Play the Objective

If you’re Dungeon Mastering a game, regardless of its system, you’re having to keep a lot in mind during a session.  Heck, you’re literally entertaining everybody at the table.  All the rules, all the math, all the mechanics can become overbearing if you allow it to, so you’ll often find yourself looking for systems to stay organized, focused, and engaging.  What’s more important than what’s in the rulebooks and the campaign, however, is who the characters are in your story and what their objective is.  If you’ve got all the monster stat blocks memorized but you’re not playing the characters’ objectives, you’re not running a game that gets the players personally invested.

A character’s objective is what gives them velocity in your story.  Whether they’re looking to avenge the death of a loved one, locate an ancient artifact they’ve long sought, or discover a prophesied secret, every character in your story is looking for fulfillment by achieving an objective that’s aside from your campaign.  As the DM, you’re responsible for keeping track of it.  In fact, it’s likely the most importatnt piece of information you have at your disposal to create a game that’s exciting and rewarding.

So how do you describe an objective?

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An objective consists of three parts:

  1. Who’s looking for it.
  2. What’s in the way.
  3. What it means.

Knowing what your player characters are searching for, understanding what it is that’s keeping them from reaching it, and what it would mean should they ever achieve it will help you make informed decisions about the types of encounters that will mean the most to your players.

The next time you sit down at the table with your players, show them this little diagram and ask each of them to describe their character objective.  Write it on a piece of paper clipped to your DM screen, and whenever you start introducing new scenarios, see what objectives you can play on.

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