What Makes a Good Role-Playing Session (for me)?

My default mode is critical pessimism; I’m working on that. In reviewing my blog posts, I am critical of game sessions.

So I decided to flip it and reflect on what makes a good role-playing game session (for me)?

A good RPG session requires a good group of players.

Good players are:

  • Generous
  • Respectful
  • Trustworthy
  • Curious
  • Invested
  • Active

This is the foundation. With a good group of players, most game sessions are good game sessions, even Fate.

It is one of the reasons I enjoy Games on Demand at GenCon and Origins; the GMs are invested, excited, and ready to facilitate their games.

In the case of a one-shot session, this is adequate. But for extended play, I need more. I need meaningful situations.

Meaningful Situations

At its very basic, do the character’s actions impact the fictional state of the world? Flipping this around, does the fictional changes of the world impact the characters?

Is the GM presenting situations that challenge the other players? And are the players attempting to advance their character’s agenda through overcoming challenges presented by the GM?

A key ingredient for meaningful situations is that risky ventures may pay huge dividends or bring about disastrous failure. Which asks what is at risk? What is there to gained?

  • Fictional advancement
  • Laughter and enjoyment
  • Mechanical advancement
  • System mastery

Fictional advancement, laughter, and enjoyment are not dependent on the rules. Though random tables and results can add a lot to the enjoyment as they give unexpected responses.

The other two bullet points – mechanical advancement and system mastery – are game system rewards.

Game System Rewards

In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, characters gain most of their XP (and mechanical advancement – through gaining treasure. Conflict was dangerous and yielded little XP compared to treasure.

Domain rules become a natural extension of ever-growing wealth.

In more recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons, the characters gain most of their XP through combat.

Meaningful Rewards

Even though the most efficient method to gain XP is via treasure, the older editions have procedures that push the characters towards conflict. In this tension I see an elegant reward system.

Players that master this concept see combat avoidance as the best path. Anything that can end a combat is superior than engaging in a war of attrition:

  • Swingy spells (save or die)
  • Negotiation and forming alliances
  • Hirelings and Henchman to absorb failed efforts
  • Stealth and subterfuge

Yet through this all, the system increases character combat efficacy. And challenges the player’s humility regarding their characters; Why not fight, we’re strong enough?

One quick method is to apply Jared Sorenson’s 3 Questions to the rules:

  • What is your game about?
  • How does it go about that?
  • What behaviors does it reward and/or encourage?

In the case of older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, the answers revolve around exploration. In newer editions, it seems to revolve around combat.


I’m particular about my games; I want to enjoy my game sessions. They are a major time commitment. Both the group and system should cleave close to my ideal. A game of pure combat loses its luster.

My ideal answers to Jared Sorenson’s questions are:

What is your game about?

Exploration of a rich world, where characters can pursue personal agendas as well as play to find out.

How does it go about that?

Shared development of a rich world that challenges the characters.

What behaviors does it reward and/or encourage?

That which makes a good player:

  • Generous
  • Respectful
  • Trustworthy
  • Curious
  • Invested
  • Active

Open Game License

Mechanic Name: Open Game License

System: Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

Summary: A legal document that allows for publishes to declare what is their intellectual property and what they are releasing as open game content.


The Open Game License (OGL) was created by Wizards of the Coast to allow their game material to be referenced and enhanced by third party content publishers. The general idea being that Wizards of the Coast defined certain elements of their Dungeons and Dragons rules system as “open game content.” With that definition, anyone else, by adhering to the Open Game License, could reproduce or modify  open game content, even if they publish that content for a profit.

To provide incentive for other publishers, the Open Game License allows the publisher to define what is open game content and what is product identity; Often times product identity is proper nouns, story, and themes (i.e. the “creative” aspect of the published content). Product identity could not be reproduced in any fashion by other publishers using the Open Game License. So there was a tremendous incentive to use the license. The result was an explosion in role-playing game offerings.

One of the requirements is that a publisher using the open gaming license must include a copy of the license. The publisher must also update the copyright notice of the license to include the exact text of all of the OGL copyright notices of all sources that they are copying, modifying, or distributing.

What I Like About It

Oddly enough, when I buy books, I really enjoy looking to see if there is a copy of Open Gaming License; If one is present, I look at the updated copyright notice to see the rules systems that contributed and influenced the making of the book in hand.

I also truly appreciate that Ryan Dancey, the man who spearheaded the OGL, fought to make available, forever and ever, the engine behind an extremely popular and successful game system (Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition). It is a system that is available for the people to use and modify, so long as they adhere to the legal requirements of the Open Gaming License.

Ultimately, this license grants a level of freedom to use open game content from any source, without fear of legal retaliation; It gives protection to the owner of the product, in the form of product identity; and requires credit to be given for the systems that were influential.

I have included a copy of the Open Gaming License on my site; At some point, I may just contribute something.

A first take

Everyone needs a hobby, and mine is games.  It is a hobby that involves strategic and tactical thinking coupled with social interaction.  I am beginning my first series, a dive into a rule or component of a game.  This series will follow the format of naming the mechanic, system, summary, detail and what I like or don’t like about the mechanic.