Do Your Homework
A few years ago, I joined a local Vampire: The Requiem game that a few friends from work were a part of. We often talked game at work, but this was our first chance to game together and so I was excited. World of Darkness games are a favorite of mine, but I am usually the Gamemaster. This was going to be the first time I ever had a chance to play Vampire as a player character. I was thrilled. After talking with the Storyteller (what WoD Gamemasters are called) I designed my character; a Scandinavian born Gangrel of the Invictus. At the Storyteller’s request, I wrote up a back-story for the character, which awarded me some starting experience, and by the time game day finally rolled around, I was ready to bare my fangs.
Unfortunately, the game was not to my liking. Many of the players had been gaming together for some time, in Vampire specifically, and they had a few in-game favorites that didn’t really make my own character all that viable. I felt the thug in a game of intellectuals, as without connections to either the Ordo Dracul or the Circle of the Crown there was little place for me within that Coterie. Also, I was savage among shadows, a Gangel among the Mekhet. The players and Storyteller are all fine people, and the few sessions I did attend were interesting but for me, as a player, not necessarily enjoyable. I respectfully backed out of the game.
What I took from that game, however, is something I still encourage to this day; homework. The Storyteller had asked me, a player, to write up a back-story for my character between games. I did so, and was thusly rewarded with an in-game advantage: experience. This was not one-time affair either. Anything we did out of game, be it research into the city or time period we were gaming in, a hand-drawn or HeroMachine picture of our character, written accounts (stories) of what our characters did during down time, or anything else we might think to do that shows interest and thought regarding the game was rewarded. Not only did this encourage creativity and activity on the part of the players, it furthered the connection that the players had with their characters and the world their characters inhabited.
Since then I have included the option of doing game related homework for experience in almost all other games I have run. I say “almost” because there are games in which this doesn’t work as well. Games like The Dresden Files RPG or the Marvel Universe Role-Playing Game that are not experience point-based games have some trouble with it, as do games built on a strict leveling system such as Pathfinder or Anima: Beyond Fantasy, as these can create a power gap between players if rewards are given too freely. It is a system that can easily be abused, to which it is left up to individual Gamemasters to decide how best to handle it. Limiting how many “assignments” can be done between games is one method that works, or creating a system of diminishing return. However, it can be hard to put such limits in place without feeling like you are punishing the players who are putting forth the extra effort. As I said, it is best left to a case by case basis on how best to handle such matters.
Even so, I suggest giving it a try in your own games. You will be pleasantly surprised by what your players will give you. I always am.
Image Credit: White Wolf