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Recently, I’ve got my Geist chronicle off the ground and the first two sessions went really well. And while I’m still plotting the course of this adventure, I am already looking into the future (remember my 1886 post?). I mean, a GM just can’t help it: the flow of ideas is unstoppable, and holding it back would just backfire sooner or later.

One of the thoughts that struck me today was the following: how can I give players more influence on shaping not just the course of the campaign, but also the world itself. Even though the player characters will do things that change a town, city or sometimes a nation, such things only happen on a rare occasion as the conclusion of a storyline. What tools could I give my companions to let them shape the world around their alter egos?

Well, the easiest thing I could do is tell them to come up with parts of the world. Let’s say one of them wants to play an elf sorcerer, but nothing in my setting notes has covered elves or their attitude towards sorcery yet. I could tell the player that he can create a little write-up about those topics, send them to me via mail and I will work with them. Using stuff your players created in your adventures gives them the feeling that they are involved in the creation process, but leaving things out might make them question why they did “all the work” in the first place.

In addition to that, this doesn’t give players actual influence on the changes in the world. But how would one go on doing that? Creating some kind of strategic downtime game in which the players take control of the powerful nations, vying for control of an unclaimed area? It surely sounds like an interesting idea, and I will see with what I can come up…

I never ran an unbelievable long campaign. You know what I mean: the kind of chronicle that last for several years, with changing casts and sometimes even changing players. Somehow, me and my group just can’t stick to a game for a long time, and sometimes that frustrates me and my companions. I mean, how awesome would it be to see a Werewolf chronicle evolve over two, maybe three years? Or imagine a D&D campaign where the players look at copies of their 1st level characters, comparing them to their 30th level demi-gods who shape entire dimensions three years later?

A certain post over at Campaign Mastery elaborates on certain techniques that grant a campaign that necessary variation to keep it alive and different for the players. Many things have already been said in that article, but I would like to elaborate on some here.

First of all, player character influence is to me the most important technique to keep players actually involved and interested. As soon as the players get the feeling that the actions of their protagonists do not have any impact on the world around them, why bother? In my Exalted campaign, I gave the player characters massive amounts of influence, leading to the construction of an entire city! In general, character-driven games survive longer than plot-driven games.

Another interesting technique that the authors of Campaign Mastery also elaborate on is recycling old characters, no matter if it’s a PC or NPC. So one of your players has quit the game, and now his character is still lingering around? Great, you just got yourself a new non-player character with a very strong background and tons of plot utility. Also, consider the return of an old enemy or friend after some time, letting him or her play a vital role in a complete new story arc. That should mix things up.

Talking about story arcs, it’s important to keep these short and meaningful. Yes, you will need an “overarching megaplot” (as Mike calls it) to keep it all together, but the smaller storylines should be…well, small. Keep them focused on a central theme, and make sure they fit, somehow, in the big picture.

Lastly, there is one tip in the article provided on Campaign Mastery that many will find strange, but is actual more than useful: watch soap operas from time to time. No genre in the existence of televised entertainment knows more about keeping itself alive and sort-of interesting through many decades than that one. Look how they recycle characters, places and even storylines, but still manage to keep their crowd coming back. You might learn a thing or two!