It is a truism that a GM can never really be sure what a group of players will do, or which NPCs they are going to grow fond of. Places and objects, however... are they the same? In games like Star Wars, Serenity, Mechwarrior, Traveller, Spelljammer, etc. having an attachment between ship and crew enhances play incredibly. The same goes for Shadowrun with a beloved bar in the Sprawl, a favorite Faro table in Aces&Eights, or dare I say tavern in D&D.

Sometimes, the players will simply do this for you from character generation as part of the group's concept. Other times, however, they do not.

This question is in regard to those other times, when the group has no hangout, no bond with their ship, no turf to protect, and basically - no attachments. How can a GM reliably overcome this austere lifestyle and help the players connect with an otherwise ordinary physical object or location, so that their interest and attachment can elevate it to the extraordinary?

Imagine how Star Trek would have been if instead of his beloved Enterprise, Kirk had to blandly go where no one is likely to go, aboard the USS Constellation? That sort of thing has to be opposed, does it not?


8 Answers 8


Assuming the GM has already attempted to create a direct connection, my suggestion is to use our ol' friend Transference--though not in the strict psychological sense of transfering the feelings for one person to another, but rather transferring the feelings for a person or an event to the place.

Person(s)-->Place: If my group were heavy roleplay/dialogue, I would introduce interesting NPCs with whom they can interact and make those NPCs afixed to a physical location. If the players love a certain saloon keeper, then chances are they will begin to want to return to the saloon to interact with the NPC. For a complicated bunch, I might even suggest that the location could move, perhaps they really like that roving band of minstrels. Well those ministrels are going to show up at different bars, taverns, street corners and so forth and grant the connection I am looking for.

Event-->Place: If my group were heavy into accomplishments, then I would find a way to make that heroic battle or encounter into a location that they could identify with. An easy example is slaying the dragon and claiming the keep. But that can work in just about any context really. If the location reinforces how great that event was there is a positive feedback from associating with it. This is especially true if the players then need to defend it later.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Creating connections to places through events can be enhanced by making sure the PCs' travels take them back-and-forth across the same region. Passing near the locations of events from their previous adventures will allow 1) players to accidentally reinforce connections by their own reminiscing and 2) the GM to use reincorporation on locations, adding more layers of relevance/meaning to a place. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I like that a lot, which feeds nicely into creating a level of comfort (i.e., familiarity), but also a set-up for change. The world is moving and changing while the characters are doing their thing. So the location is still the location, but now something is different. React to that Characters my Characters! \$\endgroup\$
    – Galieo
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer, plus SevenSidedDie's comment about reincorporation, plus Aramis' comment about utility+coolness, plus myxzplk's comment about personalization seem to cover the bill... perhaps this question is leaning more toward a community wiki? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 3:34

The first thing that actually comes to mind is how Kaylee and Mal TALK about Serenity, or how Admiral Adama talks about Galactica. They personify their ships whenever they talk about it; they don't love their ship... they love her. Usefulness is good, but, useful things can fall into the background and outside of people's awareness. We have a tendency to stop seeing things when they're working and only see that it is working (sorry, sorry, I promise no more Heidegger).

One idea is to come up with a list of traits to build the ship and let the players pick... and have them all connect to adjectives. She's Feisty? Have someone pick why they think feisty works and then give it increased ability to go into warp drive or whatever the book suggests is appropriate. Make the ship a person and let them help build that person. When the ship is damaged make sure you support the personification, too.

Take that one step further; ask them to design an NPC to be everyone's friend that would unite them as a group. Have them describe what sort of person they think would be the best mascot/ally/sibling they can think of to round out hanging around them but keep the history away and why their character would have a close connection to someone with that personality/those traits. Have them pick a name and then later on hand them their ship with said name and explain how that personality created this ship. They've already started building the idea of having a character relationship and the transference hopefully will be quirky fun.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The last paragraph is definitely something I will use in the future for ships \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Last paragraph. Almost stopped reading it and BOOM! surprise! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 19:35

I've found that attachments to places and to objects is dependent upon

  1. Utility
  2. Time spent on it
  3. Coolness factor
  4. Ownership

In one rather epic campaign, the party's most prized magic item was the "Spoon of Cooking"... which merely granted a slot's worth of cooking, and would heat liquids it's bowl was immersed into to any temperature from ambient though 250°F. I took away their magic swords without issue... but the spoon, they quested to bring it back.

It was rare, cool, and extremely useful for a "cold camp"... and that was a survival issue for some portions of that game.

A ship in Star Wars really is both a thing and a place. It's the setting for many of the story elements, and a tool as well.

Players will become attached to any cool item that they have found to have significant utility, given enough time.

Places, likewise, become comfortable hooks after repeated trips there. Even if the place itself is uncomfortable to the characters, the players often become attached to it because it's someplace they've spent a lot of player-time dealing with.

In many ways, places and things are easier to spot attachments to than NPC's... but only by observing it growing in play... NPC's often are less readily judged.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good summary. "Coolness factor": think Terminus Est; it doesn't really do much, but it becomes like a character in the story because of its backstory, distinctiveness, the way it is woven into events, and sense of mystery. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ The four points are useful and memorable, thanks~ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 22:33

PCs love to put their personal touch on something that's theirs. They are very unlikely to really invest in something that you the GM or some other NPC completely controls. In a long Planescape campaign, our party took over some building we chased bad guys out of and turned it into a bar. We would spend a lot of effort on bringing back trophies whose only merit was that "they'd look cool in the bar." We owned it, we could customize it, we had it as a semi-safe home base where we could keep our spare stuff and be reasonably relaxed in.

I've seen similar attachments not work in other games. Sometimes it's a place that we just don't come back to enough. Some of the Pathfinder APs were bad about this - they'd start you out in some cool ville that had loads of fun NPCs and hooks - and then you would leave to never return. That gets a big raspberry, and makes players gunshy about investing in the next place. Sometimes it's just not having enough cooperation from the GM. We were playing Silhouette and got a spaceship. The GM was very unreceptive to customization ideas, even just internal cosmetic ones. "If it's not on the equipment list, then no." We gave up on caring. I did pimp out a hover-SUV that we used on-planet, though, mostly by just insisting on it regardless of the GM's attitude.

And a lot of it is, to be honest, that it legitimately provides a benefit to the PCs. If something's always just an albatross around your neck, you're not going to love it. What are the real benefits of a home town? Well, you know everyone (stranger danger!), people will come tell you stuff that you wouldn't hear as a stranger yourself. Let's say you own a bar/casino, as my character does in our current Alternity campaign. Then let's say you as the player wander in, and your head bouncer has beat the stuffing out of and has ejected a cheater. It makes you proud. You feel like someone is looking out for your interests besides yourself. That's what a home, even a temporary one like a fantasy bar or a spaceship, is about.


Your descriptions of things were still residences or vehicles, so I am going to focus on location primarily.

The first thing about building attachment is detail and accessability of that detail. A group will only have no hangout and no feel for location and attachment if the GM has not put in the background work. 70% of creating the attachment is detail and continuity, as much of the connection depends on immersion. If the Gm starts injecting the same personalities and same touchstones, part of the job is done, as familiarity aids roleplay tremendously.

The reliable GM kicker here is adding "World In Motion" to these details. Have the Bartender tell the group that he's all worried because he has a baby on the way, or the owner of the restaurant upstairs is scared of losing business becasue the local Vintner's Guild is in a dispute. Have the bully who the party beat up last month come to the Party looking for a job and promising to turn over a new leaf; or have a fire burn down their local church and have the local clergy come to the group looking for aid. This is even stronger when there is a place (like a wiki, or records given out after sessions) the players can see these details are are reminded. (See Igbar, Capital of Trabler, as an example of detail)

Now, items need similar treatment when it comes to detail. A +1 longsword? Useless. A Blacksteel Falchion, with a leather wrapped haft and a pommel with an eagles head, that makes a dull metallic noise when it strikes, and that was used by Pelik the Red before he perished? Better. Add a specific enchantment (like a charge, instead of a generic bonus) and a desciption of that (Pelik's sword crackled red and orange when you say his name, and that lmining lasts for 2 minutes afterwards, imparting painful sparks when an opponent is struck), and you have soemthing that is remarkable and memorable.

And I, like Aramis, like to use little magic items that would actually exist in a world. The Igabrian group once found a Roasting Pan of the Perfect Boar, made by Hostem's Hospitality (+9% cooking skill when used due to the evenness of the heat dispersal).

I hope that was useful in some way.


I use three things in combination to create a home base that the characters return to again and again.


Make the place a guaranteed safe-haven for the characters. When they go there, nothing bad will happen to them.


Let the characters be well-known for their deeds in this place. Everyone treats them well. They get discounted gear, free drinks, and free room and board here.


The location can be a source of information that leads to new adventures and helps them solve problems. The players know that the they can send their characters back to talk to an important mentor, hire guides, and talk to knowledgeable experts.


Threaten It

One technique I use to good effect in this way is to give the characters something that's of some moderate value or utility. But first make them wish they had it. Then let them earn it. Once they've earned it, threaten it with loss and / or destruction.

Like in a Buffy game when they finally get a teacher to sponsor their after school club so they can meet about saving the world without parents nosing in. And then that teacher is suspended when someone in her class dies mysteriously. They'll do anything to get her reinstated so they can keep the club.

Or when a PC in a modern "grassroots espionage" game finally gets a van that can carry everyone and all their gear. Watch a simple job become personal when the van gets towed while they're working.

Let them work for it. Let them use it. Let them come to count on it. Even if it only takes 1 session for each. Then, threaten it.

Even talking about something that might take their thing away from them will get them thinking about how much they'll miss it. How much they deserve it. How much they like / need it.

EDIT: Obviously (given the voting), I am deeply in the minority regarding this technique, so I surrender: Don't do it! This is a terrible technique! Nobody should use it! I'm still gonna, though. :)

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ A big warning about this. If it's clear that the only reason the PCs get anything valuable is to threaten it, they'll stop. And if you threaten stuff they don't care enough about, they'll both not care and be disincentivized from caring in the future. Threatening it can be fun on occasion with stuff they're attached to, but mentioning it in the context of "how do I get people to attach" is dangerous and faulty. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk - I'm afraid I have to disagree. I think that taking steps to defend something makes the players and the characters care about it afterwards. The question asked for proven methods of generating attachment. This one works. You don't have to do it every time, or to every thing in the game. Any answer could have "don't overdo it" as a caveat. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 2:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad - But I think this one is slightly more than just a 'don't overdo it' as, at least with my experience, players don't log how many times they have to save X object which is threatened but how many times they have to rescue threatened things in general and it causes lack of concern for the rest of the game outside of even that situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kitsuiko
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 4:02
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen this backfire more often than not. Threaten something that they're attached to but not strongly, and they may in fact destroy it rather than let it fall to "the enemy." Or, worse, simply abandon it as hors d'combat. The threat is an excellent test of attachment, but a poor means of building it. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aramis - Really? I guess my players are different from yours. What happens in my groups is they get something, but there's no real weight to their attachment. Then when it's threatened, the whole party comes to view it as not just something that belongs to them, but something they care about. Something worth fighting for. Obviously, I'm in the minority here - I've never had a question downvoted into the negative before! I should earn a badge! \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 15:53

Does "that sort of thing" have to be opposed? This is the most interesting part of the question. Right from the get-go I thought "why?".

There's more than one way to skin a cat, just as there's more than one angle here.

You say that some players don't create "hooks" (attachments) for/of their characters during creation. Others do not. Why do they not do that? Is it just "I don't care"? Then make them. Create their attachments for them. If they are resistent: look for others players (don't force them if they don't want to).

Now, what if it's part of their concept? Or part of one player's concept for their character. "She's been uprooted, her home, her family, everything she had, and everything she loved, is gone." You could try to create attachments for that character (and it would happen anyway, no man is an island). Or just bounce her of the other characters. And if all the characters have a similar background: well, throw in an NPC who nags or calls them on their attempt to distance themselves from everything and especially everyone.

So, let me just say: highest marks for a GM who manages to make that interesting.

(The other answers aren't bad either, I like aramis' in particular)


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