“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
I always find my best inspirations for blog posts after I have played the worst RPG scenes.
This is a problem that plagues online roleplayoing, but I think it also ventures heavily into tabletop gaming across all genres of games – how do you make your game work for your group as a whole?
Lets go backwards on this a bit and look at the most basic question: why should you run for every player you have? I swear it seems such a simple, stupid question but time and time again groups form where the ST/DM/GM gathers a big group of players and then proceeds to lead only for his or her best friends leaving the other players feeling useless. The why is tied inextricably in the basic goal of roleplaying: fun. Very few players find it fun to ride along on the coattails of others, and usually they are the sort of players who gain more fun by spectating rather than playing anyways. Most players find it fun to affect the game and in return be rewarded for their actions. Even in a game where there is a strict rank whether this is military or nobility – no one like to have thier options in a RPG limited solely to what someone else tells them to do. We play RPGs to make choices and see how those choices affect the outcome. No matter whether this is how does your combat strategy stack up against the DM’s baddies to how does your social manipulation scheme affect the plots of the ST’s villains. So if you plot adventures that only appeal to a portion of your players – or worse can only be solved by a portion of your players the neglected players will start to resent the game and get very bored very quickly.
That is not to say that personal storylines or highlighting a character is a bad thing – as long as it is something that is shared equally among the playerbase. The storyline that deals with a paladin fulfilling an oath to his order one session, afterward the fighter making a drunken bet and dragging his party into a monster-hunt; and then a gang of old enemies catching up with the rogue the next is cool. The game where each and every problem is only solvable by some obscure spell your wizard possess while the rest of your party is getting mutilated and and doing zero damage is fundamentally broken. Honestly – if you are running a tabletop game and you decide that you enjoy running for only a portion of your players and therefore favor them suck it up and either A. split the group or B. find ways to enjoy and/or run for your other players.
And if you’re running an online chat game, and you favor your friends exclusively you should probably admit that you’re not cut out to be a good GM and step down. Period, end of story.
So now that the problem is defined, how do you kep your game running smoothly? First – live by this rule: interested players make a more interesting game for all involved. It takes some work, but in my opinion finding out what trips your players triggers is well worth the effort because once they are interested they will be giving both feedback and energy – and oftentimes story ideas through their play.
2. Give them what they want. Some DMs I know specifically put something in every adventure for every character, some are more loose about it and just give open ended situations that are well suited for a variety of players – however you care to do it, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to think up solutions and act upon them. This leads directly into …
3. Think before saying ‘No.’ Sometimes we trust our friends but don’t trust the new guy – so we’ll buy the wildly creative plan our best bud throws out but immediately shoot down the solution presented by the new player. You know what? If you trusted them enough to let them in your group give them a chance. If everything goes to hell, kindly stop the session and either teach them the game or don’t invite them next time – on the flip side if they are wildly creative and make it work everyone might just be sold on the story and be thrilled with it. I find too many GMs say ‘no’ too often and yet when you say yes not only do players feel like they are empowered in the game but they have more fun and are encouraged to be more creative.
4. If you have a railroader, stop them – even if (or especially if) it is you. Some people feel that everything needs to go their way. Some players like to order everyone else around and some GMs will force players into their tightly preplanned storyline. But control isn’t fun. No one likes playing out orders – people go to work to do what they are told. They roleplay to have fun and explore the boundaries of their creativity. So if you have a player who likes controlling everyone else, tell them to stop – trust me, even if the others aren’t complaining they will thank you. And if it is you as a GM controlling them too strictly, start coming up with open-ended problems for them to solve. This has the added benefit of taking stress off your shoulders.
5. If you are running a story based game, find out about all the PCs backgrounds and bring them into play. If you are running a strategy or combat based game, find out each of the player’s tactical strengths/weaknesses and bring them into play. Challenging each person individually or bringing up secrets of character’s pasts is a good way to get that player involved and tied to the other players in the game.
6. Personal SL are great. Personal SLs that affect your entire group but can only be solved by one PC suck. No one wants to stack dice and twiddle thier thumbs while waiting for one PC to finish defeating the big bad that only he or she can defeat. Either run personal SLs on the side or make them so every player can get involved.
If all else fails, admit your strengths and weaknesses as a GM and run for only your close friends and let someone else run for everyone. Because the game is fun, but sitting around watching someone else have fun isn’t.