Of all the ways to let your players customize their RPG experience, letting them effect the world is the most daunting. It also happens to be the one customization every player enters an RPG hoping to make, whether they know it or not.
Role playing games can have many different goals, but they’re based around the concept of telling a story. Stories, in turn, tend to be based around characters and their affects on the world. Even in stories that are based around internal conflict the author has to allow the characters personal descisions to have a lasting affect on the setting.
In the same way, if your RPG players spend a campaign arc rescuing a princess, only to have her killed offscreen in the next session, they will get discouraged. The more freedom your players have, and the more you allow thier actions to change the game world, the more invested they will have to be in the game every time they play.
If characters support a kingdom, make a note that that kingdom should prosper more, or at least be better protected, than its neighbors. If players make a base it should endure, even if the ownership changes, and if they make allies those allies should be reliable.
I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve always wanted to run a campaign, then run a second one set in the same world. Even without running the second campaign, I think it’s helpfull to keep the question in the back of your mind: “How can we change our world this game session?”
Home bases have always been very populare in every RPG my usual group has played. These bases can take several shapes: spaceships, ranch homes, small cottages, steam boats, or even the spare room in a friendly beekeepers house.
Home bases have always seemed like a great way for players to customize the game world through thier characters. If you’re having trouble bringing your players and thier characters into your world I suggest giving them a base of opperations, even if they’ll only have it for a few weeks.
Additionally, I’d say a good idea would be to give the players a flawed home base. If you give the players a room, maybe it has no curtains or lock on the front door. If it’s a spaceship, maybe it has mechanical issues, no guns, and a room which isn’t airtight. This will encourage players to either set thier characters to work modifying the base, or accept the circumstances and improvise as needed. This is what we did in the ranch home base, where all of our bullet holes were patched up on the kitchen table.
A base is an exellent way to encourage game play though customization, but there are more ways to do this, which will be coming in the fourth and final installation in this series…
In the first part of this series I mentioned how suprising it was that players are not encouraged to customize thier gear more, as it had fairly little effect on the game overall. Todays topic, characters physical appearance, is a little more complicated to make sense of customizing, but is so personal that I felt it needed to be part of this series.
First off, I think the base physical appearance of a character needs to stay roughly the same, unless you want to make plastic surgurey a prominent feature of your RPG world. That being said, there are still a ton of options for customization, some of the most obviouse that come to mind are changing hair color or getting a tattoo. It’s not nescessary to go even this far to make a substantial change though.
I like to draw on TV shows or movie series for inspiration. Consider Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trillogy. As the movies progress, in each one his hair gets shorter and he holds his jaw more firmly. If you saw a picture of just the actors face, you could tell which of the movies it was from. TV shows tend to do the same sort of thing, slightly altering the characters appearance from season to season.
I like to think of my RPG characters lives in “seasons”. For instance, I have a character in a western rpg, who’s on the run from a wizards guild, trying to hide out in the frontier as a gambler. For his first “season” I described him as looking very put together, with a black suit and well combed hair. During that time he was a little ackward and tended to panic in danger. I view his first season as ending in our last campaign we played, which involved a botched heist in a big city, a lot of running away from gaurds, and then my character being suprised and blasting an innocent gaurd in the chest. After alot of debate the gaurd died, and I feel like that’ll have a huge effect on my character.
I plan on describing him as looking a little less put together, with his hair always just kinda in need of a cutting and his jacket unbuttoned. I also intend on playing him as resisting his panic and trying to think in danger.
I don’t think physical appearance gets enough thought in RPG’s after the initial setup, so I’d encourage players to bring it up to thier GM’s or GM’s to ask every few adventures “Do these last few events make your character look any different?”