Try Back Pocket Events In Your Campaigns
Did you know there is a Fantasy Grounds version of my complete 1-20th level D&D 5E campaign, The Demonplague, co-written by James Introcaso?
I don’t advertise this on The Demonplague’s information page, but will fix that soon.
Meantime, if you are a Fantasy Grounds GM, you can purchase the campaign here.
Unfortunately, due to Fantasy Grounds licensing, I cannot give the FG version to existing Demonplague GMs because it requires a separate purchase. I also cannot bundle other files with the FG package, but if you email me after getting your FG version, I’ll send you the PDFs and all the bonuses.
If you have any questions about The Demonplague for Fantasy Grounds, feel free to post them in this FG forum thread here, or email me directly!
Try Back Pocket Events In Your Campaigns
Here’s a cool idea being tested by Cory Gill, a player in my Basilica campaign and Campaign Logger contributor who’s running a game of his own:
If a player goes off to do some sort of personal development or research, we wave the narration of the event with a promise to come back to fill in the story at a later time.
The player effectively puts this incomplete story element in their back pocket.
Later on, when presented with a challenge that seems related, they could pull the back pocket item out and say, “Hey, remember that trip I did to the library in town? I was after books on local history. Would it make sense that I know something about this mysterious old house?”
The GM could then say, “Sure! That makes total sense. You know that this house is haunted by a fiery ghost. Why don’t you tell us how you discovered this knowledge.”
Night’s Black Agents and Blades in the Dark have similar mechanics. In my limited experience with something like this, it gives players a lot more agency, adding to their fun. It also means players can exercise their imagination more. And it reduces getting into the weeds during information gathering and other such tasks – simply handwave and move on to the action.
Here are a few tips from just my few experiences with a mechanic like this:
Explain the Approach: Avoid springing this on players retroactively. Instead, before next session, explain that you want to try this out and how you want it to work. I did this in my Hobo Princes campaign, which was well underway when I introduced the new mechanic. And when I asked my group if they were ok with it, my players were enthusiastic about it.
Log Events Not Details: After a player decides to put the results of a downtime action in their back pocket, make note of that fact to help with continuity and consistency when the event is revisited in a future encounter. However, don’t get bogged down recording what they learned. Improvise that later, or prep that between sessions.
Let Go: As more of a top-down old school GM, I want to reward good planning and attention to detail. This back pocket approach might feel a bit like a Get Out of Jail Free card. But when I actually played and GM’d it, I got more value from it than what was lost with this fairly forgiving mechanic.
Cap It: If worried about abuse, set a limit on how often it can be used. For example, you might tie it to inspiration points or make it a once-a-session thing. We don’t want players to use their back pocket option as a crutch. You can always expand its allowed usage after playtesting for a few sessions.
Roleplay It: As Cory recommends, when a player pulls out a back pocket event, encourage them to narrate the story of how they acquired the knowledge or skill. This deepens character development and gives you potential new details to log for your campaign and setting.
Flex: Steel yourself for unexpected outcomes. Sometimes the knowledge or resources a PC acquired might give them a significant advantage, while other times it might only provide small benefit. I don’t get too worried about game balance here because, as GM, I can spin up an infinite amount of conflicts and complications. However, you might explain that you have veto power and you’ll negotiate a bit on actual details should a player overstep a bit.
Reward Great Play: If a player uses a back pocket item in a particularly clever or thoughtful way, consider rewarding them with a bonus. Maybe they get extra information, they meet a helpful NPC, or the PC gets extra XP.
Evaluate: Review how back pocket events are going in your campaign. Chat with your players about what’s working and what isn’t. This feedback loop will help refine the method for your GMing and group’s play style, and ensure it’s helping everyone have more fun at every game.
Great tip, Cory! Thank you.
Have more fun at every game!