When we’re confronted with a choice, it’s the thought-provoking ones that most often stick with us. While “would you like a free pizza?” is certainly compelling. But “would you rather give up pizza or pasta?” is a more thought-provoking question.
When your tabletop RPG’s choices are thought-provoking, multi-dimensional, and have gray area(s), the story you’re all playing is significantly enriched and invites further participation and investment from the players. So today’s Worldbuilding Monday post aims to help tabletop RPG worldbuilders better create those types of compelling choices for the players.
In life, we’re often obligated to make choices between careers, relationships, and how to respond to the many things which happen to us each day. These types of choices, ones with legitimate gravitas, naturally guide us to seriously considering the various options. We weight the pros & cons, the various factors involved, and what the potential consequences of each path may be.
As the TTRPG worldbuilder, it’s your job to create opportunity for the players to confront dilemmas which produce thought-provoking choices. Always be on the lookout to find ways to get players to weigh the various sides of a choice. Stop them in their tracks and have the choice warrant careful consideration.
Those back-and-forth moments – where the player and party banter each potential path – are vital to the enjoyment of the story. We become invested not just in the choice – but in the corresponding positive and/or negative consequences!
To further the pizza analogy, choosing between toppings is, in and of itself, thought-provoking. But it doesn’t have much depth of importance outside the eating of a pizza. As a rule, you want the various choices to affect a multitude of different aspects of the story world, not just the “pizza.”
A common example is a villain who forces the players to choose who lives or dies as a byproduct of their evil schemes. The players are not just confronted with a thought-provoking choice, but must also consider the many consequences of each decision. The players will naturally consider the number of lives at stake, who the people are, what their personal relationship is to their characters, and what is at stake for all involved.
But it was the choice that the villain gave to the players that forced their mental calculus. You need to be consistently seeding your story world with such opportunities. So that when the players encounter the need to make a decision, they must stop, think, and reflect before proceeding. That mental investment creates huge rewards for the players, and not just if things go well!
Most compelling choices in stories are not absolute. Meaning, the players aren’t picking between the super obvious morally “good” and “bad” options. Instead, because of how you’ve setup your world, the choices – and their various suite of consequences – have gray areas and morally ambiguous outcomes.
These types of choices are the ones which most often stick with players the most. Which challenge the players’ mind & spirit. And which get them to feel like “wow, this is truly a great story.” You need to program nuance into your world so that these types of choices are a natural outcome.
Take the time during your initial and ongoing worldbuilding to really invest in setting up these scenarios. Provide choices which get your players to think, consider, and feel their way through their decisions. Perhaps there’s a big debate at the table; perhaps the story world is altered forever – whatever the impact, it will generate lots of buzz and excitement for where the story goes next!