I've noticed a problem with my PC's lacking rich backgrounds, or players lacking knowledge of the mechanics of their own characters. This has lead to me giving the players "homework", which I have even set aside time every other week to do. The type of "homework" includes, fill out this "PC Questionaire", read this short section on "Willpower", convert this small subset of your character sheet to a digital version so I can review it at my leisure, wherever (Things like PC Name, Aspirations, Virtue and Vice).

I am a reluctant GM, who is GM-ing because no one else wanted the job.

I am basically asking the players to take note of the rules, provide interesting backgrounds, and help me out with data entry (that's specific to them). Part of the interesting background problem has turned into snarkily answering the questionnaire as "My family is dead", "I have no friends". I don't feel that most of what I'm asking is exceptional, and most of it is suggested in the storytelling section of the God Machine Chronicle.

It might be worth saying that the chronicle has had some missteps that are my fault. We're basically on our third iteration now playing Hunter: The Vigil. We started as mortals that were going to become templated characters, which happened briefly. Then the group decided to play Werewolf, due to their perceived durability when I threw a challenge at them that was too hard (resulting in PC death). I recently realized that I couldn't get into the mood of Werewolf, so asked for a change, provided there were WoD 2e rules as a limitation. We landed in Hunter, which is satisfying to me. I'm pretty sure there's some resentment for this. It's also worth noting though, that this has been a pervasive problem throughout. I also made the mistake of not asking for these kinds of things in the beginning because I didn't realize I needed them.

Currently I spend anywhere from 10-20 hours on the chronicle a week, making it sort of a part time job. Of course I accepted that as being a GM, and I know This will go down once I've got more world created and more books reread. However, it's making me frustrated and resentful when I ask them to do tasks that should take at most 1 hour, and time is allotted for it every other week where we have off night (where no story is ran).

on a brighter side, I did get them through a Location creation thing last week.

How can I convince my Players it is in their best interest to help me out?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that it is as bad as it sounds \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ hmm... maybe I've misworded something, it's more like serial iterations, we did one thing, then another, now we're on the third. which should be much simpler, and much more inspiring for everyone. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess the issue is this: do players really want to play the same game you want them to play? It sounds like they might be interested in the setting as an idea, but not so much with the details, ditto with the mechanics. Have you thought about a simpler system and less setting? Because, when players WANT to do something, they do it. Games and fun run on people's want for something overriding the reluctance to do work. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ How essential to the system/setting you are using is the background detail you are asking for? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phil I think moderately, nWoD tries to be more about story than mechanics, a big part of story is often backstory. All of the books suggest running short preludes and fleshing out backstory. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 22:59

6 Answers 6


You Don't

The problem here is the premise. This isn't school or work. You can't force people to do homework if they don't want to, at least not without creating bad feelings at the table. The single most important rule of gaming is to have fun. Are they having fun when you try to force them to do these things?

I don't feel that most of what I'm asking is exceptional, and most of it is suggested in the storytelling section of the God Machine Chronicle.

It is, and it isn't. It depends on what kind of game they want. In my current D&D campaign, I have players with very detailed backgrounds, multiple ongoing stories, NPC affiliations, the whole nine yards (lets call him player A). I have another PC who has only the most basic character backstory, and are primarily interested in doing quests and reacting to the story that I give them (lets call him player B).

A goes so far as to write character journal entries between sessions (something I also do). B doesn't think about the game between sessions. A has good mastery of the rules. B requires help at games to know how to use some of their abilities. You get the idea.

I don't have to do anything to get A to do these things. I didn't even ask for some of it. A does it because A finds creating this stuff fun, and thus wants to do it. That's what gaming is supposed to be: fun. If players find it fun, you won't have to try and force them. They'll want to do it. If they don't find it fun, are you really adding anything by trying to make them do it?

Like you, I'd like it if B was more like A. Unlike you, I don't particularly try to change how B acts. The only thing I do is offer a gold incentive for those who wish to write character journals or session recaps, and that goes to group treasure. It's a "do this and everyone gets a bit more awesome" benefit, rather than a personal benefit. The reason why is that it's an encouragement to do it without creating ill feelings that someone with more free time can gain an extra advantage in character.

Why Not?

B simply isn't into the game that much. They like the company, they enjoy playing, we have a good time with them there, but that's it. If I ask them to do more, they'd refuse. If I try to force them, they'd get annoyed. They just aren't interested in putting in that kind of work.

I don't have to cajole or pressure A, as A is doing it because he finds it fun. B is not, and that's cool. A is happy, B is happy, and we all have fun at the table, so I'm happy.

It's worth noting that as the DM, I spend far, far more time on the campaign than anybody else. That's part of the job. World of Darkness in my experience with it (which was all in Old WoD) is no different, the storyteller has a lot more work to do than the players, even if the players are especially engaged. That's just how it is, and you shouldn't hold that against the players.

Group Mismatch

So to me, your real problem is that you have a mismatch in expectations between you and the rest of the group. You expect them to put time into the game when not actually playing, and they don't.

None of you are wrong in how you want to play. However, you can't have this kind of a mismatch in expectations without someone being unhappy. Right now, that someone is you. You have three options:

  1. Do nothing, and continue to be frustrated that they aren't putting the effort in that you want.
  2. Nag, cajole, beg, plead, or bully them into doing the things you want, and risk building resentment in them.
  3. Have this same conversation with them, and explain to them straight up why you want things like a character history. Do it respectfully, and just explain how you'd use it in part of your story. Do not try and guilt them based on how many hours you put in.

Obviously, I recommend #3. If they decide they can do some of what you want, great! If they don't want to, at least you will know that and can accept it (changing expectations accordingly) or re-evaluate how much effort you want to put in... or even if you're playing the correct system and type of game at all.

System/Campaign Style Change

If you're playing in a system and campaign style that expects players to put in work on backgrounds and your players don't want to, it's possible the only good answer is to change one or both of those things.

Campaign styles are things like a story intensive narrative game, a sandbox game, a dungeon crawl, a mindless monster bash, a zombie apocalypse survival horror, and so on. You want to match the campaign you're running to what your players actually want to do. If you're trying to run a narrative campaign with extensive backstory and they mostly want to run around as "Steve" bashing the heck out of everything in sight, you probably need to adjust the campaign.

Similarly, although it's possible to do most styles of campaigns in most systems, some systems are more suited to some types than others. WoD (back when I last played it) did really well for a lot of things, but a game where players don't want to invest in backstory, and especially a straight up dungeon crawl are not what it excels at.

You should try and sort out with your players what type of game you want to play. Once you agree on that, you can figure out if Hunter (or WoD in general) are suited to that. If they are, great! If not, it's time to consider picking a system that has mechanics that are suited to what you do want to do.

You don't necessarily have to change if you really like the system. I've played in narrative heavy, RP heavy, story driven D&D 3.5 campaigns. It's entirely possible to do it, even though the system doesn't do a lot to help you do it. It's easier to do it in another system, but everybody at the table knows and likes D&D, so we wanted to use it anyway.

The most important part is to get the campaign style right. If you do, you can usually make it work even if the system isn't suited to it (but a system that helps you do it is going to be beneficial).

The Same Page Tool can be of some help in figuring this out. It's important that you do it with your players, as it's the group collectively that has to sort this out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Almost great answer. Based on the answer to my comment above, I would add an additional suggestion. It sounds like the system being used is weighted towards characters with richer backgrounds, and if the players don't want to produce these, it might be worth moving to a system where it isn't as important. Add something along these lines and I'll give you a +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phil I had a throwaway line at the end on the subject, but that's good advice. I've expanded it. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 23:17

We had a situation like this in a previous game (where I was not the DM) with one particular player, and the DM was really pushing it. Afterwards, he mentioned to me not liking to fill in that stuff because he wants to see how the character develops in play, at the table. It wasn't that he wasn't into the game — he felt like the homework was adding extra baggage, making him have to consult with the character sheet to see what his character would think or do.

Instead, he wanted to discover what the character would do as it came up, making up excuses for bad die rolls and explanations of experience for good ones on the fly — and then would keep with those ideas and further develop them. This was D&D, so — a natural 1 while trying to balance on a narrow ledge led to a fear of heights from a childhood trauma. A natural 20 at slipping bonds when captured suggested a background where that had happened a lot. And a spontaneous decision to not participate in looting corpses became part of a religious background.

Maybe this would work for you. Ask your "problem players" to fill in bits of their backstory as the game progresses — and possibly give cues when key decisions are made or the players encounter big successes or failures. If the party interacts with a game-world organization which could be part of someone's backstory, don't ask who has it written down already — ask who wants to add it there now.

If they all say they that some backstory bit comes in when it's to their advantage, which, let's be honest, they will, that's fine — it's a built-in reward for filling out that bit. And now, it is filled out, and it just might not be an advantage at all the next time it comes up. (You can't be a member of every guild....)

This might not work — maybe your players really aren't all that into the game after all — but you might float the idea and see if the players like it.

I've never gone full-out with this, but have used it for choices like languages known or the D&D ranger's "favored enemy". Leave the spot blank, and if it comes up, a player might grab a pencil and say "of course I speak elvish!", or "lizardfolk? They raided my village when I was young, and I've studied hunting them ever since!"

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    \$\begingroup\$ Twilight: 2000 did this for your Contacts: at chargen you only had to know how many of which kind (eg I have 2 Academic and 3 Professional contacts). In play you could try to call on a contact... At which point you fleshed them out and made a skill check to try to get in touch with them; whether that roll succeeds or fails, that one Contact slot is now fleshed out. I've done something similar with gear to great effect, and could see it working quite well with other details. \$\endgroup\$
    – Smithers
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's some game systems that do this with everything, and you can do it with background in almost any game. I know I always leave some of my background stuff deliberately empty so I can fill it in as the game and character develop. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 13:58

Trying to get players to do something they don't want to isn't gaming. The primary purpose of gaming is to have fun.

The other answers cover this pretty well already, however, so the main reason I interject is to suggest that the question you are asking is the wrong question.

I am a reluctant GM, who is GM-ing because no one else wanted the job.

The GM is not a player who "takes a hit for the team" so everyone else can have fun.

The question you should be asking is: "How can I learn to enjoy GM'ing?" or: "How can a group with no GM find a way to function?", or even: "What system would be best for this group?" If you don't like GM'ing, it's unlikely that you're going to have fun even if your players suddenly do everything exactly the way you expect them to.

My suggestion is to discuss how you feel about GM'ing with your players, and try finding a system that you and your players will both enjoy; probably one that makes the aspects of roleplay that you want the "homework" to cover more interesting and enjoyable for your players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My reluctance, is due to the fact that I know I'm not very good at it. I suspect this is as much a learning curve issue as anything. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's useful to know! There are a lot of good tips that can be provided to assist you. You can find some here on SE, or I could offer some myself if you would like. Just let me know. I would do it now at least as a small blurb but I have a game to prepare for. ;) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xenoterracide Being a GM is like any other skill - almost nobody starts off good at it. Those who are good at it got there by running games and getting experience with what works for them and what doesn't. Don't worry, you'll do fine. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 13:59

I'm not familiar with the system you're using or the game you're running, but traditionally I've used small bribes to encourage players to do stuff like this. If you come up with a detailed background that I can work into the setting I'll give you xp for it. Note that I got hit on the head and have amnesia is not a detailed background, neither is I'm an orphan and all my family is dead. These are cop outs players use to excuse themselves from tying the character to the setting.

You can also try leveling with them. Let them know that you're feeling frustrated. They may reply that your expectations aren't reasonable. I don't know your players but not everyone has time to enter their character sheet into a database or come up with a detailed background. Maybe you guys can find a compromise but at the end of the day some people are going to play just to relax and the idea of having homework on an activity they're primarily doing to just relax and have a good time isn't going to work to well.

In other words, use incentives and make sure expectations are communicated on both sides. In the end you may just have to let it go. Not everyone is going to respond to incentives and not everyone is going to come around. Different people approach tabletop gaming differently.

Good luck.

  • \$\begingroup\$ but I compensated for the time, by having an on off game week, where everyone comes on the off week and we can work on things like character backgrounds (and that gives me time) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2014 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ It kinda sounds like your players aren't interested in the off-week, though. If that's the case, then it's something they're tolerating just for the sake of having a game at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Smithers
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 19:13

Motivate them by offering XP

My group once made their sheets with pen and I wanted them to write in pencil for my and their comfort. So I told them “100 XP if you rewrite your sheets.”

I used the idea for other things too: “200 XP if you guys write backgrounds and character descriptions,” and “Wizards reviewing spells ahead of time get 400 XP.”


Most of the answers here are focusing on how to motivate the players to answer questions. I'm going to take a different tack: how to ask questions that the players would want to answer.

Let's say you're asking them this question now:

What's your character's background?

That's a really big, open-ended question. Some players would love to get into it -- but not your players. So let's break it down in two ways:

  1. Ask small questions with a limited set of answers.
  2. Ask questions that provoke.

Small, Closed Questions

Instead of asking an open question like:

What's your educational background?

try asking a closed question instead, one where you supply a small number of possible answers (two or three). These answers should be specific and descriptive, rather than trying to encompass all possible answers:

Do you have a degree from Yale, or is your education from the rough streets of Baltimore?

Now the bar is lowered -- it's easy to pick from a very small list. And if they don't like either of those options, they can make up an answer of their own (which is what you were trying to get them to do in the first place).

Making the listed answers specific is also helpful. If everyone in the group says they went to Yale, now you've got a clear point of story background. You could have something threatening their alma mater, or have someone they all knew from college needing help.

Provocative Questions

Sometimes players don't answer questions because the questions just aren't that interesting. So instead of asking:

Do you have any criminal history?

ask a more provocative question:

You spent five years in prison in Mississippi. Who did you anger while you were there?

Anyone they name becomes fodder for more story. And if they don't like that direction for their character, it's up to them to describe the alternative.

A few more provocative question ideas:

  • Who killed your brother back in '84?
  • Why is there a warrant out for your arrest in Kansas?
  • What was your professor doing when he died?
  • What did you have to sacrifice to get that healing potion?
  • Whose ear have you been carrying around for the last few years?
  • What was that thing living under your house as a child?

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