One oft-neglected part of roleplaying games is to set an exciting hook. Most published scenarios are so focused on the meat of the adventure that they neglect to put much thought into the set up. Usually this is because the scenario needs to be usable by widely divergent gaming groups and so it can be difficult to find something suitable for a wide range of players. In many cases the introduction is overlooked as it makes up a very small percentage of the campaign and is easily forgettable. Plenty of Game Masters consider their introductions in the same light and fall back on newspaper clippings and fantasy taverns to hook in their characters.
And this is a shame because there are so many different hooks out there that can really make a difference to your campaign by evoking the right mood and setting up the right expectations.
The main three hooks include:
The Slow Reveal: The campaign weaves hints of some terrible future throughout relatively mundane quests, goals and complications in a way that builds anticipation. The character typically doesn’t realise what is happening until they are already committed or caught up in the situation. This hook requires some degree of active character participation so that they don’t leave the moment things get spooky but the characters themselves don’t have to do anything special to continue the campaign.
Start With a Bang: The campaign begins right where at the point of some great change in their lives that prevents them from ever going back to what came before (at least not until they have finished the story). Often the campaign will begin a few minutes to half an hour before this great event to give the players some sense of continuity but there are few – if any – hints as to what’s about to happen. This hook can make do with largely reactive characters as there’s no way for them to ignore this event.
The Bizarre Mystery: The campaign begins with a tantalising question so important that the players can’t just walk away without solving it. This could involve a murder they need to investigate, a news article about some strange occurrence or a weird situation that happens around them. This hook requires characters who will take a very active role as the characters can theoretically ignore the mystery with relative ease.
I’ll go into more detail about different types of over the next three Fridays so stay tuned for more in-depth suggestions on how to make these hooks work for you.
Can you think up any other types of hook?
There are plenty of experienced players who find it hard to remember all of the rules and setting details peculiar to their game. That’s pretty normal. Some players aren’t keen readers, either, and would much prefer to learn through listening rather than going over the books. Some systems have dozens and dozens of different rule books and setting guides which is a lot to go through. Due to all of these reasons, there are plenty of players who don’t know the rules in the games they are playing and there are even a few players who boast about never having read the rule book.
The problem is that it’s important to try to learn the rules, even if you can’t remember them all.
It’s important because when a player doesn’t know the rules, they need to ask someone else to do it for them.
They are, in effect, adding extra work for other players or the game master to guide them through character generation / levelling up their character or get someone else to do it for them. They are requiring other players or the game master to remind them about the things they can do which means that player or game master are also partially controlling two character sheets. Sure, you decide whether you do the thing or not, but you’re not really getting to choose from all of your options — only those options that appeal to others or are so quintessentially your character.
Continue reading “Why Players Need to Read the Books”
Compelling characters make for a compelling story. Just think of the difference between the games run by a Storyteller whose characters can make you laugh, make you cry, make you fear for them … and the ones who would make a piece of cardboard look deep and interesting in comparison. The same can be said for the protagonists themselves — your player characters! After all, the PCs are what the game is about and they, by definition, have more screen time than anyone else. So if they’re boring then it’s not going to do the game any favours.
I’m not saying that every player character should be a work of art nor does a character need to be realistic to be interesting. Some of the most compelling characters ever made were larger-than-life characters. And, obviously, different game genres and player / game master preferences are going to have an impact on the game’s needs for PC complexity so you don’t need to have layers of detail to make that character compelling.
So what makes a character compelling?
Motivation is a big one. Your character needs to *want* something, ideally something related to the main arc of the story. This motivation needs to runs deeper than a simple list of goals. This is what your character is searching for and it colours everything about them as the game gains in tension. It can change over the course of the game, and you may need to change it pretty early on in reaction to early plot points. A strong motivation often pulls from a powerful internal core such as an ideology or a base need for safety, companionship, trust, recognition or power. While this central motivation won’t be the only thing that motivates your character, it should inform the other goals.
Continue reading “Creating Compelling Player Characters”
When most people talk about Game Master burnout, though, they often talk about the gaming equivalent of Writers’ Block. We’re going to look at the nastier form of burnout defined in psychology where a person experience long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in a particular sphere of our life.
The Maslach Burnout Inventory uses a three dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, which opposes the psychological construct of Engagement which is defined by having energy, involvement, and efficacy. Basically, if you burn out your Storyteller, they’ll grow frustrated, cynical, feel down about their skills, and basically get sick and tired of running games.
It’s a pretty serious issue and one that can be self-inflicted as often as it can be caused by other people, with some Game Masters working too hard for too long to achieve something too difficult to accomplish. Of course, since it’s more amusing to tackle a serious subject by writing a joke guide, I’m going to do just that. So read below to find the best advice on how to actively burn out your Game Master.
Continue reading “16 Ways to Burn Out Your Game Master”