action economy is about making the most of the limited time that we have to prepare and play our games. getting the most out of finite time in infinite worlds.

Interest Through Options

Interest Through Options

"Choice is that sense of fulcrum-shift you get when you consider a decision you care about. [...] It’s closest to the breathless experience you get from traditional drama." - Failbetter Games

Compelling Choice through Themes and Motifs

Choice is one of the core concepts of Dungeons and Dragons. It's one of the core concepts of Tabletop RPGs. True choice. There are no dialogue trees, no cutscenes. You can do ANYTHING. The world is constantly acting and reacting to player choice in a way that is unique to our medium. Dungeon Masters therefore have an obligation to present interesting decisions for the players to act upon.

Choice is compelling when decision-makers understand the context behind it. Context is formed when players understand that the meaning of the options in front of them, and understand that the choice will have an impact on the world. They don’t necessarily need to know exactly what those impacts are, only that they exist. Our PCs are faced with a forking road: left-path or right-path? This isn’t a satisfying or compelling choice because neither of those concepts mean anything to the players, and there is no implied impact. Instead, do the PCs walk the narrow, creaking bridge over a thousand-foot chasm down to their left, or do they walk the well-constructed stone bridge over a grassy meadow to their right? The addition of adjectives, especially opposites, gives context from which the players can evoke meaning. Making that meaning emotional is the next step.

You can assist your players to care about the meaning of your choices by ensuring those meanings are relevant to the themes of your table’s stories. You have been collaborating on these themes together since character creation, and so there’s a lot of emotional context which your players care about just waiting to be tapped. A PC Cleric with strong family ties meets compelling choice when their brother is discovered a heretic who must be put to death. In Curse of Strahd, a long-time ally of the party presents a compelling choice when they are revealed to be a vampire or werewolf. These choices present a problem to be solved, of which the importance, the relevance, can be easily comprehended through the lens of the story being told.

Tools to Take Away

Assess your choices through your motifs, and you should be able to see what those choices really mean: Is the righteousness of God more important than the bond of Blood? Can those cursed by Evil still do Good things? Sometimes these choices are less binary: What is the most important thing to our Cleric? How much does the lycanthrope curse truly change the individual? These questions are evocative, and they should mean things to your players and your narrative. If the question that you present doesn’t say anything about your themes, and your players' responses don't say anything about their characters, why are you posing it as a choice at all? If there is no context, and no implied cost to your players, then it’s not a compelling choice, and your players have little reason to care about it.

Respond

Respond

Tense Up

Tense Up