Divine Trappings: SMART Goals vs Weak Purpose

The other day I discovered I need to change my Entity Template. It turns out that goals — which work very well in adventure design — might not be so great in world building. The reason surprised me when I understood why they didn’t fit.

Goals are supposed to be completed. I’ve often heard people talk about ‘good goals’ being SMART: Specific (clearly defined), Measurable (can be determined to be successfully completed), Achievable (actually possible), Relevant (worth doing), and Time-bound (target delivery date/time).

This is a good thing in adventure design. It makes it clear to the GM what the entity is trying to do, why the entity is involved, what the entity’s interest is.

At the adventure level — at scenario scope, if you will — it might be possible to complete a goal.

At the campaign scope, this falls a little flat. Goals are inherently transient, and entities in campaign scope should generally be more persistent. Deities usually have campaign scope.

A campaign-scope entity might have goals, but they should change over time as they get completed.

What these entities need is a purpose.


In this context, a purpose almost the opposite of a SMART goal. It is probably not specific or measurable, it might not be possible, and it’s likely open-ended, not time-bound. However, it should be very important, which is to say relevant, to the entity.

A purpose is also a major driver for the entity, and is why that entity has many of the goals it does.

Consider the purposes of Ilassa, Musician of the Seasons:

  • Support a person or organization: wants to see the Llyr Mi Lann tribes, who are close to nature, survive and prosper.
  • Promote a condition: humanity — mortals in general, really — living in harmony with nature.
  • Oppose an ideal: resist and limit civilization, especially with the way it tears up and damages the land.

Let’s look at these from a SMART perspective.

  • Specific… not really. There are probably many ways to make things better for the Llyr Mi Lann tribes, but even if one thing helps there are surely more than can be done.
  • Measurable… nope. I don’t see any of these you could look at and say “my work here is done”. How do you define ‘survive and prosper’? Can it be finished? Ditto ‘living in harmony’ and ‘limiting civilization’.
  • Achievable… maybe? It could be possible to get the tribes to be prosperous, or to crush all the cities, but I can see that there could be insurmountable challenges, too.
  • Relevant… pretty much absolutely. These three purposes basically define Ilassa, so they’re going to be totally relevant to her.
  • Time-bound… very unlikely. I don’t see a deadline suiting any of these, at least as presented. I could imagine something like “destroy the Citadel of the Tyrdani by the next eclipse”, but this is getting a little closer to being a goal.

Not very good goals, but important enough to the entity, to the point of potentially being part of the very definition of the entity.

Closing Comments

The theme of an entity is a very brief, high-level description of the entity, and goals are what it wants. ‘Purpose’ lies somewhere between the two, in that it expands on the theme and provides the basis, the why, of the goals.

The old template had purpose and goals combined, and I discovered only a couple days ago why that didn’t seem right to me.

I believe this will be a good addition to the template, so adding it I am.

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