Listening to Your Players

Welcome to this week’s installment of “Only On Tuesdays!” This week we will be discussing how the role of the DM is more than just handing out information, but also receiving it. By learning how to listen to your players, you can learn how to more fully incorporate them into the story, thus increasing their engagement.

Listening to Your Players

As a DM, your role is a very wide one. You are in charge of creating the encounters, the world, the characters, keeping the pace, preparing for the next section, and much more things among a multitude of other equally important tasks. There is always a lot of things to do in any given session, and it can be hard to juggle it all. Throughout the task that is handling all of these things, many DM’s tend to forget to simply sit and listen to what your players have to say. Many times the player’s thoughts can be more impactful than whatever you were working on beforehand, and can completely change the course of a game for the better.
Setting aside the tasks you are working on, in order to listen to your players can be a hard thing to do. But by doing so, you are giving yourself the potential to do something that not many other mediums can do, and that is to adapt to what your players want. For example, let’s say the group has been fighting a lot of goblins recently and someone mentions “Wow, this is the 15th goblin we have killed already”. The rest of the adventure has a lot of goblins seeded throughout it and you realize that they may quickly get bored of goblins, so you change them out for some other suitable monster. 
By listening to your players in this instance you were able to change the session for the better by simply responding to their feedback. Even though that player may not have been talking directly to you, it is still something that you can respond to. Throughout the course of a session, there will be many instances of your players talking to each other instead of you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen in, however. Your players will often come up with ideas that can completely change the course of the game for the better. It is up to you to use them, however.

Weaving Their Ideas Into Your Games

One of the greatest “weaknesses” of being a Dungeon Master is that you are outnumbered. A typical game will have 4-5 players, and one Dungeon Master. This usually means that the players will tend to come up with far more ideas than the Dungeon Master is capable of producing his/herself. But this “weakness” can also prove to be our biggest strength, once you learn how to rely on your player’s ideas, and use that to propel your games. 
During the course of a single game, you will hear a lot of conversations. Many of them will be pointless, and won’t really provide much help. But every once in a while your players will say something that makes a lot of sense. For example, if your players were working with a particular NPC, and he/she did something slightly suspicious (on accident or not), one of your players might end up saying “I bet they work for the bad guy”. Nowhere in your notes does it say that they work for the bad guy, but it makes a lot of sense. 
Rather than saying no, you play along with it. The NPC starts to do more suspicious things, hide from the party, and even try to snoop on them. The party eventually realizes what is going on and catches the perpetrating NPC. They spill their guts about how they have been working for the bad guy this whole time, and the party feels validated for believing that they worked for the bad guy in the first place. They see the session as well thought out and planned when in reality everything was on the fly. You were discovering, along with the party, that the NPC was a criminal all along. It just appears to be planned because one of the party members was able to predict it beforehand. 
Weaving the parties ideas into your games is a very simple process. It simply requires the use of the technique known as “Yes, and . . .”.

“Yes, and . . . “

One of the greatest pieces of advice that many new dungeon masters should learn is the principle of “Yes, and . . .”. This simple concept is such a great piece of advice because it not only shows you that it’s ok to let your players change your game, but it also tells you to ask for more information. Listening to your players is simply the first part of this rule. Once you are able to listen to your players, you can then incorporate it into your games. 
For those who don’t know what “Yes, and . . .” is it is simply what you should say in response to a question from one of your players. If they ask “is there a chandelier in the room” in the middle of a fight, it is probably because they intend to use it. Rather than saying no, because your notes say there are no chandeliers, you say “Yes, and . . . they are connected to the ceiling by thin and fraying strands of rope.” This principle is derived from improv where you always agree with what your fellow actor is saying and then add something on top of it. Without it, the game can come to a screeching halt.
Once you are willing to give up some of your control and put it into the hands of the players, it becomes far more engaging for everyone at the table. When players know that what they say can, and will have a tangible impact on the game they will be far more interested in what is actually happening. Even if a player is asking a question directed at the rest of the party, it is still a good time for you to say “Yes, and . . .”. They may not be asking you whether something is true or not, but you may end up deciding anyways that their crazy theory is true. By using “Yes, and . . .” whenever a question is posed, it opens up many more opportunities for where the story can go, rather than just ending it right when the question is asked. 

Conclusion

Listening to your players is an important step in becoming a better DM. Learning how to receive and utilize the ideas that they give you, can greatly strengthen your skills as the narrator, and will also help to improve your player’s engagement with the game. Taking what they say during a one-off conversation, and turning it into a major plot point is a very satisfying experience, at little to no expense from you. Simply using the rule of “Yes, and . . .” can provide you with plenty of material to work with during any given session. Your players will then begin to believe that you had this planned all along when in reality you are just using what they gave you.
Thank you for tuning into this week’s post! I just want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me come this far! It has been a very enjoyable experience starting this blog, and it has come very far from where I first started. I hope to continue providing quality content, and insightful tips for you guys every week. As for now, have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!