1st Edition or 1e

The first revision of D&D, after OD&D, released in 1977. It is the first actually playable version of D&D.

2nd Edition or 2e

A revision of 1st edition AD&D rules released in 1989. It expanded some of the non-combat options, and took out some specific things in the game that garned negative press, such as demons and devils.

3rd Edition or 3e

The first edition of D&D produced by Wizards of the Coast, after TSR went bankrupt. This was the first major revision of the rules since the release of 1st edition, and worked to make the game more balanced and internally consistent.


A major revision to 3rd edition rules, in released in 2003.


Used to indicate something related to either/both third edition or 3.5.

4th Edition or 4e

A more tactical version of D&D released in 2008 that was a dramatic change from previous editions in that all classes used nearly identical mechanics for their abilities. This edition was not well received by many players.

5th Edition or 5e

The most recent version of D&D, released in 2014. Praised for being friendly to newbies, and taking the game back to its classic feel after the major departure of 4th edition.

Ability Score

A numeric representation of a character or monster’s raw talent across 6 qualities (Strength, Dexterity, Contitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). The scores generally range from 1-20, and starting characters generally start between 3 and 18.


Armor Class

Action Economy

The notion, especially in 5th edition, that each character has a limited number of things they can do each round.

Actual Play

Often used to describe videos or podcasts of people playing D&D in contrast to people talking about D&D.


Advanced D&D. 1st edition had two versions of the rules, Basic D&D and Advanced D&D, where advanced had a lot more options. The AD&D name was used for 2nd Edition as well, even though there was no revised Basic Edition at that time. The “Advanced” portion of the name was dropped for 3rd edition, where the name of the game became just “Dungeons and Dragons”.


A concept in 5th edition where a character has some beneficial effect on an action and thus can roll twice and take the better roll of the two.


A short story arc defined by a group of encounters and plot points. Several encounters make up an adventure and several adventures make up a campaign.


Area of Effect


Attack of Opportunity

Attack of Opportunity

Also known as an Opportunity Attack. A free attack made by a character as a reaction to something happening in combat, often because a character moved near an opponent.

Armor Class

A number describing how difficult a character is to hit.


Ability Score Increase. Specifically for 5th edition, when a character gains an ASI, they can add 2 to a single ability score or +1 to two ability scores. If the optional (but commonly used) rule for feats is used, the character may instead choose to gain a feat.

Basic D&D

A simpler form of the D&D rules, used alongside first edition AD&D as a way to get more casual players into the game. The basic rules were released in 1977 and mildly revised through the 80’s.

Battle Mat

A mat covered in squares or hexes, placed on the table, in order to have a well-delineated version of the in-game world, generally for combat.


Big Bad Evil Guy

Big Bad Evil Guy

The most powerful villain of an adventure or campaign.


A positive modifier to a roll.

Box Text

Many pre-made adventures come with descriptive text for each room/NPC that is delineated in a box on the page and is intended to be read aloud.


A group of related adventures, usually with some overall story arc, usually with the same party of adventurers.

Campaign Setting

The fluff (and possibly special rules) of the D&D universe a campaign is set in. The Harry Potter universe and Game of Thrones universe are two examples of settings from outside D&D.

Challenge Rating (CR)

How difficult a monster is to fight. Generally, a part of four level X


An imaginary person in a roleplaying game.

Character Generation

Creating a new character for a player.

Character Level

The level of a character indicates the character’s overall power. Player characters start at level 1 and as they gain experience, gain levels, up to level 20. A character’s level is the sum of the character’s class levels.

Character Sheet

The piece of paper that hold’s a character’s stats, equipment, and other information.


Generally the role or job of a character, which defines the majority of the character’s abilities. In most editions of D&D, some form of multiclassing was available, to allow on character to have levels in more than one class.

Class Level

A number defining the amount of experience a character has spent working on abilities of a class. Each class level is a milestone for the character, granting new abilities. Each level has a number of experience points required to get to that level.

Core Rules

The rules in the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide.


Critical Hit.


See Critical Hit.

Critical Fumble

To roll a 1 when attempting something. Often considered to automatically fail, even if a 1 would otherwise succeed. Some DMs specify that something special (usually bad) happens if you roll a 1 on a D20 when attempting an action.

Critical Hit

When an attack hits with a natural 20 (and sometimes lower numbers depending on special circumstance). Often considered an automatic hit, even if modifiers would state that the attack would not otherwise hit. Usually does extra damage.


Mechanical rules that affect gameplay. Generally used in contrast to fluff.

Dead Level

A level in a class that has no significant abilities gained by the character.


See Dip level


A 5th edition concept where something is making an action harder for the actor, which requires the actor to roll two D20s instead of just one, and take the lower of the two.


Dungeon Master


Dungeon Master’s Guide


Dungeon Master Player Character. A character in the party that is controlled by the DM. This is generally considered bad form. It can be seen as a way for the DM to both be a player and the DM, and risks the DM giving unfair treatment to her own character.


In-game time between adventures when there’s no combat and little if any conflict, usually used to let the characters do non-combat things such as study, craft, or practice.

Dump Stat

An ability score the player intentionally puts a low score into, because it doesn’t matter as much mechanically to the character.

Dungeon Crawl

A style of campaign or part of a campaign that is mainly focused on going through a dungeon, without a lot of story attached to it.

Dungeon Master

The narrator, judge, and facilitator of a D&D game. She controls all the monsters and NPCs, decides the results of actions the players take, and tries to present a story for the players to work through.

Dungeon Master’s Guide

The core rulebook, with rules and guidelines to help Dungeon Masters run the game.


A version of D&D. This is a somewhat nebulous term earlier in the life of the game. It is much better defined as a set of consistent rules. When the rules are signficantly revised and changed, it is declared a new edition. The current edition of D&D is 5th edition.


A specific obstacle for the players to overcome. Very often used to mean a combat encounter where intiative is rolled and a fight happens. The combat encounter ends when the DM indicates players no longer need to act in initiative order.


Experience Points

Experience Points

Points that record how much your character has learned as they go through the game, which lead to higher levels and more power for the character.


A class of special ability that can be gained by many different characters.


Favorite Local Gaming Store


The descriptive text that does not have in-game mechanical effects.


When the DM manipulates dice rolls and other aspects of the game in order to get the result she wants. Used to avoid bad die rolls that would be less dramatic.


See Critical Fumble.


A spellcaster that is also good at fighting. Name comes the Githyanki language in older editions of D&D.

Glass Cannon

Someone that does a lot of damage but can be killed easily.


An old gamer, generally grumpy, who likes the old rules more than the new rules.

Hex Crawl

Wilderness exploration, so called because overland maps are often delineated with hexagons rather than squares, since they allow for movement in more directions.

Hit Points

An abstraction of how tough a character or monster is. Instead of tracking specific wounds, damage removes hitpoints. When you reach 0 hitpoints you die (or begin dying depending on the version of D&D).


A rule, class, feat, etc. that was created by an individual, rather than existing in a rulebook.


A custom rule (generally created by the DM) for the game that does not exist in the rulebooks.


Hit Points

In Character

A way of indicating the player’s speech should be taken to be what their character actually says.


The system by which characters and monsters act in D&D’s turn-based combat. Rolling for initiative starts combat and indicates the characters will have to act in a turn-based order.


See Class Level or Spell Level.

Level Up

To increase your Class Level.

Level Dipping

To multiclass with just a small number of levels in the other class to get a few good abilities.

Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard

The idea that wizards and other spellcasters go up in power as they go up in level faster than other classes. This is especially in contrast to fighters which go up in power more linearly.

Mac Guffin

A special item in the game that only has significance in the game because the plot says it is significant.


Multiple Attribute Dependency. When a particular class or multiclass combination requires many high ability scores to be effective.


A style of campaign (or part of a campaign) where the players work their way through a very large dungeon which may or may not have any reasonable reason for existing.


Monster Manual


A value that modifes a roll, can be positive or negative.

Monster Manual

A core rulebook that contains descriptions and stats for all the most common monsters in D&D.

Monty Hall or Monty Haul Campaign

A style of campaign with lots of loot and not much story.


An easy-to-kill opponent.


A character that takes levels in more than one class is considered a multiclass character. Also used as a verb, to multiclass into another class.


The notion that the players generally have no permanent home and go around killing anything that stands in their way. Often used as a derogatory term for a PC that kills indiscriminantly.

Natural 20

When you roll a 20 on a d20, not considering any modifiers.


Non-Player Character

Non-Player Character

A character in the game that is controlled by the DM, rather than one of the players. Generally only used to describe characters that aren’t “monsters”, such as guards, shopkeeps, kings, etc.


The original D&D game from 1974, published as 3 booklets and relied on rules from wargaming. Largely unplayable by today’s standards.


Over Powered


Out of Character


Old School Revival / Rennaissance. Old school generally refers to 1st edition or earlier. Playing these older rulesets has become more popular lately, and thus it is called a revival.

Out Of Character

A way to indicate that your words are not intended to be spoken in the game.


Generally, all the characters of the players form a group to go adventuring together. This is known as the party (as in “party of five”).


Play By Email. A way of playing D&D via email.


Play By Post. A way of playing D&D via online forums.


Player Character


Player’s Handbook


A real-life person controlling (generally one) imaginary character in the D&D world.

Player Agency

The ability for players to choose what their characters do, and the existence of choices in the game for the character to make. Removing player agency by either telling the player what her character does, or putting the character in a situation where there is only one possible choice is generally disliked by players.

Player Character

A character controlled by one of the players. Sometimes also refers to the combination of a player and the player’s character. Often abbreviated as PC.

Player’s Handbook

The rulebook containing all the core rules needed for a player to play D&D.

Points of Light

A style of campaign setting where civilized cities/countries are separated by large expanses of dangerous and often unexplored wilderness.


Rules As Intended. The way someone thinks the authors of the rules meant for them to work, usually in contrast to Rules As Written.


A form of DMing that is generally looked down upon, where the DM effectively forces the players to follow one specific path through the story.


Rules As Written. Used to indicate that the literal interpretation of what the rules say, as opposed to what someone thinks they’re supposed to say.


Retroactively change something that happened in the past in a game or setting. From retroactive continuity.


To play based on the numbers and not based on the in-game story. In contrast to roleplay.

Rule Zero

Not exactly a real rule, but a reflection of how D&D works. Rule Zero states that the DM can change anything about the rules as she sees fit.


When a game does not have a significantly linear plot, and the players are free to explore the campaign world in any way they see fit.


Abbreviation for Saving Throw. Sometimes, the act of succeeding at a Saving Throw.

Saving Throw

  • Verb:
    An attempt to avoid a detrimental effect, usually a spell, trap, or monster’s special ability.
    Roll a saving throw versus the dragon’s breath weapon.

  • Noun:

    • The number or modifier for a saving throw.
      My saving throw is +5
    • The type of a saving throw.
      What’s your dex saving throw?


One real-world day of playing an RPG. This is the time from when you first sit down and get out your character sheet, to when you pack up your dice and go home. Usually between 2-4 hours, though it’s not unusual to play for 6-8 hours.


See Campaign Setting


All but the oldest versions of D&D have a well-defined list of skills (such as acrobatics or stealth) that a character can be proficient in, thus there is an ability for two characters to differentiate their ability beyond just their ability scores.

Spell Level

The relative power


A supplemental rulebook for the game, generally used for books with extra options for players. So named for the “splat” sound the softcover versions used to make when you dropped them on the table.


System Reference Document

Status Effects

Non-damaging effects on a monster or character that are usually debilitating in some way, such as blindness, being stunned, or poisoned.


A book with extra rules beyond the core rules books.

System Reference Document

An “open source” version of the D&D rules that can be used by third parties to produce games that are compatible with D&D. This version of the rules is missing many of the trademark material of D&D, such as Beholders.


A character or character class well-suited to front-line melee fighting. Usually with a lot of hitpoints and high AC.


To Hit Armor Class Zero. Generally pronounced Thacko. An old measurement of how good your character was at hitting things with her weapons, where a lower number was better.

Theater of the mind

A method of playing D&D where you do not use miniatures or battle mats, but instead just imagine and describe the battle in your head.


Threatened Area

Total Party Kill

When everyone in the D&D party dies in a fight.


Total Party Kill


Tabletop roleplaying game.


Tabletop roleplaying game.

Turn Undead

An old school ability of clerics and paladins to use their holy might to scare away or outright destroy undead.


A large class of monsters consisting mainly of things that used to be dead, but are now animated, such as zombies, skeletons, ghosts, etc.

Vancian Magic

The way magic spells work for editions other than fourth edition are roughly based on a spell system described in Jack Vance’s novels.

West Marches

A style of campaign where the players (instead of the DM) determine when to play and where they want to go. This is a more episodic form of campaign which makes it easy to play with a different group of players each session.


To have all the characters in the party die. See also Total Party Kill.


Wizards of the Coast, the current publisher of D&D.


Experience Points