When you’re writing all of these adventures and the background material to go with, remember to keep the party in mind. There are a number of reasons for doing this:
- It makes it easier to involve the PCs in the plots.
- Interaction between your material and the PCs’ backgrounds can create interesting plots you might not have thought of otherwise.
- You need to make sure the PCs are capable of solving your plots.
- You need to make sure the players will enjoy your plots.
- It helps you to come up with ways of solving your plots that don’t necessarily involve physical violence.
Here are a few words on each…
Involving the PCs
When creating your adventures and non-player characters (NPCs), try to keep in mind how you’re going to involve the party. This gives you a chance to seed hooks in. If you know that one PC is a movie buff, you can have the interesting beginning-of-plot scene happen at a movie premier or in a theater. You can work the party’s contacts and friends into the plots, so those NPCs can draw the party into things. You can architect plots to tug on the PCs’ heart-strings or trigger memories of traumatic past events.
This is easiest to do while you’re creating the plots. You can of course work some of these things in afterward, but if you keep the characters in mind while you work on your plots, then some ideas may jump right out at you. It tends to make for a more seamless game, where things feel a little less tacked-on.
Interaction Creates Plots
Don’t just create your adventures and non-player character (NPC) plots in a vacuum. You never know when you’ll look at this adventure you’re creating and notice that you could come up with a whole new interesting side plot by working in that bit of background one of your players came up with. It’ll make your players feel good because their character background is getting used, and it’ll help you to come up with new and interesting plots.
This is particularly useful if your players tend to leave dangling plot hooks in their backgrounds. You might even encourage them to do this; have them leave a few unexplained events in their backgrounds here and there that you can turn into parts of your plots later.
It’s all well and good to come up with this spiffy plot that requires the characters to delve heavily into Egyptian mysticism. But what if none of the characters are into mysticism at all? They don’t have any wizardly contacts, they have no access to wizardly libraries, and they wouldn’t have any idea where to start doing their research.
There must be ways to solve the plots that the PCs can pull off. You need to keep their abilities and contacts in mind when you create the solutions to your plots.
Even better, try to create plot solutions that deliberately draw on things the characters are good at or at least delve into a little. Players enjoy it when the spiffy little things they work into their characters get to see use. If one character studied art history in college, then perhaps there’s an NPC involved in the plot who is an art aficionado, who will be favorably disposed toward someone who can hold her own in a conversation about oil painting. There are all sorts of ways to work the party’s abilities and interests into your plots, however large or small.
If you develop this as a habit, players become more likely to work odd interesting abilities into their characters in later games. If they know whose odd little abilities that “no one ever uses” will be made interesting by you, then they’re more likely to spend the points on them. If those odd little abilities just languish, then you’re simply encouraging them to spend more points on combat-abilities the next time around.
Enjoying the Plots
This one is pretty simple. You should take into account the sorts of plots your players enjoy when creating your adventures and background material. If you don’t know your players very well, you can look at their characters. A character’s interests and abilities will often reflect a player’s preferences. Of course not all of your players will enjoy the same plots, but that’s just a reason to have a bit of variety now and then.
Even better, make sure you talk to your players enough to understand the sorts of plots they like before you start your game. As you game, pay attention to what frustrates them, what annoys them, and what makes them go “wow, that was an amazing adventure!”
There’s a minor corollary here, however. Just as it takes you a while to figure out what types of plots you’re good at GMing, it may take your players a while to figure out what types of plots they enjoy playing. So, particularly with new players, character abilities may not entirely reflect what a player enjoys playing.
Non-Violent Plot Solutions
I’m not saying that violent plot solutions are bad, just that it can take a lot more work to come up with non-violent solutions, so I figure people probably need more help with that. I expect you’re more than capable of figuring out for yourselves who the party needs to beat up and how if you want a combat solution!
To find good non-combat solutions to your plots, follow the advice from “Solving Plots,” above. Look at their abilities, interests, hobbies, backgrounds, contacts. Pick a couple that sound interesting and figure out how you can work them in, how the PCs can use them to solve your plots.
This is one of the reasons that published adventures are inherently inferior to anything you can come up with yourself: The author of an adventure cannot take the abilities of your PCs into account. You can. This is another good reason to read any published adventure through thoroughly before you use it, with your players’ character sheets next to you. You can alter the plots to take your party’s abilities and interests into account. It’ll make your players feel as though they have more of an impact on the story, and they’ll enjoy it more.