“Learn From My Mistakes Series” Issue 05 “Treat Your Players Equally”
When I first began to DM, I made a lot of mistakes. I was a pretty terrible DM, and I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. I would railroad my players, miserably confuse them, and would screw up so many things. But it’s been a long time since I first started, and I have learned from my mistakes since then. Now, I would like to impart the knowledge I have learned to you guys, in the hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.
One thing that I did a lot, and didn’t even notice until recently, was how I would tend to focus on one player’s story and latch onto it ignoring the other players. A lot of the time, especially near the end of the campaign I would revolve the story around one player and everyone else’s stories would get sidelined. It took me a long time to realize this, because the player who I would focus the most on, tended to be the player who invested the most into the campaign. It was easy to rationalize focusing on that player because they were the player that would give me the most ideas. This proved to be a mistake because all of my other player’s stories were sidelined to highlight this one character’s story. What was an amazing experience for one player, proved to be a subpar experience for everyone else when I could have given them all an equally amazing experience.
Be Inspired By Your Players Equally
Learning to break this habit of mine took a lot of work. It was so easy for me to fall back on what I knew, and just be inspired by the players who invested the most into the game. But what took me a while to understand was that all of my players are invested in the game, even if it was more difficult to see how. Just because one of your players can be boiled down to Fighter McFightsAlot, doesn’t mean that they don’t take an interest in how the story of the campaign relates to them. While it may be easy to stereotype your player into broad categories, there is always something that makes that character stand out from the rest. Find out what that is, and use it to inspire your stories, and bring more investment into the campaign from that player.
One of the issues that a lot of DM’s have, is that they will have a party that doesn’t care about the story. Often this is because the story does not mean anything to them. They have no care about how the story will turn out because they have no part in it. Just because the mad wizard is about to end the world, doesn’t mean your players will care about it. And you don’t need a page long backstory for each character to invest them in the story. Remember that dwarven kid that the “emotionless” fighter took under his wing for a bit? Incorporate them into the story, and you will invest the player into the story. Watch your players and see what they do during your sessions, and you will be inspired on how to further move the campaign.
Learn When You Have Favorites
One thing that can be really hard to notice is when you start to play favorites. It is very easy to say that you don’t have a favorite player, and then unknowingly play favorites during your sessions. It is a difficult thing to notice because the actual actions of favoring one player over the others are so subtle that it may take several people pointing it out for you to notice it’s even a problem. I know that I am guilty of giving some players a higher chance of succeeding if they tend to try crazy solutions to problems all the time, but if another player tried the same action, I might penalize them in the name of realism. A good example of this was one player claiming to be a mighty ancient dragon in front of an entire army of Demons. I let him roll for it, and he succeeded, much to my other players irk. They talked to me afterward and asked me if I had let any other player attempt that ploy, would it have worked as well as that one player trying it? Upon hearing that I realized that I had been favoring that player whenever he tried something crazy because I wanted to see him succeed.
While it may be easy to claim that you don’t have a favorite player, much as a mother would tell her children that she has no favorites, it is still something that you have to watch out for. You are the ultimate arbiter of fairness and equality, and any disruption of this balance will start to make your other players wish you didn’t have so much power. Watch out for the signs; see if your other players get upset when you let Johnny get away with another crazy thing. Whatever DC you set for one player, be sure to adhere for others. Be especially wary of this with things such as significant others. It can be very easy to let a SO succeed at whatever task they are doing because you care about them, and don’t want to see them fail. Don’t do this. This is a disservice to both your SO and your other players. Once they see that there is no chance of them failing at anything, they will lose all interest in the story.
While it may be easy to say that you treat your players equally, you have to really analyze yourself and understand that there is a chance some players may be treated better than others. Whether that’s because the story tends to focus on one player, or you let others get away with things they shouldn’t, you must remain ever vigilant for any discrepancies you may have created among the party. Your role as the arbiter of equality is an important one, and you should do your best to make it as fair as possible among everyone else. If you are able to achieve an equal environment for all of your players, then your campaign will become far more fun for everyone involved.
As always have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!