A Mind-fog on RPG Immersion

The topic on hand is immersing players in a campaign. I’ve got a biweekly Hackmaster group that I run a campaign for. It’s going well so far, I think.

I hope.

Sometimes I don’t know.

But we’re all still doing it, so I can’t be doing a terrible job, right?

Anyways. As I write adventures for my party to roll through, I’m running into a conundrum: I’m not sure where to take them out of the spotlight and dump them headfirst into a wider world. As characters, they’re advancing mechanically and they’re taking a larger position in the world but Kalamar is a big place and at 3rd and 4th level, they’re certainly not moving mountains.

This last session saw one of their own on trial for murder. It panned out all right (if by all right, you mean an innocent farmer being pegged for the crime and hanged in her place, that is). Thing is, they didn’t do any of the framing…someone else did.

And no one batted an eye.

Sure, a couple of the party members thought it was suspicious but they didn’t delve into any research or ask around. Not on their own steam. The wider world showed a tantalizing glimpse of leg and the players didn’t go for it.

Once the trial was over, I wanted to give them a little liberty in determining where the story ends up. Maybe delve into some personal quests or look into the murder trial debaucle. They’ve asked their NPC buddy Phineas to look into a talisman prophecy that they’ve been involved with since level 1 but that’s on the back-burner for at least another level. I’ve got an idea for the ending but they’re all wee baby characters compared to how difficult the final encounter will be. And I intend to pace the prophecy dungeon crawls out over the course of them becoming badass enough to not get brutally murdered by every encounter in the end. So for now, I’ve slackened the railroading leash to let them gallivant.

Beyond that, they’ve gone to the notice board in the local tavern and there are plenty of quest hooks…all of which exist in the wide world instead of being intimately tied to them like this prophecy questline.

My intuition might be held together by peanut butter and powered by angry bees but I got the distinct feeling that the party thought I hadn’t planned up to this point. Like they were waiting for a quest that was hand-tailored for them once again and I instead gave them a series of bounty quests on bandits, slave traders, hobgoblins, and a giant pig named Contessa. You know. Standard RPG quest fodder.

It was an attempt to broaden their perspective on the world. Adventure isn’t restricted to Frandor’s Keep nor is it constantly tied to the players themselves. But I think the point fell flat. I can think of a few reasons, but the biggest one might be that maybe I set them up for this.

Several of the players are new to roleplaying and I’ve sort of spoon-fed them quests up to this point. Giving them space to act had some of them sort of…twirling in place.

And so I’m sitting down, ready to write up the next arc of adventuring; gathering resources to provide them an engaging story no matter which path they take…and wondering how much needs to center on them. Obviously, to be engaging, the main protagonist of any story needs to be involved. They need to take action. But sometimes an adventure is a bunch of characters stepping into a larger conflict. Getting embroiled in the wider world instead of finding another dungeon crawl tailored to their level.

Admittedly, party makeup has a lot to do with this. I can’t very well go throwing in anything I want and expect a party to gel with it all. My group is made up of more combat-hungry players than roleplaying-hungry players. They love the danger of combat. Most of them tune out when it’s time to talk their way out of things.

So it’s ME who needs to get better at writing. I need to get better at immersing my players without having them chafe against those elements that has most of the party looking down at their phones instead of listening to the narrative. I consider the down-time a player spends in the screen of a smartphone a direct and negative critique on my ability to keep people’s focus as Game Master.

I think I need to work harder at having quick-pull details. Name charts, quick-stats, keep taking notes when new details are established. Establish a continuity that the party WANTS to follow. Not one that they HAVE to follow.

Of course it also depends on a player’s desire to become immersed as well…but that’s another blog post entirely.

In any case. Maybe you guys could help. You don’t need to be a master roleplayer to help. Any help at all’s appreciated.

Got any suggestions? Tips? Tricks?

Money?

I could use a lot of money.

No?

Yeeees?

*stares*

Fine.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

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2 Comments

  1. You gotta remember that part of the difficulty comes from how large the party becomes for each of your campaigns; I love the role-play, but hesitate to drag 5 other people through it behind me, when it so often turns to them being bored. Part of that could be solved if they actually chose characters to role-play rather than stat sheets to update as then the role-playing could be between characters of the party, but that requires them to have characters to play.

    • You’re exactly right on that, Nic. The large-sized parties make the talking parts difficult simply by juggling 6+ people’s attentions in a single conversation. Also, I would KILL for some interplayer shit-shooting. Just characters indulging each other on random topics because…that’s what they’re doing in the moment. Sounds engaging and compelling to me, but I’m a cukoopants writer like that.


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