From open world games, to not knowing what you should do next; it’s easy to get stuck in any campaign. Perhaps you’re tired of getting railroaded along, or you’ve got too many choices ahead of you, maybe only bad choices… This article should help you decide which routes to go while staying true to your character.
Staying in character.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use out of character information to make these choices. Just because you want to explore The Plains of Glass out of character, doesn’t mean you should drag your whole party there without good reason. If your character has a good reason, then it’s a good option. When you’re stuck or not sure, use in character skills and reasons to help make your choices. It helps the game master progress the story, keeps things simple, and makes more sense. The rest of this article will use this as a focus point.
I’ve run several open world campaigns and, more often than not, let my players move rather freely through the world(s). Sometimes this can provide too many options. (Go to the port town? Explore rumors? Explore on our own? Go straight for the main quest? Etc…) Other times, their actions cause them to only have bad choices to make. (Run from the law? Risk collateral damage? Sacrifice your character or a party member? Etc…) When it comes down to it, it is ultimately always a group decision. So please, always make sure your fellow players are happy with the option given, or at least the majority!
- Too many options. When your character is presented with three or four choices on where to go, it can be tough. When you have an entire world to explore, it can be daunting. The best thing you can do here is figure out what you find most interesting, and start making in character checks to learn more about those options. Use your skill checks! Gather information, roll knowledge, check for rumors. Eventually the game master will provide a hook you find interesting, something worth exploring. From there, all you need to do is make sure the party is up for it too. Using your skill checks helps you narrow things down, and figure out a rough scale of difficulty as well. Doing this prevents party wipes from happening, but also allows you to follow challenging and interesting leads.
- Bad choices ahead. When there is no good choice, you have to weigh the pros and cons, then bite the bullet. You can always get creative, but getting creative lets the game master come at you blindly as well. When the chips are down, that can be one of the most fun options to take. But, when too much is at stake, then you just have to bite the bullet. The only thing you can do is figure out what costs less. If you’re able to take an in character vote, then do so. When it comes down to it and you don’t want to suffer taking the blame. Leave it to fate. Assign each choice a number then roll the dice. This can be explained in character as a quick decision, or a rash decision as things were starting to spiral out of control.
- Unsure of the best choice. This goes great with a combination of the above tactics. Use your skill checks to gather information. Weigh the pros and cons of each choice. Take a group vote if possible. Or, leave it up to fate with dice rolls. All tactics help narrow the choice down with each step taken.
Breaking the railroad.
Sometimes you’re just stuck without really having any choices to be made. You’re along for the ride in a hack and slash adventure. Or you are just moved from point a to point be with encounters and role playing mixed in, but it’s not really engaging. There are ways you can break the ditch or railroad that you’re stuck in without making things too tough on your game master.
- Talk to them. This is one of the few times I recommend out of character action to be taken. If you’re bored and have realized that you’re being railroaded, or feel like you’re being railroaded; then you need to let your GM know! They might not know, or realize it. Perhaps it is their intention to do so. In either case, always bring it up with your game master. Don’t tell them in the middle of a game, if at all possible. But, bring it up as soon as you can so they can plan for the change of direction. After a game session, or between sessions is the best time to bring it up. Then, at the next session, you will hopefully be given some new choices!
- Hunt for new things. If you want to handle things in character, then put your skills to the test. Skills allow you to “force” the game master to give you information about the area. Yet, they do so at a slow enough pace that pretty much any game master can handle making up something on the spot. This also drops the hint to them that you are looking for something else to do. Searching for rumors, then gathering information on rumors that take you off your current path, then pursuing said rumors are all steps in shifting the group’s direction off the “planned path”. This lets the other players voice their opinions, and see who else is with you with very little out of character interaction. If the players would like to join you, then they will help with checks and investigation. If no one is interested, then you know that you should probably stay on the path, and try to branch out at the next spot in time that makes sense.
- Express disinterest. Show that your character is losing interest in the current goal. Perhaps they have become disillusioned to saving the kingdom from Evil von Scareye. Maybe they are even starting to feel for the big baddy. Perhaps they feel the kingdom isn’t worth saving. Or, they are tired of constantly fighting for a step forward to fall two steps back. Maybe they just need something fresh. Skill checks, once again, show that you are doing something in character. But, this option is more of an in character role playing opportunity. You act in character to try and dissuade your party members from pursuing the current goal and go for something else. You come up with a good in character reason and begin to chase that reason.
- Circumvent. This follows along with the assumption that you want to end the current path and begin anew. You’re tired of fighting forward and then falling two steps back. Gather information about your current goal, plan with your party, and have them use their skills to learn more about the goal. Perhaps you need to find other jobs to do to earn more funds. You can use those funds to invest into a better way at meeting the goal. If your enemy is held behind a keep and you’re expected to go at them alongside of an army. Invest in your own siege weapon and modify it. Plan with npcs, and come up with a way to sneak into the castle with the use of that weapon. If you need to fight a dragon who is holed up in a cave. Invest in a big weapon, as well as a ‘treasure horde’ or something it seeks to draw it out. Engage in combat then hit it with that weapon. This option requires creative thinking, and the help of an awesome game master. You can be vague about what you’re doing, but never assume things will go to plan. If you leave out some details to try and sneak by your game master, be prepared for total failure. This option works best with “game master approval” meaning, “Hey, we’re going to modify the weapon to sneak into the castle.” or “Hey, we’re going to try to lure the dragon out, what skill checks do you want us to make to find bait?” These give the heads up, while letting your game master have some time to plan, or help you meet your own goal. If you tried to sneak in without telling, you might just blast a hole and a surprise army awaits; or the bait doesn’t even come close to working.
I hope this helps you keep interest in playing your game! Remember, the story isn’t molded by the game master alone. Without players, the game is just a novel; or an unwritten idea…
Till next time,