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One of the problems plaguing a Game Master since the beginning has been how to keep interest going within the group. More then once have I been faced with this as my party lost interest in the adventure and/or gone off the beaten path.
A rather simple solution I have found that works well is having the players create a full character. Having the players include background, personality and appearance serves two purposes. The first is that it gets the players interested in their character. If the player sees the character as more then a piece of paper they might eventually become fond of it. They also know the goals of the PC, and will work towards them.
The second purpose for including the extra information is that it gives the person an unlimited source of hocks and small off-the-beaten-path adventures. The characters should have past deeds to haunt them, curses to deal with, and NPCs to pop up at inopportune times. The GM should bring these up when it when it wont interfere with the plot too much.
Typical signs that the players are getting bored include off-subject conversations. The PC wanders off to find something to do and normally talkative players become quiet. These signs are indications of other problems that might be on the way.
I have found that sometimes the PCs nuances fit into my overall plan as if I created the adventure just for them.
A few notes to new GMs: PCs rarely follow the adventure that you have so carefully laid out. Don't let it get to you. Going off the beaten path can fill out your world more as they explore, invade or wonder. This will also allow you to create NPCs that might make common appearances in your games as time goes on.
As a GM, I have amusement in tormenting and rewarding PCs with hours of role playing. I also use side tracks to introduce new PCs (or NPCs), give the PCs needed items and/or experience to finish the original adventure.
Here are a few tricks to keep a game going:
- NPC (humanoid) is trailing the PCs. He should be captured and tell them a sob story about his clan being captured, in bad common. Of course he could be telling the truth, maybe?
- A portal opens and the PCs go through (willing or not) to find themselves somewhere unfamiliar. It could lead anywhere (your backyard, 100 feet away underground, future or past). To get them back, if you send them far, just toss them another portal.
- NPC hits on a PC, then is kidnapped or killed. Ah, revenge.
Simple, but it should be short, should be? These little excursions change the scenery and break- up a serious campaign.
For the more experienced GMs, I suggest flying by the seat of your pants more. A rough outline for the adventure should be all you need. Let the PCs have more control over what goes on, (of course, they don't know that). When you get the feeling of boredom from the players, change the pace through a minor twist in. The idea behind all RPGs is to have fun, not just for the player but for the GM as well. If the GM is bored the players are probably bored, too.