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Sometimes players make characters that seem to exist in a vacuum. They don’t appear to know anyone or belong anywhere in your world. But it isn’t just on the player to gives his character connections to your world, the GM needs to help this along. This week I like at some of the ways my GM has added a sense of belonging to his campaign and ideas on how to draw players into the world at large.
As a GM how do you help your players become a part of your setting? Or do you even bother? Are friends and family important to you or your players? What non-person connections have you given them?
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First, I offer up the time/place/other setting info where the game will start and require that players provide a reason why their character would be there and why they would join. Up to and including emailed RP sessions prior to playing (I've never done a full game by email/or play by post). If you don't tell my why your character would be there or join the group, then you don't play. Player & character buy-in is very important.
Second, I require backstories from all characters. Offering in game rewards for best backstory works wonders. Also, there is the threat of 'no backstory means GM backstory is assigned and ONLY the GM knows what that backstory is'. So far, everyone has always turned in a backstory.
Third, I like to have their actions come back to them - in a good way or bad way, though currently mostly bad. (I am a GM, after all.) For example, the lesbian orc was 'orc-married' - the orc leading a squad of soldiers saw her and declared she was his wife. She took offense to this and decapitated him on the spot. Since then, the orc's warlord father has been sending teams of mercenaries to hunt them down. At one point, most of the party was successfully ambushed & captured. They were rescued by the 3rd level elf wizard and another party member's badger animal companion, who managed to take down a CR 5 group of mercenaries by themselves. The rest of the party watched from inside their locked cages, where they succeeded to totally fail in breaking out. And the sorcerer forgot he could cast spells from inside the cage. Since they're still free, the random group of mercs will show up now and again trying to take them in.
Fourth, slowly and over many sessions, I make sure each character gets at least one story arc tied into their backstory. The current group now has a the wizard's sister tagging along (a cohort gained via Leadership), occasionally the orcs lesbian girlfriend and/or her sisters join up. The halfing rogue's ex-bestfriend turned nemesis has been committing crimes in the PC's name for months now. Only because during the story session, the PC betrayed his ex-friend. Even the orphan who barely knew his parents and grew up on the streets of Absolom is getting his own story - where he finds out he is the last born son of a fallen noble line, and thus technically a prince.
Fifth, I've taken to adding sweeping backdrops that the party can't really change or control (well, maybe with excessive effort) but which have ramifications for them. The current campaign features a war in which Qadira has sacked Oppara and is quickly conquering a large swath of Taldor. The group is currently lugging a pile of loot along the western edge of the war zone dealing with fleeing refugees, loot-hungry deserters, etc.
Sixth, listen to the players. Find out what each character would like to do or accomplish, and offer up chances for it. Or offer up something you think they would like - like a secret arcane library hidden in the middle of the desert that requires special information to enter and offers eldritch rewards for people who keep bringing back magical artifacts and unique items.
Another important part, which is sometimes hard to accomplish, is to make sure each session/story flows into the other. I sometimes spend weeks hammering out the transition details so they have flow. I just got an email last month from an ex-player - he's lived in 3 countries since we last played - commending me on making everything flow in a way that felt seamless to him. So, it works.
It helps a lot that gaming is also my creative writing outlet, so I can spend hours hammering away at my homebrewed stories and not feel like the time is wasted. It's not a chore, it's a blast.