Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Enough whining about DMs! What do you want from your Players?

There just sometimes seems to be no end of the carping and bitching and whining about DMs exercising their Gary-given powers. It's the Authoritarian DM, or the Adversarial DM, or the Viking-hat DM, or the Killer DM. DM fiat is abhorred as unbalanced and "deprotagonizing".
If you see someone actually use the term deprotagonize, grab your dice and run. Those people are black holes of gaming, from which no fun can escape.

I think that I can fairly assume that if you're reading a blog on the internet about out of print Dungeons & Dragons, that you're probably a DM

So, what is it that you want from your players?

It's great if you have players who'll bring snacks, or help set up, or clean up after. But that's just what you want from any guest. The thing I want most from players, in game, is for them to ask me questions.

Ask lots of questions, about the NPCs, about the buildings, about the horses, about the road, about the doors, about the walls, about the tavern keeper, about the moneylender, about the halfling hanging in an iron cage at the crossroads. If I don't have something written down, I'll make it up, right then.

It's not going to throw off my story, because I'm not fricken telling a story. I've got no idea what the heck's going to happen next. I'm not running an improvisational theater troupe. Dice come with the game for a reason.

Each question asked adds to the reality of the game world. Each one contributes some new, tiny bit of knowledge that reinforces the sense of immersion that I want to build.
Especially the inconsequential little things. The stuff that doesn't directly effect play is just as important as the things that do.

This is a Role Playing Game, and not just a combat simulator. The world has to have depth, it has to breath. And, if you can describe that breath as sour, and ragged, and drawn through stained snaggle teeth, it's ten times better than just counting the number per round.

I want to hear questions because it indicates a level of investment in the game. People who are just phoning it in, and just sit there waiting to be spoon fed warm, pre-chewed adventure piss me off. I expect engagement in my players.

I think the second thing I really want is for every player to be willing to play along with every other player.
There's lots of different play styles out there. Thespians, Strategists, Hackers, Game players, what have you. It's nearly arguing about pin-dancing angels to try and define them all, so I don't.

The thing I want is for each player at the table to recognize that they have a preferred style, and so do the others. I want them to make allowances for each other, and play like a team. Not necessarily an in-game team like a tactical assault squad, but like a group of experienced players of any sport who realize that everyone has something they're best at, and lets that player shine when the opportunity arises.

I will create at least the possibility of situations arising which play to the strong suites of the styles of everybody at the table. I want everyone to have a chance to get what they want out of the game, and I want the players to do their part to make sure this happens as well.

I think of this as the, "humor the Bard rule".

Do unto others, gentlemen. And let the good times roll.


Mark Thomas said...

Well said. Questions also provide feedback about what the players are interested in, giving the GM insight into what parts of the game world are going to receive the player's attentions.

They can also spark some great ideas. Players ask the craziest things sometimes, and a good GM will take that and run with it.

Rusty said...


Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

Honestly (and selfishly), I want players to entertain me. Doing the thing I didn't plan for. Snatching victory from the maws of defeat. Dieing in gruesome yet hilarious ways. And the rest of the shenanigans good players get up to.

The 2nd thing would be enjoy our game, to be entertained and entertain each other. In short be fun & have fun. Which is pretty much the same as your 2nd point.

Timeshadows said...

E. G., --Your post is so well stated that I ask you for permission to re-print it, in some fashion you approve, for inclusion in the Referee's section of Urutsk World of Mystery.

Chris said...

As with any DM I want involvement from my players. I've taken the trouble to set up this game, the least they can do is have the courtesy to poke the prepared content and see what happens.

David Larkins said...

Very well put indeed. I refer to the "asking questions" thing as "being a proactive player" Like you said, I see myself as a conduit through which I help the players picture/imagine the world, but they have to be willing to actively interact with that world.

I'd add another shade to your second requirement: don't be an obstructionist. Burning Wheel has a great essay on obstructionist players. These are the folks who aren't active dickheads at the table, it's just that their play style tends to trample over the GM's world and/or other players. As Burning Wheel calls them, "clowns". I can't stand clowns at the table taking away from other people's spotlight time for the sake of a cheap (almost always disruptively out-of-character) laugh.

Ragnorakk said...

Good post and something to think about more. On the subject, the players that want to make spells, make magic items, leave a clever piece of graffiti somewhere - players that want to contribute to the game world in a persistent sense are to be treasured (not coddled, of course, nor spoon fed adventure). And yeah - good questions make for good games.

E.G.Palmer said...

Well, thank you all very much! I was afraid this might have come off a bit too ranty, but it's gratifying to hear my fellow travelers think similarly.

Timeshadows, sure you can print it. I'd be honored to contribute to Urutsk in some small way.
Shoot me an e-mail if you need a restatement or further definition.

I'd like to see more about what everyone thinks makes for a good player. What is it you guys want from the people who come to your table?

Rusty said...

I'd like to take a second stab at the question.

Cash. I would like cash.

E.G.Palmer said...

Heh! That could be quite a racket there, Rusty. Maybe a kickback for the DM? Cough up a buck for every 100 eps the players earn each session. We DMs could band together and become the game mafia.

Rob Kuntz said...

Great Post, EG. The very thoughts summon the gist of the game all the way back from 1973. Could not have stated the holistic aspect better myself. Bravo!

E.G.Palmer said...

Thanks,RJK! I'm always pleased to get your feedback. I'm also eager to see the projects that have kept you busy this last month.

Rusty said...

I'd like to come as participants, not consumers. As mentioned, ask good questions, treat your character as if she or he is a person, not just a stat sheet and, over the long haul, tell me what you want. That last one is critical to me--I don't want to be a driven by player whims but I am blessed with good players who are also good friends. I like to know if they want more puzzles, more mystery, more combat, more role-play, etc. To me, what happens at the gaming table is a collaborative process. Obviously, as DM, I set the tone, but I am not interested in ramming a style of play down their throats any more than I want to railroad them into adventures, activities or plots that have predetermined outcomes. So ask and talk.

And don't forget the cash. (ha ha ha)

E.G.Palmer said...

I'm sure with you on the participant vs consumer angle, Ken. I find it to be a real drag to be faced with a table of passive stooges who just stare at you, waiting to be entertained as though you're a tv screen.

You know, so much ink gets spilled on the right and wrong of DMing, I think we should do some writing on what makes for a really excellent player.

Rusty said...

I tend to think that most of us who blog, at least in our little corner of the blogging world are people who primarily DM. While I think there is a lot of overlap, there is also a group of people who operate solely as players and I cannot recall reading a blog of that sort. I think it would be interesting to ask people who primarily approach D&D and similar games as players to identify what makes a good player good. Not that we DM-types wouldn't have interesting things to say. I'd be curious to know if others see the same thing when they look at our little dark corner of the blogosphere.

E.G.Palmer said...

Hmmm, that is interesting. I don't think I've ever seen a player-only blog. I suppose they might well have differing views on what makes for a good player, vs the DM's view.

Lets see if we can find one. Then we can straighten the deviant out.

I keed, I keed! It could be informative, we might be able to use it to our advantage.

grodog said...

Good post, EG. When I play, I want the players to be curious---to want to explore further and deeper, to discover things; to want to find out the who/what/where/why/when/how (and how much is it worth!)---and for all of us to enjoy ourselves.

Your point about asking questions is particularly apt, and is an excellent sign that the DM is engaging the players by providing the PCs with clues, leads, hints, and legends that have piqued the players' interest during the game. I think there are other ways to measure that level of player engagement, though, too, beyond just player Qs:

- players showing up, and being ready to roll at the start of the session
- players engaging with the world out-of-character: mapping, taking notes, posting session summaries, and tracking PC progress/activities from session to session so that there's no need to recap "where we left off" in exacting detail each and every time you have a new session: the stage is already set with players who are engaged and ready to go
- players engaging with the world in-character: the PC-to-PC and PC-to-NPC roleplaying, whether with a patron, prisoner, shop keeper, damsel in distress, etc.; when the player is hamming it up as their PC, they're clearly in the moment (regardless of what level of seriousness that moment contains)

I'm sure there are other good markers for player enjoyment out there, too.


E.G.Palmer said...

Good points on measuring player engagement, Allan. Maybe we should make a Player Engagement Chart!
"I'm sorry, Dan. But Your PE numbers just arn't up there with the rest of the players. If I don't see some hustle next session, I'm going to have to let you go."