Wednesday 4 October 2023

Opt-In Creativity

Note: I've changed a few details of this post since it was published on Patreon, as I've tweaked some of the rules I'm talking about here and want to avoid confusion.

TTRPGs are innately creative. 

At the very least, even if you're playing in "pawn mode", seeing your character as a playing piece to push around the map, there's an expected amount of creativity above sitting down to play a videogame. You have to answer that question "what do you do?" quite often without having a straightforward answer on your character sheet.

BUT my personal tastes are that a moderate amount of required creativity can go a long way.

You know how some games do that thing where you deal lethal damage to an opponent and the GM says...

"Okay... tell me how you kill them!"

As a player, some days I enjoy that, others I don't. 

Some days my creativity is focused almost wholly on answering "what do you do?" and answering other questions like "how does your character feel about this?" or "what person from your character's background shows up here?" can feel like more pressure than I want out of a leisure activity.

It's part of the reason that some players gravitate to Fighters in old D&D, seeing the whole "all you can do on your turn is attack!" complaint as a feature, not a bug. 

But of course I'm not advocating for removal of all creative prompts for players. On other days I love answering those character questions, inventing gruesome attack descriptions, and luxuriating in a silly voice.

Which is why I try to design my games with Opt-in Creativity.

There are openings for creativity, but there's another road to take if you aren't feeling it. Even simple stuff like having a list of sample character names in the book can help here.

A recent Mythic Bastionland rule change got me thinking about this.

Previously, if you rolled the maximum possible value on your attack die (i.e. 6 on a d6) you got to describe an Onslaught, an additional effect to the attack, stuff like pushing, pinning, disarming, dismounting, smashing shields, but it was left open to player creativity within certain bounds.

This is not Opt-in Creativity, and I've seen the downsides of it in the flesh.

Some players cheer when they roll an Onslaught, carefully consider what to do, and describe how they drive the enemy onto the slippery ground as they fight them back.

Others freeze. They don't know what to do. None of the suggestions seem all that useful in this specific situation. Errmm... I don't know, I guess I disarm them if that's okay.

Well Onslaughts are gone now. Not entirely for that reason, but that's part of it.

Now, when you roll your attack dice you may discard a die showing 4 or higher to perform a Gambit, 8 or higher giving you an increased effect. It's the same effect as an Onslaught, but requiring you to think of a fancy thing you want to do you can always choose to just add 1 damage to the attack instead. 

After a few tests there are some nice benefits here:

  • Having that +1 damage option means there's never a situation where you roll a Gambit and feel like it's going to waste, or you're lacking the creative juice to think of something interesting.
  • They aren't just random windfalls, they'll often come with a choice. If you roll an 8 and a 6 then using the 6 for a Gambit is usually a no brainer, but what about a 5 and a 3? Are you willing to trade 2 damage now to make the long-term situation better by possibly dismounting that Knight? 
  • It makes weapons with bigger die-types more likely to trigger Gambits. That d10 billhook is going to generate Gambits much more often than the d6 handaxe, and more often at increased effect, so it really shows off those big weapons as having the utility that they should. If you don't want to get dismounted then don't go near those two guys with polearms!
  • While Shields (d4 damage) don't often trigger Gambits on their own, they mean a solo attacker can use their main weapon to perform a Gambit while still doing some damage. 
  • With dice used for Gambits being discarded it makes Smites more useful, as that adds a d12 to your pool, but it also makes Deny (formerly Foil/Deflect urgh, why do I rename things so often?) more useful, as you can use it to reduce the enemy's gambit die, or the remaining damage dice. 
  • Say you team up four against one, perhaps a few of you Smiting for extra dice. You're rolling a big pool of dice, and you're probably going to have a few spare 4+ dice ripe for Gambits. This might just lead to a high-damage attack, but it can create fun moments where one Knight shatters the target's shield, another surrounds them, cutting off their retreat, and the third delivers the wounding blow. 

So while there are lots of little decisions in there there's always an easy way out if you don't want to engage too deeply with the system. 

Oh, and we have a (non-final) cover now.

Expect the Quickstart doc with updated rules around the start of next week. 


This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 


  1. It is funny that lately I have read multiple osr blog posts about how dice mechanics are over discussed and not interesting to explore. And then you come up with this. Honestly I am equally eager to play this as a GM and as a player. This is a brilliant idea.

  2. It's interesting that you've posted this because lately I've bought and have been reading the Trophy series of games. They do some really cool stuff with creative prompts and collaborative world building to really make the game feel like a team effort. But similar to what you've mentioned here, I've been wondering whether that is always a good thing. What to me seems like a great way to get players involved and take some of the creative load off me as the GM, might end up feeling like a lot of pressure and anxiety to certain players. People who aren't necessarily interested in coming up with big creative decisions on the spot. It's made me wonder if the game is gonna be a good fit for my group. definitely something to think about.

  3. I had done some math on weapon damage and liked that weapons with more dice were more likely to Onslaught, now I'll have to crunch the numbers on Gambits. Allows some interesting design choices, a 2d6 weapon is more likely to Gambit than a 1d8 weapon and effectively has the same average damage if you just take the +1. Good stuff!