I decided to use one of the alternative prompts for the third day: risk. One of the main points of drama in any story is risk. It doesn’t have to be life threatening. Not every story has to involve saving the world (hello, DC movies), and not all need to have physical risk. Especially as the players get attached to their characters and the NPCs of the world you are all building together, risk can be something as mundane as losing a friendly NPC in an argument. There are other risks that come with adventuring that will make the experience more enjoyable, but also give them real threats to manage.

During a recent Dungeons & Dragons adventure, a player had repeated botches on attack rolls. In one instance, they dropped their weapon and lost it in a fast running stream. They had become attached to this particular sword and its loss was a real blow to the player. In the same campaign, several long-running, well-established NPCs have died in fights. The players (and hence the characters)miss them, but it also highlights how dangerous their quests are.

In a long-running Space:1889 game, one pair of characters’ relationship, had it become common knowledge, would have scandalized their families and jeopardized their social and political standing — or put them in jail. Keeping a lid on that was a constant concern and was also their main motivation for getting out into the less-traveled portions of the world where they could be what they wanted to be. Social standing isn’t something we tend to think about these days, but prior to, honestly, about the 1970s — you didn’t want people knowing too much about your peculiarities, and exposure of taboo behavior could ruin you quickly. Hell, a word out of place in the court of the local lord could find you jailed for something (or nothing, even), accused of witchcraft, or simply murdered on your way home. Being ostracized — the old school “cancel culture” — was very popular for much of time. Pissed off a lord? You’re cast out of the city. Doing things that scandalize the locals? They might not trade, talk, or aid you when you need it. Speak an unpleasant truth about someone in power… you get the picture.

A good example of a social risk would be a character in my wife and daughter’s D&D campaign set in Arthurian Scotland. The characters have made a name for themselves hunting monsters, including beating a dragon. She’s also a “king killer”, having aided Arther’s people in stopping the Saxon “king” in Britain, wasting the Circind king who was in league with unseelie. They’ve been active in England as spies for the Caledonii righ and agents of Merlin’s machinations. This has made them more famed and popular than the righ, who is uncle to one of the PCs. This warrior lady is worrying the king — she’s popular, apparently unbeatable in a fight (so far), and has powerful allies… To keep her on his side for now and to tether her to the throne, he’s made her a chieftainess in the former Circind lands (in the Dundee area.) She’s now got new risks — if she continues adventuring, who runs the place? What happens if they like running the place and don’t want to give it up when she comes home? What if the king thinks she looking at his throne? None of these are immediate threats, but they are risks to be managed. What about the people she now rules because she whacked their king? They’re none too friendly. What is the crops don’t come in? What if there’s an invasion from Norse? What about simple law-keeping and feeding people. That’s all on her now.

Changing the types of risk is important, as well. It can’t always be a bigger, badder monster. It can’t always be courtly intrigue. Change it up. This is where players having a good idea of their character’s backstory, weaknesses, and motivations is important. You don’t have to have the person’s whole life documented in a journal somewhere (you know who you are!) but having enough of an idea of what constitutes a personal risk is important.