You’ve spent months or years carefully crafting a believable fantasy world for your players. You have kingdoms, lineages, and millennia of history crafted. And when you finally bring your players into it, they just don’t seem to care.
There are a number of different reasons, but here are some of the most common culprits.
1. Your Players Aren’t Invested
You’ve poured time and energy into your setting, but your players haven’t. They don’t know all the intricate histories you’ve woven together. They only know what they see.
In finance there is a money belief problem called ‘endowment’. This is where you view something as more valuable than it really is because you own it. This happens with custom settings all the time. Just because you spent a lot of time on it doesn’t automatically mean it will resonate with the players.
How can you get them invested?
One of the ways to do this is to have your players participate in creating the world. Games like Microscope are perfect for this. If you build a world together, everyone has input, and they find out more about the world than if they just waited for you to tell them.
2. Your Elevator Pitch is Weak
What is the hook for your world? What makes it unique from any other setting? What is the really cool thing that you want your players to know? Can you share all of that in a few sentences?
In all likelihood, your players aren’t going to want to sit around and listen to hours of backstory on the setting. You need a few specific things that they can latch onto.
The moon is a prison for an elder god, and people are born with weird powers because of it.
Guns exist, but they shoot magic instead of bullets.
The fey are literally aliens from another planet.
These are examples from my world, Moontouched. I’ve picked a few specific things that are short and simple to understand. I picked what I thought were the coolest things about the world and use those as selling points. Smaller points can come up later, but this gives the players a strong idea of what the world is like.
3. It’s Not Built for Them
Sometimes being presented an entire, fleshed out world can be intimidating for a player. What should I know? How much do I need to learn? Getting into established D&D settings is a prime example of this. If you’re a new player, all the references to old history, prior story points, and important characters can be overwhelming. Who is Mordenkainen, and why are so many spells named after him?
This becomes worse once a game starts and the player finds out that their character doesn’t fit in with the world. Maybe they envisioned their character as a giant slayer, but then discovered that giants have been extinct for years. Maybe the cost of war is an important theme in the world, but the player just wanted to play a fun beat-‘em-up.
There are things you can do to mitigate this as a GM, but the core issue is still present.
4. Takes Too Long
A lot of gaming groups end before they finish a campaign. The group falls apart, people move, things happen. Don’t plan out a 5 year long sprawling epic. Imagine your campaign as a TV show. You’re only guaranteed one short season. If the ratings are good (your players like it), you can get renewed and run more seasons.
Don’t take too long introducing plot points. Get it out there quickly, you may not get a chance to slowly develop it over months or years.
5. The Names Are Terrible
Some people are good with names. I’m not one of those people. So when someone introduces a character with 30 letters, 10 apostrophes, and an umlaut, I’m giving them a nickname.
If you want an NPC or location to be memorable, their name is carrying some of the responsibility. A bland name means the character is probably going to seem bland, but too long of a name is going to be too hard to remember.
Names stick for players if they interact with the person repeatedly, or if it’s memorable enough. Depending on the type of game you run, one of these is not going to be possible.
Say the name out loud before you use it. Sometimes a name looks good on paper, but when spoken sounds weird. Ask someone else to try to say the name. If they can’t, it’s probably too hard.
Exceptions to this exist, of course. Maybe in your world dragons all have super complicated names. That’s ok. Try to have a shorthand name that they can go by, or else your players are going to come up with their own nickname. And chances are it’s going to be goofy.
6. They Want to Play Something Else
Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your setting. Maybe it’s a fantasy setting, and the players just finished another fantasy setting and want a change of pace. Maybe they’ve been longing to play a sci-fi game. Sometimes, the players just want to play something else.
Don’t try to force a game if this becomes clear. Chances are you’ll get frustrated by a lack of excitement, and they’ll continue to be bored by it. If you find yourself in this situation, put the setting on hiatus. Preferably end on a high note or cliff-hanger, but do it quickly. You can then play other things, build up excitement for the world, and come back later energized.
These are just 6 simple reasons why players may not care about your setting, but there are a lot of other potential factors. Have you run into this issue before? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!