The World of D&D According to Rosewater… According to Angry

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SNIP!

All right, I just cut like fifteen hundred words from this article. Most of it was introduction. And it was crap. And the reason it was crap was that I spent a lot of time qualifying and explaining hedging in an attempt to prevent arguments and to placate people. And I am sick of feeling I have to do that crap because the Internet is full of immature, irrational assholes. So, let me sum all the important points as quickly as possible.

This is my monthly BS article where I ramble about some game design topic that I’m interested in thinking through. It’s probably crap. You’ve been warned.

This article references game designer Mark Rosewater, who some people consider a saint and some people consider an asshole. I don’t care what you think of him as a person. Frankly, I’m not inviting him over for a barbecue anytime myself. But he has a lot of good, useful stuff to say about game design. And I am interested in ideas based on their merit and utility, not on whether they get spewed out of the same cakehole as a bunch of really crappy social and political crap. If you have an opinion on Mark Rosewater as a person, I don’t care. Neither does anyone else. This article is about game design. Comments about anything but game design will be deleted. And comments about the quality of his designs will also be deleted. The only comments allowed are the ones that address specific ideas from the article itself. And if I have to moderate this crap too much, I am just going to close the comments.

Also, I am very clear that everything in the Rosewater article I’m going to reference is, in fact, his own OPINION. It is not a statement of objective fact. And I’d have to be an utter moron to think it was anything else. Subjectivity is implied. That doesn’t need to be pointed out either. And pointing out that something is merely someone’s opinion is NOT ACTUALLY A COUNTERARGUMENT. It’s actually just petulantly screaming “I don’t have a counterargument, so all I can do is vomit forth something abundantly obvious and make it sound like a counterargument because I just want to win the Internet.” Keep that in mind when you comment too.

Are we clear? If so, then continue. If not, then close the browser and get your ass off my site. Because you’re not wanted here.

So…

A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about laying out goals for adventures. You might even have just read it yesterday. That’s because thanks to a month of utter chaos involving Kickstarter disasters, publishing disasters, health problems, and family issues, I’m trying to crank out a month of content the span of ten days. But, I want to be clear that just because you’re reading these articles over the span of days, that doesn’t mean I’m writing them over the span of days. The articles you’ve been reading this week have all been sitting around in various states of doneness ranging from “needs to be finish” to “needs to be cleaned up” to “needs to be rewritten because it’s crap” to “just needs a Long, Rambling Introduction™” for a while now.

Anyway, while I was writing that article about adventure goals, I came across an interesting article by Mark Rosewater entitled Ten Things Every Game Needs. See, contrary to what you might think, I don’t just talk out of my ass. Often, before I speak categorically and authoritatively about something, I do actually do a little bit of reading about the topic. Oh, sure, I don’t cite my work. This isn’t academia or Wikipedia; which is why I’m actually credible. But I do like to find out what other smart people have said on the topic I’m about to talk about. At the very least, it helps me find out what misconceptions I have to correct. Because, man, are most people wrong.

So, while looking up what other people had written about goals in games, I found this article. In it, Rosewater runs through ten design elements that every game needs to have to – in his opinion – count as a game. And he briefly describes each element and why it’s important. It’s interesting stuff. And useful. And I think Rosewater is qualified to make those pronouncements.

Who is Mark Rosewater? Well, since 2003, he’s been the lead developer on Magic: the Gathering, WotC’s Hearthstone clone. I kid. I kid. WotC has publicly said that Hearthstone and MtG are totally different things and not in competition at all.

Sorry. Enough shade.

MtG is one of the greatest game design success stories ever. To this day, it is still – based on sales figures – the most popular “board and/or card game” in the world. Which is how various industry publications and the companies who make games classify such things. And Rosewater has been stewarding the design for sixteen years. Yeah, it’s having some problems now. And MtG may be on the decline. But still.

To be fair, though, Rosewater didn’t invent the game. The game was actually invented by utter genius Richard Garfield, a mathematician and game designer who presented the idea to Wizards of the Coast back in the early nineties before anyone had ever heard of them and they couldn’t afford to buy a set of D&D hardbacks, let alone buy the entire damned game from TSR. Which they did in 2000. With MtG money. And, as such, they prevented D&D from dying forever when TSR imploded. So, MtG quite literally saved D&D. Garfield actually based on MtG on an older game he’d designed back in the 80s called Five Magics. And he’s got a lot of other games under his belt, including Netrunner and the awesome battlebot board game Robo Rally.

Now, I can’t say how good a designer Rosewater actually is. But I can say he’s really good at analyzing, writing, and talking about design. He spends a lot of time picking apart the mechanics that Garfield designed and obviously has a deep, abiding respect for Garfield. But none of that is what I’m talking about.

Here’s the thing: I’ve said TTRPGs are not really games. They are game engines. They are systems that allow people to design and run games. And that’s not really a controversial thing to say these days. But what interested me was “okay, so, if D&D isn’t a complete game and a GM has to, sort of, finish designing it, which elements on Rosewater’s list does the GM have to bring to the table because D&D doesn’t?” Now, I’m interested in the question of the completeness of TTRPGs for other reasons too. But that’s something I’ll worry about on my own time. I think, though, that GMs would benefit from knowing what elements of game design they need to be responsible for.

So, that’s what I’m going to do in the rest of this BS article. I’m going to assume Rosewater got it mostly right – except in one specific spot which I’ll call out later – and run down his top ten list and ask myself whether that element is present in the system, whether the GM needs to bring it, and whether the system provides the GM tools to do so.

Two caveats. First, you really should read Rosewater’s 2011 article first. I’m not going to reexplain everything he does. Just refer to it. Though, I’m probably wordy enough that you can get by with just my quick one sentence summaries. Second, remember that every game is different and different games will have these qualities in different amounts. And remember the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts. So, yeah, you can find a game that has, say, minimal surprise or minimal strategy, but that doesn’t make it “not a game” or make Rosewater wrong. The point is that Rosewater believes a game must have at least a drop of each of these elements to make it a satisfying game experience. Let’s not get bogged down arguing that and lose sight of the more interesting activity.

Okay? Let’s go.

1. A Goal or Goals

Now, I already discussed this at length in the very article that led me to discover Rosewater’s article and therefore led to this article you’re reading right now. It’s kind of article-ception. Basically, Rosewater says that every game needs a goal and that goal has to be attractive enough to make it seem worth pursuing. The goal provides a reason to play the game as well as providing a context for all of the things the players will do while playing the game. Easy enough.

Apart from a pair of very broad, implied goals, TTRPG systems don’t actually offer goals. The implied ones are “keep your character alive” and “grow your character.” That first one, survival, is a pretty weak goal. It’s basically “don’t lose.” And that doesn’t really count. The second one comes in the form of XP systems and levels and acquiring skills, powers, and loot. It’d be foolish to ignore those things as goals. Clearly, they are something you gain by playing right. By playing well. But that second goal isn’t particularly strong either. First, it doesn’t really provide much context for the game actions. It does give the players a reason to keep getting through encounters, but it doesn’t drive the action beyond that. And it’s also not something that has an end-point. I mean, sure, there is a highest level in the game. But that’s not what most players pursue. They don’t set out to become 20th-level. That’s not the goal. That’s not how you win. Even though it is satisfying.

So, TTRPGs expect you – the players and the GM – to bring the goals. The GM presents adventure goals. And the players CAN choose personal goals for their characters, which the GM can then work into the game. And this is probably the most important thing any content-creating GM must bring to the table. They must bring a regular pile of achievable goals that are attractive to the players. Or they must facilitate the players choosing their own goals.

But I already wrote an entire article about this. Several, actual. So, I don’t need to belabor this point. And I don’t think there are too many GMs out there who don’t realize this.

2. Rules

A game without rules is not a game. But Rosewater has an interesting take on the rules. Whereas in the past, I’ve talked about the rules as tools the GM uses to resolve actions and the rules as ways of defining the fantastic world in which the game takes place, Rosewater talks about the rules as constraints on the players. And his point bears discussing. If you have a goal and there are no restrictions on how you can act in pursuit of that goal, then there’s really nothing in the way of you accomplishing the goal. There’s no challenge. In fact, he has a really great line: “game design is unique in that the goal of the design is to actually make the thing hard to do.”

And, honestly, that makes sense. Most of the rules in TTRPGs are about how to resolve the outcomes of actions. And that really is just putting an obstacle into every action the players take. So, a player wants to break down a door, but the rules say, “no, not unless you roll a die first.” A player wants to kill a goblin, but the rules say, “well, make an attack and you can hurt the goblin by a certain amount.” It’s interesting to view the rules in that capacity. On top of that, Rosewater observes that it is restrictions that allow creativity to thrive. That is, if you can just throw whatever die roll you want and the odds are pretty much the same whatever you do, there’s no reason to try anything creative. As a player. For example, if you can break down the door with one die roll and pick the lock with another die roll and any other method of getting through the door also involves a similar die roll, well, the only choice you have is which die roll you want to make. And that’s going to be based on which die roll you’re best at. I’m actually going to come back to that idea. Because it plays into another of Rosewater’s points.

The biggest thing to recognize though is that this plays into something that I’ve said for years. Something people don’t like hearing. The GM is a game mechanic. The GM is part of the rules of the game. He’s part of the system. And thus, the idea of the GM using all of the rules to build challenges, establish conflicts, constrain the players, and confound their actions is just one game system calling others.

Here’s the takeaway though, and it’s a point I talked a bit about recently in terms of action resolution, the rules need to play against the players’ freedom to do their job. To confound and constrain. And these days, it seems like that’s a dirty thing to say. It is the GM’s job to make life hard for the players and the rules are the GM’s primary tool for doing just that. Letting players have too much of a free reign over the rules – for example, letting them argue that Dexterity (Acrobatics) should be used for a long jump instead of Strength (Athletics) – breeds the creativity right out of them. It leaves them playing a dice game instead of engaging in the world in a creative way to overcome constraints.

3. Interaction

Interact with the goblin’s jar to leave a tip.

Rosewater points out that the players’ actions have to interconnect in some way to force them to interact with each other. That the players can react to each other. That they, in fact, have to interact with each other. And the rest of his spiel looks at interaction in competitive games. Which TTRPGs are most definitely not. Which doesn’t mean they don’t need interaction and reaction.

Any game that involves multiple players needs to have interaction between those players. Otherwise, why even have those other players there. Five people playing solitaire at the same table together is not the same as five people playing together. And yeah, I realize there’s a big glaring problem with Rosewater’s thesis in that sentence because the need for interplayer interaction means solitaire – and games you can play alone – are not games in his mind. On that point, I don’t think Rosewater is wrong in saying games need interaction to be games, but I also think solitaire and solo games are games. And I can explain exactly how I can believe two such contradictory things by tweaking some of the stuff Rosewater says, but who gives a crap about solo games anyway? Only friendless losers, that’s who.

Seriously, though, here’s the really fascinating thing: TTRPGs seem to have interaction, right? They seem to be all about teamwork. The system seems to have that firmly in hand. But, if I really sit and think about it, I am not sure that TTRPG systems actually require or even encourage any interaction at all in gameplay.

The hallmark of interaction between players is the degree to which one player’s actions changes another. That is, you have a plan or goal or strategy in mind and you’re about to implement it but then some other player does something that invalidates or changes your plan. Or, alternatively, the hallmark of interaction between players is the degree to which swapping out the players would change the game you’re playing.

I think TTRPGs like D&D have become very much about groups of players playing solitaire at the table together. And I would not have said that before Mark Rosewater made me sit and think about it. I mean, there ARE times during combat when one player’s actions are confounded by the actions of another player. But they are mostly of the “if you do that, I can do this” or the “if you do that, it will prevent me from doing this” or “heal me please so I can keep fighting” or “give me a bonus so I can do this” variety. Which are minimal sorts of interaction when you really think about it. There’s nothing that really requires the party to work as a team to do things together. Most of the non-combat challenges come down to one player stepping forward and doing a thing while the others watch. And in most combat challenges, players just take turns swiping at their foes beyond throwing the occasional buff or heal at each other. Players don’t even have to know what the other characters are capable of. And, except in the case of the “your action screwed up my action,” players don’t even have to pay attention when its not their turn.

Most of the action in D&D these days is of the shifting spotlight variety. There’s a spotlight that moves from character to character and each character gets a chance to be in the spotlight and do a thing all by themselves and get some applause and then its someone else’s turn. To what degree does the system encourage – or require – the players to even notice or care what the other players are doing, let alone to form team strategies.

So, interaction falls to the GM to bring to the table. And the thing is, I have no advice here because I’m still kind of stunned to realize there’s much less team interaction in TTRPGs than I thought and I have to think this crap through. Damn.

4. A Catch-Up Feature

Rosewater points out that all games need a way for players who have fallen behind to turn the tables and get back in the game. And that’s definitely true. Otherwise, once a player realizes they are losing, they will become completely disengaged from the game. Why care what’s going to happen if losing is inevitable. Now, this might also seem like a feature that’s important in competitive games, but even in cooperative games, it has to be there.

Basically, a catch-up feature counteracts the possibility of a death spiral. That is, once the party starts to lose a battle, they usually keep losing until they are dead. Here’s the thing: D&D has a lot of little catch-up features, but it also doesn’t have any. It’s all in how you grade it. See, you can point to lots of individual character mechanics and say, “well, see, when the character starts to lose, they can heal themselves or cast that spell or use that ability and turn things around,” and you’d be right. But step beyond the individual characters for a moment. Because of the action economy, once a party member goes down, the party is at a pretty serious disadvantage. And if they can’t get the party member back up quickly and it’s still early in the fight, the loss of actions can pretty quickly destroy a party. Now, that doesn’t actually come up very often because the action economy starts off stacked well in favor of the players. That is, the players often outnumber the monsters in D&D. It’s rare that there’s more monsters than players. The encounter building rules make it very difficult to build large encounters that are still actually balanced. So, it takes a lot of dropped PCs before the loss of actions becomes a disaster most of the time. And that’s why no one ever noticed that, on the party scale, there’s no catch-up mechanic really. Nothing to bring a party back from the brink.

But here’s a more interesting one you, as a GM, should consider: when you design an adventure, how can the players recover if they start to lose the adventure. I’m not talking about individual encounters here. I mean the whole adventure. If the party has to stop the cult from completing the ritual before midnight and they waste too much time, what in your adventure allows them to reverse that? How can they catch up once it becomes clear that they are not going to make it before time runs out? This is an aspect of adventure design that, frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone address. But then, I don’t think anyone really considers macroscopic adventure design. Everyone just thinks in terms of individual encounters.

5. Intertia

Now, I have to admit that I thought this was very interesting given the item above it on the list – A Catch-Up Mechanic – but I’m not sure I like Rosewater’s take on what inertia means. Because he goes on a lot about the pace of the game and when it ends and how you always want the game to end before the players are done playing so that they end up wanting more. Thus, he says inertia is an inexorable push of the game toward completion. That is, if the players do nothing at all, the game is still moving toward ending.

And, while I can get behind that, and I will in a second, there’s another aspect to inertia that’s equally important. And it’s the opposite of the catch-up. It’s the idea that once you start winning, the game should carry you to keep winning. I don’t think Rosewater and I are talking about different things, but we’re thinking in different ways because we’re thinking about different games.

Here’s my point: successes need to build on each other and failures need to build on each other. If the party does well in one encounter, they should do well in the next one. Victories should compound each other. D&D does offer this: it’s called leveling up. Every time you win, you get XP which lets you get more powerful and, in theory, makes it easier to keep winning. Granted, the challenges also keep ratcheting up, but that’s a different issue. But, within an adventure, there’s really a sense of inertia. Each encounter kind of happens in a bubble and the end result of each encounter is that you get to keep going. And that would be fine if there was something in the system to reward victory. And compound defeat. That’s equally as important. As you lose, it is important that you feel the chance of ultimately winning slip away. D&D does offer a really good negative inertia system. It’s an attrition-based game. You are constantly hemorrhaging resources: spells, hit points, ammo, whatever. And if you use too many in one encounter, you’re kind of screwed in the next encounter.

The interesting thing is that, in most well-designed games, there’s a constant fight between the systems that provide inertia and the systems that provide a catch-up possibility. And that interplay, that balance, creates a lot of engagement. As you start to win, you see winning becoming more and more likely, and so you feel excited and engaged. As you start to lose, you find yourself struggling, but you also have ways to turn the tables if you can just pull them off, so you feel excited and engaged. Either way, you end up trying harder and harder as you keep playing.

I don’t see that the systems in D&D really provide a positive inertia system any more than they provide a good, large-scale catch-up mechanic.

Meanwhile, there’s inertia in the other sense. That’s the sense that the game is constantly pushing itself to completion and that the game should end while the players still want to play. Inertia in this sense comes more from managing the game, the pace, the tension, and the narrative. And this also comes entirely from the GM. The GM needs to constantly push the action forward so that, if the players don’t do anything to succeed in their endeavors, they are going to fail. On the encounter level, the game system provides for that. If the PCs stop fighting, the monsters will kill them. But beyond that, on the adventure level, very few GMs design adventures that are constantly ticking toward failure unless the players succeed.

CUT!

Okay, we need to stop here because there’s a big, big issue at the heart of all of this that has become clear in mind. And let me explain something about these BS article. I don’t really plan BS articles the way I plan other articles. I don’t come up with a list of topics to cover, draft the article, rewrite the thing, and then clean it and polish it. I mean, I do clean the thing up, but I try not to go through too many iterations or plan too much because these articles really are about me just thinking through things. Which means I can get 4,000 words into an article like this and suddenly recognize that something has gone very wrong and that I’m thinking about the wrong problem or the right problem in the wrong way. And that’s what’s happening right now. Except for a spitshine for readability – and except for going back after and adding a Long, Rambling Introduction™ which sometimes goes through a couple of edits – this is pretty much as close to my raw, unfiltered thoughts as possible.

So, two problems have cropped up. First, I’ve only discussed the first five elements that Mark Rosewater laid out and my word count is already going to end up around 4,500 words once I add an introduction. Which means this is as far as I can go. And I’m not sure I want to waste a feature article on the other five. Which is a shame, because there are some in there I know I’m going to have a field day with. I mean, he’s got “fun” on his list. Effing fun. What the hell?!

Anyway, if you want me to complete this article and run through the other five because you’ve found this interesting, let me know. I will slap together a second part as a bonus article. I won’t waste a monthly feature spot on it. I’ll find time to do it between features. I owe you guys some bonus content anyway.

The second problem is more fundamental. And it has to do with the very premise of this article and analysis. Which I have sort of failed to live up to because the premise itself is flawed. But it’s flawed in a very interesting and useful way. And since I have about 500 words left, let me see if I can spell it out.

I said D&D – and all TTRPGs – are incomplete games because they are game engines. They are systems for creating games. The actual games are the adventures themselves. And those are designed by game designers or GMs and run by GMs at the table separately from the system itself. Presumably, the system itself should provide SOME of the elements that make a game a game and the adventure designer has to fill in the rest.

Here’s where things get interesting: the rules of the games are almost entirely about resolving actions and encounters. They allow the GM to build individual scenes, individual obstacles, and throw them at the players. Those obstacles are meant to be part of a bigger adventure, right? A string of problems the heroes have to overcome to accomplish a goal. And the GM is left to just string those encounters together into an adventure. Easy peasy, right?

Except an adventure ISN’T just a string of encounters. An adventure is a complete game experience. As such, it has to provide a goal, use rules to constrain the players, provide opportunities for interaction, give the players a chance to catch up if they start to lose, and provide inertia toward completion. And that’s just half the list. But apart from some resource attrition mechanics that provide negative inertia, there’s nothing in the D&D system that speaks to the larger game at all. There are no mechanics, no game elements, that deal with the game on a larger scale than that of individual encounters. D&D isn’t really a game engine at all, it’s an encounter building and resolution engine, a character-building system, and some rules for resource attrition.

D&D expects a hell of a lot from the people who are writing adventures, either publishers or individual GMs. And I’ve known a lot of individual GMs who write some really great adventures. And as I look back at the adventures I’ve written, I can see the ones that went really well were the ones in which I’d addressed these points. And my worst adventures are the ones that were player-driven romps through strings of encounters.

Now, that’s not BAD per se. I’m not mad at D&D for this. I’m not sitting here suddenly realizing that I’ve been trapped in an abusive relationship for years and now the scales have fallen from my eyes. I always knew D&D expected a lot of its adventure designers and I always assumed it was the job of adventure designers to rise to the task. And that includes GMs like me who wanted to write their own adventures. Adventure design IS game design. Pure and simple. If you want to design good adventures, it’s going to take hard work, practice, and a lot of thought.

But what I find myself seeing here are all the holes that a good game engine COULD fill in to help the adventure designer along. And there have been games that have done just that. 13th Age’s escalation die immediately leaps to mind as a great example of both an inertia mechanic and a catch-up mechanic. Granted, it only exists on the encounter level, but it shows the possibilities. The chaos pool – I think that’s what it was called – from Weis’ Games Marvel Heroic RPG and my own tension pool are also good examples of inertia mechanics that exist outside of individual scenes and encounters.

I think the biggest thing that D&D – especially in its current iteration – does to hinder adventure-designing GMs though is just to imply – strongly – that there is no thinking through the game beyond the “string of encounters.” The implication in the DMG is that you figure out the plot elements simply to provide context for the encounters, slap the encounters on a map, add a random encounter table because RPGs have random encounter tables, and then go. And even my own adventure building ideas are kind of lacking on that front.

In the end, I’m posting this article despite stopping in the middle to babble about something else because I think there’s useful information in here for any GM who wants to write their own adventures and because it’s actually going to lead to me spinning my adventure building article series in a slightly different direction. Fortunately, the next part in that series – about resolutions – is exactly where I need to work some of this crap in.

And I’ll tell you this much: if I were designing a TTRPG, this would be giving me a lot of food for thought.

And I’d also be really relieved because, without realizing what I was doing, I’ve already worried about providing the GM tools to handle a lot of this crap. Whew. It’s a good thing I’m really smart.

100 thoughts on “The World of D&D According to Rosewater… According to Angry

  1. The rules are the equivalent of grammar. You need them to produce great literature–stories that transport people, stories that seem to show you a new reality–but grammar never wrote a story.
    I’m starting to wonder if the crazy popularity of watching people play RPGs (Twitch) or even listening to them play (podcasts) isn’t about enjoying more examples of what ‘good’ is. You won’t find them in your grammar textbook. You probably won’t find them in your local group.

  2. The Rosewater article seems to ignore all sorts of cooperative games. I suppose it’s easy enough to say that group planning counts as player interaction – which also applies to TTRPGs, especially outside of combat or the other places where rules gain in importance.

    • Group planning is actually sort of questionable. People talk a lot about the “quarterbacking” problem in co-op games, where one person comes up with a strategy for the entire group and it starts to feel like you’re playing a solo game where you happen to control four units. Pandemic gets this complaint a lot, since you pretty much have to coordinate everyone’s actions to get everyone in the right cities at the right times.

      A few games make an explicit attempt to avoid this. Co-op games with a traitor mechanic solve this by not letting you trust anyone enough to let them order you around. The XCOM board game solves this by putting the planning phase on a timer – you don’t have time to quarterback because you barely have enough time to make your own decisions, let alone someone else’s.

      • More importantly, though – and I did point this out in the article – there is nothing in the game that actually encourages or requires such interaction. In fact, many GMs end up banging their heads against the wall trying to get their players to interact with each other during combat. In D&D, a party can be quite effective and win every encounter even if they never talk to each other, consider each other’s actions, or react to each other in any way. Everyone can just take their turn in combat and then spend the rest of the fight on Twitter waiting for their next turn to come around and the game plays just fine. Well, just fine from a standpoint of “the players can easily win that way” way.

        Saying that the fact that the players CAN talk and strategize if they want and it does improve their experience isn’t good enough. That’s like saying Magic: the Gathering includes a gambling mechanic because the players can bet out on the outcomes if they want to.

        • This is pretty much my group. Sure, they COULD work together but in fact they rarely do, exactly like you’re describing. And quite frankly, I am guilty of the same behaviour as a player.

          Would love more of your thoughts on that item. Not sure if this is actually a problem and if it is – what could/should be done to fix it.

          And while you’re at it, I am game for the rest of the list in another rambling article 🙂

          • I have the feeling that cooperation is significantly more effective than not cooperation. Synergies, opportunities, timing, etc. actually make you more effective. Now, you can do those things silently, but the better tactical players are still using their knowledge of what has been done and what might be done next to inform their decisions. Can you omit that? Sure, but you’ll die more often and you won’t be able to handle the same level of difficulty.

            That suggests that higher difficulty might inspire players to work together more… But I suspect they wouldn’t collaborate more, they’d just fail more.

      • Even co-operative video games can suffer from this. In games where either my brother or I (but not both) is experienced, that player ends up « quarterbacking » the other.

        Conversely, if we are both at similar levels of experience, we tend to discuss involved strategy or explore the game together to get a grasp on it. I would expect (and have seen) similar things to be true in co-operative board games. For example, my family loves Forbidden Island, so we can discuss the game without telling each other how to play because we all understand the goals, strategies, etc.—we are on the same page. When introducing it to non-family members, I have to take a careful backseat to let others discover the strategy.

  3. Here’s a question:
    IF you WERE *cough* designing a TTRPG System, would you design it more encounter-based, or more action-based? I know both are important, but I do see a difference between let’s say The Black Eye and D&D 4th edition.
    On the one hand, you have a system where “Scenes” are hard-coded into the rules (even from a player perspective), on the other hand you have a system where Scenes are more of an afterthought to individual actions of players and NPCs.
    Personally, I don’t think it would be possible to make a system that used game modes (let’s say combat, interaction and exploration) – if SOMEONE were to create something like that – without it being encounter-based, since time and space units, and success- and failure-conditions would have to be different for encounters based on game mode. On the other hand, in a system where encounters are part of the game system, one could do away with things like e.g. individual HP completely.

    • The English version of “Das Schwarze Auge” is “The Dark Eye” (not The Black Eye).

      I started playing RPGs with the Dark Eye and only years later tried out D&D. I do remember being confused by the rules that are explicitly built around encounters (e. g. some spell lasts one encounter) rather than any in-world durations.

  4. I’ve always felt that most of the DMG really should have been in the PHB. The DMG should really have been a tutorial in how to design great advenrures and campaigns and while that is the stated purpose it *only* teaches you how to string along encountets into adventures and string along adventures into campaigns. The content I’ve always wanted has never excisted, perhaps because it is hard. I’ve come across books and articles that attempt to cover design but they are abstract and philosophical. I NEED tutorials instead because you learn by moving from the concrete to the abstract. I enjoy your articles and would be interested in reading your thoughts on the other points. The more opinions, the better! 😉

  5. Fun article.
    There’s a catch up mechanism in D&D. It’s not formalized as such, although I think it might be in some games. Escalation.

    If an NPC presents an obstacle to the PCs, and they are losing the diplomacy challenge, the players can escalate to, say, threats of violence to get their way. If they succeed on threats, none of the diplomacy failures matter. If the threats fail, they can escalate to force, attempting to keep it non-lethal, perhaps. If they succeed in forcing their way into the forbidden area or into making the NPC talk, then their failures in achieving it with just threats don’t matter. It’s possible if they are clever they could escalate in other ways, like appealing to an authority or harming the NPC’s reputation or something, too.

    The trick with catch up mechanisms is that they need to either be situational or costly, or else players will jump right to them and use them as a first resort. If there aren’t serious drawbacks to opening with lethal force, PCs can skip all the talky parts of the game, but this leaves them no recourse when the encounter turns against them–and since the DM wants to keep the game challenging, in the long run they’re probably sabotaging themselves. (It’s like in magic if Wrath of God cost 1 mana and only targeted opponents creatures, every deck would run run and play it at the first opportunity–but then the meta would shift to being creatureless.)

    Costs to escalation can be things like being shunned and hunted in civilization. It’s harder to have costs for escalation in dungeon crawls, but in a sense that’s what daily abilities are.

    There could be in combat catch up mechanisms that aren’t based on escalation, of course, like action point, or some kind of adrenaline that recharges when getting hit or powers only available at half HP.

  6. Why do you even need a catch up mechanic?

    Coming from the perspective of an AD&D DM, we didn’t do things like that. The dice rolled and the players (and DM) simply had to roll with whatever happened. Be it the EHP getting knocked out during his monologue by a tricked out Ranger, or a PC fumbling the one roll that could not be fumbled!

    Including a catch up mechanic tells this old gamer that modern gamers feel that their should always be a path to victory no matter how poorly they play the game. Having this type of mechanic in your game lessens the impact of risks and their associated rewards.

    Perhaps I am missing something but if you remove failure from the list of possible endings why even bother playing?

    • It preserves tension in the part of the game between the initial set-back and the inevitable defeat.

    • I believe the catch-up mechanic intends not to remove the possibility of failure, but to remove inevitable failure from bad luck or a few poor decisions.

      A great example is Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing. If you’re in last place, you’re more likely to get the more powerful weapons that target racers in front of you. However, the best case scenario is that these bring you back to level with the opposition, while there’s no guarantee they even help.

      If they added a weapon that allowed you to permanently eliminate anyone that lapped you, the ideal strategy would be to intentionally fall behind.

      In D&D, I would consider powerful, limited use abilities a form of catch-up mechanic. Few players will use their high level spells against goblins, saving them for the potential bigger threat. However, if all their team-mates are down and they’re outnumbered, using limited resources may be the only way out.

    • Catch up mechanics don’t remove a chance of failure, they ensure that there’s always a chance of success. Making mistakes may make things harder, but at the moment a win is impossible, the game is over.

      When a loss is impossible you could make the same argument that there’s no game left to play, but it feels a lot less futile to play out a cutscene victory than a cutscene defeat.

      Also, I’d like to hear thoughts on Rosewater’s other elements of game, given the insights extracted from the first half.

      • Not “always.” There is not always a chance to succeed. There does come a point where a choice or outcome in a game is the final choice. The one that loses the game. What a catch-up mechanic does is ensure that momentum/intertia mechanics do not become so powerful that the choice or outcome that leads to failure doesn’t drastically precede the point where you know the game is over. And it therefore doesn’t ask the players to keep trying to win past the point where they can’t win. Because there’s no sense in making people do that. It wastes peoples’ time and it’s depressing and frustrating.

      • Catch up mechanics (as described) sound exactly like “can’t lose” mechanics.

        Take the AD&D Slaver’s series of adventures. Towards the end of the series the players have to be captured and stripped of their equipment in order to play the final escape scenario. If your players are convinced that there is always a way to win they may be unable to play an adventure where they walk into a trap.

        Or consider the original Tomb of Horrors. That adventure was a meat grinder. If a PC died, they died. There was no expectation of being able to catch up.

        While it may feel boring or less heroic to retreat back to the relative safety of town when adventuring the players should understand that not every action will lead to victory. Slapping the local governor around is just as likely to put an adventurer into early retirement as is walking up to an ancient red dragon at first level!

        Players need to know that failure is always a possibility. Catch up mechanics sound suspiciously like something a DM afraid of losing friends would create to insure that his players never get angry and leave the game.

        • You had *towns* in your D&D? Talk about coddling players! Back in my day they had to hunt for adventure seeds only in impenetrable forests and deadly bogs.

          • Very well, pretend I said

            You’re reading too much into the name ‘catch-up’ mechanic, it doesn’t have to be confined to actions which entirely save players from defeat without drawback. Further, games can account for the existence of these mechanics to preserve challenge, for example, in 13th Age the monsters are stronger than otherwise because only the players access the escalation die.

        • I think you are missing a bit of the point. Imagine if you played a version of D&D where if you missed the first attack roll, you always lost, or if you hit, you always won. Those would not be good fights. It se ms like you’re thinking of it in terms of changing the rules if the players are losing, but the idea is the rules should be written to have opportunities to come back (or let an early advantage slip away)

          • I am looking big picture, campaign level.

            If the first encounter goes so badly that the players have a negligible chance of victory then everyone needs to take a break and figure out what went wrong and why. Then decide if the campaign is even appropriate for the players.

            One bad encounter being able to derail the campaign is a symptom of game failure.

          • Yes. Yes. Precisely. That is a failure. And it’s entirely possible in any given D&D run by any given GM. And as you point out, the GM who designed said campaign needs to go back and look at how the game failed. And that’s precisely what I said. A single, early failure snowballing into a failure of an entire adventure or campaign is a bad bit of design. And D&D expects you – the GM – to recognize that, avoid it, or fix it. And most GMs do eventually figure that out. Which is why most GMs eventually figure out that locking the party in a dungeon from which they can’t retreat or recover if they get in over their head is a BAD thing.

            Literally the entire introduction to this article is “here’s elements of game design that aren’t built into D&D that the GM is expected to know or figure out.”

            Now, this discussion has officially hit “non constructive and going around in circles.” So I’m stepping out. And I’d advise you to let it drop too. We can agree to disagree. But you’re just repeating yourself over and over and not adding anything new. And I’m tired of having to read the same thing said over and over, only longer.

        • I wouldn’t use the Tomb of Horrors as an example of good design. The Tomb of Horrors was built as a great big “Fuck You!” to overpowered parties and contains a lot of bullshit “Gotcha!” moments built to give Gary Gygax a chub over getting one over on his players. It is constructed in such a way as to purposely preempt a lot of common tools in the PC’s problem-solving arsenal, including several egregious violations of common sense. It’s not a game module so much as an excuse to power trip.

          • Wow, someone is editorializing a bit. Did you get bitten by Gary as a kid or something. You are right: the module is not well designed by modern standards and the module does purposely preempt a lot of tools the PCs have for no other reason than to artificially inflate the challenge. However, your explanation as to why Gary created the module and who it was for is only half accurate. Gary himself described all of his motives multiple times, including in the introduction to the module. The idea that he did it as part of a mad power trip is a mischaracterization in the extreme. And while he did enjoy using the module to take down loud braggarts at conventions, there is no evidence as to whether he was sexually aroused as a result.

            Tomb of Horrors is a shit module from a design standpoint. But the reasons why it exists – and its failings – are all pretty accurately spelled out in the introduction and text of the published module. It’s got a freaking warning label. It’s time to let your anger over it go. Holy crap.

            Thread closed.

    • That’s why I love the HM 5th edition rule system. Its like AD&D but doesn’t use turns. It uses opposed dice and the count-up system. It makes you have to pay attention and not be “browsing twitter” while playing; otherwise that attack that might have been defended has now hit and your now ToP’d on the ground.

    • @HMTKSteve

      You are missing something. A lot. I mean, you equate “providing people who start to lose a chance to reverse that loss rather than letting losses compound to the point where, if you fuck up the first encounter, you can’t win, no matter how you do in the next six encounters so that people are forced to keep playing an impossible game” as “removing all failure ever.” I can’t even figure out what you’re missing because you’re missing so much.

      And let me remind you that, in the old days, people used to die of ptomaine poisoning and blame it on ghosts too. That’s not a good argument. We have learned a lot about game design since role-playing games were invented. Hell, we’ve learned a lot even in the thirty years since I started running these games. Which is why more people than ever are playing more and different types of games than ever before and why there is so much more variety in the experience.

      And let me rephrase your snarky final remark a bit: “if you can’t possibly win the game after you take your first turn, why the hell would you play turn two?”

      • It sounds like we come from two very different styles of play. I started in the late 1970’s. PCs died a lot. It was not uncommon for PCs to die before hitting second level. A couple of bad rolls could result in a TPK . The parties that survived did so by insuring they were balanced, properly equipped, and aware of what they were going up against.

        Did players throw out Hail Mary ideas when total failure was on the line? Of course. Do you know what else they did? They made judgement calls based on the risks.

        You mention one bad encounter setting the stage for complete mission failure. If the first encounter destroyed the party that badly then they should not go on. They tried their best and at this point they should understand that any further travel in this direction will end badly. Go to town and find a different adventure hook to explore.

        You are right about that. If they screw up so bad on turn one they should not play turn two. They should break off and figure out why turn one went so badly. The DM should also figure out why turn one went so badly. Was it just bad dice rolls or did you drop your players in a situation where they had a very narrow (almost railroad style) chance of victory.

        I understand wanting players to stay engaged throughout the entire game but adding such ‘outcome equalizers’ is bad adventure design. If the players feel that they are illequipped to face the challenges ahead of them then it is up to the DM to better asses the abilities of the players and craft the adventure with those abilities in mind.

        Catch up mechanics are a symptom of a poorly designed or implemented adventure. If they are needed at a game system level than the game is poorly designed. If they are needed at the game table (outside of a freak dice failure incident) than either the adventure was poorly designed or the DM failed the players by placing them on a path to fail.

        I admit, my D&D experience and tastes are old school. Perhaps I am missing something but (as a game designer myself) adding special catch up rules is a clear indication that the game is broken.

        PS: yeah, that last bit was snarky, my bad.

        • So in your scenario, the “catch up” mechanic is going back to town, no? The idea of a TTRPG without any catch up mechanic is a bit confusing to me, because it seems to imply that the players are forced to play things out even when they know that defeat is inevitable. In your scenario defeat doesn’t seem to be inevitable as they can choose to not march to their death (not the same as winning, but it IS the same as not losing immediately).

          To my knowledge, the players always have the option of taking that step back you mention, get themselves together, and then try again (or try something different). That is unless they run out of tries (you spent too much time getting your ass handed to you, the priness ate the dragon you were trying to rescue, game over), but then that’d be a lot more fair.

          • No. Stopping to regroup is not a catch up mechanic as it does nothing to directly move the players forward. It will keep them alive but it does nothing towards completion of whatever quest they are on.

            If they are on a time sensitive quest then it is up to the DM to figure out what happens when they fail. It is not up to the DM to toss in a deus ex machina to right the ship. A good DM (and game designer) should already be prepared for the possibility of the players failing.

            The cultists were not stopped and pulled off their ritual? As a DM do you:

            A. Inform the players how the world has changed and continue the campaign.

            B. Inform the players that some other adventurers showed up at the last minute and saved the day.

            I DM with option A in mind.

          • @HMTKSteve

            I think your problem is that you think of catch up mechanics as a deus ex machina. Your option B isn’t a catch up mechanic, it’s just complete nonsense that shouldn’t belong in any game ever.

            I’m not gonna argue with you, but I do think you could use some more thinking over this.

            When you go to last place in mario cart, you’re still losing even if you get a blue shell. You’re just not losing to the point of never having a chance at a placement higher than last.

    • so in the original article, as I read it, the catch up mechanic is seen as necessary so that players feel like they have a chance to win, even if they seem to be losing. That article is about a competitive game which makes it a little different, but the idea is defeat shouldn’t feel inevitable until you actually lose. The idea as I understand it is that a lot of players (myself definitely included) lose all interest in a game when we feel that the ending is assured, especially if that ending is that we’re going to lose. Therefore, the game should be designed with some way for player’s to come from behind so that, ideally, the ending isn’t assured til it happens.

      In encounters, to my mind, dice rolls give enough uncertainty to keep people engaged pretty close to the bitter end, but Angry’s point is that there doesn’t seem to be anything like that in place for full adventures.

      I probably repeated myself a little here, but hopefully the idea get’s through: catch up mechanics just means player’s don’t lose engagement when they start falling behind.

      • I think we should give a concrete example of a catch up mechanic:

        I’m playing in a pretty high level campaign. Recently my 18th level wizard, along with the rest of the party, were in the Abyss, trying to rescue the soul of our witch from her demonic patron.

        We encountered some kind of demon. Might have been homebrew, I don’t know. But it was just destroying us, me in particular.

        My “catch up mechanic” was casting prismatic sphere. It allowed me to live, and hold off the demon, long enough to gather what we needed, and get the hell out of Plagueville.

        That’s really all “catch up mechanic” means. Something, built into the game itself, that allows the characters a chance to catch up if things go bad. That thing could be high-level spells, a barbarian raging, a cleric channeling positive energy, etc.

        I think the argument that we are having is some people see “catch up mechanic” and are automatically thinking “dues ex machine”.

        To move from the encounter scenario to adventure scenario:

        I’m running a game involving a group of cultists kidnapping wizards. The party needs information from a particular wizard, and know the cultists are targeting him, so they rush to his rescue.

        If the party fails to stop the kidnapping, I have a mechanic built into the story….they can still save the wizard by finding the cultists hidden hideout, and rescuing the wizard before the cultists sacrifice him.

        That’s all the mechanic means. It’s not an automatic success, it’s a way to keep playing through a setback. You can still lose.

    • I would also add that, if you are a DM that adds crit success and crit failures and a bonus effect for each, this creates both catch up and escalation. I’ve always created games based on reward and consequences. I think that a DM is not the players enemy or friend, a DM is a story conduit of the life the players are exploring. By this I mean, a majority of the time, I sit with the players, find out what they are looking for experience wise, then build a world that embraces that. If the players are up for the unknown, then I build based on what choices they have made in character creation and if they want to be surprised, then I create their characters and the world. (Even if that works is a single scenario) Every design is different because all 10 points can be used to various degrees.

    • Agreed. I presume “6. Surprise” and “10. A Hook” are pretty well covered in his articles on dice and goals, and he’s already made his feelings on “8. Fun” clear. I’d be curious to read Angry’s thoughts on “7. Strategy” and “9. Flavour” though.

      • Honestly, the main thing keeping me from writing the second part is that I really only have something interesting to say about 7. And it’s similar to what I said about interaction. “Yeah, it SEEMS like that’s a part of table-top RPGs but when I start to really think hard, it kinda isn’t. At least not in the way you think. And it’s a lot more limited than you think.”

        • Damn. I share that opinion, and was hoping you’d some brilliant insight to talk me out of it. Seems to me that “strategy” really boils down to trying to influence the GMs decision on who to attack.

          Personally, I usually make monsters attack either the last character to make a kill, the nearest character or select at random, unless the player’s intent to influence otherwise is made clear and seems reasonable.

          Other than that, strategy seems completely up to the GM to build into each encounter, then feign surprise if the players take advantage. That applies to a terrain bottleneck in combat or a king’s blackmailable secrets.

          • This comment thread made me realize that I should have a consistent practice for how enemies behave. Not necessarily as set as “a goblin always attacks the closest PC,” but perhaps in terms of archetypes–a cowardly enemy will attack whoever is threatening them, a smart enemy will attack the control mage, etc.

            Building strategy into encounter design is good, but requires the GM to do the party’s thinking for them. What can GMs do to provoke strategic thinking from the party? (Angry this is related to interaction! Please do a #4 + #7 writing.)

          • One related aspect is how Angry has mentioned before that he likes to reuse monsters a few times, so that player can learn their quirks and adapt strategy to them.
            Which is a good thing to remember when you’re tempted (as I am) to use new monsters frequently for variety’s sake.

  7. Wow, this is amazing. This article made me realize actually how much DnD expects of the DM. Your insights are invaluable as always Angry, this time doubly so.

    I wonder how much tweaking would be needed to partially patch up some of DnD’s systematic flaws in these regards. Obviously, if you were designing an RPG, you would design it from the ground up to take an off this into account.

    I personally would love to read your thoughts on points 6 to 10.

  8. I really liked this article, so I’d love to read 6-10.

    Concerning the Catch-Up mechanics, I always thought this is the role of costly resources, like magic items you can only use once or very costly spells etc. If you are in a tight spot, you can use this to get out, but it costs you some options later on.

  9. The interaction point is well taken, in dnd specifically I think thats why most adventures have something to the effect of “For a party that already knows each other and works together.” Goals tie into that as well as all the party needs a reason to work together towards something, even if they are all just playing solitare at the table together.

    Obstacles are also why most adventures are explicitly written for good parties. Evil just cares about the ends not the means, and if overthrowing the corrupt king is the issue they can just go full murder hobo because its more efficient.

    This is where dnd fails. As a string of encounters there is little reason in or out of game to not go right for the end by the best way possible. Which also leads to player solitaire. If my pc can end or nearly end an encounter solo, or make enough of an impact to make cleanup a breeze, that is generally the best solution. Rotating spotlight compounds this. And each character should be able to pull their own weight when in the spotlight, and since it is their spotlight it just feeds in on itself.

    Any character who is largely dependent on others to be effective is a drain on resources as a whole, and no one likes escort missions. That character and the other characters will end up disliking the dependency that entails and it falls apart.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on the rest of his points.

  10. I wonder if catch-up mechanics might be less relevant in cooperative games than in competitive ones. Rosewater describes them as a way to keep all players invested in the game in the setting of inevitable defeat. Is that because of the goals involved? In a MtG tournament, the goal of a match is to determine who advances in the tournament, specifically by finishing the match and determine a winner (by seeing who can get the other player to zero life first). If this is a tournament, then the stakes are relatively high – win and you get to play another game, lose and you’re out of the tournament. Outside of a tournament, the goal of the match is to finish the game so you can either see who’s better at the game or so you can play another game (again, by taking the other person to zero life). Having a catch-up mechanism might be really important because determining WHO wins is the entire point of the match.

    But inevitable victory or defeat doesn’t always mean tedium and loss of investment – there are entire genres built around the When and How of inevitable victory and defeat (superhero movies, horror movies, romantic comedies). In your TTRPG, when it becomes tedious and all actions perfunctory, some DMs just narrate the ending. “You rapidly finish off the last five skeletons – now you are alone in the room with a mysterious door covered in gentle glowing sigils. What do you do?” “The guards subdue you and place you in handcuffs – you find yourselves trapped in the cells of a local jail, weaponless and isolated. What do you do?” “You drunkenly rip each others’ clothing off and have a delightful evening – the next morning you wake up in silk sheets next to a person you don’t recognize and aren’t attracted to. What do you do?”

    In a TTRPG, I think the goal of a given encounter – in the reductionist mechanical sense – is to finish the encounter so that you can start the next one. While you probably prefer to win, I think the When and How of your victory or defeat determine investment in the encounter more than WHO wins or loses. It doesn’t matter who wins – there’s always* another encounter coming up. Even in the setting of permanent character death, you can roll a new character (the classic meatgrinder/AD&D).

    If it doesn’t matter* who wins, is having a catch-up mechanic still relevant?

      • I mean that it doesn’t matter who wins in the sense that there will still be a next encounter – victory or defeat affects the game going forward but the game will continue no matter the outcome. TPK MIGHT be the exception.

        For example, the PCs drive back the orcs – and the plot proceeds. The orcs drive back the PCs – and the plot proceeds. The PCs convince the warlord to let them into the fortress without bloodshed – or they don’t. Either way, the plot proceeds. Perhaps one PC wanted the orcs to gain territory so they would be stretched thin or really wanted to fight the warlord’s guards. The PCs are trying to get through an ooze-infested cavern in the Underdark and fail to fight or sneak through them – so they have to find a different way.

    • I agree for the most part. In fact I intended to make a very similar post in that the real element a game needs is a way to move through a phase where one or more of the players is disengaged from the game. A catch-up mechanic can be one way, but even allowing a player to concede a match, rather than playing out a slow defeat, and start a new match can accomplish this. In a sense though, making a space for TTRPG parties to surrender or run away (or roll up new characters) can be a form of catch-up in a broader sense.

      The temporary defeats should still be meaningful, but not destroy engagement in the game. And a subsequent victory after a prior setback can actually be more meaningful. (Note: I’m NOT advocating for contrived defeats). I remember watching a talk by Jordan Peterson where he described a study showing that bigger rats that play with smaller rats will let the smaller rats win occasionally so that the smaller rats don’t simply give up playing altogether. The ratio seemed to be if the smaller rats were allowed to “win” at least 30% of the time, they would remain engaged in play. Hopefully TTRPG players have a resilience to at least match that.

    • Its absolutely still relevant.

      Having played many cooperative board games (with and without the “quarterback” problem) its extremely frustrating when, having spent 20 minutes setting up a game, to realize 3 turns in that a series of bad draws or rolls have made it impossible to for the players to win.

    • If it doesn’t matter who wins, you’re playing without a goal.

      There’s only another encounter coming up if you haven’t lost the adventure yet, and the more encounters you lose, the less likely it should be that you win the adventure.

      Sure, you can always start a next adventure if you lose the current one, but if the party doesn’t care about winning or losing the adventure, you probably haven’t chosen a very good goal.

      • Agreed. The goal of an encounter isn’t just to get to the next encounter, it is to win the current one. The fact that the players can keep playing even if they fail does not mean that it doesn’t matter whether they succeed. Losing sucks, and if a game consisted of one person losing everything, that person would very quickly grow bored. Even in games where the PCs will ultimately “lose,” like Call of Cthulhu, they have victories along the way because some sort of victory is important for engagement. Winning is fun. Losing over and over with the condolence of “at least you get to keep playing” is not fun. So yes, I think having some way for a losing character to turn around into a victory seems important.

  11. One of my favorite inter-player catch-up mechanics in D&D is the experience table, particularly in older editions where the table grew exponentially. I like how it allowed a late joining player or a player who’s character died would only be one level behind the highest level character by the time that character leveled up. It is one of the things that made dual-classing in AD&D so broken though.
    They thinned that out a little in newer editions so I like to throw a lowest level XP bonus out there from time to time.

  12. One example I’ve seen of a very good mechanic that encompasses both catch-up and escalation is the Limit Break system in the Final Fantasy 14. Each player in the party contributes to building up to 3 bars of Limit Break power by just playing (taking, dealing, and healing damage), meaning that longer fights lead to more buildup. Then as long as at least 1 bar is full, anyone can consume the group’s entire limit break supply to use a special power based on their class type and the number of completely filled bars. Damage dealers do a powerful attack, tanks prevent damage to the whole group, and healers restore HP (and even resurrect everyone if all 3 bars are filled). If things start going south, it can be used to suddenly recover and stabilize, and if things are going well, the damage aspect can be used to accelerate the end of the fight.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a similar system for my games, sort of like a group-level inspiration that builds up the longer the party goes without resting. The party builds up points for things like either side scoring a critical hit, a player going to 0hp for the first time since the last rest, completing encounters (success or fail), etc. Then each character has a skill that can they can spend all those built-up points on to heavily swing an encounter or situation in their favor.

    • That reminds me of 4E and the milestone (2 encounters) recharging action points.
      I think that for the sake of ease of tracking you don’t want it to trigger off of too many little actions. Seems like a headache to track. Perhaps just trigger off of critical hits. That’s about 1 per encounter.

  13. I’m currently playing in the deadliest 5e game I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say any of the deaths are unfair, and it’s not a meatgrinder, either – when someone dies, it means we made a mistake. The encounters just tend to be on the difficult/deadly side, with plenty of room for mistakes.

    And what I’ve found is that that style of game *forces* interaction and strategy. A player staring at his phone is a player getting someone killed. We have to constantly be aware of where everyone is, how healthy everyone looks, who is going to be attacked, and what options we have to avoid letting a downed character turn into an attrition death spiral. Incidentally, I think adding greater catch-up mechanics to encounters would ruin that.

    Idk, I think the biggest problem with 5e, in regard to interaction and strategy, is that the encounter-building rules are garbage (not to mention the CR system). It’s just very difficult to toe the line between solitaire-able encounters and meatgrinders. But I’ve seen it done well lol

  14. Well, that just took a turn. And now I need some time to think on things I don’t usually put too much thought in. Which doesn’t usually happen, with Angry’s penchant for actually answering (or intending to answer) the big questions at a speed I can live with .

  15. “And the thing is, I have no advice here because I’m still kind of stunned to realize there’s much less team interaction in TTRPGs than I thought and I have to think this crap through. Damn.”
    What? No way. Maybe you didn’t notice, but your brain did.
    https://theangrygm.com/tweaking-the-core-of-dd-5e/
    Right there in “Working Together”. I am thrilled with what you did for the group checks. One the first mechanics I’ve seen that requires the players to work with each other in 5e D&D. My biggest desire in hacking rules was for more team work and coordinating.
    I’m looking forward to you thinking it through. Even if I have to wait for your own RPG.

  16. A lot of discussion centered on the “come back” game characteristic. I tried to think up the feature in other games- In chess, maybe advancing the pawn. In football, 2 point conversions, on side kicks, and clock management. In Monopoly, it’s more about penalizing the player that is winning- I hate when i’m ahead and draw the “pay maintenance for houses and hotels” card (but it can even out the game very quickly). Anyway, maybe instead of calling this the “come back feature”, it should be called the “come back gambit”- mechanics in the game that allow strategies that players do not normally use, except when they fall behind. For most games, these strategies will reek of desperation, but, at that point, what do you have to lose?

    • Some players might be more willing to take on those strategies than others, and if those come-back strategies are always a group decision it may lead to issues.

      Some classes have options that allow minor “come-back” strategies built in – the key one I can think of is Barbarian, who get Reckless Attack early as part of their core features (can I kill this guy in one turn, or will I end up going down?), and especially Berserkers with their exhaustion mechanic.

      The Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter feats also offer some chance of higher risk/higher reward.

      Some spells will be used more or in different ways in desperate situations – like only being able to cast Fireball in range of an ally in hopes of taking down a dangerous enemy..

      There are plenty of options available that players can use to increase their risks to get more rewards, and they can utilize these more if a come-back strategy is needed. I don’t know if an entire new mechanic needs to be included when there are so many options already available.

  17. I think saying Interaction is an essential component of being a game is over stating it. I’d say it is more of an attribute score that’s level differentiates different types of games, like Competition and Unpredictability. Increasing Interaction does increase engagement.

    I could see why someone from MtG would think this way as MtG is probably one of the most interactive games out there, a 2-player head to head game with response actions. It makes the game super engaging. A truly casual game of MtG is rare.

  18. Does interaction have to be human? is Chess against a human a game, but against a computer not? What about against a lookup table and dice roll? What about against a person who knows the rules, but could never really win against you? What about Fallout 76? Fallout 4? WOW? Baldur’s Gate? Dr. Nim? Basketball? Without Referees? A free throw contest? A free throw contest where you shoot on a regulation basket and publish scores online? what if you don’t publish your score? Those with a Referee? Did you assume that referees aren’t perfect and may make mistakes and interaction with them may affect in game out comes, i.e. they may miss you stepping over a line? The classic card game War (this is probably the least a game here and it has to some degree all 5 features so far)? Casino blackjack? Video Blackjack? Head to Head blackjack? What if both players are strictly following casino dealer play styles?

    These have wildly different levels of interaction, but in common parlance would be termed games.

    Does an AI count? How “stupid” of an AI counts?
    Maybe the AI is just a stand-in for a human adversary and thus has interaction?
    Does the game designer count toward human interaction? That would solve a lot of the computer games or Ai in the rules games above. Though it does include solitaire and every other game designed by man if that is a problem.
    Does a referee?
    Does interaction with a player that follows different rules (i.e. the werewolf in werewolf, or the ghost in )?

    I wonder in team based games is interaction, specifically changing your action based on the action of other player, more likely to be with players on your team or the other team? I would think the other team.

    As a GM is a game designer, referee, adversary stand-in and most importantly player, though with different rules, if other players are interacting with them they are interacting.

    My take away from this is maybe war is actually a cooperative card game against the designer to see how long you can go before you figure out not to play war.

    • “Interaction” as used in the article means “There needs to be some aspect of the game that encourages the players to react to one another” – this isn’t necessarily social interaction so a ‘game engine’ (whether or not sophisticated enough to be “AI”) requires player reaction.

      Interaction means there is something providing pushback that you requires you to adjust your strategy or tactics. Pretty much everything you list has this (except War).

  19. I never post here but often read. The idea of encouraging player interaction is such an incredibly complicated one and it’s something I think about often as a DM. It seems like every group I have played with or DM’d for has been different in this way. I have seen: zero interaction (the “Solitaire” group); very little interaction (usually with a lot of introverts and Some Extroverts); a lot of interaction (Everyone’s Friends and constantly bouncing ideas off of one another); and too much interaction (Constant Conflict). What all of these things tend to have in common is that it is 100% the personality mix of the players and has little to do with the problems the game puts forward, so it requires some emotional intelligence to deal with.

    I’m fine with the Some Extroverts group and the Everyone’s Friends group. However, with the Solitaire group it’s brutal. I’ve found that just throwing encounter after encounter after them so that they’re in a pure state of Reacting To Things (and not at all based on their own goals) is good for building rapport (the downside is that it makes them a little paranoid). Eventually they have so much on their plate that they can’t help but interact with one another. The last group with Constant Conflict I’ve found that usually a single, vexing BBEG can be a great tool for helping them out (though… ugh, it’s just a band-aid really). Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

    But all of these approaches are solidly in your “the DM is a mechanic” territory, I think. The 5e Help mechanic can be of some use, but more often than not it’s just a throwaway line from one player to another for mechanical benefit (like spamming the Guidance cantrip). I’ve found that introducing the occasional 4e-style Skill Challenges can be good, since it’s an activity the group has to make together. Anyway, I’d enjoy reading more thoughts about it.

  20. I wonder how these rules apply to sports games (like football)? Do they have catch-up mechanics? And is this at all related to the discussion of the difference between, say, “combat as sport” (D&D 4th) and “combat as war” (OD&D)?

    I’ve read that in Omnihendron’s “Beat to Quarters” and “Duty and Honour”, the game tries to replicate roleplaying a military unit and, to encourage actual teamwork, the resolution system makes group problem-solving the norm so that, instead of resolving combat or social challenges in multiple rounds, you make a plan and then resolve the whole event at once.

    • I think sports catch-up mechanic is that winning is a season mentality rather than a single game mentality. If you lose one game – even severely – you start afresh in the next game. It is rare for a team to have a perfect season.

      American Football also has a half-time switch that resets the play (not the score) to provide a bit of neutrality.

      Not sure if this is helpful – but spotting the catch-up mechanics in random games could help you improvise your own when needed.

      • The catch-up mechanism in sports is the widespread tendency to put in poor-quality players once a team has established a commanding lead. This is done for the reason any catchup mechanism is, to wit, to keep all players involved until the end. It’s a metagame rule, though, not a written rule.

        Rosewater’s initial point, frequently discussed at Boardgamegeek, is that catchup mechanisms distinguish modern games from older ones. In Monopoly, it’s quite possible to get knocked out early and then spend two hours waiting for your stupid cousins to finish the game.

    • American football has catch-up mechanics. If you watch the last 3 minutes of regulation time in a close game, the teams manipulate the rules to an extreme degree in order to manage time. This plays into the catch-up mentality. The team behind wants to slow the game time down to have a chance to score, while the team ahead wants to push time toward ending the game.

      • And if you look out to beyond the single season the catch up mechanics in pro sport become even more explicit. The best draft picks in many professional sports are given to the teams with the worst records.

    • Football absolutely does. 2 point conversion, onside kicks, etc. Even the Hail Mary is a catch-up mechanic.

      In basketball the 3 pointer was a catch-up mechanic, but is starting to become an integral part of normal gameplay. But you still have the foul and shoot free throws mechanic.

      Sure you can use them anytime, but they are mostly employed when behind and near the end game.

  21. Out of all these, the point of interaction fascinates me the most. I’ve been thinking about it all day since I read this article.
    I think an article on the second five Things a Game Needs would be interesting… but an article specifically on interaction, when you have gathered thoughts on it, would be even more interesting.

    In the vein of Mark Rosewater on game design, you may also be interested in his talk on lessons learned from Magic the Gathering at Game Developers Conference 2016: https://youtu.be/QHHg99hwQGY

  22. Count me in as another reader who’d enjoy seeing your thoughts about the rest of Rosewater’s list. I also appreciate that this time you linked to what you were responding to. As someone who’s not really involved with Gaming on the Internetz, I appreciate that. I sometimes feel as though you’re in a conversation and I can’t hear the other side.

  23. Maybe it’s not a new point, but in TTRPG’s each encounter could be seen as its own game.

    Generally, each substructure (i.e. type of scene/encounter/game available for play) all connects to a core structure (where the ‘connecting cord’ is your character stats.. usually).

    Perhaps by treating each session as a series of separate but related games that affect each others outcome (or rather, affect the starting situation of the next game) GM’s would have a clearer focus on how to use these game design principles.

    • Any game of sufficient complexity will contain mini-games and occur within a meta-game environment. It’s turtles all the way down. Ideally one wants all of those games that can be fun to be engaging(have the elements we are taking about) and all ones that can’t be fun to be trivially fast(coin flip). Their is then a utilitarianism factor in there for distributing engagement across all the players. And a subjective element of what does fun mean for different players.

  24. In my humble opinion, regarding the point 3 “Interaction”, I’ve used your Popcorn initiative. That game mechanic made the players cooperate a little more and, sometimes, even a resemblance of teamwork arose between some members of the party.

    Why? Well, they really NEED to pay attention in combat in order to do something with the help of other player. It’s feel diferent when a cleric bless your weapon and toss you the coin of the initiative for you, and you catch it in mid air to smash the head of the evil orc threatening you. Asking and giving the marker of the initiative its quite “interactive”.

  25. I would love to see an article on the next five topics. As a newly made GM myself, I’m currently only doing pre-made adventures that I thinker a little bit. Eventually I will be more designing than recycling, so the more I know and judge the ingredients to a nice game, the better. Plus, I just love to read you dear Angry GM. Sorry for the bad english, je parle surtout français.

  26. Personally, I would much prefer an article on how to add interaction to the game than getting a second part to this article. When I just started playing, everyone was really excited and paying attention, but over time people started checking out as they didn’t have anything to contribute while the spotlight was on a different character.

  27. “So, interaction falls to the GM to bring to the table. And the thing is, I have no advice here because I’m still kind of stunned to realize there’s much less team interaction in TTRPGs than I thought and I have to think this crap through. Damn.”

    Damn indeed. You’ve given much food for thought and several of your readers will try to crack the puzzle. Still, someone productive and brilliant should probably write an article sometime about the types of player interaction, interaction and engagement, and some the possible ways increase it in the various elements of the game.

  28. While I think another article about the rest of Rosewater’s list would be nice, I’d much rather see a deeper exploration of adventure-level narrative mechanics – either ones from other games you like or dislike, or some you’ve built for yourself, Angry.

    I went looking for catch-up mechanics and inertia in Starcraft II (multiplayer, obviously). The inertia of the game is pretty straightforward: the player who builds the biggest army, and supports it by gathering the most resources the fastest, will always win, all things being equal. One grandmaster opined that one could ignore strategy altogether, focusing exclusively on macro – resource gathering and production maximization – and micro – controlling one’s units effectively in battle – and get to a platinum or diamond rank before reaching a plateau.

    Catch-up stories always seem to come from the player in a weaker position exploiting one of their few advantages over the stronger to inflict setbacks and equalize. “When behind: Dark Shrine!” was a meme for a good reason: a few invisible units placed somewhere the opponent isn’t ready can do great damage either to a worker line or to a distracted army, and on the other hand one priority of a leading player is to produce enough detector units and buildings to stifle that strategy. Fixed defences like bunkers and photon cannons can allow a weaker force to withstand a stronger force (which is what real-life fortifications are for, too), but sacrifice mobility to do so – creating a weakness in the hope of eliminating a more pressing one. I believe Starcraft was so successful because the extreme variances between its different factions creates many, many imbalances that can be turned into catch-up opportunities, and one reason mirror matchups are so tough (and, frequently, boring) is because those imbalances aren’t there: a small early advantage much more often snowballs into a straightforward victory. The very common phenomenon whereby in Terran vs Terran matches, one player builds biological units, and the other mechanical units, probably stems from trailing players looking to introduce more imbalances by choosing a different army composition to their opponent.

  29. How does all of this apply to the GM as a player, not just a game mechanic? What is the GM’s goal? With “Rule Zero” sometimes explicitly being a thing, what rules is a GM constrained by?

    You’ve often said the GM is a player, too, but I think that existing systems do little to support that. And the absence of an explicit GM goal would be a big part of that.

  30. So, we are looking towards making the PCs dependent on each other, right? That’s what you’re thinking of working into your own RPG? There isn’t a better way to force players to actually pay attention to each other, strategise and interact. Seeing D&D from this new perspective, of knowing the importance of interaction, D&D feels like it went for the solo game style because it wanted every character to feel important, and to make the characters independent enough that any party combination could function well enough. Any combination of classes and races work, to the point that every combination of classes and races feels the same. Wizards don’t really need fighters, nor does a team really need a cleric, as every base in almost fully covered by every other class.

    We need classes that have holes in their abilities that can only be filled by other classes. Or, if we were to break out of thinking just in terms of “classes”, we need the character creation system to present ways to make characters that are themselves gambles; characters that have risks in exchange for rewards, in terms of how their abilities and stats fit together. The players will build a team that fits together intricately and satisfyingly without actively realizing they are doing so under such a system. They will naturally aim to make the strongest team they can, and automatically balance risk/reward with reliability. Of course, interdependence presents the risk of a death spiral if one member cannot join the interaction, so again, its a balancing act.

    • Despite its numerous flaws, this is what 1e tried to do, often explicitly. Players complained about demi-human level caps, waiting forever to be a good mage, not being a big deal as an 18th level fighter, clerics who couldn’t wear swords, etc. So away they went.

      • As someone that has only played ever 5th edition, I’m not sure that’s what was meant.

        The restrictions you listed sound kinda arbitrary. Why can’t clerics use swords? Was there a big mechanical difference between maces & swords and this was done to make the fighter better?
        Leveling up is a big part of the game experience and restricting those levels because you’re an elf doesn’t increase player interaction options. My impression of 1st edition has always been that there are a lot of flaws because it was literally the 1st ttrpg ever and no one really knew what they were doing.

        Probably a closer thing would be the class roles in 4th edition built on the classic wizard, fighter, rogue & cleric party. But even then, that wouldn’t really push player’s to interact with each other.

        Based on video games, my 1st thoughts would be things like players combining their attacks like in chrono trigger or players setting up attacks for each other like in some other game that I can’t remember.

        From 5th edition, my only ideas are the shield combat style that allows you to protect an ally or the paladin’s aura.

        • There is quite a bit of “we didn’t know what we were doing” in those early editions. Nonetheless, the balancing I mention was one of the more effective rules attempts. 1e demi-humans are better than humans, no two ways about it. They start with a pile of directly useful bonuses in an environment that tends to kill a LOT more characters. So they had class and level limits to balance this.

          Maces were generally not as good as swords–did less damage, were less frequently magic. This was relatively minor; the main restriction was the cleric’s attack table, which was worse than the fighter’s. The old-school cleric was often “utility”–kinda good at a range of things. Spells not as good as a wizard’s, attacks not as good as a fighter’s. While there were no direct thief abilities, a clever cleric would notice that a lot of his low-level spells were very helpful to rogueish activities…detect lies, open locked stuff, find the way to treasure, etc.

          The real issue is that TTRPGs have got it backwards. The “party roles” come from videogames…and those roles *are designed to get past the inherent limitations of a videogame*. Videogames suck at drama, emergent gameplay, roleplaying…all very basic stuff for even an unskilled human who has ever seen a TV show and knows how to talk. So instead videogames have intricate crunch systems, or doubling down on what videogames do well (juggling numbers, mostly, and getting rid of the need for others in order to play). In turn, people have mistaken this *limitation* for *what the TTRPG should be like*, mostly because roleplaying has changed so much from its origins.

          The fundamental truth is that you *can’t* game like we used to, not anymore. Nobody has time and there are too many other things to do, plus you don’t know enough people. You can’t make a successful product based on that. It’s a lot easier to give them a simple videogame model and let them run with it.

          • But what I’m saying is that these sorts of limitations in 1e don’t seem like something that would increase player interaction. The fighter being better in a fight than the cleric is still a thing in the game. Clerics being allowed to use swords didn’t reduce the amount of interaction between a cleric and a fighter in the middle of a fight. The elf starting off stronger and not being able to level past a certain point doesn’t really encourage party interaction in combat.

            That’s the issue as I understood it from the article. That the core element of dnd, combat, doesn’t really push the players to interact with each other except in terms of indirect means like the fighter getting in the way of the monster and the wizard.

            Party roles in dnd are based on the idea that everyone has specializations that allow them to shine alone. Probably to focus on the main point of interaction between the GM and the player. But this reduces player-player interactions during combat to things you’d see in video games and it’s been like that since the beginning. Which is a shame, as, like you said, that means that dnd is really ignoring one of its biggest strengths over the average video game.

            To summarize, outside of healing and buffing spells, how do the players directly interact with each other during combat is how the question seemed framed to me.

          • The idea that the main interaction unit is combat is part of what I am talking about.
            Good 1e games (and plenty of em sucked!) tended to foster interaction via making class differences much sharper, forcing players to rely on each other more…if you needed a wall climbed, you needed a thief. Nobody else COULD. Or you needed a clever group solution. No rolls, but stuff like rope and a human pyramid. Once a fight broke out, you had a lot more practice interacting and often defaulted to group cooperation to solve the problem. Tended to be a virtuous circle kind of thing.

            The layer of rules in games after 1e erodes this kind of freewheeling approach. It is all about tradeoffs, though, in any RPG. You just need to keep in mind that you’re giving up a lot no matter what choice you make.

    • Just had a thought, wasn’t the warlord class in 4th edition all about interacting with other players? Maybe that’s why there are so many people that want the class to come back.

  31. Please do a part two, then come back later to do a version 2 for all. It would then be as good as your second take on ‘types of players’, which is a genuine classic of insight and usability that really turned my DMing approach around for the better especially as i have had six or seven core players over the years all of whom have very different prime motivators for what’s most enjoyable.
    p.s. Monopoly is a great example of a deeply flawed game, once you get ahead its just a grind to the end where only one person is having fun. There’s a valuable lesson there!

  32. Do the two.

    You may think you only have something to say about seven. But something special often happens once you get rolling.

    The problem with asking us the readers is we don’t have an “as opposed to what.” Do the two OR finish another article in a series? OR start a new simpler MDM? There’s no cost for us to say to you, “Do the two.”

    RE: Player interaction in combat. Huh. I never saw this as a problem until you pointed it out. Maybe they don’t have time to interact because they are too busy reacting.

    I’ve been fiddling with player interaction without knowing that was a goal. I’ve made combat pacing a priority. I make the monster’s turn very short. The fight is decided in the first three rounds, and mopping up slows the session. The players don’t get phone time if I can help it, because combat is scary, quick, brutal, and fast, and their turn is coming up soon. Yes, this means I’m not following all rules as written or intended. But it makes fights exciting, sorta like Arthur’s knights vs the vorpal bunny. That’s the emotional intensity I want the players to feel in everything they do.

  33. So, D&D (and I guess every other RPG) is not a game itself, but a level editor. Like the DCK for the original Doom, Super Mario Maker, the creative modes of minecraft or little big planet. It hands you the sprites, textures, and interaction mechanics, but nothing more. Or like having the chess pieces and rules for movement, but no goal, not initial setup, whatever, and it’s our turn to create a gaming experience from that.

  34. There is a ton of interaction built into ttrpgs. It is the interaction between the GM and the players. Both are constantly reacting to each other. I believe this would qualify under Rosewater’s requirement for interaction.

  35. On catch up mechanics:

    D&D 3.5 had one optional mechanic in it that facilitates this at the macro, campaign scale – the Victory Points system out of Heroes of Battle, which was used probably to its best effect in the Red Hand of Doom module. In essence, the players gain X number of points from killing Y enemy, there being a significant number of Y enemies, and there is total Z which has to be reached in order to win the game. If you fail to kill Y1 because he ran away too fast, Y2 is still available to make up Y1’s missed points.

    The way Red Hand of Doom is structured, you’ve got three or four major encounter areas, and each of the dragons and generals in the titular Red Hand is worth a certain number of victory points. There are also minor objectives – recruit this group, pay off these guys, have this group perform a suicide mission, convince the NPC leaders not to engage in really stupid siege tactics – that are also worth points towards that total. If you truly mess up an area, there’s enough fat in the available points across the entire adventure to make up the balance. Essentially you’re acting as a guerrilla squad hamstringing the enemy army’s most powerful assets, which pays off in the (near) climax of the campaign where it comes down to a siege of the NPC castle and the players face off against the head of the Red Hand. If you succeed at killing the head, then the DM counts up all your victory points. Get past a certain number, and the Red Hand disintegrates due to the crushing blow to morale you and your mischievous friends have been inflicting on it for weeks. Don’t get past the number, and it still goes on to win anyway.

    Red Hand of Doom has its problems like most other modules, but the way it does victory points isn’t one of them. You earn as many VPs for diplomatic solutions as you do blood-soaked ones, you get more than one shot at a general if you miss him on first encounter with him. The numbers hit the right balance between not awarding too many VPs for one encounter but also still being granular enough to truly be able to make up the difference on later encounters if you fail earlier ones.

    • P.S.: It had its own nearly-explicit catch-up mechanic, too: if you didn’t have the required number of Victory Points when you took out the head of the Red Hand, the game gave you 1d4 hours to run around madly trying to kill off any generals who might be left around and thereby get you over the points line. Again, this wasn’t a ‘never fail’ function – there remained the possibility of not getting the VP total, and I’ve seen campaigns where they failed hideously at doing so – but it certainly would qualify as a catch-up function at the campaign level.

  36. And I’m double posting here I know, but to go into the issue of interaction:

    I wonder whether the lack of interactivity as such in D&D comes down to the fact that there isn’t a lot of friendly fire. Or more specifically, there aren’t a lot of actions you take which specifically are at a cost to the other members of your party, there isn’t a lot of cost-benefit analysis needed for pulling out the Fireball spell so long as you count the number of squares accurately and make sure your meatshield buddy isn’t in the blast radius.

    To digress a moment: take the board game Settlers of Catan, which I’ve had the delight of getting into with my kids. The board game’s interaction mechanic comes from three areas: one, you can build your roads to hem in other players, which causes a reaction; two, you can at certain moments assign a robber to rip assets off another player; and three, you can openly trade types of assets with other players: wheat for wood, ore for wool, and so on. It’s this last aspect of play that probably most grounds the interactivity, because it requires you to make a cost-benefit analysis: do I give this person I am opposed to an asset they want if I get what I want, and is it going to lead long term to me winning the game?

    Suppose in D&D you had a mechanic that the wizard could pull out a spell which would cut every enemy’s hitpoints by 30%, but which would also nerf your meatshields’ AC by 50% or more for the remainder of the fight? Conversely, what if the fighter could draw on some power that boosted his attack rolls by 50% but which took out the spellcaster’s ability to cast spells for X number of rounds?

    I mean, I’m throwing numbers around here, but I’ve no doubt somebody more mathematically talented than me could easily find a range at which people would actually need to carefully weigh the alternatives. Would one not have a lot more interaction amongst the players in that scenario – where one person’s actions in combat actually will affect the status of other players in meaningful ways?

  37. So, the two main points to address are player interaction and strategy and I feel like there is connexion between the two.

    I can already tell that improving the difficulty is not going to help (I’ve tried it).

    In the version version of my own RPG, the PC had some time a the start of each round to discuss their strategy for the upcoming round. It adds interaction between the players but you lose a lot in dynamism and realism.

    You could also invite the players to discuss their general strategy at the start of an adventure if they’re not used to playing together. You could also let them discuss after an encounter about what they should do next time they encounter the same enemy. All that brings up problems that have been discussed about one of them having THE solution and everyone else becoming a pawn that throws dices.
    I’m not sure that there is ideal answer but maybe their are different possibilities that could be discussed with pros and cons.

    Maybe you shouldn’t do an article about the 5 last points unless something really interesting comes up and just think about these 2 and drop an article or as many as required on them.

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