Player "homework" between sessionsMy Friday night game group is a pretty diverse set of characters. Two of them are graduates of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; one has his doctorate, while the other will likely have his in a year. The PlatinumChick is a biologist and professional reptile breeder. A fourth is a single mother (and has been roleplaying for longer than even myself!) while the last is a grad student at Wright State specializing in English as a Second Language.
As you can imagine, this gang has a lot of homework as it is. And, because of that, I'm typically very reticent to provide them any additional paperwork on top of that which their normal lives provide. However, given the right circumstances, any GM can find ways for even the busiest of players to think about their character's actions out of game.
While I typically request a character background before a campaign starts, it's not mandatory for me, as long as that player provides some vehicle into their background in each session. Chris (the first of our two doctors!) typically goes this route, while ChaoticFrederick prefers a fully fleshed-out, lengthy, written background. These backgrounds provide you, as the GM, plenty of conflict beats and ideas for adversaries without even much work on your part! If you emphasize the importance of conflict, your players will respond!
|A single email can go a long way!|
Get those players engaged, away from the table!
Lastly, a great way to assign homework without adding to your players' bookkeeping, try using the "Dramatic Interlude" rules from Savage Worlds Deluxe. Similar to a "campfire scene", Dramatic Interludes allow the players to regale one another of exploits in their PCs downtime as well as times before the party got together. With a simple flip of a card, you not only provide the players a vehicle into one another's backgrounds, but you also monetize that effort on their party, by providing a mechanical benefit as recompense for their creative energy. That monetization encourages their creativity, getting them to think deeply about what they can bring to the table the next time you whip out a Dramatic Interlude.
The key thing, though? Don't overwhelm your players with paper. Remember, this is all a game--something we do to relax and escape from reality. Done with a light hand, a little bit of homework can add great dimension to your roleplaying experience, but don't go overboard! A little goes a long way!