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Two of my players are very excited about the game ("Super-Assassins Take On the Mafia, Ancient Evil") and made backgrounds with lots of good hooks I can use to tie them into the plot. The other two players made very simplistic character backgrounds, since they wanted to develop the characters during play, but this means I have had few hooks from their backgrounds to use.

The latter two players are unhappy because they feel disconnected from the plot and their PCs seem more like secondary, supporting characters while the former two players' characters seem like the protagonists of the story.

How do I help the two players who are feeling left out be more engaged in the plot? I don't want to over-complicate the plot by adding more arcs or characters to it in order to make them more important. I don't know what to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are your players unhappy with this situation? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '14 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, they feel disconnected from the plot. \$\endgroup\$ – Aldath Le'Carde Oct 25 '14 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ How far along is this campaign? Just started, ten sessions, two? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 25 '14 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are there to tell a story. Do the characters fit your story? That is the mind set you should have as a DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Oct 25 '14 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ We just started, we're 4 sessions in. Playing a cstom Plot Point campaign, pretty much "everything scripted" \$\endgroup\$ – Aldath Le'Carde Oct 25 '14 at 17:56
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As long as your players/characters are suitable to gel as a team, and the non-plot-linked characters have abilities that allow them to contribute something special, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Characters end up being important because of what they actually do, not because of the reason they show up in the first place. So provided that all characters are actually going to engage with the plot it doesn't really matter whether that's because of their background or because of events that occur once the game starts. Make sure that in-game events involve them in the plot right from the start, so that they become invested in the main plot instead of starting off invested in it.

However, I would at least offer to help the two players add or adjust background elements in order to give them an up-front investment in the plot. It may be that they just lacked a bit of inspiration or understanding of the main elements when they came to write background, and drew a big blank that you can get them past. But if they're happy with their simple backgrounds and they aren't about to "play their character" by wandering off into the far distance as soon as the first session starts, just get on with it.

For what it's worth, personally I'm a big fan of designing games so that a really simple hook brings everyone in. For supers games (and I include Vampire and In Nomine in this, which I've done more of than comic-book supers games), "you live in the city" can be sufficient simply because being part of a very small community involves you in everything. A Mafia that runs the city, and an existential threat to the planet, should be reasonably easy to tie a character to because they affect everyone in the city/planet, including the characters and any loved ones they might have. In fact the difficulty in those case might be to establish why only the PCs concern themselves with the plot, not everyone and everything they meet. I ran a one-off once where the requirement for plot-linking the characters was, "a human being in the contemporary world who is asleep at this specified instant in time". Of course, one-offs are easier to rope everyone into a scenario :-)

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Well, the two players in question wanted to develop their characters during play, right? Sounds like a good thing to do would be to take them aside, between sessions and see if they could see ways to tie their characters into anything existing, or adding a minimal amount of additional things to bring into the game.

I'd have them look at things like the Character Concept Generator and Making Good Flags and see if they could use anything to create hooks or ideas based on what is already in play. Presumably something that has happened in play should be easy to set their characters up as seeking to do, or oppose, etc. in some fashion that would make for good hooks.

An easy one that shows up a lot in media is "I swore I would help X character do Y thing (because they're my friend/because I believe in their goal/because of my own reasons, etc.)".

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It could be ok if they players with the basic backgrounds were ok having basic backgrounds. Since they are now feeling disconnected from the plot, it seems like probably everyone would be happier if you worked in some connections. You might want to make sure all of the players are ok with how you do this, but some options could include:

  • If the players who made basic character backgrounds wish they had put in more detail that could be relevant, let them now add some more details.

  • If those players don't feel like they can do a good job at adding such details, you could either help them do it, or have the players who wrote detailed backgrounds help them do it.

  • You could also add details yourself, and find ways to link those into the main plot.

If the backgrounds are really sparse and the players are feeling the lack, it would probably be good to add some detail even if it doesn't tie in to the main plot. In fact, it might seem more natural if NOT all of the characters' back-stories are tied in to the main plot. You could then get them more connected in a natural way that can be even more engaging, by having game-time events involve those PCs or their backgrounds by events that take place during play. For example:

  • You could add old friends and family details to the PCs' backgrounds, let them interact with those people a bit, and then have those related NPCs' lives impacted by actions of the main villains. Perhaps someone's former college professor or father was a researcher or has skills or knowledge which the world-ending cult needs for their plans, so they kidnap or blackmail that person. Perhaps another PC's brother is getting accidentally involved in the mafia.

  • If the bland PCs have abilities (Powers), special gear or allies or groups they belong to, those also might get somehow involved in the actions of either main adversary group, making it personal to them in a way that involves their previously-generic traits. For example, if their special gear or powers have a source or supply or inventor or whatever, the evil entity might be interested in controlling or getting something from that source, which could possibly become a threat or an opportunity as well as a clue and a personal hook to involve some of those PCs.

  • The bland PCs could also meet new personal interests during play - new friends or lovers or allies or sympathetic people they care about for whatever reason, who could turn out to have some connection to the main plot, or who could become involved in the main plot after the PCs have a chance to get to know them, in any case making it personal for those PCs in a natural way.

I have actually found that players can get very involved even running very bland PCs, if they get involved with events and other characters during play, as that can quickly create a context that is very vivid and relevant since the players are actually experiencing and generating it rather than just having made it up as a story about the past.

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I had this exact same problem with a Deadlands Reloaded campaign I am currently running. For my games I use a standard template for players to fill in their character backgrounds before the first session starts, which gives many opportunities for plot hooks to be identified.

However, one of my players despises doing this as part of character creation, so we agreed not to go through the process with her.

If you are unwilling to make changes to the plot in order to make their PCs more important then your options are limited to working with them by suggesting aspects of your planned plot arcs that might fit with their characters. Maybe you have an evil villain who it would make sense for one of them to have encountered before Perhaps they could have ties with a location that is going to be important to the plot further down the line.

Another approach is to tie their characters into plot hooks generated by those who do have detailed character backgrounds. One example of this I used is that one of the other characters has a 'taint' that acts as a beacon for certain types of monster. In order to tie this in to the backgroundless PC, I made it so that only she could see visible evidence of this taint. Doing this immediately created a connection - why could she see it and no one else? Where did she get this ability from etc? A second example is another PC whose parents were both killed by nasty people. Rather than going down the more obvious route of having the PC themselves haunted by their ghosts who wanted to pass on a message, I made it so that the ghosts chose to communicate through the backgroundless PC.

Finally, you can also take small details that emerge naturally through play that relate to the backgroundless PCs. There is a huge amount of flexibility here depending on what details come up. Perhaps there is an NPC their character seems to have a connection with. You could relatively easily increase the important of this person in some way to highlight the relationship with the PC.

In the end, if you're willing to be a little flexible with your planned campaign (and to be honest I view it as good practice for a GM to make changes based on what PCs are and do anyway), then you'll find it a lot easier. Changes really don't have to be significant in order to involve a PC more deeply. If you aren't prepared to go down this route though, I hope that my suggestions prove useful.

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