Content of the article: "Why Skipping the “Boring” Stuff makes a Boring Game"
TLDR: By trying to streamline gameplay to just “the fun stuff” you might be removing player buy-in.
How often have you heard one of these things while playing DnD:
“Don’t worry about rations, I don’t like to worry about the boring stuff.”
“You all are traveling to a town 4000 miles away? Okay, you get there. Now what?”
“Do I have to take my armour off to sleep? No, don’t worry about it.”
In each of these situations, the Dungeon Master, in an effort to keep things moving to the “fun stuff”, has glossed over the most important aspect of storytelling: Conflict.
And yet, I get it. Each of these scenarios involves utilizing a game mechanic with the scariest word a DnD group can hear: bookkeeping. AHH!
Tabletops RPGS are called Pen and Paper games for a reason. Everything you do comes down to what you’ve written on your character sheet. Players and even DM’s tend to shy away from things that aren’t the core stats or spells because “that’s the boring stuff”.
I’d like to say first that you are WELL within your right to only put the stuff you like in your games. They are your games. You can do what you want. However, I’d like to stop you for a moment and ask: have you tried it yet? Travel rules, carry weight, rations, arrows, taking off armour to sleep, material components and equipment slots, you know, the “boring stuff”. Have you really tried using them?
A lot of actual play DnD podcasts skip over these elements, and often they are right to do so. If you are trying to utilize your comedian’s talent to their best ability, you want them goofing around more than you’ll care about the mechanics dictating the story. That’s just good radio. Right? Well, maybe not. Often you’ll hear these podcasters extolling the virtues of dynamic storytelling where their carefully constructed narrative was changed by the roll of a D20.
Mechanics in DnD influence the narrative through a concept called Emergent Gameplay.
So let’s get into answering the core question: why is your DnD game so boring?
A better question might be “why are you bored by it?” This is supposed to be your downtime. You look forward to it. So why does it feel like a drag?
Boredom might come down to a few things, but let’s first acknowledge DM Burnout. With all that’s going on in the world, and even without all that stuff, you can be forgiven if you just don’t have the mental energy to commit to DnD. That’s not a character failing or even the failure of the game itself, you might just need a break. And that’s totally okay.
What I want to talk about in this post is how to fix your game. My fiance was DM’ing a game recently and told me that the gameplay was feeling formulaic. Formulaic? What does that mean?
Basically, the gameplay boiled down to encounter, role play, rest, repeat. These are all of the components of DnD, but without the connective tissue within each of them, they lack the ability to make each individual part feel important to the whole.
In another DnD game I was playing, we entered a new area where food was scarce and NPCs were starving. But: none of us had rations in our inventory because we weren’t playing “that kind of game”.
One player thought ahead. They knew where we were going and specifically bought rations for the adventure. So, when we encountered starving NPC’s, he offered them some food. But because there was no system for rations implemented in our game, the moment felt hollow and we just ended up glossing over it. No reward, nothing.
That moment was heartbreaking because that player prepared for the scenario we were in and received no in-game benefit because we weren’t playing “that kind of game”. Now you could put a patch on that moment as a DM and say the people are grateful to you, but without rations meaning anything to the player, are you really sacrificing anything to receive that benefit? Will your party be at a disadvantage and have to go scrounging for food now that you’ve given up your supply? What’s the cost to that benefit? Where is the story?
That’s what I mean when I say that bookkeeping is not boring. In this instance, NOT bookkeeping is IMMENSELY worse. If you can’t make meaningful choices using the mechanics in the game, then you are playing a boring game.
So as a DM, how do you implement these things?
I’ll start by addressing my personal bugbear: STOP THROWING BAGS OF HOLDING AT YOUR PLAYERS AT EARLY LEVELS.
You want your players to treat your dungeons like Skyrim and loot every rusty longsword that a bandit drops? Giving them nearly unlimited storage is how you do it. Besides, you’ll be scrambling to implement weight restrictions once the party enters a dragon's lair or noble’s house and they start shoving everything that isn’t nailed down into their little Mary Poppins bag.
That’s not the “I’m Mary Poppins, Y’all” moment you want in your games.
But why? Why is including weight interesting gameplay and worth the time to slow things down?
Let’s look at what the weight system actually does.
Using variant encumbrance rules in DnD, you can carry up to your strength score times 5 before becoming encumbered which drops your speed by 10ft. So a character with a strength of 15 can carry 75lbs before becoming encumbered.
Now, if you are wearing chain mail (55lbs) a longsword (3lbs) and a shield (6lbs), that almost makes you encumbered by itself.
Add in the standard Dungeoneer’s Pack that includes a Backpack, crowbar, hammer, pitons, torches, a tinderbox, rations, a waterskin, and hempen rope, altogether that weighs 61.5lbs, and you are almost heavily encumbered before you’ve even entered the dungeon.
Being heavily encumbered is a huge problem. It drops your speed by 20ft and gives you disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dex, or Constitution.
And that’s not to mention money, as 50 coins weighs about 1lb.
So before you even enter a dungeon and start getting loaded up with treasure, your party is going to have to make some serious choices. What do they take? What do they leave? What is even worth bringing into this dungeon in particular? What do they know about it? What do they know about your world?
Maybe the player decides that they are going to leave their pack outside, taking only rope, a torch, and their backpack for treasure. Already they are putting thought into their play style and taking risks. They are treating your dungeon like the dangerous place it is, and that’s before they’ve even opened the door. That’s not boring, that’s exciting!
Add in travel, and your players will start to invest in pack animals, guards to stand watch their stuff while they dungeon delve, and truly consider how much food they will need versus how much space for treasure they are giving up.
All of that gameplay, all of that conflict, it all just drives investment in your setting, your story, and in your game.
If that still just “isn’t the sort of game” you want to run, that’s totally fine. It’s not always the sort of game I want to run either. But don’t write it off as boring because you haven’t tried it – it could be just the thing to drive investment in your game on both sides of the table.
EDIT: If you’re interested, I’ve turned this guide into a video with animated examples: https://youtu.be/dyrcPYF_nLw
- Why Skipping “The Boring Stuff” makes a Boring Game
- Why “we” don’t track XP, rations, weight etc.
- I tried Don’t Starve Together and it’s pretty nice at first but getting boring really fast
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