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Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four

Rewards: 6 Ways To Help Your Players Develop Compelling Characters During Play

These tips are all about helping your players develop interesting and unique characters during play. A player who really enjoys playing their character is almost always enthusiastic during play and has more fun at the game table. And feeling interested and enthusiastic, plus having fun, is pretty much the best reward of all for roleplaying.

Go The Extra Mile

The key to helping your players develop compelling characters is to simply put some effort into it. Aside from all the plotting, planning and map drawing you may do between sessions, also try to spend a few minutes thinking about each player's character.

This is something I always think about and rarely do, sadly enough. It seems that something always comes up and I never actually end up dedicating time on this task before a game session. Usually, I'll just think and act upon an idea during play, with little forethought. I suspect many GMs do this too. So, go the extra mile and actually spend the time, even if it's just a half an hour once a month.

You will often find that if you invest time in the players' character development, they will eventually respond and take the lead in their own character development. Which, I think, is a great situation to be in with your campaign.

A warning: some players will always let you do all the in- game development for their characters. These kind of players like to focus on the game play, or puzzles, or what have you, and prefer to just be presented with character developments as they occur. Understand that this is just their playing style and don't take offense with them "expecting you to do all the work". You are free to spend your time on other GMing activities if you don't have the time--and you won't hurt that player's feelings.


Think Outside of the Game Rules

Most game rules do not cover character growth beyond experience points, skill levels, standard equipment purchases, etc. You'll have to think outside of the game rules, and then teach your players to do the same. The tip about scars below is a prime example.

To prevent player frustration though, make it clear from the beginning that you, as game master, have final approval on all character developments that go beyond rule boundaries. That way the players won't feel like you're getting personal or being arbitrary if you start disallowing or modifying player-driven character changes mid-game: they expect you'll have a say in things right from the start.

Tips #4 & #5 are examples of thinking "outside the box". I'd be very interested in how you've rewarded players and characters in non-standard ways: johnn@roleplayingtips.com


Organize Your Character Development Ideas & Plans

Based on my confession of not spending dedicated time on character development in Tip #1, I've decided to take action. What I have done is write each character's name at the top of an index card. I focused on one character at a time and wrote all the character development ideas I could think of on their card. I spent about 3-5 minutes per character and managed to come up with about 10 ideas on each card.

I figure I can really only use one good idea per character per session, based upon my GMing and campaign style. So, I chose the best idea I had for each PC and, on the flip side of each card, wrote it out. I also wrote down some brief points about how I would introduce the development during play for quick reference during the game.

I found that, while brainstorming ideas for one character, I could re-use those ideas for some of the other characters too. Also, additional ideas for all the characters kept popping into my head as I was brainstorming for a single character. Each time I had an idea, I'd add it to the ideas list on the character's cards in case I forgot what it was later on.

By the end of 45 minutes, I had at least 15 ideas written down for each character. That's some pretty valuable information for such a small amount of work because these ideas can turn into:

Plot hooks

Story ideas

Campaign themes

Campaign world ideas & hooks

Encounter ideas

It's great because these ideas are 100% personalized and customized for your players and their characters. Who wouldn't like that?

And with so many ideas floating around, the encounters I'm working on are sometimes writing themselves now.

If you've read some of the past issues of Roleplaying Tips Weekly, you know I'm a big index card fan. But, feel free to use regular sheets of paper, envelopes, or whatever for this technique.

My next challenge is to sort through all of the character ideas looking for some common themes. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could spot a few opportunities to help all the characters develop, in similar or different ways, in the same encounter? Not only would that be efficient, but it would guarantee that no-one gets missed and everyone has fun. I'll see how that goes in the future.


Introduce Rare Or Specialized Skills

An excellent way of developing characters in new ways while maintaining game balance is to give them access to rare or specialized skills. I'd recommend that the skills should be relatively minor and not very costly to learn so that the players are motivated to pick them up.

For example, climbing is a pretty standard skill. And when a player gives his character the climb skill, I bet he's not jumping up and down with excitement.

However, imagine that, spread throughout the current campaign area, is a species of tall tree whose fruits have some medicinal value. The fruits only grow on the top two branches and the tree has evolved a superglue-like tree sap as a defense against hungry ground creatures. A local ranger or woodsman in the area has developed a special technique for climbing the trees without getting stuck. Through roleplaying with the woodsman, a player negotiates training for his character to be able to climb these trees. Technically, the character just has a slightly modified version of the boring old climb skill--but the player won't treat it that way! The player will be very excited about that skill and feeling their character is somewhat special. And every time a party member has their wounds treated with a fruit that has been gathered by that character, the player will feel a little shot of pride.

A couple of other skill examples:

Riding tricks

Astrology (assuming it actually works in your campaign world)

Lip reading

Gourmet cooking

Fine carpentry (i.e. toys & boxes with secret compartments)


Give The Characters Scars Tom Bisbee suggested in Issue #28 about scarring villains. Feel free to scar the PCs too, to represent and remind players of their character's exciting past experiences. And remember that there are mental scars, as well as the physical ones, that you or a player can give a character.

If you scar a PC though, try to get a feel for the player's reaction. Some players want to enjoy 100% control over their characters and may resent your tampering--especially if you are working outside of your game rules. See Tip #1 about clearly communicating your refereeing style ahead of time to prevent upset players.

When scarring a character, start with something pretty minor, like a nick on the arm after a heroic duel, a slight aversion to spiders after a nasty encounter, or a little stage fright while public speaking after a debacle. If the player responds well, then continue scarring as your campaign progresses. Otherwise, respect your player's feelings and back-off on the scarring. :)


Ask Your Players Questions To Help Them With Development Ideas I think the best situation is when a player wants to develop his character in new and different directions and decides to look for ways to do this during play. But many players don't know how to do this, or they may feel uncomfortable doing it because the other players aren't doing it, or because they may be worried about offending you.

A great way around this problem is to ask the players probing questions that lead to character development kinds of answers. Not only will your questions draw great ideas out from your players and spark off the whole process, but they also represent your implicit approval on the issue, which some players may need before letting loose.

Here are some questions examples:

How do you feel... How do you feel now, after standing before a crowd of strangers and swaying them away from the evil Sheriff's plan? What have you learned... What have you learned now that the right man is behind bars? What do you think... What do you think about that crazy woodsman's ability to climb those sticky trees?

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

* Coat of Arms 1.2a
* Promisance
* World of Phaos 0.9.2
Is Magic Armor Lighter Than Standard Armor of the Same Type?
Yes indeed
No, never!
In 1E yes, in 2E no
Only for encumbrance
Of course it is
Not in my world
* And-Mag.com

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