One of the issues in party-based games like Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun or Traveller is making the PCs a party, not a group of strangers that have no reason to work together. I’m also a lazy DM who likes getting story ideas from my players, but not every game provides player-authoured story hooks the way The Shadow of Yesterday or Burning Wheel do.
Here is an easy trick that I think should solve both of these problems. It’s unplaytested, but it is based on various story gaming techniques, notably the character creation in Don’t Rest Your Head, Spirit of the Century and Mouse Guard. I’m not starting a new campaign in an appropriate game any time soon, but wanted to jot it down while it occurred to me. If you try it out, please let me know how it goes.
Hand each of your players a blank index card after you have presented the campaign concept and the players have come up with their character concepts, but before they’ve started putting numbers to character sheets. Ask them each to write down their character’s name, their own name and a sentence or two that answers the question (phrased here for a D&D-like game, but easily adaptable):
“What problem does your character want to solve by adventuring, even if he never earns a copper piece?”
Once everyone has written their answer, collect the index cards, shuffle them, and randomly hand them back out. If a player ends up with their own index card from the first step, have them trade with the player to their left. Then ask them to write a sentence or two that answers:
“Why does your character care about this goal?”
Make sure the players indicate who provided the second answer.
These do not have to be epic quests. The goal is to build enough player engagement and intercharacter connections to carry the game through the early stages of play. You can use the player-provided hooks to the campaign started and you can set up your own hooks and lures – tying them in to what the players are interested in – organically during this phase of play. Also, by the time the group settles these scores, they should have established real camaraderie.