Friday, October 11, 2013

30 Days of GameMastery--Day 9!

I'm a touch late today, but it's the same drill:  Lindevi's 30 Days of GameMastery challenge:  let's get right into it!

Player "homework" between sessions
My 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!
But, be judicious and flexible.  Any work that you pile onto your players outside of the game table can really add up, so try to avoid giving players additional work from week to week.  One great way that I've found to do so is through private, e-mail based conversations.  This worked particularly well with one of our former players:  FridayNightWill.  Will wasn't particularly a great writer, though his characters often had a penchant for ending up in shenanigans while separated from the group.  In responding to his in-character desires, I'd often say "I'm going to send you an e-mail later this week--keep your eyes peeled!"  His responses to a brief, private e-mail conversation would provide the impetus for countless great adventures for our entire group when back at 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!


  1. The nice thing about the Dramatic Interludes is that you get the benefits of character development, but without any homework since it begins and ends at the gaming table. I've also heard of the variation where players get the cards at the beginning of the session and can then have their flashback/story whenever they feel it is appropriate during the session and immediately get the Benny reward. You can't necessarily get the same depth as a planned e-mail or writeup, but it does help with players who don't like homework.

  2. That's the key that I was going for, brother--my players are already swamped with *literal* homework, so adding more paperwork to their stack just isn't tenable. However, the Interludes make for great replacements and get them to think extemporaneously about their character's motivations and background.