Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Injecting Emotion into Your Game

A murderhobo romp can become quite forgettable as every group of bad guys become little more than a target number of hit points to kill. Social interactions with NPCs can be reduced to mere receptacles for quest hook without emotional attachment. These problems started to coalesce in my mind when I needed to come up with an NPC on the fly, and while stumbling for a different name than I’ve used before one of the players said something to help me.

I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like, “Does it matter? Just call every NPC John. There’s no need to flesh them out.” It’s occurred to me since that while I can give each NPC a backstory, description, cool name, and a quest hook, it doesn’t matter if the player’s don’t care about the NPC. Even if it’s just a matter of getting them to care just enough to follow up on the quest hook.

Here’s a new lesson on my journey as a dungeon master, any NPC I spend the time to design and be a quest hook needs to have an emotional hook. It became clearest while running my last adventure. Here was the situation: NPC #1 offered the heroes money for a job. NPC #2 plead with them to do the opposite. My PCs went with the emotional connection over the money. I don’t know if this will apply to every group, but my players go with the NPC that offers them something emotionally.

So how do you go about injecting emotion into your quests? Through the players’ characters of course. It’s going to take some preparation and roleplaying on your part, but it can be done.

Lately, I’ve been wondering how to get my players to become more than emotionally involved in just their own characters, but those of the whole group. By emotionally involved I mean more than simply invested in the well being of the rest of the party. Had an interesting experience tonight. One of my quest hooks came to fruition this evening, as a player who messed with dark magic he shouldn’t have (the Necronomicon) watched it wreak havoc with the party tonight. The book caused the player - a cleric by the way - to be affected by a Wild Magic Surge each day. A 1 came up on the d20, and then 01 on the percentile dice. For the next ten rounds the party’s cleric started exploding and polymorphing along with all kinds of other crazy effects.

The rest of the group was mystified. After a couple of rounds they realized this was all from the Wild Magic Surge table. Eventually, they discovered the cleric had read the evil grimoire. The group’s paladin looked visibly angry. He wasn’t rude to anyone, and roleplayed masterfully by channelling his frustration at the cleric for not only reading the book, but hiding that fact from the rest of the party.

My intention wasn’t to get the players to turn on each other. However, introducing quest seeds and allowing the players individually the option to act independently - even if that meant stepping on the toes of their fellow adventurers - allowed for the creation of drama. And not the bad kind.


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