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In a Neverwhere style setting, how do I keep the players interested in staying connected to the surface world? How can I make their connections to the mundane world matter to the players and characters?

The game will be played with Dresden rules in a different setting.

I'm looking for story, plot and personal drivers beyond dresden/fate aspects.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I feel like the simple answer is make the surface world interesting and important. Neverwhere-style stories, in fiction and rpgs, definitely suffer from the Other World being way more interesting and engaging than the Regular World, in part because that's where all the action happens. However, there is plenty in the Regular World that has provided fodder for tons of rpgs and stories all on its own; try to avail yourself of some of that. Have some of the main plot be driven by actors from the Regular World or events in it, and force your players to re-visit the Regular World and interact with it on a regular basis. Whatever goals they have for their characters, make the Regular World an important part of that. Have it come and get them when they neglect it. Make it exciting. Even mundane foes can be threatening and cool--I'm thinking of Marcone in the Dresden Files books--and your players are likely to underestimate them. All their old friends and enemies and family are still living their lives back there, and eventually they'll notice something's up.

And maybe their new enemies will take notice of the characters' friends/family/etc in the Regular World. You could try having one world eventually bleed through into the other, and have people and events from Regular World affect the Other World and vice versa. The PCs crossed over; maybe other people figure out how to do that as well. Try not giving your players that comfortable separation between places forever.

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While kind of a 'duh' moment, this is something worth pointing out, and what I was looking for. I was falling into pitfall of designing the underworld but not designing much on the surface. Aspects are good to tie the characters to the surface but they can change and the surface can lose importance quickly. Also asking for players to come up with what makes the surface interesting is good for tying the characters but not in hooking players themselves. – Thinking Sites May 14 '12 at 19:41

I would explicitly ask players to come up with hooks to the mundane world themselves as part of character creation, even going to the lengths of explaining why the information is needed and where it is going to be used. These could be people, ambitions, objects, hates, pretty much anything that really matters to the character.

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This is what I normally do. I'd like to find ways to get players themselves more emotionally involved without leaning on game mechanics. However, doing this give a paper answer, which is good for good character players, but not so good for others. – Thinking Sites May 11 '12 at 19:12

Aspects. There are other drivers that you can use, but Aspects are how the important plot points of the Dresden Files are kept in play mechanically.

From YS18:

Characters also have a set of traits called aspects. Aspects cover a wide range of elements and should collectively paint a picture of who the character is, what he’s connected to, and what’s important to him (in contrast to the “what he can do” of skills). Aspects can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items, or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character.

If the character is connected to his fiancee, and wants to reconnect to her, represent that as an aspect. The player can invoke that connection/aspect to give himself more drive when he needs it, and you can compel that connection/aspect to give him an imperative to do things that move him towards this goal and tie him to this connection.

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As I mentioned to the @Phil, I'm looking to get the players connected emotionally, not just how to have mechanics that represent the characters connection. – Thinking Sites May 11 '12 at 19:14
@ThinkingSites the cool thing about aspects, and the reason that I mention them, is that carefully crafted aspects act like acting prompts, and that's the reason that the book focuses so much on creating them. It's not so much the mechanical part of the aspect- it's crafting the character around them, and creating a story before the story. As the player (and you) go through this process, there's more investment in the characters, and more life is breathed into them, therefore I find that it engages the emotions that you are trying to invoke. YMMV, but it's worked for me. – SnakeDr68 May 11 '12 at 20:46

There are multiple ways of folding plot hooks in to accomplish that. However, unless you're having all of the characters closely mimic Mayhew's journey, "staying conmnected to the surface world" didn't seem to be a massive component for most people in London below.

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Not closely mimic, but superficially similar (pushed from real world to Neverwhere) yes. – Thinking Sites May 11 '12 at 19:11

Couldn't you take inspiration from the original? A fiancee who would forgive him if only he could explain; but he can't because he can't get back to that world... Family, boss, even a football team - whatever is important to that character, and it's slipping away because the character doesn't know what questions to ask; so hurry up and solve the riddle.

(IIRC, the fiancee has a walk-on part towards the end, allowing the title character to balance what he found important then against what he finds important now: a bit hammy for most games, but maybe a good pause to reflect before The Final Confrontation.)

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Have parts of the surface world come looking for them. It's one thing to say "I'm going through this adventure to try to get back to my daughter, back on the surface." That's a good motivation, but it's sort of self-limiting. It's another thing when the daughter comes looking for you.

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