When I’m coming up with ideas for a session, the first thing I ask myself is: What’s going on in the Big Picture?
As the GM, I’m constantly setting events in motion as a result of that Big Picture. Most of these events are the result of my major NPCs/antagonists working to fulfill their beliefs, often in reaction to the actions of the PCs. In my Bruca campaign, the Big Picture currently has a powerful condottieri army, replete with sorcerer-engineers and knight-priests of the solar pantheon, marching upon the PCs’ village. Meanwhile, a supernaturally harsh winter has descended upon the village, and indications from the ancestors, spirits and gods are that a powerful spirit or minor god is behind it and plans to make the winter permanent. A number of failure consequences have led to run-ins with frightening Ice spirits, and they’ve now found several fellow villagers who’ve frozen to death.
The players didn’t have any beliefs about the winter when I introduced it, but their previous actions had made it possible, and exploring the ramifications of those actions was interesting to me. I had a pretty good feeling that a least one of the players and probably all of them would be interested in it to one degree or another. I went fishing. The next session, one player changed his beliefs to focus on finding a way to help the villagers survive the winter, and another player tweaked an existing belief to incorporate the winter stuff. For a short campaign, this sort of thing isn’t that important. But for a long-term campaign to really thrive, you need to make sure to introduce your own stuff. It’s the fuel the player will use to generate new beliefs after their beliefs are completed or broken.
After I figure out what I need to introduce in a session to advance my ideas of the Big Picture I get down to brass tacks and think about the PCs’ beliefs and how to challenge them. I look for ways to tie my ideas for the Big Picture into a belief, instinct or trait. My favorite moments are when I find ways to attack a belief from an oblique angle.
For instance, Topi’s character, Konstikas, has this belief: “There is nothing for me in Bruca. I will help Brutus and Simi complete their goals here so we can move on.”
When Topi first wrote the belief, I think he and I were looking at the latter half as the important part. He intended to spend this part of the arc helping the other two PCs accomplish what they were after. But after experiencing how the villagers were freezing and starving while their lord and his troopers had fuel and food, it became clear to both of us that the real test of the belief was about whether there was anything left in Bruca for him or not. Pretty soon, Konstikas was convincing Brutus and Simi to put their goals on hold so they could help him help the villagers of Bruca.
I introduced the supernatural winter to further my Big Picture, not to challenge a specific belief (though I knew full well that the players would be interested). Because they were interested, the players found a way to tie the development into their beliefs.