Challenge- An Emotional Response

Oh Passion, fill my heart...

First off I updated my the Glory that is Me page a lil.. It needed it. And there is a really sexy pic of me up there now. Damn.. I’m hot.

Note: The pic here and on my Glory Hole Page are from Otakon 2010 🙂

Not too long ago I talked about eliciting an emotional response from players.

Well we shall go down that rabbit whole even further.

I have heard many GM’s comment on having a hard time getting the players to engage in the story aside from kill mode.

I’m gonna throw one thing out there right now about player responses. DnD and Pathfinder really have no mechanics to guide player towards an emotional response. There are no rules, soft or hard, there are no mechanics, and there is no real guidance.

Games like DnD and Pathfinder put that responsibility solely in the hands of the DM/GM and the players. The players have to want it, desire it, and pursue it themselves.

So how do we get players to react and interact with the story?

There are some games, like Mouse Guard that excel at getting the players to elicit a form of emotion and depth. Then there are games like Savage Worlds, World of Darkness, and the like that have Edges and Hindrances (or Flaws) that give the player a comfortable structure to use to build an emotional response from.

These mechanics/options are great because it helps a player think outside of the box. It gets the creative juices flowing in the chargen process.

Even with these mechanics in place though, it isn’t guaranteed that there will be any form of emotional attachment to the character, the world, or the NPC’s.

So what do we do?

We challenge them. Again, this is something that Mouse Guard really excels at (for my full gushing works on that- here, here, here, and here. And here are two posts by Roles, Dice and Fun about the same subject. Here and Here.)

“Mouseguarding” aside, you push your players. Make it personal. One thing I like to do is have the players create an NPC at chargen and put them in every so often, or whenever the player calls upon that person.

Player A creates a kind old man who used to tell them stories when they were a child. This man is gentle, friendly, and a veritable fountain of information. So the group always goes to him for historical knowledge.

He has become a staple in the game, and is almost a member of the party.

How will the players react if they find out he was murdered in the crossfire of a local turf war? And to complicate the matter, the city/town guard knew about it, and didn’t act because they were hoping the thugs would kill each other off? Just from that you have two potentially emotionally charged hooks/vendettas.

Instead of killing him, he’s taken hostage. The group needs to rescue him. What if they fail? What if they are sneaking through the gang’s base and the rogue fails a sneak check- (utilizing the complication/twist/condition Mouse Guard Mechanics) they suddenly hear a gunshot or the twang of a crossbow, etc, from the next room.

They find the old man tied to a char, dead, with a bullet or bolt to the head. There’s a huge emotional response. Not only were they too late, but due to a slip up in the group the world reacted.

Many times in “epic” campaigns that are world spanning there is a sense of terror, stress, etc, because all of life is at state and the world may end… but those campaigns sometimes forget the microscopic things, like a characters grandmother, baby sister, spouse, best friend. The players and the GM/DM may lose sight of those for the “big picture.”

Harry Potter, Batman, Buffy, Firefly, and Star Wars

The reason that these shows, comics, and movies are so endearing and wonderful is that they are personal. Each one of them puts the main character(s) in a position that threatens, time and time again, to take away what is dear to them; friends, family, possessions, life, reputation, sanity, etc.

My above example of NPC’s isn’t the only situation. A living world is important for an emotional response. What happens if the group is asked to take care of a crooked constable who has been bulling the populace, but instead they rush off to a tomb to retrieve a powerful magical weapon that could be disastrous in the wrong hands?

The party comes back to town with the weapon and feeling victorious, but the town is in shambles. The people attempted to stand up to the constable, and he killed, raped, and pillaged.

In several games I’ve played in, and hell ones I’ve GM’d, the other plot (the constable) just goes to the back burner or once they return, even if the town had been ransacked, everyone would be happy for the heroes because they have the big bad weapon in their safety.

But really… are people honestly that understanding? If you think so just watch how the asshole in front of you drives, thinking he owns the road (oh yeah.. I’m bitter). Most people can’t see past their own pain, even if it is so much smaller than what others are facing.

Having them come back to a town that is suffering and in pain due to their lack of action will make the adventure have that much more impact, and make the world seem much more real.

You can reverse the scenario and have the group stand up to the constable, but someone else gets the weapon and now the group has to deal with that threat before it becomes too large.

I know that nothing I’m spouting is new or novel, but it’s worth mentioning. Creating adventures and stories that are on the personal level for the players will bring out an amazing emotional response.

How do you challenge your players?

Author: Mike Evans

I am the dude behind DIY RPG Productions. I have a fuck all punk rock attitude, love meeting new people, doing nature shit, and gaming (tabletop and console) and having a good time. I love craft beer (maybe too much), punk, grunge, and industrial music. I write books. Good for me.

2 thoughts

  1. Ah yes, Mouse Guard is a good example of how to introduce rules beyond those, that deals with skills, combat and magic, and instead govern the interests of the character in the world around him. I’ve noticed that several indie-games are quite good at doing this, another favorite of mine is The Shadow of Yesterday.

    When it comes to involving the players, you might also asked, do they want to? And if they want to, how do they want to be involved?
    Do the story, that you play, involve them? Do the rules support their involvement?

    Quite often a D&D-scenario can put great things at stake, such as the world or mankind, and yet it does not involve the characters beyond the most base obligation to save the world. At the same time the rules does not reward the players for their involvement, it rewards the players for killing monsters. That’s why I like to change the rules to support the involvement, hence my use of the mouse guard rules in my D&D-campaign (and thanks for linking).

    For me to involve the players, it is about putting them into the center of the story, and to have the players introduce things, they care about. In my Delta Green-campaign (Call of Cthulhu setting with secret agents) the players have created families for their characters, and before each mission, we play a scene involving their families. They’re thus always reminded for whom, they are fighting their secret war against the Cthulhu Myrhos, and it is these moments, that keep the characters human – they even earn Humanity-points for playing these scenes, and those points are a powerful resource in the campaign.
    Besides having the rules support the players’ involvement, I focus on having the players introduce and control the persons, that are important to the PCs. For me the key to involvement, is to give the players ownership. A part comes from establishing what kind of involvement, that is desired. Do the players want to play adventurers with no obligations, or do they want their greatest resource to be their characters’ friends and families?

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