I didn’t realize until I started playing AL games at my local game store how different it would feel than a home game. At home, it’s quieter and we have more time to really explore different characters and who they are. At the game store, the games tend to be focused on Kill the Things and Take Their Stuff.
That’s fine and all, especially as a player who uses it as a mid-week escape from life.
But for a really impactful game, especially a home game, you need to incorporate your players’ backstories and focus on their characters.
Here’s how I do it:
Step one: Have your players give you a backstory. If you’ve not done this before, this can be like milking a statue of a cow.
Step two: Comb through what they’ve given you and find two or three “sticking points.”
Let me give you an example. One of my players (also incidentally my wife) plays a little gnome druid who was kidnapped and taken from the Feywild. One of her character goals is to get back there, along with her mentor.
For “sticking points,” I can pick out a couple things: the struggle to get back (normally planar travel isn’t a big deal in D&D, but for this campaign it now is!), and the mentor she cares about. It’d be a real shame if anything happened to said mentor, wouldn’t it?
So that’s two sticking points right off the bat for that character.
Step three: Stick the points.
Maybe news will reach my wife’s character that — in the midst of their current adventures and problems — there is some sort of planar disturbance. Something is wrong in the Feywild. Or maybe her mentor will disappear and now she has to find her.
If you can find a way to loop those sticking points into your main campaign and not have them be just side quests, even better!
That’s what I did for another player, who was a Waterdhavian noble. We’re playing Princes of the Apocalypse, which starts off with the otherwise-boring story hook that a delegation to/from Mirabar has gone missing. The players had gotten caught up with the cult storylines and the delegation didn’t seem to matter so much when my player’s character discovered that her father was apparently part of said delegation.
And now it matters a whole lot.
So if you want to incorporate your players’ backstories, find a couple sticking points and then stick ’em!
Now get out there and tell a story!
P.S. If you haven’t yet seen it, go check out the new adventure I published yesterday, Zassan the Slaver!