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General Campaign character focus tracking

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
The next campaign I run I want to do a better job of weaving together character arcs with the greater campaign arc. Part of that, I think, is being able to visualize the threads in some way other than walis of text and the idea of some kind of line graph plot came to mind with perhaps call outs to particular events. Or perhaps simply some colored pens to indicate which session focused on which characters?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it? Has anyone done anything like this?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Have you considered not worrying about managing "character arcs" at all? If the players are interested in particular things, they can go do those things and all you have to do is present the setting and narrate the results of their actions.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
On the one hand, it might be worth keeping track of what the characters want, from their backstories, and occasionally presenting them with things leading to those goals. On the other hand, I've found that at some point the characters' actions and decisions will have stirred up other goals, and they might prefer to pursue those. On the gripping hand, I haven't bothered in the two campaigns I'm DMing now with "greater campaign arcs."
 

aco175

Hero
I find it hard to get the players to want to do things to develop their character. There seems to always be something with the main adventure where they feel they need to keep pushing forward. I also tend to make some things where I think they are planning to go and I think they feel like they need to go with what was planned.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
The next campaign I run I want to do a better job of weaving together character arcs with the greater campaign arc. Part of that, I think, is being able to visualize the threads in some way other than walis of text and the idea of some kind of line graph plot came to mind with perhaps call outs to particular events. Or perhaps simply some colored pens to indicate which session focused on which characters?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it? Has anyone done anything like this?
Maybe a little overthinking, but if so I'm also guilty of that. I also run character-driven games, both in the heart of the game improvising around the tables and in preparation working with players (and on my own) to weave their personal PC arcs into the campaign's overarching story.

Here's a PDF of my one-page session prep notes from last session. I put the PCs' names in bold red, which helps me remember stuff pertinent to their characters. Generally, I try to include elements from every PC's story about every other session; that's obviously not always possible, but that's roughly what it usually averages out to.

Another tool I use is mind mapping, though this is less regular for me. I use it when dealing with session zero character relationships, particularly complex story beats, or when I'm struggling to put my ideas to page and just need a space to brainstorm. Here's an example of what that looks like:

_character relationship map notes.jpg
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Have you considered not worrying about managing "character arcs" at all? If the players are interested in particular things, they can go do those things and all you have to do is present the setting and narrate the results of their actions.
It's not about "managing" but more memory jogging and thinking about how a player that hasn't had focus on their character can be offered hooks (or progress) toward their personal goals.

A complaint from one of my players at the end of the last (shorter) campaign: we didn't really do much with our personal stories. I felt bad about that and would like to attempt to foreground that more the next time I run a campaign.

It would also add a nice variety to mix into the overall campaign.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
On the one hand, it might be worth keeping track of what the characters want, from their backstories, and occasionally presenting them with things leading to those goals. On the other hand, I've found that at some point the characters' actions and decisions will have stirred up other goals, and they might prefer to pursue those. On the gripping hand, I haven't bothered in the two campaigns I'm DMing now with "greater campaign arcs."
Yep it might be a hopeless endeavor but I'd like to at least start off the campaign with the best intentions. :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A complaint from one of my players at the end of the last (shorter) campaign: we didn't really do much with our personal stories. I felt bad about that and would like to attempt to foreground that more the next time I run a campaign.
But what did the PLAYER do to pursue and prioritize his or her "personal stories?"

Were you running an event-based game in the form of a storyline that didn't have any deviation from the plot?
 

Haldrik

Adventurer
The next campaign I run I want to do a better job of weaving together character arcs with the greater campaign arc. Part of that, I think, is being able to visualize the threads in some way other than walis of text and the idea of some kind of line graph plot came to mind with perhaps call outs to particular events. Or perhaps simply some colored pens to indicate which session focused on which characters?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it? Has anyone done anything like this?
In addition to ideal, flaw, and quirk, I ask for an "ambition" (some longterm goal) and an "endeavor" (some shorterm goal). The endeavor tends to change from level to level, such as to acquire a specific magic item. Meanwhile the ambition, such as to start a family or found an institution, tends to involve several levels and form a story arc.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I find it hard to get the players to want to do things to develop their character. There seems to always be something with the main adventure where they feel they need to keep pushing forward. I also tend to make some things where I think they are planning to go and I think they feel like they need to go with what was planned.
I also felt like the main adventure took the spotlight and that's what I'm trying to avoid in future by ensuring I keep better track of things.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
But what did the PLAYER do to pursue and prioritize his or her "personal stories?"

Were you running an event-based game in the form of a storyline that didn't have any deviation from the plot?
Well it's quite hard in my experience for players to generate conflict in their personal stories if their pasts don't catch up with them. If they've run away from some trouble and are in a new town, that trouble is history if I don't do something to dredge it up?
 

TaranTheWanderer

Adventurer
I like to use a FATE technique sometimes where you chat with the characters about overarching Campaign Themes and Threats.
Then, during character creation, when they do background stuff like Flaws and Bonds, some of those things can tie into the Campaign themes directly or indirectly.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Maybe a little overthinking, but if so I'm also guilty of that. I also run character-driven games, both in the heart of the game improvising around the tables and in preparation working with players (and on my own) to weave their personal PC arcs into the campaign's overarching story.
Yep - I just need a way to make sure I'm thinking about opportunities to enrich the campaign with personal touches that pull in the players characters. The main campaign can be kind of a steam roller. Folks need to remember that I'm still very much in the noob category of DMs. I feel like I've finally gotten the basic running of the game down, describing the scene, action resolution etc. Now trying to up my story evocation game. :) Those are some good ideas Quickleaf. Thanks.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
In addition to ideal, flaw, and quirk, I ask for an "ambition" (some longterm goal) and an "endeavor" (some shorterm goal). The endeavor tends to change from level to level, such as to acquire a specific magic item. Meanwhile the ambition, such as to start a family or found an institution, tends to involve several levels and form a story arc.
My plan is similar for the next Session 0 is to ask players to describe (in private) what their characters are pursuing and what they are running from. That would give me two different sources of potential conflict and character development. Adding a longer term ambition would be nice too. Thanks!
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
I really like it when players come up with background hooks and motivations for their character and if they provide such things, I'll gladly roll them into the story. If players don't care about these things, i might come up with the little something to throw their way but I recognize that some people aren't invested in personal plot stuff.

I think making matrices or flow charts aren't conducive to how i think, personally. I like to make a straightforward, linear concept of how each character's personal plot might go and then organically evolve it and interlace it with other characters or the main plot. Maybe I decided that one session that character A's father is the same merchant that employed character B, so there's a connection. Maybe the archnemesis of character C is that same guy I planned on as a foil in the main plot. It's pretty close to how I plan the main storyline - I think of beats, NPCs, and specific events, but I leave things open so that players can feel like their decisions are driving things.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I really like it when players come up with background hooks and motivations for their character and if they provide such things, I'll gladly roll them into the story. If players don't care about these things, i might come up with the little something to throw their way but I recognize that some people aren't invested in personal plot stuff.
Absolutely. If the players are just interested in killing monsters and sticking to the main quest then I'm happy to do that.

I think making matrices or flow charts aren't conducive to how i think, personally. I like to make a straightforward, linear concept of how each character's personal plot might go and then organically evolve it and interlace it with other characters or the main plot. Maybe I decided that one session that character A's father is the same merchant that employed character B, so there's a connection. Maybe the archnemesis of character C is that same guy I planned on as a foil in the main plot. It's pretty close to how I plan the main storyline - I think of beats, NPCs, and specific events, but I leave things open so that players can feel like their decisions are driving things.
I like those ideas, thanks!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Well it's quite hard in my experience for players to generate conflict in their personal stories if their pasts don't catch up with them. If they've run away from some trouble and are in a new town, that trouble is history if I don't do something to dredge it up?
Okay so what we're really talking about is "backstories" then, which is something I don't generally recommend players spend much time on, nor the DM, except when a player is inspired to establish something during play. The DM can then latch onto that and run with it if it's interesting. This requires no special prep by the DM ahead of time.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Okay so what we're really talking about is "backstories" then, which is something I don't generally recommend players spend much time on, nor the DM, except when a player is inspired to establish something during play. The DM can then latch onto that and run with it if it's interesting. This requires no special prep by the DM ahead of time.
Cool, but then I think we're looking for different experiences from our campaigns is all? I've found the campaigns I've run to be a little too 2-dimensional because the characters (whilst being the protagonists) seemed quite static and disconnected from the world. I'm trying to make things feel a bit more 3-dimensional.
 



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