion of somewhat abstract concepts like aspects of game design difficult -- many posts in such threads are spent establishing the common ground, the common frame of reference, between the thread's participants. In other words, if I'm making comments based on my experiences but inferring that my comments are based on objective analysis rather than subjective experience it is almost certain to create misunderstanding in any reader whose experiences differ. The result is often argument between the thread's participants until a common understanding is established.

One of the big disappointments for me in seeing the old TRoS forum move from The Forge was the overnight loss of great discussion regarding the game's design. I'd like to see that discussion returned here on trosfans.

In order to facilitate this kind of discussion it is important to try and avoid the search for common ground that adversely affects such threads. The way to do that is to establish a Lexicon of terms that define a variety of game design concepts and in-play experiences. In order to do this I have taken The Provisional Glossary from The Forge and constructed a sub-set of terms that are most relevant to TRoS and it's type of game. All the definitions here are the work of Ron Edwards and the participants on The Forge and the copyright belongs to Ron Edwards at Adept Press.

Clarity is the key to this exercise. How these terms are used is important. So I'm also asking that everyone who wants to participate in these threads to Capitalize any term that they want to reference back to the lexicon. If a word is capitalized this means that the author is using the term according to the definition used in the Lexicon. If the word is used without capitalization then the author is using it according to the normal English definition or, more likely, according to what they think it means -- a subjective definition.

Please do not discuss the definitions in this thread -- start another thread or PM me if you'd like particular definitions added.

Many thanks,

Ian Plumb
Illustrations for Gamers
Griffin Grove Gaming
Kraftworks for Kids School Holiday Program

 Post subject: Re: The Game Design Discussion Lexicon
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 10:04 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:43 pm
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

The degree to which one or a combination of Creative Agendas are accepted and reinforced among members of a role-playing group. Coherence may also be applied to game design, but only indirectly, in terms of whether it does or does not facilitate such a shared agenda.

Creative Agenda (CA)

The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing. Three distinct Creative Agendas are currently recognized: Step On Up (Gamist), The Right to Dream (Simulationist), and Story Now (Narrativist). Creative Agenda is expressed using all Components of Exploration, but most especially System.


Moment-to-moment or sentence-to-sentence actions and statements during play. Combinations of Ephemera often construct Techniques. Changes in Stance represent one example of an Ephemeral aspect of play.


The imagination of fictional events, established through communicating among one another. Exploration includes five Components: Character, Setting, Situation, System, and Color. See also Shared Imagined Space (a near or total synonym).

Lumpley Principle, the

"System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play."

Social Contract

All interactions and relationships among the role-playing group, including emotional connections, logistic arrangements, and expectations. All role-playing is a subset of the Social Contract.


Specific procedures of play which, when employed together, are sufficient to introduce fictional characters, places, or events into the Shared Imagined Space. Many different Techniques may be used, in different games, to establish the same sorts of events. A given Technique is composed of a group of Ephemera which are employed together. Taken in their entirety for a given instance of role-playing, Techniques comprise System.

 Post subject: Re: The Game Design Discussion Lexicon
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 10:42 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:43 pm
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Game design which displays features of one or more Creative Agenda that, in their applications, are operationally contradictory. It is a minor form of design Incoherence. However, an Abashed design is easily correctable by ignoring or altering isolated portions of the rules (minor Drift) during play. See Abashed Vanillaism and my review of Little Fears.

Actor Stance

The person playing a character determines the character's decisions and actions using only knowledge and perceptions that the character would have. This stance does not necessarily include identifying with the character and feeling what he or she "feels," nor does it require in-character dialogue. See Stance.

Author Stance

The person playing a character determines the character's decisions and actions based on the person's priorities, independently of the character's knowledge and perceptions. Author Stance may or may not include a retroactive "motivation" of the character to perform the actions. When it lacks this feature, it is called Pawn Stance.

Balance of Power

How the "buck stops here" authority regarding resolution in play is distributed among members of a role-playing group. A feature of Social Contract, related to Credibility and GM-tasks, which directly affects System. This term was first applied to role-playing interactions by Hunter Logan.


The Technique of introducing events into the game which make a thematically-significant or at least evocative choice necessary for a player. The term is taken from the rules of Sorcerer. See also Kicker.

Black Curtain

The effects of a variety of Techniques a GM may employ to keep his use of Force hidden from the other participants in the game, such that they are at least somewhat under the impression that their characters' significant decisions are under their control. See Illusionism, Force, and the discussion in Narrativism: Story Now.


Imagined details about any or all of System, Character, Setting, or Situation, added in such a way that does not change aspects of action or resolution in the imagined scene. One of the Components of Exploration.


Conflicts of interest such that goals achieved by one person bring a disadvantage to one or more others. Competition may operate independently (a) among people engaged in role-playing or (b) among imaginary characters. An example of a Dial during play. Competition may or may not be associated with Gamist play, but when it is present among people, Gamist play is very likely to be occurring. See Gamism: Step On Up.

Conflict Resolution

A Technique in which the mechanisms of play focus on conflicts of interest, rather than on the component tasks within that conflict. When using this Technique, inanimate objects are conceived to have "interests" at odds with the character, if necessary. Contrast with Task Resolution.


The degree to which a given statement is adopted into the imaginary events of play, with or without reference to rules. A feature of the Lumpley Principle. Credibility may be applied to the statement (imaginary event) itself or to the person who supplies it; see also Authority.


The exchange rate within and among Character Components. Currency may or may not be explicit (e.g. "character points"), but it is a universal feature of System, specifically as it relates to Character.

Death Spiral

The effects of a mechanic which not only has negative effects on a character, but also diminishes the Effectiveness of the ability to resist the re-application of the mechanic.


This term is used in two distinct ways.
(1) Referring to actual play, it is the sum of interactions among Techniques.
(2) Referring to text, it is the written version of such interactions with the implication of author intent.


Short for Drama, Fortune, and Karma, referring to the Resolution mechanics of a given System, which may include any combination or blending of the three. Terms originally presented in the game Everway; altered in current usage.


A feature of System by which a given aspect of the imaginary material may be increased or decreased, in terms of Effectiveness, Color, or Points-of-Contact. Depending on the system, dials may be "spun" before play (in which case their value is expected to be fixed) or during play. The term was first presented in Champions Millenium.

Director Stance

The person playing a character determines aspects of the environment relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character's knowledge or ability to influence events. Therefore the player has not only determined the character's actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. Director Stance is often confused with narration of an in-game event, but the two concepts are not necessarily related.


Resolving imaginary events based on stated outcomes without reference to numerical values or (in some cases) statements that have been previously established (e.g. written on a character sheet). See also DFK and Resolution.


Changing from one Creative Agenda to another, or from the lack of shared Creative Agenda to a specific one, during play, typically through changing the System. In observational terms, often marked by openly deciding to ignore or alter the use of a given rule.


A Character Component: quantities or terms which are directly used to determine the success or extent of a character?s actions during play.


The Technique of control over characters' thematically-significant decisions by anyone who is not the character's player. When Force is applied in a manner which disrupts the Social Contract, the result is Railroading. Originally called "GM-oomph" (Ron Edwards), then "GM-Force" (Mike Holmes).


A method of resolution employing unpredictable non-behavioral elements, usually based on physical objects such as dice, cards, or similar. See also DFK and Resolution.

Gamism (Gamist Play)

One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. The term was first proposed by Mary Kuhner for the Threefold Model; its usage is very similar in the Big Model. See Step On Up.

Genre Expectations

A Technique of establishing the Components of Exploration through a pre-play discussion among the participants, usually with references to previous sources, articulating what is to be customized or conformed to; highly integrated with thematic elements. The term was employed regarding role-playing by Fang Langford.

GM-ful play

The Technique of distributing GMing Tasks across all the members of a role-playing group, up to and including re-distributing them during play, as opposed to concentrating them in one person. Coined by Emily Care Boss. See An approach for mechanics and innovation.


A family of tasks which are necessary to establish the Components of Exploration as play proceeds. They all concern Credibility regarding Scene Framing, IIEE, and Resolution. Significantly, not all instances of role-playing include the same GMing tasks or organize them in the same way; using the term "GM" or "GMing" is often problematic as different people organize and negotiate GMing tasks differently. See Narrativism: Story Now for a list of GMing tasks.


Play which combines two or more Creative Agendas. Observed functional hybrids to date include only two rather than all three, and one of the agendas is apparently primary or dominant, with the other playing a supportive role. See my review of The Riddle of Steel.


Intent, Initiation, Execution, and Effect - how actions and events in the imaginary game-world are resolved in terms of
(1) real-world announcement and
(2) imaginary order of occurrence.
A necessary feature of System during play, usually represented by several Techniques and many Ephemera.


A family of Techniques in which a GM, usually in the interests of story creation, story creation, exerts Force over player-character decisions, in which he or she has authority over resolution-outcomes, and in which the players do not necessarily recognize these features.


This term has no single definition. Some uses, among others, include: (a) undivided attention to the Shared Imagined Space, (b) the absence of overtly stating features of Social Contract and Creative Agenda, (c) strong identification with one?s imaginary character. See Why immersion is a tar baby 'and 'Immersive Story by John Kim.

Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, the

"The GM is the author of the story and the players direct the actions of the protagonists." Widely repeated across many role-playing texts. Neither sub-clause in the sentence is possible in the presence of the other. See Narrativism: Story Now.


Play which includes incompatible combinations of Creative Agendas among participants. Incoherent play is considered to contribute to Dysfunctional play, but does not define it. Incoherence may be applied indirectly to game rules. Abashedness represents a minor, correctable form of Incoherence.

Intuitive Continuity

A method of preparing role-playing sessions in which the GM uses the players? interests and actions during initial play to construct the back-story of the scenario retroactively. The term was first presented in the game Underworld.


Resolution based on comparison of Effectiveness values alone. See DFK and Resolution.


Player-authored Situation incorporated into the character-creation System; a formal version of Positioning. The term was first presented in the game Sorcerer.


The relationship between the initial numbers derived for a character (e.g. attributes) to the numbers eventually used most commonly in play (Effectiveness values; e.g. combat to-hit values). The more steps of derivation, the more the character creation system is said to be layered.

Metagame (general)

All aspects of play that concern non-Explorative matters or priorities; in terms of the Big Model, the levels of Social Contract and Creative Agenda.

Metagame Mechanics

Techniques which do not require justification using in-game cause, in many cases including Author and Director Stances. In terms of the Big Model, System is being conducted solely in terms of the Social Contract, without Exploration as the medium.


This term is used in several different ways. (1) A sequence of large-scale changes in setting and actions of NPCs which stimulate conflicts, especially when planned to occur well in advance of play; (2) a version of #1 generated through publications and expected to be implemented by customers in their games, usually through the agency of the GM; #2 or #3 which override players? degree of choice regarding their characters? role, which is to say, which require significant use of Force, usually by the GM.


A type of Ephemera. What is said by a game participant to alter or add to the Shared Imaginary Space. How narration is distributed among participants varies widely; to be fully accepted, narration requires Credibility.

Pawn Stance

A subset of Author Stance which lacks the retroactive "motivation" of the character to perform the actions. Often but wrongly identified with Gamist play. See Stance.

Paying to Suck

A feature of System in which buying an ability for a character with some sort of Currency nets him with an low chance of success that is even worse than an unskilled attempt. Widely considered undesirable.


Game-play in which the Creative Agenda relies on highly-specific Techniques and Ephemera, often applied multiple times per imaginary event during play. More generally covered by the concept of Points of Contact, which concerns the degree to which System is Explored. See Vanilla Narrativism and Points of Contact.

Points of Contact

The steps of rules-consultation, either in the text or internally, per unit of established imaginary content. This is not the same as the long-standing debate between Rules-light and Rules-heavy systems; either low or high Points of Contact systems can rely on strict rules.


A Character Component. Behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character.


A potentially dysfunctional technique of Hard Core Gamist play, characterized by maximizing character impact on the game-world or player impact on the dialogue of play by whatever means available.


A generalizable, problematic aspect of human interactions. Early in the process of creating or experiencing a story, a Premise is best understood as a proposition or perhaps an ideological challenge to the world represented by the protagonist's passions. Later in the process, resolving the conflicts of the story transforms Premise into a theme - a judgmental statement about how to act, behave, or believe. In role-playing, "protagonist" typically indicates a character mainly controlled by one person. A defining feature of Story Now.


A problematic term with two possible meanings. (1) A characteristic of the main characters of stories, regardless of who produced the stories in whatever way. (2) A characteristic set of behaviors among people during role-playing, associated with Narrativist play, with a necessary unnamed equivalent in Gamist play and possibly another in Simulationist play. In the latter sense, coined by Paul Czege.

Purist for System

A category of design which emphasizes applying a set of simulated physical and other in-game causes to a wide variety of possible settings, characters, and situations.


Control of a player-character's decisions, or opportunities for decisions, by another person (not the player of the character) in any way which breaks the Social Contract for that group, in the eyes of the character's player. The term describes an interpretation of a social and creative outcome rather than any specific Technique.

Relationship Map

A Technique for play-preparation which primarily, although not exclusively, outlines the ties of sexual contact and kinship among characters. Typically these ties are not immediately known to the protagonist characters. The term was first presented in The Sorcerer?s Soul. Compare to the group-based and more general Technique of Storymapping.


Establishing fictional events into the time-sequence of the Shared Imaginary Space. Includes DFK, IIEE, and narration, among other things. A necessary feature of System.


A Character Component. An available quantity upon which Effectiveness or Positioning mechanics may draw, or which are reduced to reflect harm to the character. Arguably applicable to non-character components of play as well.

Reward System

(a) The personal and social gratification derived from role-playing, a feature of Creative Agenda.
(b) In-game changes, usually to a player-character, a feature of System and Character.
(c) As a subset to (b), improvement to one or more of the character?s Components.
Typically, the term refers to how (a) is facilitated by (b).

Right to Dream, the

Commitment to the imagined events of play, specifically their in-game causes and pre-established thematic elements. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority for role-playing, the defining feature of Simulationist play. See Simulationism: the Right to Dream.

Roads to Rome

A technique of scenario preparation in which the GM has prepared a climactic scene and maneuvers or otherwise determines that character activity leads to this scene.

Scene Framing

A GM-task in which many possible Techniques are used to establish when a sequence of imaginary events begins and ends, what characters are involved, and where it takes place. Analogous to a "cut" in film editing which skips fictional time and/or changes location. A necessary feature of System.

Screen Time

The extent of attention afforded to a given player's Explorative contributions from the other participants, with special emphasis on that participant?s access to applying the System. A type of Ephemera.

Search Time

The real time required to determine necessary values or information prior to applying a resolution Technique. See also Handling Time.


Elements described about a fictitious game world including period, locations, cultures, historical events, and characters, usually at a large scale relative to the presence of the player-characters. A Component of Exploration.

Shared Imagined Space (SIS, Shared Imagination)

The fictional content of play as it is established among participants through role-playing interactions. See also Transcript (which is a summary of the SIS after play) and Exploration (a near or total synonym).


A form of Synecdoche which defines "role-playing" according to certain historically-widespread Simulationist approaches to play. The system's job is to provide the physics of the game-world" is a good example. Term coined by Jesse Burneko.


Dynamic interaction between specific characters and small-scale setting elements; Situations are divided into scenes. A component of Exploration, considered to be the "central node" linking Character and Setting, and which changes according to System. See also Kicker, Bang, and Challenge.

Social Context

How role-playing as an activity relates to one's social life in general. See Social Context and What does role-playing gaming accomplish?.


What stands to be lost and/or gained during Gamist play; the term may be applied at either or both Step on Up (participants) or Challenge (characters) levels of play.


The cognitive position of a person to a fictional character. Differences among Stances should not be confused with IC vs. OOC narration. Originally coined in the RFGA on-line discussions; see John Kim?s website for archives. Current usage modified in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory. See Author, Actor, and Director Stance.

Step On Up

Social assessment of personal strategy and guts among the participants in the face of risk. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Gamist play.


An imaginary series of events which includes at least one protagonist, at least one conflict, and events which may be construed as a resolution of the conflict. A Story is a subset of Transcript distinguished by its thematic content. Role-playing may produce a Story regardless of which Creative Agenda is employed.

Story Now

Commitment to Addressing (producing, heightening, and resolving) Premise through play itself. The epiphenomenal outcome for the Transcript from such play is almost always a story. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Narrativist play.


A technique of scenario preparation in which all participants present situations, locales, problems, and characters, after which most of the participants choose characters to play individually. First presented in Legends of Alyria.


A customizable aspect of System which allows participants to allow it to be present or absent during play, often for the whole of that particular group's play. A Dial with two settings (on/off). Also called a toggle. The term was first presented in Champions Millenium.


The means by which imaginary events are established during play, including character creation, resolution of imaginary events, reward procedures, and more. It may be considered to introduce fictional time into the Shared Imagined Space. See also the Lumpley Principle.

Task Resolution

A Technique in which the Resolution mechanisms of play focus on within-game cause, in linear in-game time, in terms of whether the acting character is competent to perform a task. Contrast with Conflict resolution.

Turku role-playing

A mode of play presented as a manifesto, in which in-character feeling and thinking is given the highest priority, to such an extent that even communicating the experience to others is secondary. By my terminology, Turku play is comprised of Simulationism emphasizing Character Exploration, resolved mainly using Drama or low Points-of-Contact Fortune mechanics, and highly reinforced through an explicit Social Contract. See The Turku School, LARP manifesting in The LARPer magazine, and Dogma 99.


A Technique of preparation and play using a canonical setting and storyline, known to all participants, in which the events of play create a "hidden" storyline to enrich and reinforce the primary one, which is treated as a creative constraint. Term coined by Ron Edwards; also sometimes called "inverse metaplot." See Metaplots, railroading, and settings and Open/closed setting (Pyron?s woes take 165).


Game-play in which the Creative Agenda requires few if any complex or specific Techniques, as opposed to Pervy. More generally covered by the concept of Points of Contact, which concerns the degree to which System is Explored.

Vanilla Narrativism

Narrativist play without notable use of the following Techniques: Director Stance, atypical distribution of GM tasks, verbalizing the Premise in abstract terms, overt organization of narration, or improvised additions to the setting or situations. People who typically play in this fashion often fail to recognize their Creative Agenda as Narrativist. See Vanilla Narrativism and the links listed under Points of Contact.


A participant who achieves his or her goals during role-playing primarily through influencing the other participants directly, whether through hinting, badgering, pleading, or other similar behaviors. Term coined by John Kim.

Whiff Factor

The effect of a high failure-rate for a given Resolution mechanic, especially when the rate does not accord with the character?s expected competence. A common source of Deprotagonizing; usually considered a Design flaw.


Desiring characters to be active particpants in an imagined world, but also to do as little as possible to make that shared imagining happen. A type of Simulationism by default, because in the absence of a desire to actively pursue a Gamist or Narrativist agenda the only focus is on exploration.

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