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Fostering Player Agency

At their core, TTRPGs are all about collaborative storytelling, and creating worlds where players and Game Masters come together to tell and weave epic tales of adventure in fantastic worlds — even if these stories (like those of Call of Cthulhu) are horror stories rather than stories of overcoming adversity.

Just like how an author engages their readers by allowing them to immerse themselves in the story that they're reading, TTRPGs empower players to shape their stories actively.

Here, I'm going to be taking a look at how you (as a GM) can draw inspiration and how to enhance player agency in your campaigns. Obviously, this requires your players to cooperate too. :P




Set Sail for Imagination

Whether you create your own worlds or use those that others have created, campaign settings are rich and immersive worlds, designed to capture the imagination of those playing in them. Crafting a vibrant and detailed setting and story is something that takes time, as a well-crafted world sparks both curiosity and creativity among the players, and encourages them to interact with the world. Details are great for this, especially quirky ones, but don't feel the need to go overboard. Sometimes, less is more, and the players' imaginations will fill in the blanks.


Embrace the Unknown

The element of surprise is a powerful tool and one that can keep your players on their toes. But again, less is more. It's the "sometimes you get betrayed by the friend" syndrome — don't go to the well too often. At the same time, players often draw unwarranted conclusions, especially in a new setting. Things like "Dwarves live in mountains" are things that are accepted stereotypes, and therefore players will often fall into that trap, but every once in a while it's good to go "Actually no. Here they are all aquatic, and instead of creating things from metal, they mold corals into the shape they need. They're still master artisans, but it's a different medium". It makes your world feel different and alive. At the same time, if the players come up with something interesting, make it canon. "Oh, in my homeland they don't use carts" is an odd quirk. Make it part of your world, as your players will invest more in it.


Complex and interesting NPCs

I don't think I need to go into this one too much. It was covered in last week's blog. Go check that out. :)


Story Hooks

When playing the campaign, provide a number of story hooks. Don't force the players to bite down on a specific hook, as it'll limit your creativity and their sense of investment. By choosing the hook they find interesting, you're more likely to have invested players. Does it take more time to plan? Absolutely, but you avoid having bored players, and personally, I think that's a trade-off worth taking.


Adapt to their Choices

Like above really, but as Game Master you must be prepared to adapt the story based on their decisions. Allow the consequences of their actions to ripple through the campaign, and present new challenges and opportunities. The players killed the king as assassins in the night? There's now a civil war among the nobles on who takes over the throne? The players stopped a flood from destroying crops? There's now an overflow of food, and it's cheaper as a result. This level of agency empowers the players and allows them to see the impact of their choices. This in turn encourages them to take an active role in the story.


Collaborative storytelling and player agency are the heart and soul of any good TTRPG campaign. Creating an immersive and engaging world can be hard, but many authors out there have done the work for you. Can't find a premade setting you like? Not a problem, grab something from a book that you do. In turn, you can encourage players to be creative in the same way, adapting to their choices and fostering an environment where this level of engagement and storytelling is welcome.


I swear, it works like magic, so you should try it. :)


See you next week.

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