Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games
You can order The Demonplague, my level 1 – 20 fifth edition adventure, right now!
There are many great podcasts, blogs, streams, and websites that offer incredible advice for game masters. Some of these pieces of advice, such as “be a fan of the player characters” or “share the story with your players,” come up over and over again because they are universally good tips that new GMs need to learn and of which old GMs need reminding. These old hat pieces of advice make help us run better games and our players have more fun.
People who are exclusively players don’t often hear these tidbits because they aren’t scouring the internet for ways to enhance their games. Some people who GM seem to forget these tips as players, thinking the advice is only for GMs as they zone out on their phones during a session.
Those same tips don’t just apply to the people running the game. They also apply to the players.
Share the Story
Just as GMs shouldn’t drag the players through a story only they want to tell, players should not drag other players through stories only they want to tell. If you want the group pursue a course of action and the rest of the party shakes their heads, think twice before doubling down on the decision. Share the spotlight and before/during/after sessions discuss how you feel about the story and where you want to drive it next together. A good discussion can resolve many game conflicts and get everyone what they want (and ensure a good time for all)!
Be a Fan of the (Other) Players
Just a GM should be excited to see the player characters succeed, you should be a super fan of your fellow player characters. Don’t just focus on your character’s story. Engage with every character’s story, set your friends up for incredible moments, and support them the same way you would in real life. Ask questions about each other’s pasts, hopes, fears, and desires. Learn each other’s strengths and weakness both mechanically and within the story. Surprise each other with gifts both material (“Here’s that magic sword you lost. I tracked down the ogre who stole it.”) and abstract (“Also the ogre who stole it is tied up out back if you want to take your vengeance.”). If you care about your friends’ characters as much as you care about your own, your enjoyment and engagement with the game increases exponentially.
When you’re a fan of the other player characters, it helps your own character grow in fun and unexpected ways. Think of any story with an awesome ensemble like Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, Firefly, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, etc. The characters in these stories grow because they care about and learn from each other. Han Solo goes from only caring about himself and Chewie to becoming a general in the rebel alliance because he gives a crap about Luke and Leia. You can see this kind of amazing character development in popular streaming series like Dice, Camera, Action and Critical Role. The waffle crew and Mighty Nein would not be who they are individually without the influences they’ve had on each other.
Whether you begin a new campaign with a backstory or make it up as you go, weave your character’s origin together with at least some of the other player characters’ stories. This investment in each other pays off in spades. Imagine if instead of trying to convince the rest of the party to turn away from their main quest to hunt the murderer who killed your mentor, the entire group agreed to take a detour to hunt the killer… because you all had the same mentor!
Of course, not everything needs to be as dramatic as the example. Just growing up in the same farm town as friends is enough to make two characters bond and become champions of each other. Interweaving backstories helps define your relationship as a group, deepens everyone’s story, and enhances the fun times!
Just as GMs are encouraged to accept player ideas, you should (for the most part) accept the ideas of other players. First is the “Yes,” which means hear others out and don’t force your own plan of action down their throats. The fun part of this comes with the “and …” which means build on the ideas of your fellow player characters. Do this and you create incredible schemes, unbeatable tactics, unbelievable Hail Marys, and hilarious failures you and your friends will remember for years to come.
Listen to the Players
A big piece of advice given to GMs is to listen to players then respond to their actions. In other words, don’t think about what’s going to happen next until you know what the players are going to do. The same goes for players listening to other players. Too many times in combat I’ve gotten into my own head thinking about where I should place my next fireball only burn my friends to a crisp because I wasn’t paying attention on their turns and didn’t notice they moved.
Listening to your fellow players doesn’t just make you a better combatant. It makes you better fans of each other! If you listen to your another player character as they awkwardly flirt with a bartender or whisper curses under their breath at an older sibling, it gives you a lot of great information to draw on later to help support that other character.
A final piece of universal GM advice is to “engage players who aren’t participating” by asking questions and allowing them to drive the story. Do the same especially with new players. Asking someone what they think or how they would approach a situation allows them to experience the game and drive the story. If you listen to these players after offering them the spotlight and are fans of them, soon they will engage with the story on all fronts and become a fan of your characters! Who doesn’t want more fans?
If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!