The Alexandrian

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

Prelude 2B: The Awakening – Dominic

In this installment of the campaign journal, you’ll find some custom-made, Latin-esque spell names and a prayer to Vehthyl, the God of Magic. Both of these were created by Dominic’s player, who simply spun them out of wholecloth during our PBeM sessions.

I really appreciated him doing this.

I know from personal experience that releasing some of your control over the game world can be difficult for a GM to do. But this type of player-initiated world-building should be encouraged for a number of reasons.

First, getting the players to care about the game world is actually quite difficult. Lectures rarely get processed. And even the focused world-briefings I hand out before a campaign rarely make much of an impression. (In the case of Ptolus, I have — on multiple occasions — been able to treat information from the pre-campaign handouts as mysteries that the PCs have to track down information about. The players haven’t noticed. In another instance, events in the same handouts were effecively retconned when I realized it would be more interesting for the PCs to play through those events. At this point, I would actually prefer it if the players didn’t read this and try to track down their copies of those handouts.)

But if the player creates the information themselves? That’s something that they’ll remember. That’s a thread that you can weave into the wider tapestry — and if they follow that thread that they’ve created, then they’ll have a chance to see part of the bigger picture.

Second, you can use this material as a pretty solid indicator of what the player cares about. If he’s designing rituals and heraldry for the order of knighthood his character has joined, you can pretty quickly identify the order as being important. That means that hooks and scenarios involving the order will be effective.

Third, no GM has an infinite amount of time on their hands. If your players are willing to be a resource, you should be willing to take advantage of that. Someone has mapped out the floorplan for their liege lord’s castle? Awesome. When assassins break into the castle, the player has already designed the scenario maps for you.

And won’t he be surprised to discover that there’s a secret passage in that castle that neither he nor his character ever knew about!

Which leads me to my next point: In most roleplaying games, it’s still the GM’s world. And for a large variety of reasons, the GM still needs to be able to exert some control over it. Which means that some ideas may need to be vetoed.

But I’d recommend using a “soft veto” if at all possible. If someone cares enough to put the time and the effort into creating something original and unique, then I think it’s worth your time to try to figure out how you can make it work for them. I have two varieties of soft veto:

THE SOFT VETO: “This looks good, but can we change X and Y?” For example, I remember a campaign from years ago where a player wanted to run a Scottish highlander. Now, my D&D campaign world at the time didn’t feature anything even remotely resembling the Scottish highlands. We took an underdeveloped kingdom on another continent and worked it over until it gave her what she wanted. She didn’t get the kilt that she wanted, but she was able to play the character that she wanted to play.

THE SOFTEST VETO: Sometimes I allow a “questionable” element into one campaign only to drop it from the game world after the campaign has been completed. This is for stuff that doesn’t quite mesh with my vision of what the game world looks like, but isn’t so problematic that there’s any good reason to reject it for a player who wants it.

But the truth is that player-created content is often pretty awesome. At some point I’m going to be able to properly utilize the element-worshipping Talbarites — a religious sect given its genesis entirely by a PC named Talbar (who, in a different campaign, was played by the creator of Agnarr the Barbarian).

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