Shadowrun Play => Gamemasters' Lounge => Topic started by: Nautilust on <08-14-18/2146:25>

Title: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Nautilust on <08-14-18/2146:25>
I've been putting together a 4th ed. Shadowrun game, for over 2 months now. I've done a lot of work with my player's to get functional character's for the type of game I plan to run. I am finally in the home stretch to get this game started. But I've hit a road block so to say.

I recently started pressing people to share the backgrounds they've made and expand on them. Problem is they've caught a big case of the "I'm feeling lazies." One person saying that they just aren't into the whole background thing so they aren't going to do anymore. I can understand that, but I'm not asking them to write thesis papers, I just want like 2 - 3 paragraphs and then they can expand beyond that if they want.

So I'm looking for resources to get them inspired, and overall advice to get them going.

Beyond just the typical 20 questions, does anyone know of any good writings on why it's good to have a decent background, how backgrounds help a game, etc.? Just basic stuff I don't need academic papers.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Jayde Moon on <08-14-18/2156:24>
I just offer Karma.

1 karma for each of the questions, or one karma per X words of background up to Y.

I also give a free loyalty point for a fleshed out contact.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: fseperent on <08-14-18/2210:07>
I would also offer karma for fleshed out non-Contact people that are involved with the group or single PCs.
At least one or two you can use in the campaign.
Even if they are nothing but set pieces.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Nautilust on <08-14-18/2233:51>
I've already offered karma, and most of them took to that. Some didn't take and that's a challenge. Right now i'm just trying to get them to think a little harder and make more compelling character's, or trying to get them to make a background in the first place.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Iron Serpent Prince on <08-14-18/2250:12>
Let's be real, here.

You can't make your players do anything.
"You can lead a horse," and all that.

You may need to come to terms that they simply won't do it.

Once you have done that, I'd suggest starting by talking with them about why they won't do it.  I mean, if they didn't grab up the extra Karma they must have a fairly decent reason for not doing it.  Either that, or you didn't offer enough.  ;)  :P

I suspect you will find your players just aren't into that.

All by itself, that is not a bad thing.

The real question is:  "Is your players characters lacking a background causing a problem at the table?"

If not, practice your "zen duck."
"Bead up.  Roll off.  Bead up.  Roll off."
And just go on with your game.

If it is causing a problem, that is something else entirely.

Anyway, assuming it isn't causing a problem, with that, make sure you take a little extra time to prop up your other players backgrounds.  More RP time with contacts and such.  Maybe their contacts come through a little bit more often.  Show off what a solid background can do.

And if your players still don't want to make a background, let it go.  Different goats for different folks.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Nautilust on <08-14-18/2312:25>
Yeah I get that, and it's the most likely end result. I offered plenty of karma, more than what most of my other Gm's offer, but I also asked for a little more than most of my Gm's have asked for. I still tried to offer a little over what I would think as reasonable for the amount of work I asked for.

I'm mainly just dealing with frustration. Like, really? We spent all this time putting together a comprehensive and functional character and you aren't going to give it the background it deserves?

It probably runs down to the fact that I'm willing to put a lot of work into role-playing. I see it as more than just a weekend hobby, even when i'm just playing in a game I try to put a couple hours a week into the game outside of playtime. I'm usually rewarded for my work though by better characters, better run time, faster combat etc. It usually helps the GM if someone else knows most of the rules and isn't a rules lawyer about it.

I get that other people just see it as a hobby, or even below that just a thing to do on the weekends with their friends. I get that a lot of people don't want to put anywhere near the amount of work I put into it. But it still kinda surprises me and frustrates me, when I put a lot of work into something and then ask for what I think is a small amount of work and then people won't do it.

I figure all I can do is offer some inspiration, give some tools to do the work for those who decide to do it. And then just let go of it and reward those who do the work.

So that's what I'm here for, I need inspiration, and I need tools.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: fseperent on <08-14-18/2340:28>
Saw a background tool that might help:
Don't know if it will help.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Sphinx on <08-15-18/0013:20>
Some players might not have the time or energy or confidence to do "homework" between sessions. You might try prompting them with questions by email ask just one question per day, for one karma per question, and make it clear that only very short answers are expected (although they're free to elaborate if desired). Maybe you can tease out a background in small bites over a span of a week or two. As long as the investment is only a few minutes at a time, more players might go along. Reward the ones who contribute, but don't pressure the ones who don't. They'll stop having fun if the game becomes a chore, and nobody wants that.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Nautilust on <08-15-18/0057:33>
That's a great idea. Honestly I should have thought of it. People tend to go for immediate gratification over long-term. If I offer an immediate stimulus, e.g. karma for a question, then they'll be more likely to jump on it.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Mathan on <08-15-18/0522:04>
Depends on if they are long term players or not.

Best way I can think of is simple. Play heavily off of those backstories. The more people have, the more their chars develop and the more spotlight they get. Sure, everyone gets something. But if you reward it like any other good roleplay then you just have to wait for players to mention it, and note that you are going off of their backstory.

Ultimately a player should get out what he or she puts in. If they feel comfortable being less fleshed out and falling into the background a bit then so be it. But by that same token, reward people who invest with a better experience.

Which frankly sholdn't be hard since a good backstory helps build that experience.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Beta on <08-15-18/1042:16>
As others have said, making up backgrounds just isn't fun or interesting or easy for some people (I don't get it, but I accept it).

However those who can't do that in a vacuum may take to it once you start play.  Maybe it is time to get playing, to let them start playing their character, to feel the world moving around them.  Then you might be surprised by what comes out either during play or what they can put together between sessions.  It is like some sculptures have a vision for exactly what they are going to do before they touch their tools or materials, others have more of a rough idea and refine it as they feel the thing take shape as they progress.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Reaver on <08-15-18/1145:50>
Some people are just not into coming up with anything more then the "generic background" that you usually see for SR.

Sometimes this is because they feel deep down that it is a waste of time. ("Why am I wasting my time on this, it doesn't affect the game")

Sometimes its because GM use the backgrounds to beat their characters over the head... ("I spend 3 days writing a 4 page back story, and YOU just wiped out my Family in 30 seconds of talking!!")

Other times, players experience determines the effort they go into for their back stories, such as extremely lethal GMs, or GMs with a history of ignoring backstories. ("I could spend 2 hours coming up with a back story, but Frank always kills me off in the first 30 minutes of play, so why bother!")

On a personal note:

I find back stories only come really into play if you have both given enough details on the campaign style you are running and if players have an attachments to what they have built. I have put together enough characters for one-shot or "few play" games that they come with a standard backstory based on archtype.... But the original backstories only ever come out if I know the direction that the game i going and I know the game is going to last long enough, and the GM is competent enough to work with a back story and not against it. 

On the other side of that, if I had a dollar for every back story I have read that makes the origin of "Spawn" look like history of "Strawberry Shortcake", I would never have to work again!
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: PingGuy on <08-15-18/1244:40>
This is something I thought I might run into.  Most of my players know very little of the Shadowrun world.  Instead of trying to get them to write backstories, I'm going to focus on getting them to pick details that will matter to the character.  Ideally what the GM needs is something the player will bite at if they throw it out there.

For example, once they pick a lifestyle, I will show them in the Seattle 2072 book the places they could be living with that choice.  All I will ask is that they pick an area to live, and note any local businesses they find interesting.  That doesn't get much into background details, but it's something that will be useful to me as a GM.

Another example is that one player mentioned he was going to be older, like in his 40's.  Initially I assumed that was some kind of negative quality he was buying, but it was just something he wanted to do.  My plan is to tell him that is completely fine, but that he should have some details about his earlier years.  Did he work for a corp for a long time and something happened?  Did he just say, "screw this, I need excitement in my life."  Has he been a runner all along?  If so, how has he survived so long?  As a Rigger he may have just been the driver a lot.

Writing an actual backstory can be hard.  And while it provides a lot of flavor and insight to the character, in the end you are just gleaning that backstory for details you can use.  You may need to cut out the middle man for some players.  Get them to give you little bits, and as another poster mentioned above, you may find that they flesh the character out more as the game develops, when it feels right.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: farothel on <08-15-18/1500:29>
If you have the time, do it with one of the players before a session (or during if there's a break, like if one person goes out to get the food).  Just do a bit of question and answer.  Ask a question to the player about their character (for instance, how did they acquire a certain skill or skills).  Write down their answer.  After a few of those questions, you will have a background emerging.  Repeat for the other players who don't like to write backgrounds.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: Nautilust on <08-15-18/1546:01>
Thanks for the advice everyone.

I think right now i'm just going to post the 20 questions, or that collection of all the questions from all the editions that's somewhere on the internet. I'm going to post the wiki page for New York, with links to the books if people want to go further. I'll probably come up with some other tools.

I haven't gotten a chance to really flesh out the world they will be playing in I realized. I know what's in my head, but unless I have real-life Mages in the party they probably don't know what's in my head. So I'll flesh that out a bit. Give them some backstory on the free contacts I gave them and the events leading up to game start.

After that I'll just let them do what they want to do.

I think some are afraid because I've been honest that; though i'm not bloodthirsty, this will be a very intense campaign, and if anyone makes a few really stupid mistakes in a row their character is likely going to die. So they may be thinking their character's are going to die easily. But I'm going more for semi-realistic over-the-top action than pure black trenchcoat. If i was going to kill their characters off often I wouldn't have spent the time to make sure all of their stats and gear made sense and were functional for the game.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: &#24525; on <08-21-18/1724:52>
I like to interweave personal runs in-between standard runs. Maybe you're contact is having a problem and needs some help. Perhaps something from the past has come back to bite off your hoop. Or just still particular run happens to personally crawl under your skin, and it's not just about money anymore.

I find that background is a great motivator, and it's something that can often feed into itself. Why did you choose the Halloweeners as the gang to take the blame? Because they tormented your block when you were a kid. A month or two later, word gets around that a runner's got a grudge, and some Halloweeners go looking for some cruel and unusual revenge.

Don't just tell a story. Tell their story.
Title: Re: How to get your player's to make compelling backgrounds?
Post by: The Wyrm Ouroboros on <08-22-18/1905:55>
This is all great advice.  While it is very true that you can't make them do it, the best thing (IMO) to do to make them WANT to do it is to start out, then reward the players who DID do backgrounds with a 'background-involved run' -- I find that doing that one out of three runs is just about the sweet spot, spread across those who have backgrounds.  They get the crap kicked out of them, maybe -- but they also get a great contact out of it, or a particularly cool or unique item (gun, knife, sword, whatever), something to that effect.

Another thing is to point out how terribly, terribly easy it is to make a good background.  "Start with normal life.  Twist A: how you got your gear / first displayed your magic.  Logical progression of that.  Twist B: how you entered the shadows.  Logical progression from that.  And here you are."  Give you an example or two:

Ladybird is a bioware-heavy street samurai, very subtle work, with a bit of cyber.  The enormous amount of its cost was paid for by Evo when they picked her up after she placed 2nd in a marksmanship competition in Texas in 2066 when she was 16.  She did lots of bodyguard and security work, and started to get into the semi-shady 'Company Man' side of the business in 2075, but clashed a lot with her desk-jockey boss at that point, so when an 'action' went bad and the rest of her squad was killed, she took the opportunity to vanish into the shadows, where she could be her own damn boss.

Jenga is a technomancer with a particular taste for construction drones of all things.  Since they're practically everywhere, he's made a specialization of hacking them and using them in crazy-dangerous manners -- from creating holes in buildings with bulldozers to knocking chasing bikers off the highway with an excavator arm.  Jenga grew up a corp brat, but since his parents were sanitation workers, not a very valued one -- MCT 'primary tier' housing was their lot, so moving from it to the Barrens wasn't so much a step down as it was a step over.  Why'd he go?  Well.  Budding technomancer, hears talk about the experiments MCT does on them -- why do you think??

Then show them how this sort of thing can really make a character.  I do not at the moment have access to the boards (when I do, I'll edit this), but a great background can turn 'yawn, it has all the technicals in place, whatever' into 'that is the f*cking coolest thing ever, and I want this character -- and player -- in my game.'