Glossary of Terms

You may find yourself reading my stuff and wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Indiegames/storygames (see, jargon!) and the adjunct communities are rich in their own weird language. This jargon exists to either flag you as an “insider,” exclude you as an “outsider,” or ideally, provide shorthand so we can get on with our conversation.

I’m allowing comments! I may swing back through and update the glossary based on that feedback. Please think hard about whether you’re looking for clarity or if you just want me to defer to some different authority on meanings. Definition fights are the literal worst so let’s please not start.

So without further ado, this is a glossary specific to the Indie Game Reading Club. My usage may differ from others who use the same or similar language! I’ll be filling in definitions as I have time and inclination.

Affordance: an invitation to do something in the game. Mechanical affordances are things like skills and moves: if these exist, they’re an explicit invitation to use that skill or make that move. In freeform games, they might look like “try to answer these questions through play” elements on character sheets. Best practice affordances are things like directions on how to prep (categories of Fronts in PbtA games for example), or what to aim for as a player. Setting affordances set expectations of how the world works and give permission to the players to pursue certain things: characters go hunting for sinners in Dogs in the Vineyard, so that affordance is there to let the players know it’s okay to judge folks on their sinfulness. I feel like affordances can be connected conceptually to alibi, below.

Agency: the authority a player has, or feels they have, to assert their input on the shared fiction of the game. Conventional roleplaying games expect players to have agency over the feelings and actions of their characters. On the flip side, this expectation is commonly messed with in indiegames and, more broadly, unconventional games. I think agency is a really common place where modern game designers experiment: new or unexpected agency expectations, or taking conventional agency away to invoke certain genre tropes or emotional reactions.

Alibi: the permission a game, play community, or scene grants players to act outside mainstream conventions. D&D provide an alibi to straight up murder other intelligent creatures due to alignment differences or expedience. Apocalypse World provides an alibi to seek out transactional sex. I think one of the most powerful things about roleplaying games across the spectrum is that they all provide alibis to do (play-act) stuff we cannot do in our lives. See also magic circle, below.

Aspects: little explicit nuggets of fictional description used in games like Fate and Cortex Plus. I usually see Aspects deployed as index cards with a specific detail, either placed by a player via mechanical or procedural means, or mandated by fictional positioning. So like: “slippery floor” might be a tactical kind of aspect in a room or “your reputation precedes you” might be a social kind of aspect. Neat way to make elements of the fiction shared, explicit and important.

Author (Authorial, Authority): Lots of ideas wrapped up in the general concept that a player is acting to influence the shared fiction. Some of this is tied into stance (see below), where a player takes an active hand in shaping areas of the shared game fiction they have authority, alibi, and affordance to influence. I’m usually more concerned with authority than authorship if this word ever makes it into my essays. That is, who is and is not expected and allowed to touch certain details of any particular game.


Big Model

BITs: Beliefs, Instincts and Traits, three kinds of flags (link) established in The Burning Wheel.


Broken Stair (see also Safety, etc.)

Character Monogamy


Conventional (see Trad)


Creative Agenda (see also Big Model)

Cult of the GM


Decision Space

Designer Not Included


Economic Cycle/Reward Cycle

Emergence/Emergent Behavior


Fail forward: a procedural philosophy that says even failed rolls result in a change in the fiction. For example, in Apocalypse World, the MC makes a move when a player rolls a 6-. This is explicitly not a failure, but the player might not get what they want while the MC moves the fiction forward. Or in Burning Wheel (and later, games that borrow this idea, such as the Mutant: Year Zero engine), the GM always states the consequence of a failed roll before the roll is made. “Nothing happens” is the typical failure state of traditional games designed in the past.


Fiction, The

Fiction First (follow the fiction)

Fictional Positioning

Flag (narrative advancement/Ron/Nick Hopkins)

Forge, The

Forged in the Dark (FitD)




Fruitful Void

Games on Demand

GM-driven (see also Player-driven)





Holding Environment (Magpie internal language, from Mark Diaz Truman: term taken from a discipline of group mechanics study called Adaptive Leadership.)


Immersion (oh lord)


Indiegame (ownership and distribution vs community vs play aesthetic)

Inside the fiction (see Diegetic)


Killer App

Larp (LARP)

Lines and Veils

Lonely fun (a Forge term)

Magic Circle

Mechanical (see also Procedural)

Narrative Authority (see Author(ity))

Player: Whenever I say “player” I always mean to include the player handling facilitation, refereeing, “game mastering” and so on.


Player-driven (as opposed to GM plot/GM driven)

Positioning, Fictional

Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA)


Railroading (as a pejorative)

R-Map (relationship map, see also situation map)

RAW (rules as written)

Roses & Thorns

Safety/Safety Tools (X Card, Flower, Script Change, etc.)


Say Yes (…or roll the dice/ Roll the Dice or Say Yes)

Scene Economy

Session 0 (where did that start? TBZ?)

Shadow Con

Shared Imaginary Space (SIS)

Situation (wrt Situation Map, see R-Map, Relationship Map)

Situation Map (smap)

Social Contract

Social Footprint

Sockets (Moyra)

Stance (Author, Actor, Audience, ??)


Structured scenario (see also freeform, larp etc?)

Talky-talky (freeform, games w/o external uncertainty)


Transaction, The


Trindie (first from Lowell Francis)

Workshop (as a verb)

X Card (see Safety)

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