“Challenge but don’t overpower the PCs,” which I think of as the video game approach to GMing, vs. “If the PCs tug on Superman’s cape it’s their tough luck,” an approach that Jeff rightly points out was a lot more common in earlier editions of D&D.
He also mentions that there’s a hybrid approach, and he’s absolutely right. Combining the video game model of scaled challenges with the possibility (really, the threat) of Shit You Shouldn’t Mess With is a lot of fun.
Mentally reviewing my GMing history, this is a core part of my default approach to running games, and it’s one I’ve used across multiple systems and genres. It’s not a new idea by any stretch, but I find it useful to see things like this spelled out — it makes things click in my head, and gives me a new perspective on how I GM.
Do you use this same hybrid approach in your own games, or handle things differently?