19 Dec GMing Tips #17: Questions That Must Be Answered
Getting players to continue
their interest in a game is a bit like getting a reader to continue with your story. How do you keep them interested? How do you keep them thinking about the game and wanting to carry it on?
The best way this works is to give them questions that must be answered.
What is going to happen to me?!
How am I going to get out of this one?
Will my plan work?
Can I keep building my little empire?
Does the bad guy know I’ve deceived him?
And so on.
This is ultimately also a form of suspense. So long as the question has not been answered, they will continue being interested. As soon as one question is answered though, they will need another one to take its place, or they’ll lose interest.
So how do you do this?
There are really countless ways. But one of the best ways is to use context and character to build a complex situation. With several different balls in the air, they will be wondering what is going to happen? Ultimately, for really intense interest, there has to be a number of things threatening the survival of the pcs in different ways. For instance, in a sci-fi game a powerful enemy is taking a prototype bomb off-world, but they haven’t reached their space ship yet. They’re too strong to attack directly, so what else can the pcs do? They could hack into the ship and hijack it, they could arrange some sort of cave-in that buries their enemy, they could bomb the ship (but then, perhaps, giving themselves no option to get off world), and so on. What are they going to do? It’s a question that must be answered.
Other really great ways that you can do this is to give them a mystery. Mysteries are like the font of all interest. The moment someone finds a mystery, all they want to do is uncover it. Think about the pyramids and the Bermuda Triangle and Kennedy’s assassination. So much fascination for such a long time. Because there’s a mystery there.
In a book or movie it’s fairly easy to make a mystery, but what about in an RPG?
Well, one way is to foreshadow. This is a tool that is easily overused, but if done right can really catapult players into the game. You need it to be subtle.
Foreshadowing is to give a hint of what’s to come. This is basically a plot clue. It could be that someone sees a vision of a possible future, or that they know one country is going to attack another one (it’s just a matter of time), or you can drop little hints and clues about what’s going to take place (seems like an army’s gathering…). Again, you want it subtle, but the major thing is that you want it to not be clear what’s going on. So if an army is gathering, who are they going to attack? Or if they see a vision and someone they know dies in it…but they have no idea what it’s about…then again, you have a mystery.
There are other clues that you can use to create a mystery, and these usually only come from careful preparation of the plot.
For instance, the characters’ families get kidnapped by a cartel boss while they were being taken to a safe house. But only the pcs and a select few NPCs knew about it…so who is the traitor?
Or the pcs attack an enemy’s base and shoot him…only to find that he’s a clone/machine/droid/hologram and never really existed. So who’s pulling the strings?
For prophecies, dropping little clues to show the character that the prophecy is carrying on, is a great way of increasing the need of the player to find out what happens. She sees someone in a vision that she’s never met before…then later on she defeats an enemy and brings them into custody – and it’s the person from her dream! Woah.
Another one is knowing that they just pissed off someone really important, and that they are going to have some serious repercussions coming their way… they don’t know where, they don’t know when…and they’re bracing for the impact. What’s going to happen?
Try it out, see if it helps in your games!
~Oliver R. Shead
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