posted Wednesday, September 30th 2009 by
Dungeon Mastering Advice
Even the best of DMs with the best of players can have the occasional off-night. Whether itâ€™s simply the players taking an unplanned direction while the DM draws a blank, or external stresses bubbling over and causing an argument, no campaign goes off without ever having a problem.
There is, however, a difference between a minor problem and a game-ending problem. A minor problem may conceivably lead to your game being cancelled for the evening to give the DM time to think up a way for the adventure to continue in the unexpected direction (or even to let tempers cool) but a major problem could cause players to permanently leave the game, or even end friendships. Most major problems begin as minor problems that, through improper handling or neglect, develop into a serious issue.
Handling minor problems before they become major problems, while it often requires delicacy, is not an especially difficult proposition. If certain guidelines are adhered to, in fact, it can be quite easy to avoid major problems from occurring at all. Every situation is, of course, different, but the following are some useful tips to keep in mind:
- Remain calm. Nothing escalates a situation faster than allowing oneâ€™s temper to flare. Avoid raising your voice, demanding immediate action, or pointing accusing fingers. Explain your point of view calmly and be willing to offer suggestions for compromises, rather than throwing out an ultimatum. Donâ€™t be confrontationalâ€”itâ€™s very rarely effective.
- Be respectful. Whether you are the DM or a player, remember to treat the other members of your group with the same respect you would expect yourself. Remember that each member of your group has their own individual needs just as you do, and try to be accommodating of those needsâ€”as you would hope for others to accommodate your own.
- Be punctual. This goes hand in hand with the above, but continued tardiness or absences are a frequent enough cause of problems in gaming that it bears separate mention. Being late or absent from a game time is not a problem when it is an occasional thing, especially if you can give advance notice rather than simply showing up late or missing the session without letting anyone know. If it is a regular occurrence, discuss it with the group first, and be prepared to bow out if there is no way to rearrange schedules to permit you to commit to the normal time.
- Maintain separation between in-game issues and real life. Internal conflicts within the party can be interesting and fun, but itâ€™s important to make sure that what happens in the game stays in the game. Try to avoid becoming frustrated with the player over something that is done in-character that you donâ€™t like; by the same token, donâ€™t use your own character as a tool to lash out at another player in some form of punishment. If a personality conflict arises among the characters, decide whether youâ€™d like to roleplay through it or whether you find it disruptiveâ€”and as the DM, donâ€™t be afraid to step in and arbitrate if you feel that it is detracting from the overall experience. If there is a personality conflict between the players themselves, try to work it out calmly and reasonably, and be willing to compromise.
- Avoid favoritism. As a DM you will often be expected to arbitrate or speak up when a problem arises. Be sure to listen to all sides and find a compromise if possible. Donâ€™t make a snap decision that you may regret later. If you do need to make a quick decision, for example, when settling a rules argument, make it clear why you are making the decision, and offer to spend some time examining the issue after the session wraps up for the eveningâ€”and be sure to follow through.
- Be decisive. If a problem player is causing the rest of your group to dread the weekly session even after repeated attempts at compromise, or a given rule interpretation causes regular game-interrupting debate, sometimes the only thing to do is to make a decision and stick to it, even if it might offend someone. Being up-front and polite about a hard ruling or ejecting a player can do a lot to soothe wounded feelings, but donâ€™t back down once youâ€™ve drawn the line.
- Be willing to put the game on hold to find a solution. In the co-operative game environment that most RPGs try to foster, itâ€™s counterproductive to continue playing with the players at each otherâ€™s throats. If you need to pause to let tempers cool, to wait for a missing player to return, or even just to think for awhile about how to proceed in the face of an unexpected direction from the players, by all means, do so. Most players would prefer to have a game where everyone is at their best than at their worst, after all. If you have to put the game on hold, for whatever reason, consider finding some other way to keep your players entertained during the downtime.
The most important thing to remember is that as always, it is a game, and designed to allow everyone to have fun. Problems happen, but thereâ€™s no reason to let them stand in the way of that enjoyment of the game when itâ€™s so easy to avoid it.