So what’s it all about? What is the secret to being a great game master and keeping your players coming back time after time? There’s a lot to it! The interaction between the group has to be fun - typically because they’re friends. The atmosphere has to be fun. Not too tough for most people, but it’s just not as much fun playing in a crowded cafeteria as it is in the basement of your buddy’s house with maps and posters all over the wall. A really good campaign setting or location can bring them in too, especially if you as a game master have the gift of describing things well to make them feel like they’re really there. But I think the one thing that really makes a campaign memorable is the characters.
Characters make the game. They make the story. They suck the players in and hold them there. I strongly believe that there was nothing special about the Harry Potter stories other than some really compelling characters. I don’t know how she did it (or I would copy it), but she created characters that people really wanted to care about.
OK - So you’re not a billionaire author - How do you create characters that are compelling enough to keep your players involved? Well, first, they need to be more than “Fighter Level 3”. They need to have some substance to them. A little bit of background, a little bit of quirkiness - they go a long way! It’s one of the main reasons I’ve steered away from class based games and into skill level games - you can craft a character instead of flopping into an established role.
There are tons of tricks, and we’ll probably get into more of them in the next post, but there is one thing that so few GMs are willing to do: Kill off a character. If you see that one of your players is really not liking his character - kill it off! Maybe you work with the player - promise him a new character of the same level/experience if he lets you kill his character as part of a murder mystery or something like that.
Look, there are times, when a character should just walk away from the party. Maybe he’s a religious guy and wants good things, but the party keeps assassinating the enemy. Maybe he met a princess in an earlier adventure and proper role-playing would have the character go off to be with her. Maybe you just don’t like the character and can use some excuse like one of these to have him leave and be replaced. Maybe suggesting killing off the character was overdone - you can always retire him in a different manner. The point is - do not keep characters around that cause boredom, anger, disruptions, or just apathy. We’ll try to come up with more ways to grow interest next week.