So over on Christopher Rice's blog, Travis Ellis wrote a guest post about Dungeon Fantasy. We had a nice little exchange in the comments, and I wrote something I wanted to preserve here, too.
How do I get player engagement? How do I get people puzzling over how to apply their skills and abilities, balance short term needs versus long term growth, and otherwise do something other than just - as Travis puts it:
"simply kick down the door, kill what’s inside, and the only question is if the loot it had was worth the effort, because the path to glory and riches is just a few bloody combats away."
Here is how I do it. Warning: link-fest.
I put forth Problems not solutions.
I hand out actionable rumors.
And I play in a limited sandbox, which forces you to consider both short-term and long-term.
That is pretty much it - a limited sandbox, with repeated delves to the same areas, actionable rumors, and problems the PCs need to solve that don't come with pre-decided solutions. Those things drive the players to, as [Travis] said, "puzzle out how they should apply their talents and skills, fretting over how best to set short-term goals in favor of the long-term progression."
There isn't an external social engagement structure of significance to the game. There aren't political-social ramifications to actions.* But merely going door to door looking for treasure . . . no, coming back to the same dungeon after all causes all sorts of behavior to emerge. Most of that is in the form of player-driven effort and decisions, and player-centered decisions and tradeoffs. Gangsters and politics and dungeons and orcs, it's really the same, if you put the sandbox in front of them and let real quandaries emerge from their actions.
* Although there are economic ones.