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Know Your Enemy

Posted By Kurt "Telas" Schneider On July 25, 2011 @ 3:08 am In GMing Advice | 7 Comments

It’s easy to see a role-playing game as a one-way street; the flow of information is generally from GM to players. But the GM should also be collecting information on his players and their characters. If you’re paying attention to your players, you can really make the game fun for them.

After all, the players are your primary audience. They’re also your opponents. You should go into each session with a solid idea of what they want, and what they are capable of.

How? Glad you asked…

Listen to your players

  • Ask your players what they’d like to see more or less of. If they won’t commit to something (and many gamers won’t), ask them what their favorite event or scene is. Least-favorite?
  • Talk to your players outside the game to see what they’re interested in doing, both individually and as a group.
  • Follow the conversations of your players as they discuss the game. You can not only find out what they’re expecting, but more importantly, you can find out what they’re not expecting.
  • Make a note when Alice mentions that she hasn’t had much opportunity to use her social skills, or when Bob gripes that his area-effect attacks are useless against the string of solo opponents you’ve pitted against them.

Read their character sheets

Keep updated copies of your players’ character sheets, and study them

  • If you know what your player’s characters are capable of, you should have a good guesstimate of their chance of success against tonight’s foes.
  • Players love the spotlight. Give each of them the opportunity occasionally with a tailor-made encounter in which his or her character can shine. Let the fire-mage annihilate legions of ice devils, or let the burglar burgle.
  • Put some excitement in your players’ lives by exploiting their weaknesses. Dominate the tank, or grapple the mage.
  • Scan their little-used skills and occasionally make sure they get to use them. Players will often select a skill because they want to use it, or because it fits their concept of the character. Throw in an opportunity for the triathlete to swim, or for the barbarian to intimidate a mess of bandits.
  • Re-read their background stories. Is there a character mentioned who can fill a role in your campaign world? Is there a mystery or unresolved conflict you can exploit? Players love it when they are part of the world, instead of just inflicted upon it.

Got any more ideas for learning about your players or their characters? Care to share any experiences where a GM showed that he or she was paying attention to the PCs? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

About  Kurt "Telas" Schneider

Kurt Schneider played D&D in 1979 at summer camp, and was hooked. He lives with his wife, daughters, and dog in Austin TX, where he writes stuff, and tries to stay get fit. Look for his rants under the nom de web Telas or TelasTX. Quote: “A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."




7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Know Your Enemy"

#1 Comment By Uzotru On July 25, 2011 @ 3:12 am

There are too the player with bad dices. Ohh man, it’s awful when him want to do something great, a excellent idea and the dices break the whole attempt. The GM have too see this, in my opnion, make the game flow and easy the way in moments with lots of epicacity (lol).
Thanks!

#2 Comment By raisinwarrior On July 25, 2011 @ 5:30 am

I’ve found that my players naturally tend to recap the events of session after the books are closed. Without even needing to ask, they often the recount their favorite encounters and discuss their hopes for the next session. Little did they know…they created a self-fulfilling prophecy by giving me an idea more interesting than the original.

It is now apart of my regular post-gaming routine to sit down after all the players have left and take a few notes about the post-game conversation. I found the notes later to be really helpful when putting together the encounters for next week.

P.S. This is my first post on the Stew…I’ve been a long time reader and fan of the articles; thought I would finally join in some discussion.

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 25, 2011 @ 8:13 am

Re: Refresh on character backgrounds. That’s really a helpful tip. In an ongoing campaign, make sure that original background jives, though, with what’s gone on at the table. Even the PCs sometimes are surprises at how far their character has “strayed” from the original concept or background. Of course, that’s all part of the fun.

#4 Comment By Razjah On July 25, 2011 @ 8:54 am

This is really great advice that is very simple to follow. But the little things like this are often lost at the tables. Focusing on the little ways to be a better GM can get a lot of mileage and make the games you run much better. Excellent advice.

#5 Comment By Volcarthe On July 25, 2011 @ 9:56 am

I started up a Midnight game recently, and when working up everyone’s character concepts, i asked them any specific and any general goals for their character.

i also gave a couple of background-related questions to help them flesh out backstory. the most notable of those was “What have you lost so far.”

The (only) dwarf in the group coupled those two together, making a list of family killed with a general goal of killing an orc for each one, and aiming for a barbarian-based prestige class.

None of the others were slackers, though, leaving me plenty of space to do adventures based off each backstory, and thus the spotlight goes round, making it more rewarding (and fun!) for everyone.

#6 Comment By BishopOfBattle On July 25, 2011 @ 11:56 am

One of the benefits I’ve found to gooing digital with a lot of character info is that I can easily review it. At the end of a major campaign segment I’ll scan the player’s character sheets for my review (they’re never perfectly up to date, but at least I have a good idea) and I keep their character backgrounds on Google Docs. Between those, I’ve laid out the groundwork for our second Shadowrun campaign, weaving in characters and background details from many of their backgrounds.

#7 Comment By Cy83r On July 28, 2011 @ 9:23 pm

@Uzotru – yeah, I’ve heard the way most dice makers polish their product tends to make them oblong, supporting the gamer superstition of lucky and unlucky dice, though I’m sure this would create a few “average” dice as well.


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