Last time I mentioned two factors for a DM to consider when building a game. The first was consideration of the number of players and what effect that might have on the focus of your game.
Now I’ll look at the other question I feel should be asked early on :
What do the Players want to do ?
You want to run a well-organized game, with a solid story, a sense of realism and depth to it, and most of all you want it to be enjoyable. So it follows, logically, that for your friends to really get into and enjoy the adventure you’re about to work so hard to put together and run for them, they should want to play it.
I think we as fans of the game, whatever RPG system it is, assume that what we want to do or what we find cool / awesome / interesting in an adventure, is what everyone else finds cool / awesome / interesting. It’s human nature. We’re sold on our own great ideas and believe that others are, too.
Maybe you spend a Saturday watching all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and then decide that the most awesome idea ever for an adventure is a ship-based, aquatic campaign based on swashbucklery. And then your enthusiasm comes up against a group of players who are entirely in the mood for, say, a dungeon-crawl against demons. Or, worse yet, your group simply is not interested AND has no idea what they DO want to play.
Of course you can force the issue, press ahead with your game as YOU want it, and draw a group to adventure. But they will join out of friendship and a sense of obligation, and when enough time has passed or they can find reasons enough to abandon your game, I suspect they will.
You want longevity, and to provide an enjoyable time, and most of all you want the players to connect with the game and invest their time, intellect, interest. The purpose of these Campaign and Story Elements discussions is to develop a fun, memorable game that everyone will enjoy. The players need to buy into what you are selling, which is not to say that you need to sell out to draw a group.
The obvious way to find out what the players want to do in a game, and what they want to get out of playing your game, is to ask them. This fact needs to be said out loud. A shocking number of businesses, for example, fail to grasp this very simple concept when they try to figure out what motivates their employees. A DM can end up wasting a lot of effort by guessing and second-guessing player interests.
So there’s a pretty direct way to find a theme for your game that will not only draw players but likely retain them for the duration. Just ask them what they’d like your game to involve. One of the first things I did when assembling what would become the “Moonwatch” campaign, was to present my friends with an informal, written questionnaire:
I did not expect there would be agreement on any one point; in fact I got so many different responses that I could only infer what the majority of the group did NOT like. I already had ideas about what I wanted to do, which did fit the group’s general interests. Fortunately I did not have to toss out my ideas in order to get a game to happen. Likely you would not have to, either.
What asking the group gave me was a sense of what did and did not interest my group. This refined my story and adventure choices, and at the same time put an obligation on my players – as they had a hand in defining what the adventure would be like, they could not abandon what was, in part, their own idea.
To push ahead with your own idea for an adventure, whether a pet-project campaign or a favorite module book (Ravenloft, 4th Ed Death’s Reach, TMNT’s Turtles Go Hollywood, ROBOTECH’s Ghost Ship…), is to make this YOUR adventure that the players have joined – maybe just to be polite. Your love for your ideas is not necessarily infectious.
To suggest ideas, solicit and accept input from the players, is to involve them in the creative progress and oblige them to invest effort in the game’s success. That builds a campaign and a story that will interest them personally, and it gives them a chance to play out an adventure that appeals to them. This is the advantage of the collaborative process.
Listen to what they say, and listen to what they aren’t saying. If you have ideas what you’d like to do, suggest them, see how that is received. Perhaps they’ll suggest concepts you hadn’t considered and that you like. The players will have to enjoy what they’re playing or else your campaign won’t go anywhere. A campaign with only half-interested players will still last twice as long as a campaign with uninterested players.
Build something that they (and you!!) will mutually enjoy playing, and your campaign will have a solid foundation.
Let’s build on that foundation a bit. Next time, we’ll get a sense of your players as people.