The characters of your game have lives outside of the actual playing time, but showing proof of it is a trick. It is always difficult to get players to take more time out of their busy schedules to help the game master create and detail their world. They might help with game logs, but few will write up their family’s home, nor detail family members and other characters associated with their PC. So how do you create a family, strengthen bonds of friendship or animosity, and introduce new plot possibilities?
You Write Letters
While in persona, have your characters write home or to their friends. In the letters they chronicle not just what happened, but more importantly – what they remember happened. Ask them to include their hopes, their worries and their dreams; and as a GM you’ll have a bountiful resource for future plots, ideas and story lines.
The hook for the player to write is to promise, as a GM, that they will receive a reply.
If the PC does not care about the society in which they live, they will break laws, and become brigands before they’ll consider helping the society.
The easiest bond to create and maintain, regardless of your game’s genre or style, is one to family or friends. The easiest way to create that bond is through communication. Designing characters with close ties to friends and families is essential for this to work. The family or friends, when writing can always question the PCs actions, but regardless the letter-writers must support the PCs. The letters should almost always be positive for the best results.
There are many ways players could respond to your letter writing. Here’s a few:
- Some Player-Characters Write Post Cards: For the PCs that don’t want to write much, getting them to write something is a victory. You can always reply with a longer letter full of questions; but even a post card home can be meaningful to the people who receive it and a lot can be learned from a brief note.
- I’m Doing Fine, Wish You Were Here: For the PC that doesn’t include any detail, have a family member travel to visit them. The visitor can be well intended and even helpful, but no good PC is going to let the visitor get into trouble. Sibling visits, visits from potential (and parent approved suitors), there are lots of potential embarrassing situations and plot points in these scenarios.
- Don’t Bother Me Now I’m Busy: Some players will show no interest what so ever. Well – in these cases, if you can get one player interested, then do it with just one player. But make the letters public. Have the PC spend time reading the letters aloud, even passing them out to friends to occupy spare time. Sometimes the most fun a letter can provide, is when it’s shared. You may find the uninterested player does show interest, just not in doing it himself or herself. When that happens, don’t push – but don’t stop either.
- A Letter with No Reply: The uninterested player can always receive news from home. Mothers are tenacious in letter writing, and often write expecting no reply what so ever. They write to tell what’s going on at home, to explain how the holidays went and who came to visit, and to inquire after the Player-Character’s health, friends and relations.
- Too many letters: Some players write so many letters that replying to them could cause the game to devolve into just letter writing. Have the letter written by an NPC that has poor writing skills, or is not as interested in it as the Player. In the letter, praise the character for their letter, ask for more, but keep your reply to between 100 and 200 words. Either leave out large sections (like where he explains how to boil cabbages) or just reply with a post card.
The more letters the PCs write, the more information and people the GM must create and detail. Keeping letters to family information and the occasional local event helps keep the letters short. If time is of the essence, a reply can be offered in parts.
Games are meant to be fun. If the player doesn’t have time to detail actual letters home, then don’t press. Either they’ll find time to do it, or they won’t. And if they won’t – it does not detract from your game, so just let it be.
Letter writing can add a new level to your campaign, one that can be used to strengthen family bonds, create new adventure hooks and deepen everyone’s understanding of the characters in play. It, like so many other tools and props, is simple and easy to use if applied liberally and not forced upon unwilling players. Give it a try.