Today we tackle equal-opportunity Dungeon Mastering and learning to let go of our earthly attachments. A reader (also a writer for Gaming Tonic whose true identity shall remain shrouded in mystery) writes:
I tend to GM in a more egalitarian manner than most, trying to give all of my players their time in the spotlight. However I have a player that seems to constantly come up with ideas that are on the same wavelength with what I want for the tone and flavor of my game. I found myself quickly passing over some of this player’s great ideas to spotlight other characters. Is this fair? Should a smart creative player get more spotlight loving? I’m lucky in that all of my players are imaginative people, but some of them become a little lost in a more open-ended game. Would you focus on one character that “gets-it” or would you adapt your writing to feed the other players ideas for what to do with their character?
signed Traumatized by Linear Thinking
In every game, the players should be the focus. They make the game, and the game would not exist without them. Second to this is the campaign. Without the Dungeon Master’s storytelling, endless preparation, and firm grasp of the rule system, the players might as well go LARP. It’s a difficult balancing act deciding whether player needs or campaign needs outweigh the other in any given scenario.
The first thing to consider is your players. What kind of players are they? What kind of people are they? Some people are just born to be in the spotlight. They love it, they need it, and they’re good at it. Some people are content to sit back and watch things unfold, lending a hand, and a helpful idea when needed. Every good decision as a Dungeon Master will stem from knowing your players. If none of your other players particularly care that their friend is stealing all the thunder, then problem solved: just let him/her do it. If you know that the others are feeling a bit neglected, and they want in on some of the fame and fortune, you’ll need to find ways to work around their playing styles.
One thing to notice is the type of ideas each player comes up with. Look for patterns of thought and common themes that come up in their solutions and suggestions. When you can begin to better predict the kinds of decisions your players are likely to make, you can present everyone with various opportunities, designed specifically for them to take advantage of.
For example, say one of your players is the sort that’s quick to draw a sword and kill someone. If your other players are reluctant to use violence, why not introduce an NPC that just needs to get immediately slaughtered to make the players’ lives easier and move the story along. The trigger happy player saves the day for once instead of pissing everyone off. And make sure you make it obvious that it was right decision (whether the player follows through or not).
In an open-ended story this sort of technique is especially useful. It allows players to feel like they’re making the right decision without realizing that you’re just baiting them into doing what you want them to do anyway.
The second thing to remind yourself of is that generally speaking, your players should be making decisions as a team. Just because someone comes up with an idea that you particularly like doesn’t mean it should be encouraged. I don’t believe a DM should ever encourage anything. Let your players make decisions without any DM input. Let them argue amongst themselves. Let them bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes half of a gaming session can be players trying to decide what the hell to do! And that’s fine. That’s good as far as I’m concerned. If they’re all involved in the decision, then they will all feel invested in, and connected to, the outcome. If the decision would really screw up your campaign, just alter your story a bit so the decision still feeds the campaign in the right direction.
I feel I should stress at this point that I’m a strong believer in the idea that “the player is always right.” At least in terms of story development (they don’t know crap about the rules). I’m perfectly willing to sacrifice story elements and even an entire adventure I had planned if my players are set on a specific action. I really enjoy open-ended playing, and it’s hard not to have an egalitarian game if every player has an equal chance of making the “right” decision, since there is no right decision.
As a DM, I really do understand where you’re coming from. We write stories, build worlds, create meaningful characters, and we want to use it all! The fact that you’re more inclined to use the ideas from a player that are more in-line with your own ideas for the campaign make this clear. So, the other piece of advice I would give you is this: learn to let go a little. Don’t get so attached to your stories and creations. Find your inner Buddha. Just because a player’s ideas are better for you, doesn’t mean they’re better ideas. Sometimes the more ridiculous ideas, the more annoying ideas, or the just plain stupid ideas, can lead a campagin into really interesting and unexpected places, and turn a typical adventure into an night of mayhem of madness. In a good way.
I hope this helps!
Buddha be with you,
The Dungeon Master
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