Gamers’ Cant

Gamers can’t what? Not, not "gamers cannot," gamers’ cant, the unique jargon and terminology that develops amongst gamers and gaming groups. You know, the way you know somebody you’ve just met is a gamer when they slip, laugh, and say "Missed my Dex roll!"

Then there are the specific "dialects" of gamers’ cant that develop amongst game groups. Every group I’ve encountered has their own: in-jokes and references to games, some of them from years ago, which linger in their collective memory. Some have even been passed on to new members of the group, who weren’t even around for the original incident, but still "remember" it through the group’s lingo. My own gaming group (which has been together in various configurations since college) is no different. Here’s a look at some of the more popular bits of gamers’ cant in our dialect:

"In the bag"
At one point in our Earthdawn game, the player of a windling character (a tiny, sprite-like race) was unable to attend the game. His character ended up unconscious and carried around by one of the other characters in a bag for the duration of the game. Now, whenever anyone is unable to play for any reason, we refer to putting their character "in the bag" when we mean we’re taking them out of play in some fashion (although very few other characters literally end up in bags).

"Action figure debate"
In a short-lived teen superhero game, the newly popular heroes got offered a lucrative contract to license their likenesses to a line of action figures. The game session promptly broke down into a 90-minute debate about the structure of the contract, the heroes’ specifications and approvals, what to do with the money, and on, and on, and on (and on)… Not surprisingly, the game folded a few sessions later. I don’t think the young heroes ever saw their action figures, but the term "action figure debate" lives in on in our group as the name for any pointless, time-wasting in-game discussion.

So, every game group has a rules lawyer, someone with a talent for memorizing the rules and recalling them whenever it is most (or least) convenient. Ours is my friend Lyle, and his ability to ensure the success or failure of a critical action in a game by recalling exactly how a rule works is so legendary in our group that we’ve named rules-lawyering after him. If your carefully planned action is destroyed by somebody pointing out a particular rule or modifier, you’ve been "lyle’d". (To his credit, Lyle "lyle’s" himself just as often as he does everybody else…)

"I got a rock"
During one d20 game, everyone was rolling (I think it was initiative) and calling out their numbers: "I got a 23!" "I got a 17!" etc. I had rolled a 1 and was reminded of the scene from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, where all the Peanuts kids are declaring what they got from trick-or-treating. So, without even thinking about it, I sighed in my best Charlie Brown voice: "I got a rock…" Now, when anyone "bricks" a die roll in our games (especially rolling a "1" on a d20), the thing to say is "I got a rock."

"I’ll save it to reduce damage"
In the Torg RPG—as in many games—the characters have points they spend to improve their actions and various other in-game benefits (called Possibilities in Torg). During one game, the characters had to sneak past a group of heavily armed guards. Naturally, the player of the character with the lowest possible Stealth modifier piped up and said he was doing it, ignoring that the group included a ninja and a fantasy assassin! So, of course, he makes his Stealth roll and fails… badly.

"Spend a Possibility!" nearly everyone tells him. He glances down at his character sheet, considers for a moment, and says…

"Nah, I’ll save it to reduce damage." Out come the guns and he’s blazing away into the fight. So now any ill-considered spending of in-game "action points," or any decision to save them rather than spend them at the most opportune time, usually comes with this declaration.

Those are just a few examples out of what has become an entire private language between me and my friends. Such shared experiences are one of the best parts of the tabletop gaming hobby: not just the games themselves, but the memories they create that you can share and re-experience with friends years later.

So, what are some of your best examples of "gamers’ cant"? Share them with us over on our forums!