Playing God: How To Breathe Life Into Your Own Worlds
And how do we make that world matter to the players? These are some of the key questions many Game Masters have ruminated on for decades, because at the games core when we’ve gone beyond trying to kill the player characters at every turn we have to give them a world and cause worth dying for. To some this isn’t a complex thing, just plant a big bad guy at the end of the breadcrumb trail, throw some puzzles in here and there and hope and pray they don’t burn down the inn.
For others it’s about making a game memorable; be it either with hilarious situations that you can regale to friends later or, what I personally like to do is make the players really want to fight for their cause. Giving the players something to believe in can encourage some brilliant moments of role playing from your group. This can be achieved in many ways and I’ve tried and tested a mere handful starting with the simple, kill every NPC that is useful to the players, merchants, their favourite guard, that nice cat they met on the road, every single one of them, I call it the George R.R. Martin approach. Granted it is very crude it can cause the players to begin plotting on how to kill the big bad guy at the end near enough instantly.
Another method I have used is the schoolyard taunting approach, and have your big bad guy plot multiple run-ins and demonstrations of their prowess in combat. This will hopefully drive your players to push themselves harder and harder to make sure that they can at least land a scratch on the guy next time they meet.
My final and favourite method is one that uses 70% of the players input. I get each player to write out their back story, I then tell them to design their home town for me to place into the world. Then I tell them to create memories of them places followed by a list of family members and 5 friends that they will know within the world. With a classic fantasy setting after you throw in the capital city and seven or eight major ports along the coasts (or trade posts for those of the inland persuasion) you will end up with a number of towns and/or villages that the players know about. This alone instils their involvement in the environment, they have added to it and they will hopefully care about the people they have made.
Now from here you would guess that I would pull a Game of Thrones and kill them all but no, what you do is you never put any of them in direct danger. You can tell them rumours of events that have been occurring in a general vicinity and this will cause the players to think their home turf is being attacked or something to that notion. From there they will hopefully get anxious and begin trying to drive the party in that direction, but then lo and behold more news of danger in another area of the world oddly near another players home! And thus begins the arguments and heated debates of priorities and who should do what and why.
At this point the GM should intervene and tell them that maybe the best way of saving their homes is to seek the root of the problem. From there they begin to work together and every fight that matters becomes a great victory to them and by the end of the campaign you have a group that feel satisfied in winning or if they failed, deep seated regret in their losing.
These situations can be bent and contorted into any method that can work for you, I always try and make these scenario archetypes very adaptive to any setting possible and naturally these are merely a few that have worked for me ranging from amateur to borderline emotional blackmail. All I can say is give them a try and you never know, it might add some kick to your next campaign, because what’s the point in fighting if there isn’t a cause worth fighting for?