Bringing Out the Best Of Your Players Episode.039

When we last left off, Grothbeard had buried his axe into the head of the tavern keeper, suspecting a doppleganger.  However, when the man didn’t revert to its natural form after death, questions arouse on what to do to Grothbeard for his murder.  He was placed in jail with the rest of you compiling a plan to break him out of jail before his execution scheduled tomorrow morning.  The death hour is rapidly approaching as you have spent most of the night scheming.  Grothbeard will have to wait to see if your hours of planning were worth it or if Jim will need to reroll a character.

It is no doubt that we all have different levels of aggression on our own personality and character.  Some of us are outspoken, brandishing whatever is on their mind, sometimes before thinking it through thoroughly.  Others are hesitant to speak their mind, often worried that whatever they say might not be accepted.  We have those who will always agree with someone and follow their lead no matter what.  Despite the theory that after 7 billion people on Earth, we start becoming more alike because the random options are running out, we still have very different behaviors.  This makes for really interesting sessions of roleplaying games.  Traditionally we are set up as a team to accomplish a goal or goals.  We may never have met before yet we naturally fall into an acceptance throughout our game that allows us to work together.  Sometimes these roles clash, especially when you get a table full of aggressive, know-it-alls who want the spotlight on themselves nonstop or when the entire table is full of passive players who are too shy to make any decisions because they affect everyone at the table.

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We as GMs should play to our players’ strengths.  It is considerably tougher to recognize this quickly at conventions when we have but a handful of hours to finish our game, and that generally is left for more experienced GMs who are most observant.  I have played in games where the GM is merely going through the routine, running the game, offering very little option or flexibility based on playstyle, almost ushering us through the 4-hour ride.  When we know our players better, we can use that to our advantage by curving the form of play to better fit their desires.  For example, the shy person who really doesn’t feel comfortable with the spotlight constantly on them shines brighter when the focus casually shifts to them for a short time.  We round out a particular encounter or situation in our game that reflects something that character can really shine on, even if it’s merely something spoken.  If they are a quiet bard (perhaps they are shy poet writers with a talent for playing the flute and not singing), then provide the opportunity for them to pick up and play a strange instrument that only they know how.  Allow them to focus one of their skills or strengths, such as understanding a strange language on the fly, so they can speak up, roll dice, interact with the situation rather than sit back and watch the rest of the group take control.  Be quick to be polite but firm if one of the boastful or outgoing players wishes to do exactly what your quiet player can do.  Bring about the option for the outgoing one to offer assistance, but maintain the focus back on the former player.

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Main characters are definitely memorable.  We often will think of those individuals most in a story, but I guarantee you can think of a few stories where a supporting character has stolen the entire movie or book.  They have their moments, short and burn brightly.  They may not speak up much, but when they do it’s memorable.  One of my friends hardly ever talks unless you speak to them first, but he has the uncanny ability to quote a movie that fits the situation perfectly.  Those are those moment s we tend to think about more easily.

Your campaign need not continuously having the plot-drivers, those who speak up most, work each session.  A good GM will have an over-arcing campaign that will take numerous sessions to unfold, but each session will be a focus on an individual character’s personal campaign.  These need not be one-session fillers.  There are no rules restricting multiple campaigns going on at the same time; each character can have their own campaign.  The bard may be wishing to acquire the One Truth, whatever that is, in order to complete his Fantastic Opus and graduate from his college.  This is something that is a grand-arc, spanning several sessions that doesn’t have to be in succession.  Give the players another chapter in their life, but then leave them wanting more as other characters’ chapters are written in the next few sessions.  It assures the players are all getting their moment to play and hopefully develop their characters into more 3-dimensional entities.

It may help to understand if players wish to be more of a driver of the plot or a support character.  Do they enjoy giving aid to the other players, assisting them in various skills or do they enjoy taking the reins and taking control of the situation?  Do they prefer to wait for the golden opportunity to save the day, or do they like being the savior champion of the group?

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If the player is completely bashful and having difficulty finding their voice, roleplaying games can be a wonderful exercise for them, but it may require some work from the GM.  Usually I will give them small moments where they give only simple suggestions or solutions that allow them to talk but for a few seconds.  Putting them in a spot where they must role play dialogue with some NPC that holds serious water to the campaign is just asking too much at first.  Lead up to it by setting up moments that are simple but still meaningful such as negotiating for a few gold pieces less on their purchase.  Instead of hoping they speak up to haggle, as a GM, have the merchant vaguely recognize the character from news of some past achievement such as freeing a village from an attacking giant.  In character, ask their character if they promise to use the merchandise in future adventures, the merchant will allow the character to give them an offer on the merchandise.  Be flexible when working with bashful or shy individuals on their decisions.  It is a matter of building up their confidence in the game itself, reassuring that their decisions are not necessarily always detrimental to the party’s safety.  Keep an eye on their body language.  Often times they will show signs of having something on their mind, but are either hesitant to speak up or are overshadowed by another person blurting out constantly.  When you pick up these signs, don’t stop play and pointedly address the person.  Instead, try calling for a random roll (it can be completely made up, just don’t tell them it is).  First, this shuts up conversation if there was one of anyone wanting to dominate the situation.  Second, you can then pass the choice over to the bashful player, either having an NPC ask if something’s on their mind in character.  Sometimes our roleplaying side lets us bring out our confidence and inner personality by using it as a “shield.”  We are in-character and not merely talking person to person.  It’s all fake and pretend, so it might become more comfortable for the person.  If all else fails, merely write a note to the player asking what they wish to do, delaying the game enough time by having the rest do some fake rolls (“I was just having everyone roll to see if anything popped up, but it was uneventful.”).

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Understanding your players and catering to their strengths and weaknesses marks the sign of a seasoned GM.  We are here to tell a story, but the stories are not meant to be one-sided intended for observation only.  Interaction and immersion is the point of playing a role playing game.  The stories need to be built for the characters because they were specifically selected by the players.  They are unique compared to the rest of the world as are the unique people driving them.  Find ways to keep everyone involved without being blatant or pointed to avoid embarrassment, awkwardness, or hesitancy from the players.  Offer moments that favor each character to give them their moment to shine in between those who hold the spotlight directly at themselves.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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