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Let Your Party Add to the Story in Your TTRPG

I play in a Thursday night Dungeons and Dragons 5e game with a great Dungeon Master. Ryan is a great balance of challenging us, letting us push the boundaries, and both executing the world he has in his head plus letting us add to it. And he completely understands the days we all show up and go “I just need to kill some things tonight, ok?”

Recently, our party managed to defeat a flying airship, and then took ownership of it. Now, we had a dwarven pirate captain as a non-player character in our group, but in terms of anyone else for a crew, we were going to need to recruit. (And budget wasn’t a major issue because, not to brag or anything, but we are loaded.)

To start the session after we got to the next town, he asked us to think about what roles we needed on the airship and we quickly got a list of 7-10 spots/roles that we thought we needed. And then he turned the tables on us, gave us 15 minutes or so and then we were asked to talk about who our characters went out to recruit! Essentially, we got to craft the NPCs that were going to help us keep an airship up and running plus still be adventurers!

I admit at the start of the exercise, I was a little bit agitated but then everyone got to work. My first recruit was the teenage sous-chef at a restaurant that gave me a free meal when I disguised myself as a beggar. So, I quickly got her a chef knife set as a signing bonus and recruited her for our crew. “Cups” is in charge of keeping us well fed and she is just excited to get out of her hometown.

My second recruit was a human that was basically escaping from the mob to join our crew. Vinne knows how to get things done when we need him to. Likewise, everyone else in the party found fun, unexpected crew members to be a part of our team. There are 3 Aarakocra that we recruited from a flying tavern that was overrun by a succubus, an Aasimar “surgeon” that our cleric recruited because she was a barmaid good at patching people up after fights, a gnome artificer who works on our artillery, and a firbolg tinkerer who is being our mechanic.

Our crew could take these guys. Easily.

Gamewise, it was a smart way for a DM to put some work on us as players. But, also, it changed how we reacted to the crew both short and long term. We as players went from vaguely interested in the airship crew and the mechanics of how it would all work to being all in. I mean, this was our crew now and we were way more invested in it than we would be if the DM had just handed over some character sheets at random. And, down the road if one of our characters falls in battle, our replacement character might be someone we already know on our crew!

So, if you find yourself as a DM and need to get a little bit more ownership in the world you and your players are collaboratively telling a story in, think of a creative way to let them impact it. What are some others ideas on ways to let players shape your world and the characters in it?