Today I want to talk about jargon. Tabletop roleplaying is full of it. A lot of terms (campaign, melee) reaches back to the hobby’s wargaming roots. Other words (supplement, module) are borrowed from different media, like board games, video games, and writing. A lot is system-specific, reflecting not only the needs of the mechanics but the tone of the genre or setting. Some has come to be generally accepted as generic TTRPG speak. There is no universally accepted glossary.
When I started Dancing Lights Press is 2016, I leaned into writing terms. It made sense to me to refer to player characters as protagonists, villains and monsters as antagonists, NPCs as supporting characters, and so on. The point that I want to make was that there is a lot of commonality between tabletop roleplaying and other forms of fiction like novels, television, and movies.
Some people were confused. A lot were vehemently opposed to thinking of TTRPG in those terms, for various reasons. Most people understood what I was saying. Those were the people I was writing for. I still felt like the clarity of my point had been compromised, so I began to move away from that sort of jargon.
Supplement, Module, and Outdated Terms
I’ve been accused of being pretentious. The thing is, I’m not selecting words in an attempt to appear smarter than I am. My word choices reflect a philosophy. Campaign implies that there’s an emphasis on combat with in the game, rather than indicating a series of connected adventures. Gamemaster signals that the person running the game is an authority figure, not a collaborator with a different role. Those words limit how tabletop roleplaying games a perceived, and puts a box around what they can be.
In creating the Director’s Cut versions of my books, I’m putting together a style guide and standard glossary. It gives me an official list of the terms used by Dancing Lights Press, as well as how they’re defined. For the most part, I’m accepting standard terms even when I feel they’re limiting. Supplement, module, and terms already considered to be outdated can go. Campaign gets to stay, for example, rather than my preferred term series. The term gamemaster is back, in contrast to the word I feel is more accurate for the role, guide.
The bottom line is that I need to use the terms that make the most sense. It’s not just about using vocabulary that readers understand. There’s more to it than creating a pure expression of my ideology. The point is to have fun, empower your creativity, and get out of the way. Any word choices that get in the way of that need to be excised, or at least seriously reconsidered.