Advanced Dungeons & Dragons & Development: Tool Design Lessons from Gaming

By Michael T Lombardi

Elevator Pitch

After more than two years of tabletop roleplaying game design work, it has become apparent that those games are actually tools. In this talk you’ll learn how to improve the tools you write and how you can better incorporate vendor tooling into your environments.


Spending hundreds of hours reading and working on the design for a tabletop roleplaying game and maintaining public modules, I discovered that the work is not, in fact, just to build a game. Tabletop games are actually toolboxes with a user experience built into them and strong suggestions for the type of games you’ll build with those tools - but the game played at any given table may be wildly different from another.

Lessons for Toolmakers

There’s a lot of intentionality and design considerations to keep in mind when we build tools that other people will adapt and build on top of in their environments - and this is a description of almost every powershell module published on the gallery. Some of the topics include:

  • Building for extensibility
  • Modular design
  • Explicit Expectations
  • Playtesting
  • Adventures and Tutorials

Lessons for Tool Consumers

There’s also lessons to learn from the perspective of folks responsible for integrating those tools into their environments and workflows. Topics include:

  • Context - how to recognize your needs and preferences individually, across teams, and in your organization
  • Evaluation - how to make sure the tools you use will work for you
  • Implementation- what to do once you’ve picked a tool
    • House Rules - minor adjustments to the tool for your context
    • Hacks - major adjustments, new systems, and replacements
  • Teaching - helping your team adopt the tool successfully