This is a follow-up to an earlier article, Five Ways To Make Your DM’s Life Easier.
As a DM you’re arguably the most important person to any campaign. Without you there’s no game, in a very real sense. Many DMs relish this responsibility and the power it entails—it is their job to literally create and populate the world the player characters live and adventure in. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to forget that without the players, there’s no game either—so it’s in every good DM’s best interest to ensure that his or her players are happy and content at all times.
Below are five helpful hints towards accomplishing that goal.
(Note: If any of this looks familiar, it’s not just you. This is a very real case of what’s good for the goose being good for the gander. Just as many players overlook the importance of maintaining a good relationship with their DM, many DMs don’t consider the importance of returning the favor.)
1. Talk to your players about their expectations for the campaign.
Even experienced DMs often neglect to talk to their players before the beginning of the campaign about what the players would like to see included. Think about it: how many times have you heard (or said) “Hey, guys, I have an idea for a campaign, get your characters ready and we’ll start on Friday” or something similar? In many cases that’s enough to get started on, and many players are quite content to play in whatever games they can find. Still, they will find it more satisfying and exciting if you make a point of finding out what they’re looking for and including it in some way in your next campaign.
2. Talk to your players about their characters.
Even though you may have already discussed the campaign as a whole, it’s important not to neglect discussing characters specifically with your players. It’s great for them to expect a campaign where they play as outlaws and criminals, but if the player comes up with a dashing highwayman or swashbuckling pirate and the campaign ends up being set in the seedy underbelly of a landlocked city and never ventures out of the walls, those characters won’t fit. Alternately, they may play as a member of a faction you have earmarked as antagonists—and now you’re left trying to reconcile that with their membership in the party. It’s not impossible, of course, in either case, but it’s much easier to make it work if you know it’s coming.
3. Talk to your players about the party.
Nothing is more frustrating than having a group of players with excellent characters coming to your first session and realizing that not only do you have no way to reasonably introduce them to each other, but that their goals and backstories are more likely to place them at odds with each other than working as a team. That’s the kind of situation that can lead to the game tearing itself apart before it even gets underway, and then all the hard work you put into the campaign goes to waste. Better to sit down as a group ahead of time and make sure the party can work together and has a reason to do so.
4. Remember that you are not the hero.
The DM’s role is challenging not just because it is the DM’s job to create and populate the world and set up the events that the players experience, but because once that is done, the players are the ones who get to steal the spotlight and do all the exciting things. Your players may decide that they want to go a completely different direction than you expected, or they may figure out who the villain is in the first scene—and when they do, it’s your job to make sure that the game doesn’t end just because things didn’t go according to your plan. Another frequent DM mis-step is the DMPC, a character who joins the party, controlled by the DM, and leads the characters along the “correct” path, often stealing the focus away from the real stars, the players. It’s tempting, frequently, to hold the PCs by the hand to make sure they see every carefully crafted part of your story, but sometimes you just have to let them go where they will. Which leads us to the final point:
5. Be co-operative and willing to compromise.
If your player is dead set on playing a drow in a campaign that you have the drow set up as the main villains, don’t say no—instead, find a way to make it work. If your party decides to take the princess hostage themselves instead of rescuing her, don’t be afraid to let it happen. If you wanted to run a campaign about politics and intrigue but your players would be happier with a bog-standard dungeon crawl, don’t try to force them into your ideal—neither you nor they will be especially satisfied when they treat the king’s court as a dungeon and then ask how much XP they get for killing the queen’s ladies in waiting. The game works best when everyone is cooperating and communicating with each other about their expectations—DM and player alike.
Usually my players dont just make characters, they also make a party. We have long past the point were everybody makes his character in complete isolation and expects the GM to make it work.
They usually make sure all vital roles are filled (healer, soldier, rogue, mage) and that there are some workable connections between the characters.
They all hand in a bit of freedom compared to creating in isolation, but they know that the freedom is only temporary, as soon as the party starts playing they will have to compromise to make it work anyway.
Btw, if you do steps one and two decently, how can you end up with the examples of situation 5? :)
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