If you want to make your #TTRPG one-shots memorable and feel personal to your players, this is absolutely the most effective technique you can use, and it also works in ongoing campaigns. One of the challenges of one-shot play is getting the PCs connected to your plot and giving them personality, and there are lots of tricks that GMs use for this – art, standees, bonds or inciting incident questions / love letters – but this is a resource-free one that can have impressive results.
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It’s what a lot of players miss from convention games – feeling a genuine connection to their character. Reincorporation really helps to make this happen. It also doesn’t require too much thought at the table, which is another thing in its favour.
What Is It?
This is simple as anything – all you have to do is refer back to cool, incidental details that were established earlier in the game. Ideally, these incidental details are provided by the players – whether they realise this or not. A few pointers
- These can be as incidental as possible. Background details, seemingly unimportant parts of description
- Make a note of them when they’re introduced – if, like me, you’re liable to forget
- Sometimes, you might be able to tweak your planned scene to incorporate these details – if the players described themselves all meeting in a cool coffee shop at the start of the game, have the supervillains threaten that coffee shop in the final battle
- There’s a few ways to seed them – we’ll cover that soon
So, in the first scene of the game, the ranger describes his wolf animal companion licking hungrily at a ham bone. Later in the game, when the wolf misses, you describe a ham bone poking out of the goblin’ sack nearby which distracted him.
Why Does It Work?
It’s a risk-free way to add the shared storytelling that tabletop RPGs offer because of their collaborative effort. And, because it’s incidental to the plot, it’s a lot safer for players to come up with narrative details – because they don’t know that they’re important. It also doesn’t require too much creation from the players – but it makes them feel like their description and colour mattered.
When you start the game, and ask players to describe their characters – listen out for any details you can use later and reincorporate. Fancy hat? That’ll get stolen by the goblins. Heavy clanking armour? That’s what happens when they fail a stealth check. Series of enemies across the galaxy? One of them turns out to be the main opponents’ lieutenant.
This has the advantage that you’ll get some personal connections to their characters that have come straight from the players, and you should be able to get something from everything. It can sometimes lead to players giving you more, or less, depending on how they describe. To address this, if you’re going round the table doing this at the start of the session, start with a player who you think will model how to do it – if they do it well, the rest will follow that model.
Early in the game, you can create some conditions to get this. Usually this is with an open-ended encounter – and it can be the first big scene. In Beard of Lhankhor Mhy, my 13G scenario, the adventure opens when they rescue a Duck adventurer, Crontas, from a band of Broo. How they perform in that first combat determines how Crontas responds to them – and whether they want him to come along with them to rescue his friends or not.
Having a talkative, even annoying ally, means that the players will come back to supply details, and this gives a bit more control over what emerges to reincorporate. Similarly, if you’re narrating failures and successes with the players, how that goes in the first combat might set the tone for the whole session – as with the ham-bone example earlier.
In all of these, try and let the details be player-provided – you can add some yourself, but the ones that you come back to should ideally be player-created. Throw lots in though – you can always use more options!
Some players may be uncomfortable adding narrative details in-game – instead, you can explicitly get them to do this out of the game. Use Bond questions, or pre-game questions / love letters, to establish facts out of character, and then weave these in.
These can be trickier to make throwaway – you’re attaching more importance to them, so don’t be surprised if players come up with big issues and problems to solve – try and focus on some of the details they supply for those rather than the issues themselves, which will come up anyway. A detail like “I’m in love with X PC” isn’t really ripe for reincorporation as-is – but them stealing glances across the table at them, or moving to save them in combat, is – think small for effective reincorporation.
So, lots of ways to develop this. I genuinely believe this is one of the best ways to improve your game – and as an at-table technique there’s not much with more bang for its buck. How have you used reincorporation in your games? Let me know in the comments.