On Banishing the Design Demon and Having a Cup of Tea

So I have gotten a lot of questions about this and this method. Here is a FAQ.

Hey, this series is a little like. . .

Yes. The Quantum Ogre is about agency for players. How to respond to them without shutting them down.

This is about design, and how design can influence creating agency heavy play. How to free yourself from the burden of 'making things realistic' as a design goal, and making your game more fun for the people involved.

I would rather have a balance between verisimilitude and a playable game.

You are right! It's good not one thing I suggested would create a game that doesn't maintain verisimilitude. No option when used as presented would cause problems with suspension of disbelief, unless you are astoundingly uncreative and unoriginal. I don't think it is likely that would be true if you're playing Dungeons & Dragons or even role-playing at all! If it is true and you are really that uncreative and original you have bigger problems then this series of articles. But you are too frigging metal for that!

But you said that you weren't interested in simulating reality!

That's right! But even if I totally ignore that goal, it still happens, because that isn't the responsibility of the Dungeon Master!

Things making sense, coming together, and immersion occur in the minds of the players. My responsibility in the role of Dungeon master is to engage all the players by creating environments that are filled with interesting choices. I'm not interested in it, because I don't need to be for it to happen.

But why ignore it as a goal?

Because if you make it a goal, you end up doing crappy things to your players.

You convince yourself that you must do things in order to make your game more realistic. Then when you do them, you make your game less fun. Otherwise I would never hear things like "searching empty rooms becomes tedious."

The rules are a method to give us guidelines for simulation, that's what gives us interesting choice.

Sure that's one way of looking at it. It's certainly possible that it results in interesting choice. However if you decide that your primary concern is simulation, you are guaranteeing sooner or later (hint: it's sooner) that you will be spending time on things that don't provide interesting choices.

Make interesting choices the design goal and by design, you will never spend any time making things that are boring and without choices that have interesting and significant consequences.

So every encounter must be interesting and related to the players?

Absolutely not! the whole point is to create variety in encounters so that interest is maintained.

Often this means you design nothing to happen.

Does avoiding mother may I mean that players always succeed at anything they try?

This has to do with table style of play. My players never ask for permission to do anything, nor do they ever have to wonder what might happen if they take an action.

I give options and either their likely outcomes or what resolution we will use for an outcome. If something unexpected comes up, we talk about it as a table. This falls under techniques to increase agency in play.

Doesn't this take a long time? How are players supposed to search everything?

I would say that this process is certainly longer then simply rolling a die. Considering it is actually what game-play consists of and the most entertaining part of play, then I would say the fact that it takes a long time is a positive thing.

I am curious why people think players should search everything. There is no pre-determined outcome and no reason the players are entitled to find everything. If they get bored of searching or are upset because they are triggering traps, then let them know that they are free to choose to do something else.

If they are complaining of boredom, look first to your design, then to their choices.

But if you design every encounter, you're destroying the greatest strength of Role Playing Games! Players able to do creative things to solve problems.

Why? What about creating deliberate interesting choices prevents the players from coming up with new creative ideas?

You gave examples of rolling for finding traps and searching. I thought you were against that?

I'm against rolls that eliminate interesting game play and increase tedium.

This is the 'end' of the Design Demon series. Further questions will be added to those above.


  1. Maybe I can sum up the philosophy this way: if you see boredom at the table, empower yourself to break it. If X becomes not fun any more, avoid it. If the players have a goal and not-fun is in the way, offer an alternative with fun (it can also have costs and danger). Is that a fair summation?

  2. While playing video games, I feel the compulsion to search everything because I know the best items are the most well-hidden, usually one-of-a-kind, and often only available during a limited time frame. What I miss about tabletop role playing is knowing that anything I miss can be found somewhere else, and often the treasure isn't even rolled-up until the horde is located.

  3. "My players never ask for permission to do anything, nor do they ever have to wonder what might happen if they take an action. "

    I still need help understanding this. Here's the way things happen at my table.

    PC: "Can I use this tablecloth to blind the ogre?"
    DM: "Sure, roll a climb check to get up him, and a dexterity check to tie it in a blindfold. That will give him -4 to hit."

    If the players don't ask you, how does that situation turn out at your table? I can only see three options:

    1.The players already instinctively know how you would adress the tablecloth trick, either because you've been playing together so long or because you're enmeshed in a psychic mind-net.
    2. Your players would never do anything outside the pre-agreed rules. (This seems obviously ridiculous).
    3. The players ask The Table how that situation should be resolved, instead of asking you specifically. That still seems like Mother-may-I, but maybe that's what you mean.

    1. Hey Jack,
      Good question.

      They don't have to ask permission. Of course they can use the tablecloth to blind the ogre. If they have a tablecloth, and there is an ogre. . .

      Now, as to how that works? I don't decide that. Either the rules do, or if it's a new thing, I suggest something. I then ask if that thing seems reasonable. We talk about balancing it against repeated implementation, abuse, etc. Then they agree to the proposal and we move forward.

      That is how it works at the table. This next part is very key:
      The players have agency.
      Which means they know the consequences (or the possible consequences) of any action they take before they take it.

      Nobody ever does anything without being told either what will happen, what is likely to happen, or they don't know what will happen but here is how you find out more information.

      It is not semantical. They are literally not asking for permission. They are saying, "If I try to blind the ogre, how will we resolve this?"

      They obviously are not reading minds, nor staying within perscribed rules. They are also not asking me or the table exactly if they can do something. They are asking me and the shared responsability of those people playing the game what will happen when they do something. The second is not asking permission, nor mother-may-I.

      It's asking about consequences of choices. Not asking for leave of action.


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