Friday, October 14, 2016

Dungeon Vocabulary, Part I

I've been GMing for a while now, but I still struggle with describing rooms, hallways, etc. in a way that the players can clearly understand. Sometimes my word choice confuses instead of enlightens. Some terms seem to be very clear.

Here is one that works:

Baffles. Here is one we ended up sort-of self-defining. A "baffle" is a corridor jag to the side. So straight, left, immediate right, straight = a baffle. Here is one illustrated - a baffle left, specifically.

 photo Dungeon Vocab - Baffle Left_zpsmlwommuw.jpg

Here is one that doesn't:

Humanoid. In D&D language, a "humanoid" is a goblin, hobgoblin, orc, gnoll, bugbear, kobold, and maybe some others.

In my language, it's a human-shaped figure.

This leads to all sorts of confusion.

Me: "You see footprints, clearly humanoid."
My Players: "Maybe orcs came here. It can't be halflings or dwarves or elves, they're demi-humans. Maybe it's goblins. Do goblins count as humanoids?"
Me: "Yes. So do humans for goodness sake."

But "humanoids" as a specific class of human-shaped non-human monster races is deeply ingrained. I keep plugging away at this one, using it the way I meant it. I use more specific terms if necessary - goblin-kin or goblinoid, beastman, etc. - in the hopes it'll sink in. If it doesn't, I'm really stuck for a term that conveys "figure shaped like a human" as well as "humanoid" does. And no, "figure shaped like a human" doesn't work. When I say "human-like" I'm clearly implying they are human-like, but clearly not actually human. So, I'll hammer away at humanoid and try to get the non-TSR definition to work standard at my table.


I think I'm going to draw some pictures of what I'm trying to describe, and assign specific terms to them. That way my players will be more easily able to identify what I mean when I say things like:

"A square room roughly 7-8 yards across with a door in the far left hand corner on the left wall, a door in the right hand corner of the far wall, and an alcove in the middle of the right wall."


"There is a passage exiting the room on the left, in the bottom left hand corner of the room."


"You can go straight, immediate right, right, or upper left."

You probably understand me, but if you put that "door in the far left hand corner on the left wall" in the wrong spot my words aren't really helping you. So I think I need to sit and define some terms.


  1. Try "anthromorph" instead of "humanoid."

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I can't use for NPCs speaking, though. "The orc scout says they saw three anthropomorthic figures go by."

    2. "Anthropomorph" in the kind of circles I hang out in would be treated as a synonym for "furry" or I guess "beast-folk" in DF.

  2. Try 'man-like'.
    It's nice and Anglo, so it fits in the mouths of NPCs. Or, if that evokes images that are too specific in your players, try 'man-shaped.' Bonus points because both are fewer syllables than 'humanoid.'

    I imagine these would evolve different usages depending on the phenomenon in question. Artifacts of presence (tracks, spoor, etc.) might go well with 'man-like' while actual imprecisely-determined sightings might go well with 'man-shaped'.

    Unfortunately I haven't tested this idea in actual play (haven't gotten to actually play in a long, long time), so don't forget your salt ration.

  3. I actually think "humanoid" is the absolutely correct term here. I don't know any players who'd be confused by your usage, personally.

    "Baffle" is a new one on me, since I've only ever seen it used as a synonym for "confuse" before.


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