What do you want out of a night of gaming?

Telecanter posted the following on his manifesto on what the OSR means to him.

My “system” is better thought of as my goals for a night of D&D and how I go about trying to do that. Rules are just part of the equation.

In the end, this blog and designing an RPG system is getting to exactly this.  What are your goals for a night of gaming?  The next question is, what are the activities that you enjoy that let you arrive at those goals?

Let me summarize a few of my own goals and how I try to arrive at them.

Player Emotion

I like to see players emote.  I like to see them nervous, and I like to see them triumphant.  I like to see them laugh at the comedy of a situation, and feel something like fear in the face of their character’s death.  How do you get emotion at the table?  You have to build a culture where the players buy into the game, and are willing to immerse themselves in their characters and the choices they make.  I have to construct situations that matter to them and their characters.  Rewards should come fought tooth and nail, so that there is drama which helps build that emotional buy in.  I enjoy the shared experience that comes from the roller-coaster the dice can lead us on.


I love to see players solve problems in interesting ways.  I hate when I set up an evening’s game, and then realize the players can just walk right over the conflict because of some uber-magic-item or spell that trivializes the challenge.  On the other hand, mixing things together in unexpected ways, talking to unexpected people, and otherwise problem-solving your way to success – that I really enjoy.  Alexis is right when he says, in his post on How to Play, that the GM secretly wants to see the players succeed.  The GM just can’t let that on at the table – has to make it as damn difficult and rewarding to succeed as possible.  But ingenuity by the players is a big reason I like to come to the table.

World Building

Most GMs enjoy this to some extent – it’s part of why we’re running a game in the first place. We like to see a world come alive.  I want the players to explore that world damn it!  I want the players to invest with me in the world, and make their characters a part of that world.  It’s the shared experience of story-telling, and if the players aren’t engaging, then the story gets stale.  It’s my story, and I just decide where it goes and how it ends.  This is dull.  I want the players to be driving things.  Make things happen!  We’re not stuck in our lives, with responsibilities and work and a fear of failure!  I want to build a world, and yes I enjoy that in and of itself, but I really want to see how other people react in that world.


I like to add some challenging situations, although I worry about them sometimes.  I don’t want to present a game where no matter what you do, “you can’t win.”  On the other hand, I won’t want to ask the players to simply make a decision between good and evil.  I like to see how each person thinks about these situations, using their own mind, and find out what they would do if they were in that situation.  Or, I suppose to be more accurate, what they think they would do, if they were their character in that situation.  I wonder what the world would be like if the great heroes were like us, like the people who I enjoy spending time around the table with.  How would we do better?  Mess things up?  What does this mean about right and wrong?

Okay, enough of my thoughts.  While I run the game, and participate in everything you do, I’m coming from a different perspective than the players.  What is it that you like doing at the table?  This could be as simple as enjoying the threat and tactical nuance of combats, to exploring what the world would be like if you were pulling the strings, to role-playing a character very different from yourself, etc.

6 thoughts on “What do you want out of a night of gaming?

  1. Brian

    One of my favorite things to do is finding creative ways of solving problems…Not necessarily the best way – but fun and character driven being the more important aspects. Got a giant black pudding in a well that you want to lure out? Why not tie a carcass to a rope and go “crabbing”. Crow eat your eyeball? Jam a spare wyvern eye in there and keep going.

    I enjoy the intrigue, the suspense and the exploration of the unknown as well as memorable character interactions. The subtle hints doted out by a great DM during the game really make for an awesome evening. I’m not sure how you codify this into a game though – as so much of it depends on a quality DM being able to bring the story alive with a group of very different minded individuals.

    Why do I game? Its more about spending memorable time with my friends than anything else really. I often say that playing games isn’t about the game itself, but serves as a platform for me to hang out with people I care about while giving my brain a little creative exercise.

    Killing bad guys is fun too…

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I feel like the game platform has to contribute, or else would could be sitting around collaborative story telling, or rolling a d6 for everything, or playing a board game. And of course, we could be doing those things, and we might be having lots of fun, but all things being equal, I think we’d all prefer something a bit more complicated and interesting.

      Player and GM skill is another issue entirely, and one I may write a little bit more about. I could improve quite a bit as a GM, but I have enough practice to get by relatively well. People talk about great GMs, but there’s skill to being a good player as well, and I’m not talking about remembering the range of a spell.

  2. Brian

    This is true..

    Emotionally: I want a game that tugs on my heartstrings. I want to be attached to my character, characters around me and the world in general. My characters are my children, there are many like her but this one is mine. I want to see my character grow in response to the world around her, to experience a fulfilling life…complete with a full range of emotions. The sorrow of a loss, the happiness and joy of “rewards” and the thrill of danger and excitement. The more I can lose myself within the game the better.

    Ingenuity: I want a challenge – something that can be provided by a RPG much better than any system constrained by strict rules or programming. Challenges need to be flexible and rewarding. I like to attempt clever solutions to problems when at all possible and when those parts of my brain are firing on all cylinders.

    The way you go about something should have other consequences and those should be reflected in the world around our characters and/or in the reward received. This could be something like the positive/negative karma of fallout, various levels of monetary reward or experience, faction popularity etc… Creativity and ingenuity should be encouraged by the game and rewarded.

    World Building: while I think I’ve touched on this above I want to be sure to get this across – I want my character and their actions to matter in the world. If we save your town from a giant owlbear attack…maybe you should throw us a damn parade or something. I mean I’m not saying I want to be worshipped as a hero (unless that is what my character wants), but it is very important for the game to recognize the ongoing trials and tribulations of the characters. A rich, detailed, interactive world is one that keeps me coming back for more.

    Introspection: I certainly spend time looking through the eyes of my character and trying to figure out what she might be thinking at any given time. A game that gives you opportunities to really delve into your characters soul is much more rewarding than one that simply assigns stats and numbers. To achieve this I think it is best to give players truly gut wrenching decisions – put them in perilous situations with seemingly no way out. You mentioned that you don’t like to put players in no win situations – but sometimes this is ok and, from time to time, necessary as a reality check to the players. There are times in Pathfinder where I should be afraid for my character but I’m not…because a resurrection spell is just around the corner. This takes me out of my characters head and puts me back into Brian the player meta gaming because he knows his friends will scoop up my remains and have me revived if I so desire.

    I know death and magic have been touched upon and I think it is good that the concept of death will be more than just an idea but a permanent.

  3. connorbros

    I love the level of introspection in this post in general. I think being a good GM ultimately means understanding what you want out of the game as much as understanding what your players want. I’ve had the recent realization that I think what I want and what my players want (whether they know it or not) is often at odds, and I need to take steps to make it work.

    For what it’s worth, I pretty much agree with you on all points, personally. If I can get all of these elements at the game table, while still creating an experience that players come back for and enjoy, that would simply be the best RPG experience of all (and pursuing it is why I still act as GM amidst an otherwise busy life!).


    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      This was actually one of my favorite posts to write, because I felt like I managed to actually communicate why I play the game – which sometimes feels trivial in the face of life. There is a lot of complexity in this question, and as you can see in some later posts, I’m starting to cherish time at the table a little bit more, and I’m trying to better understand what everyone wants so that we can enjoy as much of it as possible.


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