How, as a GM, can you get your players engaged with your game and with your campaign setting? It’s a question that we get asked by Dungeon masters and GMs ALL the time!

There are three main solutions, with lots of options to implement them. Below is a brief summary of the talk we gave on this subject as part of CowCon 2021 (which you can catch on VOD right now, right here), and will be added as a video once it’s processed.

You can download the slides for the presentation here. A big thank you to Caeora for letting us use his beautiful illustrations and tokens!

We’ve also added some “homework” assignments, so you can put your newfound knowledge into practice! If you paste the URLs into the chat, we might give them live feedback on our Twitch Streams, which go live every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 11am Pacific (7pm UK). Please let us know in the comment if you’d be interested in that!

Solution 1: Weave your Players into the World

This is something you can do right from the get go in your campaign. Start by telling the story of your world (Primer) to your players, so they can get excited about it and understand how their characters might link into factions. Giving them secret knowledge of the world makes them feel special and can encourage roleplay and excitement about your world too.

After all, players play RPGs for immersion, which is what gives the game excitement and drama. Making things personal – and linking their characters to personal experiences, makes things more emotional, which makes it more dramatic! And you need to connect PCs to things before they can feel personal.

In terms of World Anvil, don’t feel you need to create a massive campaign setting available to your players up front. This runs the risk of overwhelming your players. Keep it simple and lean to begin with – on a need to know basis.

By creating a subscriber group for your party, and one for each player, you’ll be able to give secrets from player backgrounds exclusively to those players.  Then, open up knowledge incrementally when they need or acquire information.

Homework assignment 1: Share a player primer for your campaign.

In the comments, share a primer you have created for a specific campaign for your players. Don’t know what a primer is? Check out this post which explains all!

Solution 2: Not everything has a sword to head solution (Make the world integral to the plot)

If you want to make sure your players care about your lore, make it the answer to their prayers – literally! Establishing early on that not every problem in your world can be solved by the character sheet is a great strategy to get them excited about unveiling more of your worlds lore.

To establish this, make knowledge rolls count and give PCs significant bonuses to rolls if they have acquired relevant knowledge (books, rumours, ancient tablets). Reward NPC questions with at least rumours and tidbits (a friendly NPC may refer them to a friend), and consider them important encounters in terms of character progression (XP).

Another way to approach this is to make knowledge gathering exciting. Knowledge can be part of the loot of an adventure – this makes it feel like valuable treasure. Make information giving NPCs as memorable as quest givers and make the interactions expensive in terms of effort. Ask for things in return or coin or favours.

We mention a lot more ways to do this in the talk itself – too many to add here. The key thing here is that almost all players want to advance level and plot! By making world knowledge a gateway to this, it gives players a clear reason to engage with the world – they need it to solve the problems they’re currently facing.

In terms of World Anvil, use secrets in articles, and make them specific to those that know it. You can even gamify unlocking them with password protected articles. By making the unlocking of knowledge feel like an achievement or a milestone, you’;ll be encouraging your players to dig for more lore in your world.

Also, make sure there’s a clear list of known NPCs the players can refer to for information. This will help them target the best NPCs for each question.  And for yourself, keep a list of articles to update or create (check out our Agile Worldbuilding talk for more on this!) so you can keep track of what needs to be amended!

Homework assignment 2: Share an adventure plot which makes use of in world mysteries and lore as key plot beats.

In the comments, share an adventure plot (use the Plot template on World Anvil) which makes use of mysteries, secrets, intrigue or other information as key plot beats. The revelations should be an integral part of the resolution of the adventure. Be sure to add ideas of how to make the revelations dramatic and meaningful!

Solution 3: Become part of the world and be immortalised in its history

Player agency a key part of getting your playters excited about your campaign. So why not go one step further, and weave the results of that agency into memorials and celebrations in your world? You can start by showing statues of heroes from ages past, to give your players something to aspire to, or festivals of grand victories. And once your players start doing things which are noteworthy, make sure you celebrate those victories, too! Erect a statue, name a tavern after them -anything you think they’d enjoy! You can also use reputation – with reactions and even rumours – to make your players feel more engaged with your world, and the way your world views them.

Make sure, too, that your world feels alive and ever-changing. A location that your players revisit should feel like time has passed there. Show change on these repeat visits (this might be positive or negative). If related to the actions of the players, this is a good way to show long term consequences. But might not be. In that case, make the changes feel emotional! Fires might break out, babies might be born.

In terms of World Anvil, this can be shown by working your players names across the world wherever their adventures take them!

Homework assignment 3: Share a landmark or festival created in honour of a past hero or party.

In the comments, share a landmark (the building/landmark template) or a festival (World Anvil tradition article) you have created to celebrate a victory of your players. Or if you’re just starting the campaign, why not choose a legendary hero to celebrate with a statue or a celebration? This will give your players something to aspire to!