Aka, Once upon a time…
Before you choose your system,
before you dream up your antagonist or end boss,
before there is even a mention of classes and sheets,
There is a talk you need to have with your players.
You may already have certain wants and interests for a possible campaign.
But to have an interesting and engaging game for your players, you will need to involve them in the creation of your world. Sit them down and spend some time on hearing them out. This can vary from group to group. From an hour to several sessions. If you can’t meet up in person, try and at least get a discord or skype call going. This will save you some trouble.
Now how would you go about this?
Simple really. Talk to your players.
Ask them their wants, hear them out. And soon enough you will notice that your world creates itself. Your first notions may shift and twist, but your influence should stick to the design, just as it will for your players.
Throw out ideas into the pile and see what sticks.
Wanted to run a post apocalypse type of game? Throw it out there, see if your players enjoy it or not. If not, no worries. Your ideas may contribute and elements may stick around for the game or may end up doing something radically different all together. Either way, the game may still be fun.
Do note that its always better to first hear out your players so that you may have their un-influenced ideas first. This allows you to offer up a better counter suggestion if needed.
I found that as a GM, it doesn’t really matter what i end up running, as long as i understand the world, my players and receive that ‘engaged player’ feedback from my group.
So lets run a small example with the GM and a small group of players, from P1 to P3:
GM: So, how do you peeps see the world?
P1: I was thinking ‘Jungle exploration’ and ruins etc.
P2: I would rather do something star wars related or at least space travel, like be a band of space junkers or traders or something.
GM: What era?
P2: Uh, i don’t mind any era really.
GM: Cool, P3?
P3: I haven’t really thought about it, but i don’t really mind as long as i can pilot like a tank or a mecha or something.
GM (thinking): Ok….well, what about this? Why don’t we just combine it all into the following. The setting could be this backwater crew of an older type cargo hauler. Post Star wars films. You have never heard of the empire since the remnants have never even been to your side of the galaxy before. There will be lots of planets and settings we can explore, ancient alien tomb worlds, sith , jedi etc. And there can be enough tech to suit both your junker and space piloting needs. Like walkers and space craft etc. Sound good?
Players losing their collective shits (in typical player fashion): uh sure, sounds kinda cool. I may already have an idea for my PC now.
It can be that easy. Do note that not everyone is as vocal or open to throw in their ideas. It is important that you coax or guide some wishes out of these players as…well…they will be at your table, playing with the rest. And what is the point of playing a game that you do not enjoy?
Flesh out your world a bit more. What is its history? Its story? How does the world feel? Where and in what position do your players want to be in?
Around this time, it is advisable to agree on a possible system to run your chosen setting on. As this is the basis for everything else 🙂
Next up is indeed PC creation.
Instead of asking ‘what is your class?’, ask your players about the ideas they have for their characters. What is their story or their place in life. What are their ambitions and how do they fit into the narrative and story? How did they meet the rest of the party? This will allow your players a change of pace from going after a specific build or play style and instead focus on the character instead of the sheet.
With this all done, you can set out and actively flesh out your world through playing. With each following session, you as a GM, will now have more and more food for thought to roll with. Try and talk to your players after each session to work on the flaws of your setting and the direction they wish to continue.
This will also help you set up new adventures in the correct vein and feel of the campaign. The story writes itself at this point. With you and your players being the author. As it should be.