Ask The GM: Player Buy-In

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How many games have quit after the first three sessions because players weren’t invested? I would pay to see the graveyard of fallen games and browse their tombstones. “Here lies the Unfettered Ties Chronicle. Players lynched GM after dream sequence.” You can’t have a game without players, and sometimes, with so many games going on, it’s hard to fill your table or get a nice campaign going.

On Ask The GM With Satine Phoenix, she had the legendary Keith Baker on to talk about Player Buy-in and how it works. You can get caught up here:

Backstories, nemesi, and deep questions are absolutely ways to get the players invested. As are compelling tales around the deaths of beloved NPC’s. Here are additional ways to mess around with player buy-in’s and simple tips.

Elevator Pitches

At first, I had a hard time with this question, but Satine boiled it down to an Elevator pitch. How do you get players to your table? Often when approached by someone starting a game, I’m asked: “Hey, starting up a Cam game on Saturday nights, you should come.” Or the ever vague, “Wanna play in my DnD game?” Neither will work or generate much player interest. One way I create player-buy in before they even arrive at the table is to set boundaries to the game. We are ALL going to play goblinoids at the Academy of Devastation, want in?

Satine, what boundaries have you used to create player buy-in just to show up at the table?

“Usually I have a theme. Savage Nation’s theme was Friends at an academy. They bought in because they were a group of friends who were partnered up for the midterm, and failed. I had them tell me how they failed which created a group dynamic before we even started the game. I also gave the character’s history within the group. Some had crushes, some resented the others, but they all had history which got them to play with each other in a more refined way. My private one shots start off as a group of players who all wake up in an unknown spa lobby. Here you can have a variety of characters who all have the same goals: to work together to figure out where they are and how to escape.”

My God Can Beat Up Yours

So, you’ve got the players at the table, and you need to get everyone further invested into the world of your custom campaign. Have them join a faction. This applies to any world setting, style of game, or campaign—joining a cult is a great way to make friends. Anything from the bloodthirsty voyeuristic Harpers, to the Brujah Clan, to Bayushi Saboteurs will work. The key is, having a player’s character tied to a faction helps give them a goal to connect to the larger world. Now the PC has both their personal goals and a larger one, which may cause internal conflicts.

When those paths cross that conspiracy generates true player buy-in. The players stop thinking of just their characters, but how their characters fit into the larger puzzle.

Satine, do you ever play up the conspiracy angle to draw players in? Why do you think having factions be active works and if it doesn’t, what do you do instead?

“I like the idea of the players relating to the world in a bigger way. Factions are cool, but another way is to have them be a part of (or associated to) royal families or religious sects. One character I had in a game was a famous MFC fighting warlock. The world knew who she was and she was connected to different organizations because of her travels fighting in different cities. In that vein, having characters who know people in different cities can be helpful to get the players more interested in the world.”

Break The Mold

Ultimately, the adventure needs to be fun, and the game offers something. Rarity is often used to create temporary player buy in, but I really want to double down on it. Let’s say you are playing a Rifts campaign and your GM hides all the books from you. You are all told that you are playing the saviors of the America, a Coalition of survivors. Only to find out a few sessions into the game that boom… you guys are the villains. The crazy, storm-troopers, going around blasting anything that looks non-human. Instantly hooked.

You can create player buy in by LETTING rare or forbidden things into the world and then telling a different story based off it. If you let something rare or forbidden in, and do nothing, it’s only a temporary boost.

Satine, how do you break the mold of the standard: “Tavern. Quest. Dungeon. Go.” for player buy-in?

“I like misfits. A group of monsters. A group of kids. Oceans 11, A group of cheerleaders. Use the tropes. People know them and get excited to relate to themes.”

Do you have any amazeballs stories where you were invested or emotionally moved? Both as a player or a GM? Let us know in the comments below or find us on Twitter!

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Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.

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