Make them care; make things matter: Making the most out of your world and NPCs

For those of us who like our games to be more narrative or more character-focused, there’s one very important thing to cover: Getting your players to care about the world and the NPCs you create. This comes off as no surprise. 

As I usually say when I write about heavy story-focused D&D games, this might not apply to everyone; some of us like the Roleplaying part, others would rather emphasize the Game. And that is perfectly okay. But as a game master, you’ve got to know your players. You cannot show up with something your players aren’t thrilled to play, but rather, try and find what most of them want to play and try and make it fun for yourself. You’re the one with most of the responsibility of making things fun, and fun is a beast with many faces. 

However, once you get a group that does want this to be a cool action-packed story, much in the vein of something like Final Fantasy (for which I think D&D is ideal), these tips will help you turn the world and the NPCs into an inseparable part of your game, one that players will actually care about and that might take them to unexpected, legendary places and moments. I will give you seven keys to lock up the seven seas to make this task come to fruition…

The key of lasting things

You can make the best NPC in the world, the most detailed town ever, the most awesome castle. If your players never return to them, they’re as good as dead. You need to get your players to return to things, to make those things last. An NPC that they’re constantly in contact with, a town that they always return to, a castle that becomes their homebase. Familiarity, getting used to things, will make your players feel like certain elements of your world are a home to them.

Of course, this means that you want to put most of your work and effort towards making these lasting elements detailed. However, you do not want these to become stagnant. You want them to change and grow…

The key of growth

“Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal?-What is it but death-death without rebirth” said Ursula Kroeber LeGuin, one of my favorite authors, and one who is mandatory reading for anyone who likes fantasy. Now, apart from my pretentiousness, you want the elements in your campaign world to grow and change with time. The PC’s home base grows and new NPCs arrive. NPCs develop relationships with each other, and with the players. The adventurers’ street goes from a crime-infested alley to a prolific zone of the city. And that one cowardly NPC that the adventurers knew maybe becomes a hero of his own, and the adventurers can see how he develops. There is a certain beauty in seeing the things we love grow, particularly when the PCs are the ones influencing that growth. 

The key of bonds

Just like my last example, when your players are already familiar with a certain feature of the world, like an NPC, you can put the players in situations where only the NPC can give them what they need. Keep your players in a position where using the bonds formed in-game is actually useful, so that they care about the bond and want to protect it. 

The key of being helped

When it’s about an NPC, having it be of help to the party will usually make the players care about it. One important thing to note is that when the NPC takes a risk and does something out of their good will rather than to obtain something from the party, this will be more effective. 

The key of helping

Once your players have started to care about an NPC, you can give it terrible problems to deal with, and try and notice how the players react to such problems. Helping an NPC will make your players realize how much they care for them, making the bond grow and develop. 

The key of joined worlds

Do not separate the “outside” world of battles, dangers, and monsters, from the reality of the village, character, or place that your players care about. All the contrary; make all of those things a part of the same world. 

The key of names

Asigning names to things makes them matter more, if only because of the effort of putting such a name. I guarantee you that an adventure feels like their sword is more special if it has a unique title, that their horse is more their horse if they named it, that their base becomes more important if they refer to it in a certain manner. In and out of the game, we name things because they matter. 

The key of distant pasts

A player already probably cares about the elements from their character’s background, for they were the ones to create them. Use those elements as much as possible.

The seven locks of satisfaction

In the end, what do we get from making things matter? Well, we get… Satisfaction. When the couple that the PCs got together marries, when the base they’ve been building for two years of real time gets finished, when the young coward they raised turns into a hero. It makes it all not only more real, but also more special. And if things are special, if things are unique, if they are memorable, then they become much more than just a game.

We hope that these tips have been useful! Be sure to comment any thoughts that you have on them. As always, thank you very much for reading. Stay tuned for more content coming from the ND Hobbies crew.

-Mauricio A. Rosel, writer and editor.

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