Today’s guest article is by John Fredericks, and it’s a unique idea we’ve never discussed here before. Thanks, John!
All GMs long for player investment in their characters and in the campaign world. As GMs, we’re often (very) caught up in the planning and running of the game. This makes it difficult for us to gauge whether we are meeting the players’ expectations at the table. In this article, I’ll share an idea that I used recently to garner more player input on their characters and the direction of the adventures.
I run a regular fantasy campaign which is based in a medium-sized town. One week I announced that since they were returning home there would be letters from home waiting for them. More importantly, they would decide the contents of those letters. I was hoping that this might lead to some insight into what they wanted in the future. Their responses were even better than I expected.
Here’s a brief summary of their efforts, and what I was able to do with them.
- Our dwarf emailed me an entire letter detailing how a cousin was out to get her to move ahead in their family. I was able to turn that into a roadside ambush, and suggest that the cousin was actually involved with the real big baddie of the campaign.
- One player said that his elven grandfather was dying. This led to a chance to visit the elves’ village, roleplaying some encounters there, and dealing with a banshee who was poisoning the local crops.
- One player said that his relations were a longing for him to visit. While they won’t be in that vicinity for a while, I can still use this later if I’m stuck for an adventure. There’s nothing like saving the old home town for an easy hook.
- The last player, the cleric, said he didn’t get a letter because he was from town. I didn’t know this before. Since they were in town anyway, the players were able to visit the temple and consult with the abbott about an evil magic item.
You can see that their responses varied quite a bit, but they all gave me fuel for adventures.
If You Use This Idea
If you would like to use this in your own campaign, here are some thoughts on making it work well.
- Clearly tell your players that they will be making up the content of the letters. One of my players didn’t know this, though he happily made something up on the spot. However, it is better not to put players under that kind of stress. (Though they don’t seem to mind doing that to us as GMs, right?)
- Don’t feel you have to use every idea the players give you right away. You don’t have to abandon your own plans for that night. You can always keep their thoughts for later.
- Be okay with the fact that some players may not give you much or anything. Not every player desires a backstory. Some folks are just happy stabbing orcs, and that’s fine.
- Don’t make it a requirement. We do this for fun, not college credit.
Extending the Idea
Don’t feel bound by the literary convention of a letter. Depending on your campaign world an email, tweet, or even a dream might work better. It could even be a conversation with a friendly NPC who gives them their next mission. If you want to do that, ask the player to fill you in before the session so that you have some appropriate encounters prepared.
Have you used the concept of a letter or something similar in your campaign? Do you have another technique for helping players take a more active role in the direction of a campaign? If so, let me know below.