Just beyond the last of the numerous boulders you’ve wound your way through lies the elusive Dungowon Monastery, your destination. As you crest the mountain, the snowfall grows heavier, snowflakes the size of your fingertips fall about you, deafening the area to a tranquil silence. One of the goatmen monks, famous for their ability of teleportation, floats in a seated position, his eyes closed at the moment. The building behind him is said to hold the Kylver Scrolls, which contain secret knowledge of ancient times that could rid the world of the devastating disease that is quickly wiping all living matter from existence.
How well do you know your friends? Do you know anything really about the guys at your local gaming store, or are you just glad to have people who will play in your group so you can play? Perhaps you tolerate them just enough. Even still, you may only play your games online with those you have played video games with but never had the chance to meet.
When a screenwriter or novelist writes a story, they typically target a specific audience (i.e. teens, males, females, 30+ year olds, etc.). They have potentially millions of people exposed to their work, which causes a greater risk of either becoming hugely popular or hugely hated. They might understand their fans to some extent, knowing that they love a particular character or a relationship between two characters, but they have no idea about specific fans and what those individuals what to see on each page. With GMs, that information is available and truly essential for them to know.
What if an author sat down with you and asked you a series of questions about a particular setting, the characters, the events, and asked you what interests you in general of those areas? If the author wrote a story based on your answers, that story should, in theory, be a terrific read for you. It is filled with things that interest and excite you. Running a role playing game can incorporate those interests within the story line, which will keep your players intrigued and excited to play and come back for more.
It’s not necessary to write an entire campaign solely with your players’ intentions. This is a team effort. The initial concept should be yours because when it comes to keeping yourself motivated and inspired for the long haul that is a campaign, the core of the system demands to be your greatest desire. The responsibilities and requirements expected throughout are going to be demanding, and you need those assets to help you get through it without getting burned out. Quite a lot of beginning GMs have no idea what they are getting into when they say “I want to run a campaign.” They may have this initial concept of the setting, perhaps a general idea of a few adventures, but it takes quite a lot of work and preparation not to mention stamina to make it through one. That’s where your players come into play.
As mentioned before, I go through quite a bit of prep work before we hit Session #1. My OCD, creativity, and perfectionist sides probably make me do more than is needed, but among these is coordinating the details with my players. I might write up 10 or so questions that I will ask the each player that I will try to incorporate each of their responses where I can fit them in.
These questions can be as broad or specific as you wish. Does everyone have some kind of magical ability? Are guns present? Is the world religious and still in touch with deities? Who is the most famous individual in the world? Is most of the world dark and foreboding? What weird event always happens when the sun goes down? What 4 festivals occur in each season?
The list of questions can go on and on. And as many questions as you want to ask (and the players want to answer) should be asked. It will only flesh out your world better, and it will plant customized pieces into the campaign that the players will relate to and recognize when they occur. Role playing systems such as Dungeon World are built solely around that very thing as the GM is encouraged to ask players why things exist or occur in the game while in-game.
Always keep in mind that although you may have an amazing idea for a story that you are anxious for the players to unravel, role playing games are not made for the GM’s sole pleasure. Sometimes the areas that need filling in your campaign may turn out to be the best interest of one of your players.
So with all of that said, an excellent GM will be able to add these elements on-the-fly without having to ask a lot of questions to the players. Knowing what your players enjoy or hate in life can be reflected and used in your game. They enjoy horror movies a lot? Don’t ask them if they wish if the campaign is dark and foreboding. Know of their enjoyment of the horror genre and incorporate that into your game. Do they get bored trying to navigate complex dungeons? Alter the dungeons to be less traditional and more open yet still confined. Perhaps one player loves cats. One of their encounters could be simply a wounded cat that the player mends and it takes a liking to the player’s character. These are assets to a game that draw your players into the story because it strikes their desires.
So how do you go about getting to know each other without sounding awkward? This is where non-game night get together’s can be beneficial. Pick one week where you are simply uninspired or unmotivated to run a session and suggest some activity such as going to an arcade, go out for pizza, check out a local bookstore, go watch a movie, etc. While out with them, turn on your observation skills and listen to what they have to say and how they act to certain things. Take note when they say they hate mushrooms on their pizza. Yes, even that can be used in the campaign. How? The party encounters a fairy ring. The character falls into a bed of fungus that is carnivorous. Mushrooms are all that grows as a food source in their area. Although this contradicts what was said earlier, sometimes even their disinterests can be their interests when they face it.
And don’t forget during the game too! Listen to your players’ reaction to situations in the game. Does a player actually shiver for real at the mention of spiders? Write that down because chances are they have a fear of spiders that can be implemented into the game. Did one of the players get up and dance in the room when the party entered a vast city market containing pseudo dragon pets for sale? Then pseudo dragons should make an appearance at some point or another. Work on being observant with body language and verbal responses in order to better understand what your players love and hate.
The bottom line is never completely conform, just compromise with your players because the ultimate goal, as said in a previous post, is to create an amazing world and enjoy what lies within equally.