How to Promote Player Investment

It is no secret that in order to really keep your players coming around every week and spending their free time to hear you tell some crackpot story, that you need to have player investment in that story. But, how do you generate and maintain player investment in your story? I believe it is three major things, cause and effect, the ability to change the world, and villains that players can really hate.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect is part of basic human interests; it is the root to our curiosity. This is a key ingredient to any interesting campaign and world, and if you don’t have cause and effect, you will quickly lose your players. Sometimes having cause and effect means opening up the world a little more than the area or town they are “meant” to stay in. A classic cause and effect situation is having an area where the characters are not allowed to go. You can wrap that area in some myth or maybe people have been going missing in this area. Then figure out how the world will react when characters venture into this forbidden land. Other ways are to experiment with interacting with NPC’s, maybe an NPC the party has met in the past will affect how they act toward the party now. This is something that Matt Mercer is absolutely fantastic at and requires a little bit of practice, good memory, and improvisation. These causes and effects give your world a little bit of life and can show what affects your players have had on the world that they are playing in.

Give Players the Opportunity to Change the World

You really want to think of your world as if it were one of those massive world RPG’s, like Skyrim, even if your world is small. This is because a lot of the things that make those RPG’s fun are going to be exactly what you want to emulate in your world. A giant draw for the video game RPG’s is that players can shape the world they play in. This can be as low level as destructive environments or as high level as affecting economies due to over throwing figureheads.

This is purely limited by your players and your imagination and how much effort you as a DM want to put into your game. Some easy hitters for giving your players the opportunity to change the world is through past campaign arcs. You should never truly be “done” with a previous campaign arc as it will have all sorts of things to mine from it. Pick a previous story arc and think about what ripple effects might show through the world. Comic books, especially Marvel ones, are phenomenal examples of this. Time and time again, the tiniest decisions have the biggest ripples that set off a chain of events in the Marvel worlds, they mine sub-plots, find villains and heroes, and show the effects those events have on society and on characters. These are the traits that you will want to emulate and this technique is very easy if you are creative (seeing how you are a DM, you are most likely very creative).

Make the Villains Bad and the Things they do worse

Out of the tips I have suggested, this one is by far the hardest. First off, let me tell you that this one takes a lot of practice and it takes a lot of dedication to analyze and dial in on what makes a bad guy an actual evil person. I would first suggest starting out small, cause if you go full evil with the first boss you have set the bar very high and you may turn some players off. Start with something simple like corruption or a war monger. Starting here will give you a baseline that you can feel out your players to see how they respond, and beef up the evil as needed with that boss or with future bosses. Things like mass murder will be a big deal, but if you want to really hit home, have the bad guy somehow be a part of one or all of the characters’ histories. Things like taking over a beloved hometown or imprisoning a character’s parents will do. Think Star Wars when the Empire killed Luke’s Aunt and Uncle. That solidified how evil the Empire was and gave the character enough of a push to want to lead the charge in ending the Empire. So your task is to create a figurehead or society that the characters love to hate. Getting this right means that you will never need to work hard on main plot hooks again.

These tips are the core of what I do to make sure my players are invested in the campaign and what to keep playing. Of course, there are all sorts other tips and ideas on this topic, so I would love to hear about them from you guys. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. That’s all I have for this week, check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading and if you enjoy these articles feel free to donate, using the button below, to the website to help keep it up and running!

― The DM