Presumed Competence, adopt it for your game


This month we’re talking about presumed competence. I’m not talking about the practice of presumed competence that is used in many of the school systems, but it’s not that far off.

Here’s a scenario I’ve heard far too often and I think it’s unnecessary:


A player who is playing a wizard attempts to cast a spell. The DM responds by saying “you don’t have any spells memorized”. The player protests and then the DM corrects him by saying “but you didn’t say you were going to study your spells during your rest”

I’m going to have to call bull shit on this one. I have always run my games based on the assumption that there is a presumed competence among the player characters. For example, I assume that warrior classes are going to sharpen their weapons and maintain their armor, spell casters will either meditate, pray, or study their spell book. Archers will collect arrows, fletch arrows… You get the point, right?


Why do I feel this way? Well, it’s simple Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games are meant to be fun and enjoyable. Nitpicking small things like you never said you are picking your arrows up, you never said you were sharpening your sword all falls into the category of the tyranny of fun. I’d like to take credit for this catchy phrase but I can’t, I first heard it used on one of my favorite YouTube channels, Web DM. This just sucks the fun out of the game and slows it down. When you have really good momentum and player enjoyment at your table do you really want to slow it down with making your players have to declare whether or not they’re picking up their arrows, sharpening their swords, or studying their spell books. DM’s ask yourself this question, if my life depended on me doing certain things like casting a spell would I spend time praying or studying my spell book? The answer is probably yes.


My assumption is that certain things like sharpening your swords is just going to be part of a normal routine for a warrior class. Will they get an edge on it like a blacksmith, maybe not, but next time they go to town hand them a bill. Here you go, this bill covers everything that you really need to have done in this town. Weapons and armor repair and upkeep, taxes that need to be paid to enter the town etc. there’s nothing I hate more than playing house in my D&D games. I do that in real life and it’s no fun. I’m playing D&D to escape real life. I’m okay with my fantasy creeping into my real life but I really dislike it when my real-life creeps into my fantasy.


One of the things that presumed competence does for your game is ensure that your game doesn’t lose momentum. There’s nothing that’ll kill a game faster than the loss of momentum. It seems a shame for all your hard work at putting together an adventure or studying a retail module, and preparing for your game session to be washed away by something as mundane as you didn’t declare you were praying.


The next time you prepare for a game session ask yourself, is it really necessary for all these things or can I just run my game based on presumed competence? I think you may find that presumed competence is not going to hinder your game but will certainly help a great deal.


Now there are many ways you can run your game and this is just one.

See you next time in the Dojo.

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