Category Archives: Season 2: Reroll

TMoD: Reroll – Invested

From plot inconsistencies to rule clarifications, there are a ton of pressure points that have popped up over the course of every campaign I’ve run, but for the most part any obstacle in a TTRPG can be addressed if given enough time. We can take a brief pause to look up a rule for more clarification or we can stop to discuss how a plot point is at odds with some previously established lore, but the one thing we can’t easily address is a player’s level of investment in what’s happening in the game, and that can be a problem.

For the uninitiated, I’ve been running my players through an Eberron campaign that started with their characters living normal lives in the big city, but has evolved into exploring the Mournlands, a zone of wild magic where incomprehensible horrors exist. I tried to make it a point to not just throw bigger and badder enemies at them in an attempt to emphasize how bad this place is, cause that’s not really interesting or apt to what the area is about. Instead, I’ve genuinely tried to put them in challenging positions where they have to really consider their actions and choices, attempting to make situations less binary than they’ve been in the past.

Despite my best efforts however, when I asked them how their characters were holding up in a mental capacity, I was a little disappointed when some of the answers I got boiled down to, “I’m good.” Really? You’re just fine? I’ve been hitting your characters harder than ever, both in terms of battles and narrative content, but you’re good? Sure that’s deflating to find that my story and world-building haven’t done the trick, but maybe your characters are genuinely taking this whole situation in stride. Fine.

But that investment isn’t just limited to a player engaging with the content of the story, it’s also a question of if their character has any additional motivations outside of just, “defeating the bad guy.” We rarely explore all of the little lifestyle stuff that TTRPGs have to offer, nor does anyone really engage in a vice or follow up on personal quests, but that may just be a result of us having limited time from session to session. I get the idea of not wanting to feel like you’re monopolizing the session with some stuff that isn’t intrinsic to the plot, but some of the most interesting and memorable stuff happens in those moments. My players are more or less tethered to one another and act as a hivemind rather than individuals, although to be fair to them, there isn’t a whole lot else to do aside from experience anguish and suffering inside of the Mournlands.

I don’t want to sound overly negative because I do love my group, they just happen play the game a little differently than I was expecting. I think that part of it is the aforementioned short amount of time we have to play, and the other factor is that I don’t like juggling clocks and timers. Because of that, it ultimately allows them to pocket a bunch of quests and tackle them later like in a video game without much consequence, but that’s something I’m working to fix.

I also think it’s an issue of playing too meta. They know that splitting the party is dangerous and tend not to do it, especially considering I’ve used it against them before. I try to pull them apart from time to time, not just to hurt them, but because I want them to have a chance to act like fully realized characters with their own motivations and goals. I also think it makes for a more satisfying experience when you have some sort of emotional attachment to your character, but maybe that’s just me.

But maybe they are attached to their characters and are experiencing all of these things in their own way. This could be a situation where I’m expecting one thing and getting frustrated because I’m not getting the response I want. Regardless of how they react in-game, they keep showing up and keep wanting to play and make progress, so something must be clicking for them.

This all comes form a place of being hyper-critical of myself and I 100% recognize that. I desperately want to make sure that everyone is having fun, and in my mind that equates to them being invested in the story, their characters, the world and everything else that I’m invested in as the GM. But that isn’t how it works and it’s unrealistic to expect them to care as much as I do about this game that I spend way more time thinking about than they do.

To circle all the way back around to the thesis of this article, how do we address player investment when running a campaign? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a clean answer to that. I think, like most elements of TTRPGs, it depends on the people you’re playing with. Simply asking upfront, “what kind of game are you looking to play” might garner some actionable information, but your players might not know what it is they actually want until you’re several sessions into a campaign.

A player might come into a campaign thinking they want tons of role-playing opportunities or that they want to play a character that excels outside of combat, but they might find out that they really just wanna roll some dice and do bigger ouchies to their enemies, which is fine if they communicate that to you.

Like most relationships, communication is so critical to making sure everyone’s needs in a campaign are met. But when they don’t make a distinction one way or another about what they prefer, you’re left in this nebulous zone where you’re just hurling spaghetti at the wall, not even hoping that something sticks, but hoping that they’ll be somewhat interested in one of the piles that’s formed on the ground. A flawless metaphor, for sure.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that I keep trying to decipher what it is my players like so I can do more of that, but I feel like I’m misinterpreting what it is that they want more of and just try any and everything I can think of. The truth probably is that they just like the whole of the experience and are just happy to be playing at all, which is a heartwarming sentiment if true. But if that’s the case, that means they enjoy the fact that I have a small crisis every single time we play, which results in me second guessing myself constantly.

So maybe they just enjoy my suffering.

TMoD: Reroll – Derelict Worlds

I’m about two years into running my Eberron-themed D&D5e campaign which is finally nearing its conclusion, signifying not only the first long-term campaign I’ve ever run actually ending naturally as opposed to flaming out, but also represents the opportunity to start crafting our next adventure, or in my case the next several adventures.

I like crafting new worlds for every campaign that I run, preferably something that compliments and plays more of an active role in the storytelling rather than just operating as a backdrop. With Eberron, I was able to use the existing setting fairly well by having the players cross through into and explore the untamed arcane landscape known colloquially as The Mournlands. This area of the map is nebulous and not very well defined by design, allowing game masters to plug in whatever they like into that area, which I most definitely have.

I’d like to think I’ve been successful in cramming a somewhat compelling story to into the blanks that the book provides, but I’m still playing in someone else’s world and clashing with the rules therein. So I opt to build worlds of my own with histories and rules that I know because I’m making them up as I go along. If I don’t have an explicit answer for something that might come up while playing, I can confidently make something up without worrying too much if I’m contradicting some preestablished lore.

The problem is that I never seem to get too far in the construction of a world before getting distracted and moving onto something else. It’s resulted in at least a half-dozen derelict and malformed worlds that lack any real definition outside of one or two cities and some historical events. Sometimes there’s a map involved and sometimes there are even quests and characters, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten before I try to develop something in a completely different setting.

Most of the time I’m leaping from design to design based on some theme I’d like to play around in or some new mechanics I’ve found. Like when I finally received my copies of Orbital Blues and Death in Space, I was eager to craft a universe filled with planet-hopping adventures and rampant capitalism based oppression but flamed out on that when I realized that making an explorable universe is hard.

There was also the time where I replayed Red Dead Redemption 2 and was deeply inspired to create a wild west themed game, but I couldn’t find a set of mechanics I liked to match it, so that concept died on the vine and gave way to something else that I never finished. I think I also just wanted a game that allowed me to do a bunch of cowboy accents, which was a bigger part of my motivation than you’d think.

Cyber punk, solar punk, Victorian, high and low fantasy, modern day and so on and so forth, I’ve made and abandoned so many worlds and settings in favor of starting fresh with something else, all thanks to my ever wandering eye. I fully intend to finish at least one of these concepts if for no other reason than that I’ll eventually have to when it comes time to start something new, but until then these worlds can stay stagnant in the many, many Google Docs they’re spread across.