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The Provisional Glossary

by Ron Edwards <>
Copyright 2004 Adept Press

Many thanks to Vincent Baker, Emily Care Boss, Steve Samson, Julie Stauffer, and Ralph Mazza for their help with the first draft for this project.

As the title implies, this is a provisional version of what I hope will become a standing Glossary for the Forge. Everyone is invited to comment according to the following guidelines:

The main reason this whole thing has taken so long is that I do not see an easy way to separate a Forge Glossary authored by myself from a presentation/essay about my particular take on issues discussed at the Forge. It is flatly impossible for me to please everyone by representing all of their individual takes on these issues ? some of you may find terms that I've pegged as controversial as perfectly clear; others may find terms that I don't peg controversial as being so. So I say these two things:

So if you think that my personal take on the issues has clouded the goal for any particular term, then say so and try to back up your argument with clear logic. I'm willing to make changes on this basis, but not on the basis that you ?feel? a newcomer will be confused.

I haven't included the actual links to the indicated threads, mainly because that would delay this posting by at least a week, and it's time to get it off the ground. They'll get added in the next iteration. I figure maybe a month of discussion about this version is a good plan. If you can think of other relevant threads (remember: helpfulness), then suggest them. I'm also interested in getting links to articles by others for specific terms (e.g. M.J.s 'Applied Design, etc); the question is, which terms.

Finally, some of the terms are desperately in need of discussion and revision: ?Metagame? as a character component really sucks; and I'm proposing ?Positioning? instead. In fact, ?metagame mechanics? seems to be a broken term as well (an older thread convinced me). And a few others. I'm certainly happy to see what people think of these, but again, please do the reading and reflection necessary before you bomb in with your reactions.

Part One: the Big Model

The following key concepts and how they inter-relate form a foundation for nearly all of the other terms, which provide examples, refinements, or sub-sets for them.

The key concepts are:

The Big Model, Social Contract, Exploration, Shared Imagined Space, Creative Agenda, Techniques, Ephemera, Lumpley Principle, and Coherence

Most of the other terms on the list only take on their meaning when considered in the framework of these concepts and their interactions.

Big model pic (PDF)

Big model, the

A description of role-playing procedures as embedded in the social interactions and creative priorities of the participants. Each internal "box," "layer," or "skin" of the model is considered to be an expression of the box(es) containing it. See the discussion in Narrativism: Story Now and The big model - this is it.


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). This definition replaces all uses of "Premise" in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory aside from the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativist play. 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." The author of the principle is Vincent Baker, see Vincent?s standard rant: power, credibility, and assent and Player power abuse.

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.

Part Two: the terms list

I've tried to avoid outright tautology (B says "see A," A says "see B"), but if you encounter a term that uses lots of other terms in the definition, then you know you're pretty deep down in the key concept framework.


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.

Address Premise, to

To establish, develop, and resolve a Premise during play, with emphasis on the decisions made by the protagonist characters. See also Premise, Protagonism, and Story Now.

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.


The privilege given to a person, process, or written material to establish anything into the Shared Imaginary Space. A controversial topic; see also Credibility.


This term is undefined. Used without clarification by the user, it typically diminishes the value of discussions about role-playing. See the discussion in Gamism: Step On Up.

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.

Beeg Horseshoe Theory, the

A proposed visual model for the relationship among the three Creative Agendas around a flat circle, with an "open space" for Simulationist play, because it may not exist. First proposed by Jared Sorensen as a criticism of Simulationist play (or pseudo-play), then re-proposed by Mike Holmes in an effort to validate Simulationist play. A controversial topic; see The Beeg Horseshoe Theory, Beeg Horseshoe Theory revisited, and The Roots of Sim II.

Big Model, the

This is a key concept. See the first section.

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.

Blood Opera

Play in which character generation focuses on potentially irreconcilable differences among at least some of the characters, and in which scenario generation is designed to put as much pressure on these differences (and therefore on unexpected alliances as possible). Notable for high mortality rates among characters. An example of Situation. Term coined by Ralph Mazza, Jake Norwood, and Ron Edwards.


The Technique of withholding response or otherwise mandating a "rest" in the action of play. Term coined in Sex & Sorcery.

Breaking the game

A dysfunctional Technique of Hard Core Gamist play, characterized by rendering other participants' efforts ineffective without recourse.


A potentially-dysfunctional Technique of Hard Core Gamist play, characterized by making up the rules of a game as it is played, especially in the immediate context of advantaging oneself and disadvantaging one's opponents. "Tagged you! Tags mean you're out!" "It's Tuesday! Tagging doesn't work on Tuesdays!" Most so-called "rules-lawyering" is actually Calvinballing. The term is taken from the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes; see also The Unofficial Official Rules of Calvinball.


The Situation, i.e., adversity or imposed risk to player-characters of any kind, in the context of Gamist play. It's the imaginative arena for the Creative Agenda of Step On Up. See the Gamble and the Crunch.


A fictional person or entity which may perform actions in the imaginary situation. One of the Components of Exploration.

Character Components

The System-specific features of a role-playing character. All are present for all characters, even if one or more is not explicitly part of the textual rules. See Effectiveness, Positioning, and Resource; also see Currency.


This is a key concept. See the first section.


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.

Components of Exploration

In combination, the necessary parts of the imaginary content of a role-playing situation. Separately, they include Character, Setting, Situation, System, Color; see Exploration.

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.


Play in which two or more different Creative Agendas may be expressed in such a way that they neither interfere with one another nor are easily distinguished through observation. The term was coined by Walt Freitag in GNS and "Congruency". A controversial topic.

Creative agenda (CA)

This is a key concept. See the first section.


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 Technique of introducing effects from previous scenes into current scenes, although the scenes do not contain the same player-characters. Term coined in Sex & Sorcery.

Crunch, the

An application or type of Challenge, based on high predictability relative to risk. A feature of Gamist play.


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.

Deprotagonize (Paul Czege)

To limit or devalue another person's opportunity to establish their character as a protagonist during Narrativist play. Note that this is specific to Paul's use of Protagonism strictly in the limited Narrativist context.


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.


Usually but not always referring to the absence of Fortune-based resolution during play. Alternatively, refers to relying on Drama Techniques for Resolution. See GNS and other matters of role-playing theory as well as Dice and diceless: one designer?s radical opinion. A controversial topic.

Dickweed character

A character defined and played according to conflicts of interest with the other characters; potentially a primary source of adversity. The presence of a dickweed character does not require or imply inter-player competition.

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.


One of the three styles of role-playing identified by Mary Kuhner in the Threefold Model, but not recognized as a distinct Creative Agenda in the Big Model.


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.


Simply, role-playing which is not fun. Most Forge discussions presume that un-fun role-playing is worse than no role-playing.


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

Egri, Lajos

The author of The Art of Dramatic Writing (1946); see Premise.

El Dorado

A term for the unrealizable ideal of consistently addressing Premise through explicitly Simulationist play. This term is often mis-interpreted as Simulationist-Narrativist hybrid play or any number of other concepts. Coined by Paul Czege; see Simulationism and Narrativism under the same roof and El Dorado.


This is a key concept. See the first section.


This is a key concept. See the first section..

Fantasy Heartbreaker

A published role-playing game which retains specific aesthetic assumptions from pre-3rd edition versions of Dungeons & Dragons. See Fantasy Heartbreakers and More Fantasy Heartbreakers.

Five elements of Exploration

See "Components of Exploration."


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.

Fortune-at-the-End (FatE)

Employing a Fortune Resolution technique (dice, cards, etc) following the full descriptions of actions, physical placement, and communication among characters. See "Fortune in the Middle" and associated links.

Fortune-in-the-Middle (FitM)

Employing a Fortune Resolution technique (dice, cards, etc) prior to fully describing the specific actions of, physical placement of, and communication among characters. The Fortune outcome is employed in establishing these elements retroactively. This technique may be employed with the dice/etc as the ultimate authority of success or failure (e.g. Sorcerer) or with the dice/etc outcome being potentially adjusted by a metagame mechanic (e.g. HeroQuest). See my review of Hero Wars, see also discussions in the Alyria forum.

Gamble, the

An application or type of Challenge, based on high risk relative to predictability. A feature of Gamist play.

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.


A role-playing game design which is non-specific for Setting. Typically such games correspond to the Purist-for-System parameters. See Simulationism: the Right to Dream.


This term is undefined, in practice, and requires clarification by its user to be meaningful. Arguably its content is accounted for upon identifying the Components of Exploration in a role-playing situation. See GNS and related matters of role-playing theory for the complete discussion.

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 (Game Master)

Traditionally, a designated person given responsibility for some or all of the GMing Tasks. Since the actual tasks and authority over them varies widely across role-playing, this term has many different meanings. See GMing Tasks. The phrase "the GM" implies that the GMing-tasks are concentrated in the hands of one person.


See Force.

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.


See Force.


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.


A character which cannot engage in relevant interaction with other characters and lacks identification-value for participants. Term introduced by David Kwill and the CLAWS society; see Suspension of reality and playing odd characters.


Abbreviation for Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism. When used as a single term, synonymous with Creative Agenda. Formerly referred to as "G/N/S."

Handling Time

The real time required to process, calculate, and interpret a resolution Technique once its procedures have been applied. See also Search Time.

Hard Core

Gamist play with minimal or even absent Exploration and high levels of inter-player competition; see Breaking the game, Calvinball, Powergaming, and Turnin'.

High-Concept Simulationism

Play which strongly emphasizes an embedded theme and possibly a fixed storyline. Contrast with Purist for System. See Simulationism: the Right to Dream.


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. See The four steps of action and What is IIEC? 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. See Illusionism: a new look and a new approach and Illusionism and GNS. Term coined by Paul Elliott.


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.

In-character (IC)

An Ephemera. A style of narration using first-person point of view to describe character dialogue or actions. Neither IC or Out-of-Character (OOC) should be confused with Stance.


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.

Infamous Five, the

A series of threads and sub-threads examining all the major topics of the Forge in relation to one another, and which helped to shape the community of the site. See The Infamous Five for a complete listing of links.

Instance of play

Sufficient time spent on role-playing necessary to identify all features of System in operation. According to the Big Model, once these features are identified and evaluated in terms of a given group?s Social Contract, then Creative Agenda (or its absence) may also be identified. In practice, an Instance of play is rarely shorter than a full session, and may be much longer.

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.

Line, the

Techniques which reinforce the limits for content that is not permitted to be included in the Explorative content of play, for a particular group. See also the Veil. The term was introduced in Sex & Sorcery.

Lumpley Principle, the

This is a key concept. See the first section.


Individual and specific features of System; Mechanics in text form are "rules."

Metagame (a Character Component)

See Positioning.

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. As it stands, this term is misleading and is under discussion for renaming; see Meta-metagame for links.


Synonymous with Metagame as the latter term is currently defined, but contradictory to "metagame mechanic," which is currently under revision. See Purpose of rules and Metagame & mechanics.


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 derogatory term used in several different ways, including by non-Gamists vs. Gamists in general, by Hard Core or heavy-Step Gamists vs. Wimps, and by high-Exploration Gamists vs. Hard Core play. See Gamism: Step On Up.


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.

Narrativism (Narrativist play)

One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. See Story Now.

No Myth

Intuitive Continuity which includes all Setting features (i.e. more than just Situation). An extreme version of the general principle that the Shared Imagined Space is established by people communicating with one another. Term coined by Fang Langford.


A controversial term coined by Mike Holmes. Play in which two or more distinctive and separate Creative Agendas are included; conceivably a functional form of Incoherent play. See also Congruence and Hybrid, as well as The Omni-player.


Character Exploration which utilizes an intermediary persona for different characters in episodic, unrelated settings and situations, as in Amazing Engine, Tales from the Crypt, Hong Kong Action Theater, and Extreme Vengeance. Term coined by John Marron.

Ouija-board role-playing

A form of Illusionism practiced among all the participants upon one another to conceal both Step On Up and Story Now priorities from one another. Term coined by Ron Edwards; see Narrativism: Story Now.

Out-of-character (OOC)

An Ephemera. A style of narration describing character actions or dialogue in the third person. Neither OOC nor In-character (IC) narration should be confused with any of the three Stances, nor with any particular Creative Agenda.


The Technique of using Force without the Black Curtain. Term coined by Mike Holmes.


An artistic production which relies on invoking pre-existing productions' features for its primary effect; at worst, a simple imitation, but at best, potentially a strong secondary comment on the original text. Often associated with "fanfic" or other forms of homage.

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. Term?s origin uncertain; Ron Edwards first heard it employed by Rick Ford.


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.


A problematic term. (a) Any participant in a role-playing experience, including the one or ones who carry out GM-tasks; or (b) a participant who does not, or temporarily does not, carry out any GM-tasks, and therefore concentrates primarily on the actions of a single character.

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. See Vanilla and Pervy, Pervy in my head, Cannot stand cutesie-poo terms, Pervy Sim, points of contact, accessibility.


A Character Component. Behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character. Formerly (and confusingly) called Metagame. See also Currency.


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.

Premise (adapted from Egri)

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.

Prima Donna

A Narrativist player who engages in Premise-addressing, but will not share screen time or Premise-significant decision-making time with other participants. An extremely dysfunctional subset of Narrativist play.


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. See Simulationism: the Right to Dream.


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.


This term is undefined and must be locally specified in order to make sense in a discussion of role-playing.

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.

Roles, "role levels

"(1) The player's social role in terms of his character - the mom, the jokester, the organizer, the placator, etc. (2) The character's thematic or operational role relative to the other characters - the leader, the brick, the betrayer, the ingenue, etc. (3) The character's in-game occupation or social role - the pilot, the mercenary, the alien wanderer, etc. (4) The character's specific Effectiveness values - armor rating, weapon attributes, specific skills and their values, available funds, etc. See The class issue.


Textual instruction about (a) anything and everything concerning role-playing this particular game, or (b) specifically Techniques and Ephemera. Used in this sense, Rules are distinct from the System actually employed during play, although it may be used as a reference or justification for it.

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 description of a given person?s preferred way to role-play, "piercing" down from Social Contract through all the layers of the Big Model. Most player-classification lists (Strike Force, Champions 4th edition, Robin?s Laws) present Skewers. Term coined by Ron Edwards.

Simulationism (Simulationist play)

One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. See The Right to Dream.


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?.

Social Contract

This is a key concept. See the first section.


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.


Taking a part for the whole, or vice versa. A common problem in discussing Creative Agenda; see GNS and other matters of role-playing theory.


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.


This is a key concept. See the first section.


Social indicators of a given person?s preference for a Creative Agenda, during play.


The point, message, or key emotional conclusion perceived by an audience member, about a fictional series of events. The presence of a theme is the defining feature of Story as opposed to Transcript. See Narrativism: Story Now.

Threefold Model

A description of three distinct "styles" of role-playing, proposed by Mary Kuhner and further developed in on-line discussions. See John Kim?s website for archives. The Threefold Model inspired but is not identical to the Creative Agenda feature of the Big Model.


A set of Techniques including Scene Framing and Force, but reducing Force when resolving conflicts within the scene. Term coined by M.J. Young; see Does module play equal Participationism?.


An account of the imaginary events of play without reference to role-playing procedures. A Transcript may or may not be a Story.


Theoretically, changing from one Creative Agenda to another through the course of play using rules designed to make that process easy. Coined by Fang Langford in reference to his unfinished game design Scattershot.


Rules design that does not call attention to the rules in operation. A controversial term; I suggest that it is subsumed within Coherence without reference to any degree of rules? detail or their quantitative vs. qualitative features. See Transparency and Transparency again.

Turku role-playing (Elaaytyjivism)

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 potentially dysfunctional technique of Hard Core Gamist play, characterized by treating one another's characters as the primary source of Challenge. A functional equivalent in Narrativist play is Blood Opera.

Typhoid Mary

A GM who employs Force in the interests of "a better story," usually identifiable as addressing Premise; however, in doing so, the GM automatically de-protagonizes Narrativist players and therefore undercuts his or her own priorities of play, as well as being perceived as a railroader by the players. An extremely dysfunctional subset of Narrativist play.


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).


Design with the goal of applying System to multiple Settings. Such design typically corresponds to Purist for System. A mildly controversial term; see also Generalist.


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.

Veil, the

Techniques for describing events without providing specific imagery or details. Originally presented in Sex & Sorcery.


The Technique of bringing non-player-character (NPC) activities closer to the player-characters and to introduce multiple responses among NPC and player-character actions. Term coined in Sex & Sorcery.


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.


A dysfunctional form of Gamism characterized by poor sportsmanship, i.e., the unwillingness to accept a loss.


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. A controversial term, coined by Walt Freitag; see Zilchplay (split from Understanding: the "it").