Giving the Players a Reason to Enjoy the Campaign

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.

  1. Where was your character born?
  2. Who are your character’s parents?
  3. What were your character’s parents’ professions?
  4. Are the parents still alive?
  5. Where do they currently live?
  6. Does your character have any other immediate living family?
  7. Why does your character adventure? (money, power, knowledge, etc)
  8. How does your character hope to accomplish his goals?
  9. Give the name, location, and profession of three allies/friends/informants that your character has met that he still has contact with.
  10. 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?

7 thoughts on “Giving the Players a Reason to Enjoy the Campaign

  1. It ended up working out really well – all the players/characters are fully involved in the story, they all have reason to know each other, and they’re all (at least somewhat) invested in the setting itself.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. This is a neat idea and one that I’m looking forward to actually implementing when I next run a campaign. While most of my players are kind enough to provide me with plot hooks all around, others are a little harder to fish out. Hopefully this will do the trick!

  3. @pointyman2000 – that’s exactly the reason I did it! I have had a ton of experience with players didn’t know how to, or were uncomfortable with, really fleshing out their characters, and this allowed for some great creative exercises, while getting them involved in the setting as well.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. This is a great idea for maintaining immersion. Other things that I have found effective is letting the player create their character to a much more exact degree. Using a skill based system is effective in this regard since the person is picking and choosing how they want to develop which gives them a greater interest in their own character.

    As for interest in the group I feel it is important to make this character building a group effort. You can see curious results such as the sneaky player who trains in precision shooting so that he can back up his buddy (the axe wielding guardsman) from safety while his buddy keeps the enemies at range (thus keeping the sneaker safe). That sort of group synergy is vital. It builds in-game relationships and causes the players to invest in each other.

  5. This post and the ensuing comment stream is, IMHO, a shining example of clear, succint, and insightful writing: RPG blogging at its best. So, I’ve submitted this post to the upcoming OPEN GAME TABLE RPG Anthology for consideration/review. Of course, nothing will be published in Open Game Table until the author releases the material for inclusion in the Anthology. This post was simply submitted for consideration; which is the first step towards identifying the best in RPG blogging. Let me know if you have any questions over at the The Core Mechanic or in the OPEN GAME TABLE google group. In meantime, keep up the excellent work (!) and I’ll be in touch.

  6. Ishmayl, please contact me as soon as possible about the Anthology. This blog post was ranked very highly by the reviews – and I would like to discuss including it.

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