Over at the Campaign Builders’ Guild, a regular recurring discussion is on the very nature of why we build campaigns, and what is in it for us as builders. The answers vary – it is an art form that we are perfecting, it is a way to write down ideas without pretending to be writing a novel, it is a way to write down ideas for a novel, it is for an ongoing (or soon-to-be going) campaign, it is for publishing and making money, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, a question that seems very rarely (if ever) to be answered is “what is in it for the players?” This question presumes, of course, that the campaign you are building is for a game that is actually being played.
And really, that shouldn’t be that difficult a question to answer, right? I mean, what do players want other than loot, high levels, and a vague sense of accomplishment? They never care about all the ridiculous amounts of work you’ve put into your setting, and those tiny details that you believe makes your setting unique often get trampled on while the players are trying to find the next bard handing out quests. How do you get the players to care about the life blood of your imagination and creativity?
In the Memory Fading campaign I recently began with three friends, I did something I have never done before as the players were creating their characters. Taking cues from my brother in Asheville, who just had a phenomenally successful campaign, the four of us got together over coffee and worked together to hash out the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, and general purpose. When I say “got together,” I mean it. Each player (with me watching) created his character in terms of stats, feats, skills, abilities, and equipment. Then I had a small 10-question form that each player answered about his character.
- Where was your character born?
- Who are your character’s parents?
- What were your character’s parents’ professions?
- Are the parents still alive?
- Where do they currently live?
- Does your character have any other immediate living family?
- Why does your character adventure? (money, power, knowledge, etc)
- How does your character hope to accomplish his goals?
- Give the name, location, and profession of three allies/friends/informants that your character has met that he still has contact with.
- Give the name, last known location, and motivations of one person who your character is at odds with/is enemies with/has fought against but still lives.
You can probably see where I’m going with this, but I wasn’t quite done with it at this point. After each player finished filling out this little information sheet, without me looking at them, they passed the sheet to their immediate left, thus giving this knowledge to another player. Then, I gave each of them a second, shorter questionnaire.
- Using the answer to question #9, give an explanation for why one of the three NPCs may have some sort of grudge against the player, or why one of the three NPCs may currently be seeking out the player.
- Using the answer to question #10, give the current location of this NPC (it may be the last known location), and what this NPC has been up to for the last three months.
- Give one reason your character may have heard of or has reason to adventure with the character you are writing about.
Then, after these were done (and the players wrote a great amount of detail for me on these), I collected these second questionnaires (to be my personal secrets), each player passed the character information sheet to their left one more time, and I gave them a last sheet to fill out.
- Using the answers to questions #7 and #8, as well as the info sheet I gave you on Ordanth, please write the reason that this character has made his way to Ordanth, and how he plans on using this location to meet his goals.
- Explain how your character first met this character, under what circumstances, and how long the two characters have known each other (even as just acquaintances).
This particular sheet got passed back to the original player, along with his character’s information sheet, so that it would be in his knowledge.
This process, which took about 1.5 hours, served a three-fold purpose. Firstly, it allowed the players to each have a hand in their group’s history, giving them more of a “stake” in the group’s progress. Secondly, it gave them a vested interest in the setting, the locales, and the NPCs of the area. Finally, it gave me potential story lines to work with for the setting in such a way that would (hopefully) always make the games interesting for each player. With the characters having the connections that they have with each other, as well as family and NPCs in the area, it creates a network that I can exploit as a GM to fully delve into the world with these characters.
How have you as a GM gone out of your way to really get the players – and characters, let’s not forget them – interested in the campaign that you have created?