How Do You Keep Things Fresh For Your Players?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1024

RPT GM Mark Ariesen asks this tricky question and my answer goes down a dark path. Here’s his question:

How do you keep things fresh for your players year-in-year out, when they have seen it all and done it all?

One easy way to do this is design your own stuff. Build your own adventures, plots, monsters, rewards, NPCs.

When you control the creativity of the game’s content you control the amount of tropes, cliches, and in-the-box thinking that become gameplay.

On the surface, we can merely tweak things to provide unexpected player experiences. Green goblin spear chuckers become blue cannibals lofting femur missiles.

But we need to go deeper.

Avoid shallow caves already looted by lazy adventurers.

Seek instead dark holes fronting unknown depths that beckon and scare us the most.

The best such entrances lead deeper into yourself.

I read this fantastic tip on Reddit that encapsulates this well:

The way you see the world is what makes your stories different. We all use the same building blocks. We all have the same materials to work with. But none of us see the world exactly the same.

So for me? I make everything personal. Personal to me. Every encounter, every location, every trope is me.

It’s hard to find those beliefs that you hold, to see that you do view the world differently than other people, because you don’t think about it. You are you, and you just live your life like normal every day.

But look at all the things you’ve created. And if you haven’t created anything yet, start. Right now.

You can analyze your own stuff to see the things that you do. Maybe you notice that, wow…all of these people are really anti-religion. I never noticed.

Ask yourself questions, get to the bottom of your own thoughts. Don’t be afraid to get really close to the things that hurt you and scare you and gross you out. Definitely don’t be afraid to get close to the things that make you happy and excited.

Dan Harmon has the theory that every story is a “trip to the basement” — the basement being the subconscious brain. If you don’t make frequent trips down there, the things that dwell down there get rowdy and cause trouble for the rest of the “house.”

The easiest (and the hardest) way to keep things fresh for your players is to give more of yourself.

Always be learning. Always be experimenting. And always be creating. A dynamic self brought to the table means endless new discoveries for both you and your players.