Of course the players are involved in the game; it’d be pretty lonely otherwise. The question is how involved in the game are they and even more importantly, how are they involved?
While they’re definitely rolling dice, are they taking notes during the adventure? Is there plenty of buzz about the game away from the table? Is everybody staying late for a few more rounds of combat or lines of investigation?
Sometimes the solution is to change game systems but there are a number of great ways to revitalize a disenfranchised group. One of my favorite ploys is the use of props; included here is something I made for my (now nearly defunct) Black Crusade group. The book played a key part in the story; dropping that on the table when the party investigated the artifact had each on the edge of their seats. Sure it took a couple hours to put together (water-bleeding marker onto the edges of the page and just doing the borders at all – gah!) but the player reaction was worth it. I also have this neat little book now.
Maybe you aren’t into that – alright. What about story elements? Whether you’re playing in an established campaign setting or a world designed for the group, there’s no overwhelming reason they can’t create a character and a settlement to have originated from. Maybe they have a rival from childhood or their path of travel swings through their home town on the way to the next quest.
If that’s a little too Pokémon for you take another route; surely there’s some person the PC has slighted. Perhaps a fellow adventurer, publicly embarrassed during an encounter earlier in the campaign (or the character’s background story), took special offense and has made it a quest of their own to see the party member bested or killed. An orphaned child of a goblin shaman slain by the rookie adventurers, a minor cultist in a religious order undone by the party, the unemployed barkeep cast out following a brawl started by a PC, a gang of street urchins formerly cared for by a now deceased thieves’ guild leader – there are countless possibilities for potential nemeses.
While there are advantages to letting a player design their own NPC if you really want to shake things up, give every player a different character’s enemy to build. Not only will everyone be on the lookout for when their encounter is due, they’ll be keen to see what they’ve put together get included into the game as well. As a bonus, this is going to get your players talking to each other about their characters; what they’ve done, what they want to do, what they’re up to in their down time or during their daily schedule. In truth it’s a cleverly disguised team-building exercise but it remains effective regardless.
A little weight is taken off of your shoulders if your players do some of the design work, and that’s not too shabby either. Flesh out the world you’re playing in through whatever means are at hand; it’s a bit of a gamble to let players make the setting a little bit their own (its our natural inclination to be territorial, right?) but the rewards can be quite fruitful.
“You know what Mike? It’s hard enough for me to find time for gaming as it is; none of these are going to work for me.” If this is where you’re at (and who hasn’t been here) there’s another route available; dissemination.
Whether you dole out plot information in a mid-week e-mail to the party drunkard (One night while the bar is closing out you overhear a local thug – a fellow inebriated beyond measure – running his mouth in a last ditch attempt to woo an equally intoxicated woman…) or spread out your work load (“That underwater dungeon you survived last month? Remember the statues? I had this idea for a barbarian clan to worship the same pantheon but need to focus on the story for next week. Would you like to write up something about their culture, history and general information? It’d save me some time and give me some direction when building their stat blocks, and maybe you could make up a magic item the party could use to be part of the treasure…”).
There aren’t many players that are going to pass up that opportunity.
PS: When this posts I’ll be in the thick of it at GenCon! If you’re also lucky enough to be going, I’ll be the guy wandering around in the Spider-Man and ‘Slowbro‘ t-shirts (if you aren’t sure it’s me, I will also have an AdventureAWeek symbol hanging off my neck.) Make sure to say hello if you see me, and stop by the Ennies to see if AdventureAWeek.com gets that coveted ‘Best Website’ award (and say hello to the big wigs – Jonathan Nelson and Todd Gamble)!
Have you had to find a way to revitalize your gaming group? What worked for you? What didn’t? Comment below and let us know!
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