Let's talk about the tools we use to get the results we want in play.


This is intended to be a broad discussion, with wide open definitions of "tools" "results" and "in play" -- and maybe even "want."

As such, it might be worthwhile to illustrate what I mean by way of example.

One of the results I am looking for when running D&D-like RPGs (and by that I am talking more about playstyle than any particular rule set) is creating a very strong sense of risk vs reward. I want the players (and their characters) to to make a meaningful choice about whether to push on or explore or pick a fight or whatever, knowing that the potential negative consequences are aligned with the potential rewards. Note here that while this often means death vs fortune, it doesn't have to be, depending on the precise details.

The tool I usually lean on to help me get here is the players' own expectations based on their experience with both gaming and adventure media in general. That is to day, if a fire breathing dragon guards the cave, there is likely a pile of treasure inside, or if the long abandoned wizard's tower is still crackling with arcane energy, there is going to be some gnarly stuff inside but also lost magical knowledge and/or items.

This tool has weaknesses, of course. People recently come to the hobby have fewer expectations to "weaponize" in this way, and so I find myself being more explicit about the potential risks and rewards. Also, the farther a game's mechanics are from traditional adventuring (it doesn't have to be fantasy) can make it a little harder. It doesn't work as well for super hero games, for example, because those games are less often about the PCs weighing risks versus rewards. And, of course, my own inexperience with a particular rule set can undermine this in that i might not know how to get the right risk vs reward balance initially (especially fi the game itself does not have a built in system for that, such as CR or whatever).

So, broadly, that's what I mean: what is a goal you have in play, and what techniques, resources, methods, etc... do you use to try and achieve that goal in play?

log in or register to remove this ad


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
My goal is to create an immersive experience with a long term campaign goal to be realized. The most common adventure types are linear and nonlinear, or specifically, adventure path and sandbox. My approach is to split the difference. I start out with an overarching goal for the PCs. Something that clearly is going to take a great deal of time and resources. The path is not beaten, but can be seen. Progress tracked, but not every action and adventure is directly linked to the endgame.

For example, Pirates of Drinax is a sandbox campaign for Traveller. The PCs are given a ship and license to steal by their benefactor. The region of space they live and operate in is in a constant state of flux sandwiched between two brooding empires. The goal is to form some type of power base in this region. Could be done as fearsome pirates, proficient diplomats, shrewd business operators, or even clandestined agents. Its up to the PCs to figure it out why the big picture comes into focus, the setting changes around them. Friends become allies or foes with every decision.

Tools that help facilitate this style of game are pretty common. Folks should know by now i'm a huge proponent of the campaign players guide. This gives an idea of the setting and mechanics to expect so a player can build the right and useful character to provide them the best experience. As the campaign progresses, the players are given knowledge about factions and their standing with them through tracking methods and systems.


Goal - Light-hearted action fun. Army of Darkness tone.

Tools - humor, riffing, going with yes, fail forward, rule of cool.

Other tools - Minimizing risk of death and sidelining PCs. Action movie style action and combat. 5e with ample hp and daily full heal and death saves has a lot less risk of actual immediate death outside of TPKs while enemies and PCs can go all out so it is a better rule set for my goal than old school save or die and death at 0 hp. I try to avoid full on long term taking away of PC agency, though things like roleplay through a charm where they still are doing stuff and making decisions with a hook is more acceptable.
Last edited:


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
At the most fundamental, the tools I like the most are the rules.

If the mechanics and rules do not explicitly promote the feel I am looking for, and mechanically encourage players to do the types of play and create characters who are the types of archetypes that the (sub)genre focuses on, then the rules are inferior tools.

Yes, that means most generic systems (and to a lesser degree "big tent" systems) are flawed at realizing some genres and subgenres that they can do, but don't actively support. This isn't shameful, just a truth that some things they can handle great, and some things won't have as much mechanical support. I wouldn't expect the same mechanics to cover OSR, cartoons, and monster high school drama at the same levels of proficiency.

This isn't just a vague truism - I've been finding a great deal of support in bespoke games, that are about one thing, and go in hard to cover that thing well. Many PbtA games do this for me, like Masks: A New Generation.


New Publisher
goal - players in control more
tools - yes and..... success, but with a setback

goal - engagement in combat, a feeling of risk sometimes
tool - fudging dice rolls (and outcomes)


New Publisher
These seem at odds to me. I don't think I could be engaged if I knew the GM was fudging rolls.
I get that, and I always talk about it in session zero. For me, it's not chess, it's fun, and sometimes you just don't build an encounter well.....

Remove ads