How to get players HOOKED on your campaign 🎣
Sometimes when I play D&D it’s awesome. When it’s good, we’re bantering in-character across the gaming table, shouting commands to each other as we prepare for war, my pulse races and my adrenaline rises as I feel the ever-so-real effects spawned from a made-up game and characters. It’s amazing. That being said, I’ve also had sessions where the DM is lazy, the players are bored and the conversation draws outside the game as players wonder, “how much longer is this gonna take?” Game sessions that have absolutely sucked. But what are the measurable differences that define a good D&D session from a bad one? We can look to movies first to get an idea of what it means to effectively communicate a story.
Photo courtesy of https://www.advancedwebranking.com/blog/facebook-effective-storytelling/
Cinema has been a long-standing form of media defined as a type of visual storytelling. Which is bluntly, a story where the information of which, is transmitted to the audience using visual information. This includes any symbols, emotions, camera angles, lighting, or edits that share plot-related information with the viewer/audience. D&D differs as a storytelling platform by being more focused on auditory storytelling – relying on music, player dialogue and narration from the DM to enhance the role-playing atmosphere. But, both visual and auditory storytelling rely on the immersion of the audience to create a realistic atmosphere to immerse and grapple the emotions of those who are hearing the story.
So how do you effectively immerse your players? Well, for starters you should be using the 3 elements listed in the paragraph above: Music, player dialogue and DM narration to enhance the elements of your story. Music should be used to set the tone and mood of the session. A dark and dreary dungeon shouldn’t be paired with music from The Shire, and vice versa. Make several playlists for when a battle breaks out, the party enters a new city, or just for walking along the path at night.
If your players don’t talk in character at the game table, you shouldn’t accept this as the DM any longer. Demand that your players speak in-character when speaking to NPCs and using in game names when addressing each other. Immerse your players as their characters and it will pay off by leading to more thoughtful actions and dynamic situations in your sessions. Better organic conflicts can arise if the players think and act as their characters. Plus, it’s pretty funny to hear your buddy try to speak like a 13 year old Human girl, or a middle-aged Rock Gnome.
This is it… now it all comes down to you.
As the DM it is your responsibility to your players to come equipped to every session prepared for whatever actions your party may take. In my personal experience as a DM I like to reference the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” by saying, “You can craft a great story for your party, but they’ll probably just kill and loot everything instead.” And it’s a saying that’s proven true on more than one occasion.
But seriously, you owe it to your party to come prepared with enough knowledge of your world to carry them through their choices for the entirety of your session. Don’t focus on the wider political tensions of your continent if it’s only your first session tonight. Think smaller. Who are the NPCs they might encounter? What are their intentions? How might they interact with the party? How can I organically introduce conflict into my campaign?
By focusing on questions like these you will be able to better suit the wants of your party have encounters prepared, random rolls tables, enemy stats. You never know what choices your party will try and make no matter how much you prepare, but stay fresh on the things that matter most. There’s nothing more immersion breaking than when the tension is cut in the room by a bunch of sketchy dice rolls and page flipping, indicating to the party that it’s battle time. Have that crap prepared and bookmarked before you get to the table.
Game Hook photos courtesy of @criticaldice on Instagram
If you’re having trouble coming up for content to get your players hooked in your next campaign I highly suggest reading some of the Game Hooks by @CriticalDice. Some are good, some are funny, and all of them are great ways to organically introduce conflicts to your players. They are actionable events where the party has to respond to whatever scenario they are thrown. Try it the next time you need to spice up your campaign.
And well… I guess that’s it.
Oh no wait one more thing
OK so my MOST IMPORTANT TIP from this whole thing would have to be to focus on the diction you use to describe your world to your players.
As DM your words have power
You are the sole voice that crafts this world and the only form of communication between your players and this imaginary world and fabulous adventure that you have prepared for them. Your choice of words carry so much influence when describing situations to your players. “The room has a lamp, two chairs, three doors, and a bookshelf in the corner.” or “As you peek around the next corner you see light emerging from the end of the long tunnel. The chasm opens up into a cathedral of stone and hanging moss and the echoes of adventurers once present. Their belongings are laid about disheveled on a table before you. Center of the room are two chairs surrounding a once-burning lamp, and a bookshelf lays face-down on the corner. It looks like whoever was here last got out in a hurry” You decide which paints a better picture.
Add emphasis for dramatic effect.
Verbalize location of objects/doors to give the party a sense of where they are in the map.
Give meaningful detail to the words you use to describe your world.
Do this and you should be set and ready for an awesome adventure.
Wow, if you’ve made it this far in my rant I’ve got to say that I’m impressed with your endurance. I hope some people have found this post useful for planning as a DM in the future. If you only have experience as a player and have thought about DMing I’d highly recommend it. Getting the freedom to run your own game and design your own world are some of my favorite aspects of getting to play D&D. Just take it easy and don’t try to handle too much your first time. Make it simple and you should be just fine. The detail can come later with more experience.
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