Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Getting Players to Go Where You Want

So you've created a robust campaign world with lots of things to do and see. You've filled the world with plot hooks and cool environments and regions with neat and interesting features and plotlines for the players to involve themselves in. Maybe it's a classic sandbox, maybe it's just a world where you want the players to explore a little to find a plothook that interests them. How do you get them to go where all the cool shit is?

This can be a difficult problem, or an easy one. If you don’t mind railroading your players and they don’t mind being railroaded, you’ve got no problem. Just send them to the places you want them to go. If you’re dealing with a group that wants to control their own destiny and go where they wish, it can be more problematic. The easiest way to get players to go where you want is to give them a quest that takes them to the thing you want them to see, or at least near it.

In my Orcunraytrel Arc campaign I wanted to show the players and their characters an old Goebleen warren that had been corrupted and twisted by the forces of the Underhel. The Underhel was a place where the natural laws of reality and matter and such were corrupted, so it gives rise to malicious elemental-like creatures the natives called demons, and it also led to weirdly fluctuating light levels and temperatures and an effect that led to solid matter kind of dripping and drooping and kind of running like candle wax. Now I forget why the players were in the mountains nearby at the time, but they were close enough that I could justify them finding it during their scouting and patrolling as they moved through the terrain. I wanted them to see it, but I didn’t want to force them to. So I made them aware of it during scouting, but my NPC Gob the Goebleen was like “Nah, don’t go there. We don’t need to. There’s nothing there. Leave it alone.” Which my players naturally ignored and they investigated it and learned about the fucked up effects of the Underhel. That worked because I let them make the decisions. I even rolled randomly to see if they noticed the entrance in their scouting. Nothing was forced upon them. There was a chance they could discover where it was and then everything else was up to them. It worked.

Sometimes it won’t. I wanted the players to be exposed to some or all of the Immortals of Orcunraytrel, so I had a big detailed random list of where and when they might chance across one or two or seven of them. It don’t really work out. I don’t think the random rolls ever actually had them randomly run across an Immortal. They met several over the course of the campaign, but that was more because of the nature of what they were doing with their tower (the Wanderer), who they were allied with (the Goebleen King), Lance/Eran wanting to worship something bestial and then changing his mind (the Hound), and who they were fighting against (the Forest Lord and the Armiger). The main thing you need to determine is if it is necessary for your players and their characters to experience your cool thing or if it will just be cool for them or for you. I started out wanting them to meet these cool Immortals and learn about them and want to obtain power like they had, but as the plot developed and they made decisions that impacted their future, meeting at least a few Immortals became necessary for the plot to progress.

If you’ve got a cool thing that is also an environment that you want your players to see, you can always make your campaign location based. In The Rebellion Arc, I wanted the players to either see the Necropolis or Meroteth/Hell. These are two very cool cities, structurally speaking. The Necropolis is this massive city of smooth glassy black obsidian buildings and streets inhabited by the Fallen and their ruler The Bleak Tyrant. This city in my mind is beautiful and disturbing. Streets run at weird angles, buildings are weirdly shaped and sized, and no window or door truly conforms to what we might call normal human sized proportions. Meroteth is made of a similar substance, glassy and black, but rough and chipped. The city is basically a stepped pyramid of this substance with buildings and streets dug out of it. When we settled on wanting to do D’alton’s heist and the group ended up lodging in his family’s old mansion in Hell/Meroteth, I was able to show some of the weird architecture of the city to the players and their characters. I was also able to show them the sewer dragons. Hehe.

Those two options work great, except when they don’t. Heh.

If you’re running a campaign where you want the players to choose to go see cool things, you need to make it clear that they can. You as the GM need to make sure your players understand that they control the destinies of their characters. They need to know that they are not chained to whatever you have going on. They need to understand that if they decide a particular quest or plot or place is boring and they hear tales of fabled things that get their pants tight, they can tear off into the wilderness to look for those cool things and you’re going to roll with it. They need to understand that you’re not going to punish them for choosing to do something they think is cool. Mind you, you the GM punishing them for things is different than them being held responsible for the effects of their actions. If their characters are hired to rescue a prince and they decide to go find the first owlbear in The Forest of Totally Not Dire Owlbears on the other side of the continent and the prince is never rescued and dies, his parents are going to be justifiably pissed at the characters and might take reasonable actions against them. Like chase them with knights and assassins all the way to The Forest of Totally Not Dire Owlbears. You having a sequence of scenarios about their journey to the forest evading knights and assassins and potentially getting captured or killed or successfully evading their pursuers, that’s reasonable. You saying that off camera the prince’s parents used their knights to capture the characters and imprison them and curse them with a geas that forces them to rescue the prince is bullshit passive aggressive butthurt railroading. Don’t do that. Don’t be that guy. I’ve been that guy. He doesn’t feel good about himself.

An important part of getting the players and their characters to go see your cool thing is making sure it is actually cool. The first part of this is describing the cool thing in a cool way. You need to make it sound cool, you need to infect the players with your excitement about it via your words. This can be done by having an NPC talk about your cool thing and what they saw and what they did that was awesome when they interacted with it. It can be legends and lore of the campaign world that describe the cool thing. Or it can just be writing an interesting description in your campaign documentation. For instance, you could describe Meroteth/Hell in my Hekinoe campaign world as a big stepped pyramid made out of glassy black stone. Or you could say it is an ancient city founded by the Fell Humans when they were mutated from the Fallen by the sorcerous powers of The Bleak Tyrant and fled The Fallen Empire of Man. When they fled The Fallen Empire of Man, they brought with them an ancient piece of glassy black stone and as it grew over the centuries they carved their capital city out of this ever growing mound of glassy black obsidian that throbs with sorcerous energy. It might not be sufficient to draw players there without other interventions on your part, but it sounds more interesting at least. The second part of this is making sure your cool thing is something that players will think is cool. For instance, I like combat, one of the things I sometimes try to do is to create really cool set pieces for battles and that sort of thing. Then when the players wander around to my combat cool thing I get all excited and bonerific and whatnot. That’s cool and all for me, but if your group doesn’t really think combat is super interesting and enjoyable, it doesn’t matter how cool the battle is, they’re not going to respond to it like you want or be interested in it. If you want players to see your cool things, make sure you’re catering to their tastes and not just your own. It’s ok to throw things you think are cool into your campaign world and to want to expose your players and their characters to them, just make sure you’re not boring the fuck out of them.

Like many things about GMing, getting players to go see what you want them to see involves communication and knowing your players. With my Rebellion Arc and Orcunraytrel Arc groups, I am able to get the players to do things because nine times out of ten, I know what they are going to do when they respond to stimulus and I know what interests the players because I’ve known them forever. This knowledge allows me to manipulate them when I need to to get them to go where I want them to. They can still surprise me, sure, but in general terms, I know what is going to get my players interested. Pay attention to your players and their playstyles, pay attention to the backgrounds and behavior of their characters. Just being observant and paying attention to your players during sessions is generally going to give you everything you need to get them to go see your cool thing. More importantly, knowing your players is going to tell you what types of cool things you can throw into your campaign world that they’ll get a kick out of so they’ll seek them out on their own.

Navere’s background in Curse of Strahd involves nature and wolves, I’ve spoken as him several times about our contempt for the druids service Strahd. This gives Kyle a good hook for manipulating Navere and I to get us to go see things he wants us to see. Bjorn’s background states that Van Richten is his hero, so Kyle can easily use Van Richten and rumors of him to manipulate Bjorn/Kevin. Andrew has a pattern of making dark pacts and deals, so Kyle can basically showcase any supernatural entity he wants in any campaign he runs. If you pay attention to your players, you’ll know how best to get them to go see your cool thing.

I don’t really have much more to say on this topic. Communicating with your players and paying attention to them and their characters is key to getting them to check out your cool things. Make sure your cool thing is something your players are going to think is cool. If you are going to force your cool thing on them, make sure there’s a valid reason for it, like it is the center of a plotline. Don’t let yourself get butthurt if they don’t respond to your cool thing the way you want them too. Make sure you’re paying attention to why your cool thing fell flat, that sort of information is going to be useful in the future when you make cool things and put them in your campaign worlds.

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