Game Design

The Ups and Downs of Homeworld - by Justin Reeve Blogs - 10 August 2018 - 6:22am
Homeworld remains one of the only real-time strategy games to ever feature a truly 3D movement system. Why? Players never look up. This article examines what Homeworld did differently and why it failed to catch on.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Time vs Progression - by Gregory Pellechi Blogs - 10 August 2018 - 6:17am
Ever wish you could jump to an early part of a game's story to see what happened? Well there's a good reason that doesn't happen - progression. Time and progress are constraints on narratives that most designers aren't immediately aware of.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Esoteric Gaming Jargon

Gnome Stew - 10 August 2018 - 5:00am

In our hobby and industry, there are quite a few terms of jargon tossed about. Not all of them are specific or unique to tabletop gaming, but for enough of them we gamers have our own definitions. Someone new to RPGs might need a little guidance on understanding what we’re saying when we drop some of these terms.

About ten years ago, Walt put together an RPG glossary here on Gnome Stew. This list is by no means a replacement, but, rather, an appendix to his wonderful and in-depth article. I’m not going to cover the basics like GM, PC, NPC, etc.. Walt’s glossary does a wonderful job of this already.

This post will be a little long in the tooth because of the number of terms I’m going to lay down on you, so I’m just going to jump in the list. Also, I tried to group the definitions together in a way that made sense instead of alphabetically.

Grognard – French for “grumbler.” An old soldier. I suppose grumbler and old soldier can be synonymous. In the RPG world, we use it to describe folks who enjoy older RPGs as opposed to the newer selections.

Newb/Newbie/N00b – A newcomer to the hobby. Can be applied to pretty much any hobby or profession. Usually used in derogatory terms, so be careful with this one.

RAW – Acronym: Rules As Written; Some groups will run a game RAW. This especially applies to organized play, so that all players and the GM are on the same page as far as rules go.

RAI – Acronym: Rules As Intended; This occurs when different people or groups interpret the written rules in different ways. This can come from ambiguous wording in a rule, or a shift from RAW due to personal preference.

House Rules – House rules are used to alter the RAW language to adapt the game to personal play styles, personal preferences, to adjust for shortcomings in the rules, or to overcome serious flaws in an otherwise playable game system.

Homebrew – A homebrew RPG can apply to both worlds and rules. With worlds, the GM will run in a setting they have come up with themselves (or within a group effort). With rules, the GM is running a set of rules that they (or a group) have come up with. In many cases, homebrew worlds and systems never see the light of day outside the immediate gaming group immersed in the worlds/rules.

Organized Play – This is where a character is not part of an ongoing campaign, but the player controlling the character moves from adventure to adventure and levels up according to proscribed meta-rules. Some examples of organized play are Pathfinder Society, D&D’s Adventurers’ League, and RPGA’s “living campaigns.”

THAC0 – Acronym: To Hit Armor Class Zero; This method of determining if someone hits a target with an attack has fallen out of favor because of the difficulty of the math involved. THAC0 has its roots in the wargaming systems Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson played and used as a basis for the original D&D system in the 1970s and continued to be found in mainstream gaming until D&D 3.0 was released. It can still be found, sometimes with variations, in some modern games.

Metagame – The information outside the game that involves the game. This is generally player knowledge that is outside what their character knows. An example of this would be the knows that trolls (in D&D) can’t regenerate fire or acid damage, so they throw oil on the troll and light it up, even if their character has no way of knowing this tactic at the time.

Monty Haul – A style of gaming or campaigning where the GM loads up the PCs with treasure, magic, experience points, and other loot even if it’s not fully earned. This is named after “Monty Hall” from the “Let’s Make A Deal” TV show.

Hack ‘n’ Slash – A style of gaming where the players are basically playing a tactical simulation against the monsters the GM throws at them. The whole point of the game is to Munchkin a character to become the most effective killing machine possible to slay as many monsters as possible.

Min/Maxing – This concept is where a player will completely cripple (or minimize or min) one or more aspects of his or her character in order to trade off for additional powers in areas where they want to be supreme (or maximize or max).

Munchkin – A player who must “win” the game at all costs. This can be a power gamer, a min/maxer, a cheater, or someone who will memorize every bestiary, every spell, and every rule in order to metagame the process of playing to gain an advantage.

Power Gaming – A player that, within the rules provided, will find a way to create the strongest and most capable character possible. This is a slight difference from Min/Maxing in that most power gamers will do everything they can to avoid having any weaknesses that are exploitable by the GM during the course of the game.

On The Fly GM – A GM that changes the direction of the campaign or storyline because players’ ideas are better than the GM’s.

Anonymous NPC – These are NPCs who have no names. They typically are the barkeeps, shop owners, messengers, etc. who the PCs interact with in a transactional manner, but not in a way that changes the direction of the story.

Named NPC – Named NPCs are people in the world under control of the GM who have a name. These tend to be folks who alter the course of the story, plant new story seeds, are targets of quests, or obstacles to overcome.

Mook/Minion – These are synonymous with Anonymous NPCs in that they aren’t important to the storyline. However, they do pose an obstacle the PCs must work together in order to overcome. Mooks typically work for a Boss or BBEG.

Boss/BBEG – BBEGs are the Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal of a campaign or story arc. They control mooks, set their own plots into action, have goals and motivations, typically have a back story, and consider themselves to be the hero of their own story. Generally, when the BBEG is taken down, the world changes, the story arc concludes, and, unless a fresh BBEG is presented, the campaign might roll to a close.

GMPC – Acronym: Game Master Player Character; A GMPC is a fully-fledged character controlled by the GM, is an equal member of the party, collects loot and experience points, and travels with the rest of the party. The GMPC is generally protected by plot armor, and tends to be more of an annoyance to the players than any benefit. Temporary GMPCs (such as an experienced guide or bodyguard) can work well in games, but generally not for the long term.

Plot Armor – This occurs when a single character has become so vital to the continuation of the storyline or campaign arc that the GM cannot afford to kill the character off. The plot itself has become “armor” or immunity from death for the character.

Railroading – A style of running the game in which the players’ decisions have limited impact on the story arc that is being told. This can work well in one-shots or convention games due to the limited scope and time involved, but long-term railroading can lead to player dissatisfaction.

Sandbox – A style of running the game in which no predefined story arc exists. The GM may prepare encounters, locations, treasure, and other vital items to the game beforehand, but when the GM sits down at the table he or she may not have a true idea of what will happen next because the world (or local area) is laid out in front of the players for them to pick a direction.

Fail Forward – This is a style of running the game in which failure to overcome an obstacle will not stall or stop the progress of the story being told. It will certainly alter the story and will generally produce some sort of interesting consequence while allowing the obstacle to be overcome, avoided, destroyed, or somehow mitigated.

Dungeon Crawl – A style of game in which the PCs make their way through a dungeon (usually one of large scope or a “megadungeon”) during the course of the campaign. They might retreat to the entrance (if possible), return to the handy village that is nearby, and resupply at the Anonymous NPCs’ shops. However, the bulk of the gaming is done within the confines of a dungeon.

The Three Pillars – A concept in which RPGs are described as being part exploration, part social interaction, and part combat. These three parts make up the three pillars holding up RPGs.

Session Zero – A session in which the GM and players get together to define a social contract, pick a game, generate characters (and potentially a world/setting), agree upon a theme and style of play, and generally kick off the start of a campaign.

Rule Zero – A understood concept in which the GM has final say on any ruling, despite what a rulebook may say. This is where many house rules are generated when a GM is consistent in implementing rule zero.

Crunch – The hard and fast rules, numbers, tables, charts, and other artifacts of the game that can be rigidly defined or understood.

Fluff – The descriptive text of a rulebook or setting book in which the ambiance, style, themes, genres, and feelings of the game are encoded, but not rigidly defined.

PvP – Acronym: Player vs. Player; This occurs when a player decides to use their character to attack another player’s character. This can be part of a story arc, caused by a BBEG, or can be a sign that the gaming group has come to an violent and ugly end and should disband (or alter membership).

Buff – The act of boosting another PC’s ability or abilities. This can be done via assistance, spells, magic items, or innate character abilities that alter other abilities or other characters.

Nerf – The act of lowering another PC’s (or mook’s or BBEG’s) ability or abilities. Has the same sources as buffs.

Tank – A character designed to absorb as much damage as possible while allowing the rest of the group to take down the opponents.

DPS – Acronym: Damage Per Second; This phrase has come to describe a character who has the main job of doing as much damage as possible in order to take down opponents before they get taken out of the fight.

Controller – A character designed to control the battlefield, area of play, or other locale in order to gain an advantage for his or her group.

Healer – A character who is mainly focused on keeping the rest of the group alive and in as good of shape as possible. Often combined with buffs to offset nerfs.

Leeroy Jenkins – When a player gets bored or tired of planning, they will kick down the door, charge into the lair, and attack whatever is on the other side. The phrase comes from a moment in the World of Warcraft online game where a player tired of the excessive planning of one of the players, screamed his name, and charged into the BBEG’s lair. The event resulted, as you would expect, in a TPK. You can see the video on YouTube.

Murder Hobo – A person or group of people who have no base of operations and they respond to every encounter as a physical fight in which they kill everyone around them. Very little social interaction occurs with murder hobos, and very little story telling occurs during games involving murder hobos. This can be fun if, during session zero, the group agrees to go with a hack ‘n’ slash style game.

Rules Lawyer – A player who knows every rule, every nuance, every errata, and every combination of how these things work. They typically will correct and attempt override GMs who are attempting to invoke rule zero.

Bennie – Abbreviation for “benefit.” These are in-game bonuses given to players by the GM for exceptional play or to help shore up a weaker character during random character generation. Bennies can also be a metagame currency allowing players to adjust rolls or influence the storytelling aspect of the game.

Boxed Text – The text in adventures or modules that the GM is supposed to read out loud (or paraphrase) to the players when an event occurs or locale is discovered.

FLGS – Acronym: Friendly Local Game Story; This is where gamers can get together to acquire supplies for gaming, play in a back room, post notices on cork boards about games, and build their community.

LARP – Acronym: Live Action Role Playing; A style of gaming in which the players can be in costume, use props, and physically move around an area to marked off locations in order to meet with each other, NPCs, the GM, etc.

OOC – Acronym: Out of Character; Generally this is limited to comments and questions about food, bathroom locations in the house, or rules questions. Most conversation around the table should be IC, not OOC.

IC – Acronym: In Character; These are the words spoke by the player to represent the actual things his or her character is saying.

PBeM – Acronym: Play by Mail; This is a method of gaming in which the players and GM communicate via physical mail. However, email has mostly supplanted these types of communication due to the near-immediate delivery of email.

PbP – Acronym: Play by Post; This is a method of gaming which the players and GM communicate via some form of posting or message board on the Internet. There are many variations of this approach to gamine because of the various technologies available today.

Social Contract – An agreement between everyone within an RPG group on style of play, themes, trigger areas, genre, and other choices made at the table to guide how the players will interact with the GM and each other.

TPK – Acronym: Total Party Kill; This usually occurs through a series of poor decisions by the players, bad dice rolls, new GMs making judgement mistakes, or experienced GMs deciding to end the campaign via “in rule” fiat that kills every last member of the party.

Now that this list is done, I have some people to thank who helped out on this article:

  • Angela Murray — For starting the conversation that led to this article.
  • John Arcadian — For jumping on the ideas and requesting I write this article.

For suggested phrases:

  • The Gelatinous Rube (@TempestLOB)
  • Guy Milner (@milnarmaths)
  • Duke Aaron McGregor
  • David Dolph
  • Rob Abrazado
  • Darren Wade
  • Travis Casey
  • thom_raindog (@thom_raindog)
  • Buddy Fazzio
  • LoneWorg (@LoneWorg)
  • Craig Barnes

So, did I miss any esoteric or weird phrases used in RPGs? If so, drop a comment with the phrase and your definition. If you’ve heard a word or phrase and aren’t sure what it means, feel free to drop that in a comment and request a definition. I’ll see what I can come up with.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Perfect World-owned Echtra Games is behind the next Torchlight game

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 9 August 2018 - 11:53am

That game is Torchlight Frontiers and will take place in a "shared, persistent, and dynamically generated" world, a new addition to the series that had previously only offered co-op multiplayer play. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Jam City's Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery clears $50 million in revenue

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 9 August 2018 - 10:15am

The mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates that the free-to-play mobile game has generated $55 million in revenue since its late April launch. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

ADAPTIVE GAMEPLAY AESTHETICS (PART 1): A Disruptive Game Design Framework - by Krzysztof Solarski Blogs - 9 August 2018 - 8:08am
This 2-part essay provides a disruptive game design framework based on shape language and traditional composition for heightening physical empathy and the sensory experience of players with a focus on art and narrative-driven games and transmedia.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Accessibility vs. Memorability. - by Victor Sanchez Blogs - 9 August 2018 - 8:02am
When we perceive a game as accessible? are there any factors that foresee its memorability? are these two characteristics at odds? There is a psychological model that try to throw some light on these questions.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Magic Moment of Discovery - by Justin Reeve Blogs - 9 August 2018 - 7:28am
What is it which fills a game world with wonder? This article examines the relationship between exploration and discovery by analyzing Watch Dogs 2, The Witcher 3, and Breath of the Wild.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

A Media Ecological Analysis of the Game Late Shift - by Seth Edens Blogs - 9 August 2018 - 7:23am
An analysis of the video game Late Shift from a media ecological perspective.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

A Lifetime Posmortem: From Failure to PS4 - by Diego Freire Blogs - 9 August 2018 - 7:23am
Chibig Studio was found after Abraham, the designer, programmer, producer and CEO, close her previous company. First by his own, he found success on mobile game. After that, the studio grew. This is a timeline about failures and lessons.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Gnomecast #46 – Gen Con 2018

Gnome Stew - 9 August 2018 - 5:34am

Join Head Gnome John for a series of short interviews with attendees at Gen Con 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Settle in for a bonus-sized episode!

Download: Gen Con 2018

The interviews in this episode include:

Keep up with all the gnomes by visiting, following @gnomestew on Twitter, or visiting the Gnome Stew Facebook Page. Check out Gnome Stew Merch, and support Gnome Stew on Patreon!

Check out John at

Follow Ang at @orikes13 on Twitter or find her in the Misdirected Mark Google+ Community.

Want some bonus bonus content?

Gnome Stew frequent guest author Keith Garrett was at Gencon with his camera and took a bunch of pictures!  Here’s a photo album of some of the sites of Gencon 2018!

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    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    Tired of legal threats, emulation hub EmuParadise drops its ROM library

    Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 August 2018 - 12:41pm

    ROMs and ISOs are no longer available on the retro games site EmuParadise. ...

    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    PUBG dev launches 'Fix PUBG' website to address longstanding bug complaints

    Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 August 2018 - 11:31am

    PUBG Corp†™s new site seeks to address longstanding quality of life issues that plague its popular battle royale game with significant transparency along the way. ...

    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    Devs, pitch your great and clever Design talks for GDC 2019!

    Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 August 2018 - 10:37am

    If you've been sitting on a great idea for a talk on game design at Game Developers Conference 2019, organizers want to hear it -- before next Thursday, August 16th! ...

    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    Facebook introduces AR games to Messenger

    Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 August 2018 - 10:33am

    Facebook has launched a handful of internally developed augmented reality games that can be played during Messenger video chats. ...

    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    The Good and Bad of Video Game Addiction - by Josh Bycer Blogs - 8 August 2018 - 7:00am
    Understanding the difference between an engaging and an addictive experience is becoming important given the recent discussions over video game addiction, but in this piece, Josh Bycer will elaborate on when a game goes too far.
    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    DeepDribble: Simulating Basketball with AI - by Anna Ploegh Blogs - 8 August 2018 - 6:57am
    Researchers form DeepMotion and CMU have taught virtual basketball players entirely physically simulated dribbling skills.
    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    How to make a Discord RPG: part 2 - by Adrian Hawkins Blogs - 8 August 2018 - 6:53am
    In part 1 we introduced our Discord react interface: part 2 of this blog series covers in more depth the design of the combat and exploration systems, as well as onboarding new players and Discord channel structure.
    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    GM's Screen #6: Borderland Keep

    New RPG Product Reviews - 8 August 2018 - 3:42am
    Publisher: Raging Swan Press
    Rating: 3
    An review

    This GM-screen-insert clocks in at 6 pages, though only one page of these is actually content.

    Now, it should be noted that this insert, structurally, sports dressing that you can spontaneously use, partially compiled from previous Raging Swan Press dressing books.

    One column notes 10 entries for dressing, including sparring dummies and smoke rising from a chimney of the fort. Minor complaint here: Dressing outside and inside should probably be separate. The second 10 entries are devoted to sights and sounds, which does have a bit of an overlap with the previous table: A single boot jutting from the mud due to rain (table 1), compared to a raven squatting on the battlements (table 2) – I fail to see a distinct differentiation here. Making one table focus on inside, one on outside, would have probably been smarter. The final column features 10 whispers and rumors, telling us about the strange behavior of the priest, rumored bandit activity and the bedbug infestation of the tavern, these are okay, but nothing too exciting.

    Finally, at the bottom of the page is a cool little list spanning the whole width of the insert: This would be “Words have Power”, and it provides neat, descriptive synonyms and miscellaneous information, providing some on the fly variety for your descriptions, with bolded words highlighted to differentiate the general concepts from the examples/synonyms. These include human female and male sample names, alternate names for battlements, castles and wilderness, as well as for soldiers. A few castle descriptors are also noted.


    Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant typos. Layout adheres to a 3-column landscape b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. The insert also comes in two versions – one intended for screen use and one optimized to be printed out.

    I wanted to like this GM-screen insert more than I did – Creighton Broadhurst usually does better and the information has more thematic overlap than the previous screen-inserts. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars – easily the weakest of the first 6 screen-inserts.

    Endzeitgeist out.
    Categories: Game Theory & Design

    GM's Screen #5: Noisome Sewer

    New RPG Product Reviews - 8 August 2018 - 3:41am
    Publisher: Raging Swan Press
    Rating: 4
    An review

    This GM-screen-insert clocks in at 6 pages, though only one page of these is actually content.

    Now, it should be noted that this insert, structurally, sports dressing that you can spontaneously use, partially compiled from previous Raging Swan Press dressing books.

    One column notes 10 entries for dressing, which include bricks that have fallen to create a slippery surface, a roughly-hewn niche, and also evidence of something large slithering through the much…nice table. The second 10 entries for sample events, which include rumbling from above (yay for paranoia!), muted splashes of something heavy falling in, sudden wings driving the abominable stench home… The final column features 10 things to find in the sewers, including a small tree floating in the effluent, a silver necklace on one branch, ropes dangling from hammered in spikes dangling over a channel, a dagger tip wedged between rocks – some nice pieces of detail here.

    Finally, at the bottom of the page is a cool little list spanning the whole width of the insert: This would be “Words have Power”, and it provides neat, descriptive synonyms and miscellaneous information, providing some on the fly variety for your descriptions, with bolded words highlighted to differentiate the general concepts from the examples/synonyms. This time around, we learn alternatives for “damp”, darkness, for decay, disgusting things, for excrement and similarly delightful concepts.


    Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant typos. Layout adheres to a 3-column landscape b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. The insert also comes in two versions – one intended for screen use and one optimized to be printed out.

    Creighton Broadhurst provides a nice GM screen insert here – it certainly is helpful for sewers and has been well-curated and chosen. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

    Endzeitgeist out.
    Categories: Game Theory & Design


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