What’s this? Wizard doesn’t want to sing a literal song at the table? Even with a fabulous, Freddy Mercury-fueled lyric video playing on Bard’s scryPhone? It’s almost as if trying too hard can be counterproductive.

This isn’t just about singing. It isn’t even about speechifying, or always speaking in character with a flawless accent. The lesson of today’s Handbook is knowing when and where to put your energy.

Take my sorry example. This biz happened a few years back in my “flying islands” campaign. It was a world of dragon riders and sky beasts. And having seen a particularly fun arts and crafts project in a similar setting, I thought I’d pull a copy cat. Hours were sunk into sanding little foam balls into floating planetoids. I painted that mess. Glued miniatures onto spiky bases. Did a bit of woodworking. I even broke out the hot wire foam carving tools for the occasion. Between the shopping and the crafting, it must have sunk 12+ hours into prepping this one encounter.

And then it bombed.

I hadn’t put enough time and effort into the encounter design. Between the “umms” and “uhhhs” and making ad hoc rules calls on the fly, my players walked away frustrated by a half-baked adventure.

Here’s where the point comes in. It’s the same deal if you’re trying too hard to be Same Riegel with improv singing, Tolkien with in-depth worldbuilding, Dwarven Forge with the terrain crafting, or any other “value add” activity that enhances RPGs without actually being RPGs. All of them can backfire.

Don’t get me wrong: These things can be a lot of fun. All of the above have been known to lead to unforgettable moments and cool campaigns. But you’ve got to cover the basics first.

If you’re a GM, you’ve got to have fleshed-out scenarios and solid mechanics. If you’re a player, you’ve got to share the spotlight and contribute to the flow of play. Because even if you’ve got a killer voice, I’d much rather get to my turn than watch you skip past the ads, search for the right part of the song, and belt out the bit about dynamite with a laser beam.

So what do you say, kids? Have you ever sunk too much energy into too little payoff? Did you create a mini-game that turned out to suck? Set up a spooky gothic horror atmosphere in your basement only to be asked, “Can we turn on the lights?” after five minutes of play? Or maybe you set up a badass 3D dungeon only to discover that your players wanted to stay in town all day? Whatever your trying-too-hard moment, tell us all about it down in the comments!


ADD SOME NSFW TO YOUR FANTASY! If you’ve ever been curious about that Handbook of Erotic Fantasy banner down at the bottom of the page, then you should check out the “Quest Giver” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Thrice a month you’ll get to see what the Handbook cast get up to when the lights go out. Adults only, 18+ years of age, etc. etc.