Ethics of Motivation


I want to wrap up my month on motivation by talking about the ethics of motivation. After all, creating and using these tools to motivate the players is essentially manipulating them to do what you want, which could be railroading by another name. As someone who has staunchly defended respecting players’ autonomy, how can I get behind this? I’ve touched on it briefly here and there, but now it’s time to really dig into how to use these motivations ethically.  Read more

Heroic Motivations

Mr. Terrific, the worst named superhero. But awesome.

I’m starting to wrap up my month on motivation here, but wanted to spend some time on what’s probably the most common and most overlooked motivation for characters to get involved with adventures, and that’s simply by virtue of being heroes. Even in a non-heroic game, being a good person will provide worlds of motivation to interact with the characters and events in the setting. I always recommend it to new players, because it provides a simple reason for them to get involved.  Read more

Motivation Lightning Round

Inigo Montoya

So I’ve talked about reward and punishment as motivators, as well as requests and orders, but there are lots of other things which can motivate people to crawl down dark holes full of monsters or hang from a cargo plane while shooting at nazis. Here’s eight of them, for your perusal.  Read more

Asking and Telling, TPK edition

This may not be effective.

In keeping with the theme of motivation, and adventure hooks, I want to talk about the approach, specifically about the difference between asking and telling. I talked about this almost a year ago on Concept Crucible, my philosophy blog, but it’s worth talking about here too. When the actual hook part comes around, there’s only two approaches you can take. You can ask, or you can tell. Today I’ll dig into the difference between them, and the virtues of both.  Read more

Who Are You Motivating?


A lot of GMing is about motivating people. Players and characters are looking for reasons to undertake actions, and while some of these are going to be reasons they create themselves,   other ones will be created by the GM. Often, this motivation takes the form of the bait for an adventure hook, and involves the promise of a reward or the threat of a penalty. Today I want to look at what makes rewards and penalties meaningful, and more importantly, at who you’re motivating when you offer one thing over another. The first rule of sales is know your audience, and it’s no different in gaming.  Read more


Ray gun grandma

I talk a lot about how creating tension is good for a game, but don’t really talk about what that means. Today I want to take the time to talk a bit about what tension is, when it’s a good thing, when it isn’t, and why it’s a valuable part of any gaming experience. Read more


The Tomb of Horrors is one of the first D&D adventures, from Origins 1975.

Adventure modules have been a mainstay of roleplaying games since the beginning, but often get the short end of the stick. An important part of any system’s business plan, they allow designers to expand on and create ready to run adventures in a setting, and give the company a means of income that doesn’t rely on producing more sourcebooks (and thus more rules). But almost none of the groups I’ve played with use them, and I get the sense that’s more and more often the case. People are creating their own adventures, which is awesome, but I think there’s a lot of merit to modules.  Read more

Criminal Ties


Secret Seeds

Today’s post is a little later than I’d like, but I’m still a little dead from the 21 hour Kalamazoo day. I forgot how crazy conferences can be, but I had a great time. For a roundup on that, you can check out my upcoming post at But you’re not here for that, you’re here for secrets. I had so many ideas that I thought I’d do something a little different, by picking a single theme and coming up with ten secret ideas around it. Even then it wound up being so long that I had to split it into two parts. But here we go, five secrets that have to do with having criminal ties.  Read more

Using Secrets


So last week I talked about the different kinds of secrets that can exist in a roleplaying game, and it’s time to move on to some ways you can incorporate secrets, along with some examples of games I’ve played that do it in some really interesting ways. The goal is to use secrets to increase tension and create conflict, because those things are essential to interesting drama, so when creating a secret or working with players on their secrets, the important question to ask is “How will this create tension?” A secret desire for broccoli probably isn’t going to be very interesting, unless broccoli is sacred to the gods and eating it is heresy. Also, I am hungry. Anyway, secrets! Read more



After a discussion with Dave G about the merits of online gaming using Google Hangouts or Gametable vs. gaming around a table in person, one of the things I kept touching on was the value of being able to pass information to players without the other players noticing. In online formats, this is easily done with private messages, but around the table, unless everyone is using laptops, you have to pass notes. Regardless of format though, secrets and other forms of hidden information can be a great tool for creating tension. Today I want to talk about the three major kinds of secrets, which I want to define by the three kinds of relationships in roleplaying games.  Read more

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