Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Jumping into Dungeons & Dragons for the first time can feel an awful lot like trying to learn a whole new language.
On top of learning a sprawling, complex ruleset, you’ve got a near-infinite universe of adventures, lore, and preconceived notions that have grown and developed across almost 50 years of different editions and innumerable hours of debate throughout the community.
Then you’ve got all the strange assumptions about everything from behavior to appearance that forms an extra layer of understanding within the community: bards are horny (not necessarily), tieflings are purple (in the actual rules they’re not), goblins are murderous little psychopaths (less and less these days), and so on.
It can be a little daunting – kind of like you’re stepping into a strange new world.
And then there are acronyms. Woof.
“Well, the RAW in the DMG say that AC is affected by the DW feat, so the BBEG’s AoE feature does reduce that by 2, meaning that his AoO hits. Ouch. Looks like it’s gonna be a TPK.”
Like I said, woof.
While this guide isn’t going to explain how grappling works, or the difference between demons and devils, or why something having two arms, two legs, and a head doesn’t actually mean it’s a humanoid, it will hopefully make the endless sea of acronyms that exist throughout D&D (more acronyms before we’ve even begun!) a little less daunting.
To make things a little easier to parse, we’ve broken them up into different sections. You can navigate to any of these sections using the drop-down below.
It’s worth noting that, while some entries like AC and DM are going to come up all the time, there are a bunch in here that are going to be somewhat rare. We’re not promoting the adoption of new and unnecessary initializations, but rather trying to put together the most comprehensive list possible.
We’ve also included a few common acronyms that don’t technically belong to D&D but are often found in the game’s orbit.
Also, yes I’m aware that an acronym is technically only an acronym when it spells out a new word (like Greatest of All Time’s acronym is GOAT); otherwise, it’s an initialism.
I know it’s wrong but that’s the way the SEO wind is blowing, so don’t tweet at me.
D&D/DnD: Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously.
DM: Dungeon Master. Also known in other roleplaying games as the GM (game master, gamesmaster), guide, and keeper of secrets, the DM is the player who runs the game, creating a story, portraying the people, places, and things within it, and arbitrating the rules of the game for the players.
PC: Player Character. The person you as a player inhabit at the table.
NPC: Non-Player Character. A person portrayed by the DM.
DMPC: Dungeon Master Player Character. A (somewhat maligned) term for the Dungeon Master’s self-insert character.
BBEG: Big Bad Evil Guy/Girl. The term is used to describe the main villain of an adventure or story that is behind the main threat the party faces. The term is used to distinguish between other powerful enemies like bosses and minibosses. One of the more famous BBEGs is Count Strahd von Zarovich from the Curse of Strahd adventure.
RP: Role Playing. Acting out what your character does and says.
IC: In Character. Saying something as your character or acting on information that your character knows.
OoC: Speaking as yourself; discussing things that your character might not know.
PvP: Player versus Player. When one player character acts against another. Some DMs don’t allow PvP at their tables, as it can involve one or more players feeling as though their agency is being constrained.
PvE: Player versus Environment. When a player character fights monsters, NPCs, or otherwise interacts with the world of the game that doesn’t involve their fellow PCs.
RAW: Rules as Written in the official source material. Usually used in debates over how certain interpretations of the rules – as well as how some rules interact with others – can be used to produce especially strange or “broken” effects.
RAI: Rules as Intended. Some RAW can be exploited through careful interpretation. RAI tries to interpret the intent behind the rules, rather than treating them as a contract to be wriggled out of.
Meta Terms (editions, books, adventures, resources, etc.)
WotC: Wizards of the Coast. The company that publishes D&D.
TSR: Tactical Studies Rules. The original D&D publishing company founded by Gary Gygax.
DDB: D&D Beyond. The official online toolset for playing and running D&D.
5e: 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
4e: 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
3.5e: 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
3e: 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
2e: 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
B/X: Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons.
1e/AD&D: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
0e/OD&D: Original Dungeons & Dragons.
PF/PF2: Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2nd Edition.
PbtA: Powered by the Apocalypse, a narrative-focused, 2d6 ruleset used in games like Dungeon World and Monster of the Week.
BitD/FitD: Blades in the Dark, a victorian heist game/Forged in the Dark, the BitD ruleset.
OSR: Old School Renaissance/Old School Revival. A movement within the rpg community that focuses on the recreation, modernization, and evolution of earlier editions of D&D.
OSE: Old School Essentials. A reformatted and updated retroclone of B/X D&D published by Necrotic Gnome.
SRD: System Reference Document, including the D&D Basic Rules.
UA: Unearthed Arcana, the process for releasing new content to the D&D community for mass testing before being introduced into the official rules.
PHB: Player’s Handbook.
DMG: Dungeon Master’s Guide.
MM: Monster Manual.
XGtE: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
VGtM: Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
MToF: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
TCoE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
VRGtR: Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.
WGtE: Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron.
SCAG: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
LMoP: Lost Mines of Phandelver. The adventure contained within the D&D Starter Set.
ToA: Tomb of Annihilation. An infamously brutal dungeon.
CoS: Curse of Strahd. A horror campaign featuring D&D’s most iconic vampire.
WPM: White Plume Mountain. A famously brutal and strange “fun house dungeon”.
HP: Hit Points. How much damage, exhaustion, and stress your character can sustain before being knocked unconscious – or worse.
AC: Armor Class. The number that needs to be beaten for an attack roll to be successful.
ASI: Ability Score Increase.
SAD: Single Ability Dependent. A character that uses a single ability modifier for their most important abilities. Ex. A Hexblade Warlock uses Charisma for melee weapon attacks, spellcasting, and social checks.
MAD: Multiple Ability Dependent. A character that needs a high score in multiple abilities to be effective.
XP: Experience Points, used to track character advancement.
PP: Passive Perception. The number enemies need to beat in order to escape detection by your character.
Coins: There are several common denominations of coins used in D&D.
pp (10 GP): Platinum Pieces, the most valuable denomination. Rare to find and typically used to avoid carrying around mountains of gold.
gp (1 GP): Gold Pieces, the universal standard currency for the game.
ep (1/2 GP): Electrum Pieces, an impure mixture of gold and silver that’s rare to find.
sp (1/10 GP): Silver Pieces, used for day-to-day expenses like food, ale, and a room for the night.
cp (1/100 GP): Copper Pieces, the least valuable denomination.
Adventuring and Combat
d20: a twenty-sided die. Other polyhedral dice denoted by ‘dx‘ number of sides.
DC: Difficulty Class. The target number for a d20 roll
AoE: Area of Effect. A spell or ability that targets all the creatures in an area, rather than a single or multiple targets.
OA/AoO: Opportunity Attack or Attack of Opportunity. An attack made as a reaction when an enemy moves out of an adjacent square.
TPK: Total Party Kill. When an entire party is wiped out in a single encounter.
CR: Challenge Rating. The level of difficulty ascribed to a monster or enemy. A creature’s CR theoretically determines the level of adventuring party that can fight them as part of a balanced combat.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.