[Campaign Planning 101] Part 4: The Care and Feeding of Players

Posted: September 22, 2016 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: , ,

Today we talk about group dynamics and table management both in and out of character. One of the unwritten responsibilities of a GM is the fact that you are often the de-facto leader of the table, and the task of managing player expectations and experiences falls to you.

Think of yourself as a moderator in that sense, where your goal is to ensure that everyone (including yourself) has a good time with the hours and effort that everyone invests in the game.

That said, let’s look at 2 specific concerns raised so far:

Find out what they want

Different players want different things from a game. This is why I tend to stress the pitch phase of a game with a lot of dialogue with your players. Tell them what kind of game you’d like to run, and ask them if they’re willing to give it a try and what they’d like to do in it.

The more information you have about the style of play they expect, the easier it is to understand what kind of game to run. A lot of times that a player group feels “problematic” stems from the dissonance of expectations between the participants. Maybe one player wants more drama and character acting, while another just wants to cleave orc heads.

Get the group to sit down and buy into the central concept and themes and adhere to them. Write them down if you have to to form a social contract of sorts if you feel the need to.

In this way you get to mitigate the incidences of players who are out to “derail” your game by acting against the established mood of the game.

Help! My Players are kicking the asses of my monsters in combat!

This is a very common sensation for a lot of GMs. There’s something to be said about the gut-level panic at seeing the players wipe out an encounter that was meant to be more difficult.

But fret not, this is merely an illusion.

Players who are rules-oriented are naturally able in terms of wiping the floor with the enemy. This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

The best way to overcome this panic is to think of it from the perspective of the world they occupy. That kind of sublime skill in the art of slaughter is bound to pick up a ton of complications that players can’t just shrug off. These can range from job offers to apprentice applicants to rival combatants that seek to test their might against the players.

In addition, if you’re looking to make the players sweat a bit, throw in a mix of challenges. Think of GMing as boxing. Throwing jabs for an entire match isn’t going to get you anywhere, you need to mix it up with a combination of jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts aimed towards both the head and the body.

So don’t be afraid to throw players in mix of social and physical challenges. Maybe they get forced into a fancy dress party where they could start a war by sneezing wrong. Or they could be caught in a devious trap somewhere that requires puzzling their way out of it. Engage them on all fronts, and always, always follow up with consequences.

Remember that RPGs are also about playing a role, and that the player characters don’t exist in a vacuum. As they do more impressive things, more people are going to pay attention and soon things will snowball into more challenging scenarios that don’t always play to their strengths.

That said be careful to not get too caught up in this that you ignore their strengths all together. Let them wipe out an enemy force in a single turn, they deserve that. But don’t let up when they find themselves sweating bullets in a social scene, because they deserve that too.


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