Player Engagement Outside of Session Time

I think a lot of us are much more tired and more is demanded of us thab we realise. I have many obligations and duties in work and family life that gaming prep becomes just another chore to do. I might enjoy it, but the energy simply isn't there.

I find this much different when you are playing as you can get energy from the group.

I do a recap of events from last session which is a good way to get back into the game. It also allows me to remphasise important clues or parts of the campaign that they may have forgotten about.

At the start of the campaign, using a session 0 to discuss the geography, legends, important people and lore of the upcoming campaign I found really helpful for setting the tone. It's an opportunity for players to ask questions and then plan thrir characters.

I don't mind people creating characters and doing this stuff in session. It counts as playing to me and often the players are engaged not just with their own characters, but with others as well.

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I'd say it's a collection of a few things that have been mentioned.

First is that it's kind of like homework. The same thing happens when players craft ten-page backstories for their characters. You're requesting effort on the part of the other person. Sometimes that's something people are willing to do, sometimes it's not.

Second is that the effort may not be necessary. Or at least it may not be perceived as such. I've run my fair share of adventure paths, and the player's guides, while helpful, aren't necessary. Most of the time, folks can get by without having read one, and maybe making a tweak or two to their character at the start of the game.

Third is that there's something a lot of players find off-putting about restrictions placed on the one input they have to the game... their character. Limiting their selection (or, again, even just the perception that's what's happening) is often viewed as a negative. Only these races, only these backgrounds, etc.... some players just instinctively balk at that.

Fourth is that depending on the system... and my one experience with Starfinder says that it falls into this category... character creation is already more complex than it needs to be. Adding another document to refer to may just seem annoying.

Fifth is kind of tricky, and it may not apply to everyone, though I know it applies to me. It's this: if the story is already largely set, then just give me my role. Or my motivation. Like, don't hand me a book that has a bunch of predetermined elements and then act as if I'm really creating a unique character. I'd rather know what the game is ahead of time and then play that instead of expecting something different. My preferred game wouldn't be an adventure path type game, but if that's what's on the menu, then I want to know that. My 5e group is currently playing the Temple of Elemental Evil reincarneted by Goodman Games. I made an elf mage. The DM provided me with a goal of finding a pair of elves that had come to the area to investigate the temple. Cool, I can play that. I don't need to read a bunch of other pages of options and so on. My choices are limited... so just go ahead and choose one for me. For me, allowing me to pick from a handful of predetermined options on how my character connects to the events in the story is more an illusion of choice than an actual choice.

The best thing to do in this case is to have a true session zero. Discuss what's in the player's guide and craft the PCs together. I've found it's always better to do so no matter what kind of game you're running. You can craft the group as well as the individuals. You can use the stuff in the player's guide or come up with equally compelling stuff that you can explore in play. The players may have more of a chance to have some input on the game, as far as an adventure path will allow.

Another way to try and mitigate this is by engaging in between sessions in a more manageable way. Something like text messages or posts on a service like discord can accomplish a lot, and work in a way that's not as time consuming as a player's guide may seem.

In the end, I find that player's guides are kind of a tease... like, wow this game is going to allow us to make a lot of choices to determine how it goes. But it's not... it's an adventure path, it's gonna go the way it goes. Or they serve as a reminder how the GM is going to take your choices and fit them into the established story where possible... like seeing the magician shove the doves up his sleeve.

I imagine for most people who don't want to bother reading a player's guide, it's some combo of the above reasons.


If I had a table full of players willing to do work on a regular basis away from the table we would be playing Ars Magica instead of D&D.

Oh that'd be awesome. Someday I might be able to convince a couple of my players to try the Ars Magica system. But only if we use it with the Harry Potter universe.

aramis erak

Maybe many players are interested in a No Myth, Story Now approach to gaming--even if they aren't familiar with the terminology and debates around such terms? Ie, they're more interested in driving play themselves with a relatively clean slate rather than largely serving as passive participants in a pre-crafted, GM-curated game?
My experience says, "OH, HELL, NO!!!"
Most of my players seem to want that deep lore setting... they just want it spoon fed to them in byte-sized pieces. Or in non-interactive chunks. (Novels or Movies.)
Note that all the games I've run locally have been me offering several, them picking one. Star Wars, Twilight 2000 4e, Alien, Star Trek Adventures, Dune, Talisman Adventures, Sentinel Comics, Transformers, Marvel Heroic RP... Only one doesn't have deep lore... Talisman Adventures; we ran SC without its (getting to) deep lore. Now, my D&D game world? My wife knows the lore - she helped create some elements. Everyone else? They learned it from play.

My most consistent player (my wife) doesn't care much for story-now as presented in BW, nor in Freemarket. Getting her to engage proactively is... dicey, at best.
Most of my players want to be triumphant heroes, but also want to be sent where the action already is.

The only sandbox game I've gotten past my players was Twilight 2000 4th ed... but the wife wasn't playing.
Alien, we got semi-sandboxy - I'd prep two missions, they'd pick one.
D&D, I'd put 3-4 hooks out, and let them get there in sandbox mode allowing me to build and stock the dungeon.

My players, both current groups, and most of my prior groups, don't want sandbox, don't want no-myth; either is a "Let's play something else" request generator.


I think @GuyBoy does this very well in his games. He makes the pre/reading part of the mystery. A few hooks to choose from, a map, a mystery. But just teases that don’t reveal too much. The mystery makes you read more carefully - everyone likes a puzzle.

I tend to go all out with large players guides of the pathfinder size. I’m sure most of it doesn’t get read but it’s a useful resource for later.

What works best is the discussion around party set up, and character themes. Either in person at a previous session or through an email/discord/group chat. If you can get even a couple of people talking about the stuff in the guide then other people will read it to understand what’s going on.


Moderator Emeritus
While I love when the players are deeply invested in creating characters to fit the world and the particular setting within that world, and used to be the kind of DM that handed out 5 to 10 page campaign primers + stuff specific to each character, with my move to 5E I dropped that and went with a much broader approach.

As the "About MAKRINOS" page on my D&D website explains (I use it as the backdrop/example for the rules and lore I share on that site - so this is not what I give players to read - that is just two paragraphs I am also willing to just paraphrase for them - this is my explanation for other DMs who want to use this approach):

New characters arrive at the Republic of Makrinos after a perilous months long sea journey, escaping from the corrupt and oppressive “Inchoate Empires,” where countless kingdoms and empires do constant battle for control, where monsters have been killed off or driven underground, and several peoples are either hidden in small isolated enclaves or have been driven to extinction altogether. Players are free to make up any reason for this trip. These lands are noted for their arrogant belief that they are the center of the world with various competing so-called “superior” cultures. The denizens of places like the Republic of Makrinos just hope that they remain too small and much too far away to be of more than a passing interest to those in power in “the Empires” (as they frequently refer to them). Makrinos is where people go to disappear and make new fortunes.

This premise allows PCs to have nearly any kind of background and backstory they want back in that part of the world with the understanding that the game will never go back there. It will never be detailed beyond what the player writes for their (hopefully brief) backstory. It will remain ambiguous and capacious in relation to where the game’s events take place. The campaign is as much about adventuring in a new place as it is learning about it and creating a new life there. In other words, there will never be any maps of the Inchoate Empires and the only “lore” about it will be whatever players come up with to motivate their characters (if such a motivation is even necessary).

You can read the rest here: About MAKRINOS


"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
This goes back to a discussion we had on these boards a while back: it is not the GM's job to entertain the players. It is collaborative. That means the work gets spread around, along with the fun.
What's odd to me is that sitting down and reading some campaign material to help build a character concept doesn't sound like work at all! That's super fun for me, and I'm always surprised that more players don't want to do it.


Morkus from Orkus
I know. This is a perennial issue, but I'm frustrated right now so bear with me. ("Bare with me?" I don't actually know...)

Anyway: I am starting a new Starfinder campaign (YAY) using the Fly Free or Die AP (YAY) and I am desperately trying to get my players to put in 20 minutes to read the Player's Guide for the AP (BOO).

Why is it so damn hard to get players to put in even the tiniest effort outside of the designated hours of the campaign?

This isn't a Starfinder issue. It happens all the time. Sure, you find the occasional player who writes in character journals or does artwork or plans their advancement 20 levels before they need to, but those are the exception that prove the rule.

I'm not askinga lot, am I? Just read the thing so you know the set up, and pick a background so I know how to engage your character with the specified NPCs. Hell, i didn't even ask you to read the rules on trade -- which will be important later.

Ugh. Players. Amirite?
I hear you. I have three players who can't be bothered to even level up their guys in-between sessions. One player, though, watches hours and hours of lore related YouTube videos, thinks about the game, levels his characters, plans things out, etc.

If I could just get him to divide up his time among the other three, I'd have four players who put in a lot of time in-between games. :p


I'm not asking a lot, am I? Just read the thing so you know the set up, and pick a background so I know how to engage your character with the specified NPCs. Hell, i didn't even ask you to read the rules on trade -- which will be important later.
I'm a player (a rare opportunity) in a new SWADE game set in The Seven Worlds. We're all busy professionals with families so we're going through some growing pains.

First, set up (especially character gen) always takes up more time in the beginning. So a bit more is expected. In this case, we ran through an intro adventure taking two sessions to get a feel for the rules and setting. We had the holidays before the campaign started so 2 weeks roughly. We all made our PCs but most players did not write up a quick (3 paragraph or so) backstory, at the bequest of the GM. Personally, I think that would have been a reasonable expectation given the lead time and out of personal courtesy to the GM (a new GM who is spending A LOT of time on it).

Second, if a group has a Session 0 and they agree to invest some time offline, they should honor it (barring exigent circumstances of course). We didn't set a specific amount of time to expect, but 30-60 min between our bi-weekly sessions (e.g. answering prompts from GM) seems reasonable. It's like responding to texts and emails IRL, so I find it a bit rude to ignore someone.

Reading stuff like rules? That's a bit different. All of us are relatively new to SWADE so we all want to learn. A few of us (like the GM and me) REALLY want to know the rules. He and I are talk A LOT on this, but I don't expect this to be an obligation for any of the players and in fact, most don't. But having a basic sense of the rules is an expectation of the group though often we have to look up rules after the sessions.

Third, the GM is asking for a lot of questions offline (on discord) b/c he's new. We talk quite a bit but again, I don't expect players to participate and most don't.


I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Reading stuff like rules? That's a bit different. All of us are relatively new to SWADE so we all want to learn. A few of us (like the GM and me) REALLY want to know the rules. He and I are talk A LOT on this, but I don't expect this to be an obligation for any of the players and in fact, most don't. But having a basic sense of the rules is an expectation of the group though often we have to look up rules after the sessions.
I understand this with one exception, character rules. If you choose a new class, prestige class, archetype, etc.. that bends or breaks the core system rules I expect you to know how it works. I'm pretty lenient as a GM in allowing 3PP homebrew things, but I expect a level of responsibility from the player. You at least need to be ready to understand how it works and explain during the session. If we end up sidelining things while you flip through books and net searches I'm going to lose patience with you. /end rant

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