A few days ago, after running a session, a thought struck me. It’s one of the most important things that I think can be asked by any Game Master: What do my players really want out of the game? While it’s a simple question, and something that doesn’t seem like it would be hard to figure out, a lot of groups get into the groove of playing a game and don’t really think about more than accomplishing the goals of the game.
Ask Yourself First
While the players can definitely answer this question for you, it’s important that you ask it of yourself first. If you’ve been playing with your group for any appreciable amount of time then you are fairly familiar with them and their tastes. You know that Jimmy always plays assassin type characters. You know that Sally always plays chaotic characters. You know a lot of little facts about your players and what they do in your game. Asking yourself what they want, and trying to answer it using all the little bits of knowledge you have about them can help you put together a better picture of your players.
If you were to ask Jimmy or Sally what they want out of your game they’re likely to give an incomplete answer. Sally may say she wants more social interaction scenes. Think about that from the perspective of her play style. She might really be asking for more opportunities to throw monkey wrenches into carefully crafted situations. Her most fun session probably doesn’t have anything to do with defeating the great evil facing the land, but in turning the ambassador’s ball into a recreation of a 3 stooges short.
Go Beneath the Surface
More important than just asking the question What do my players really want out of the game? is going deeper and asking Why do my players want what they want? Why does sally like making situations chaotic? Why does Jimmy always play assassin style characters? If Jimmy seems to have the most fun when he takes out an opponent before he is even seen, it might mean that he is a strategist at heart. His preference for the quick kill in game might be more about controlling the situation. There are a multitude of clues in every player’s play style and their choices in the game. Asking What and Why can help you pick those out.
Ask The Players
After you’ve asked yourself what your players want, and after you’ve dug a little deeper and put some connections together, go ahead and ask the players. Ask them what they want from your game in such a way that it links it to their characters. Ask them in a way that gets them to go a bit expository. If the answers differ from what you thought they were going to be, don’t worry about it. The players might see it as an opportunity to try out some new things. They might play their characters a certain way because it is easy or well known, but when asked, they might talk about things that they didn’t think would be possible in the current adventure, campaign or even in the system itself. They might give you the answers you expected. Whatever answers they give, and whatever ones you came up with on your own, the important thing is to ask the question and get yourself thinking.
So what is it that you think your players want from your game? If you asked them, what do you think they would say?