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Your Players Are Your Fans–Treat Them as Such

While at Gen Con I met and hung out with some very nice people. Not just fellow gamers, but also industry insiders (who in the end were also fellow gamers). I had a very strong impression that anyone could spend some time with their favorite game designer, artist, or author at Gen Con. No one turned me away, and every professional that I met made some time for me when I asked if we could chat. I am positive that many of you have had a similar experience with the people who make up the RPG industry.

That is one of the wonderful things about our hobby – our heroes are grateful for their fans!

Be Grateful For Your Fans!

What really struck a chord with me was that not a single one of the individuals that I met behaved in a way that suggested that they were doing me a favor. Instead each person seemed grateful to have a moment to spend with me.

This is the way to approach your role as the GM of your game.

Your GMing skills are competing with every other form of entertainment out there. From books to video games, and live concerts to partying you must provide an experience that your players consider more valuable than their alternatives. Maybe your players are gaming with you to socialize first and game second. In that case you are still competing with other forms of socialization. I can hang out with my friends at a nice restaurant, and we can always play a board game instead of an RPG.

Even if your friends primarily want to play RPGs there is no guarantee that they want you to be their GM. Sure, some GMs might say “They have to game with me. I’m the only decent GM around!” Perhaps that is true at this time, but it will not be true forever.

Sooner or later your players will hear about another game that has an opening for one more players. If your players only have time for one regular game and two to choose from you can bet that whoever the friendlier GM is will be a factor when they decide which game to play in.

This is why you should never leave any doubt in your players’ minds as to how you feel about their joining you for a game session. When players arrive for the game thank them for their participation. Thank them again at the end of the session. Make your appreciation for their presence known to them in clear and precise language. Do not imply that you are grateful, but instead tell them that you are grateful for their participation outright.

You should also be grateful for your “problem” player. That person is your opportunity to learn how to become a better GM. Either embrace that opportunity, or be decent enough to politely ask that player to leave the game.

People First, Games Second

Zig Ziglar [1] is fond of saying the following:

“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Those people that I mentioned at the beginning of this article are helping me to get a better game. My players are helping me to get a better game. Who is helping you to get what you want? Thank those people.

Practicing What I Preach

I was contacted prior to Gen Con by a friend who is also a fan of my GMing who asked why I had no events listed in the Gen Con schedule this year. I explained that I was taking it easy this year, and that I had not planned on attending Gen Con at all until the last minute. He stated that he and his wife enjoyed playing in my Fudge games and that they had hoped to have played in another game this year.

I could have said “Sorry! I’m not GMing this year.”, but I did not. I agreed to run a game on Sunday for them and their friends. I organized my gear and prepared some ideas on how I would run the game. I put everything I had in me to make sure that game was fun and memorable.

Why? I want to be a great GM. I want to be the best GM that I can be. Sure, I can look at that situation and say “I’m helping them!”, but the truth is that they are helping me. When someone requests that you GM a game for them and their friends based on previous games that you ran, they are helping you by saying “I have other choices, but I am choosing to play in your game because I value that experience the most out of all of my options.” That gives me confidence in my GMing abilities, and that confidence tempered by a humble attitude makes me a better GM.

I am grateful for having had that opportunity. I hope that you are grateful for those opportunities when they come your way as well. Look for those opportunities and seize them, and you will improve your GMing skills every time.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and let everyone know how you feel.

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "Your Players Are Your Fans–Treat Them as Such"

#1 Comment By kwixson On August 10, 2011 @ 12:59 am

Here, here. I always do thank the players for playing with me at the end of a session I run. Those words, “thanks for playing with me!” And I mean it. I’m not doing them a favor. Need to keep remembering that.

Wish I’d seen you at GenCon this year. I tried a FUDGE game (Mouth of Milu) because of having seen you at that seminar two years ago and following your work a bit, and you being such a fan of it. It was fun. Different. I think I might like to build a Steam Punk game around it for my wife to play in. She is a budding fan of SP and I think she’d appreciate FUDGE.

Also wish I’d caught the Masks book at GenCon. Don’t know how I missed it! Seems I pretty much Greyhawk’ed the exhibit hall this year. Somehow it slipped through my net.

#2 Comment By Clawfoot On August 10, 2011 @ 5:24 am

The biggest ego-boost I ever got in regards to my GMing was a few years ago. I’d heard through the grapevine that a friend and fellow GM was asking around, looking at what support there might be for another LARP in the area. When he approached me, I thought, “oh here we go, yet another Vampire LARP, yawn.”

But he actually said something like, “I’m starting up a new LARP, and I need a co-ST. I’ve been asking around the community to see who people want, and your name keeps coming up.” And he asked me to run the LARP with him.

I was floored, and flattered, and I agreed. And holy crackers, was I ever determined to bring my A-game to that LARP. There was no way I was going to half-ass it after that. 🙂

#3 Comment By lordbyte On August 10, 2011 @ 6:23 am

What the shit? Your DM is a rare resource and should be treated as such! I have a lot of demands of my time, but I figured out over the years that more than one session (of a campaign) a week burns me out. I have two full groups with many sitting on the sidelines to join me. I sometimes run one offs which are always filled in.
Problem players (while I’ve hardly ever had some) are sternly talked to, if they don’t shape up, they’re out.
My players thank ME!

You want to thank your players? Bring your A-game. Every. Single. Time!

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 10, 2011 @ 9:10 am

[2] – I wish that I could have met you as well. I will be at Con on the Cob this year. If you are too let’s make sure to hang out.

Next year I am going to arrange a game for the fans of Gnome Stew event where I will register an event and pay for all of the tickets myself. I will then figure out a way for Gnome Stew readers attending Gen Con to be a part of it.

[3] – I felt the same way. Someone had played in my Gen Con events every year, and now I had no event for them to play in? Time to correct that mistake! 🙂 To make it even better he asked me to sign his copies of Eureka and Masks! That was humbling, and exciting!

[4] – We can compare the two approaches. Try my approach, and see if after sincerely thanking your players individually for participating in your game if they seem more appreciative of what you are doing as a GM for them. See how they react to you when you thank them. I have found that the players are often just as grateful to the GM when I thank them. It makes our friendships stronger, and strong friendships lead to better games.

Or you can contact each of your players and make sure to include a link to your comment here. Please let us know how they react to it. Do they become better players after reading it? I would like to know the results.

If your games are going as well as you claim, I’m sure that thanking your players will just add to the experience. I believe that your comment though would take away for the experience if your players read it.

With two full groups and an overflow you certainly have a lot to be grateful for. All those players have certainly influenced your GMing style and helped to shape you into the GM that you are today. You are very lucky, and I wish you more GMing success which I am sure you will have with so many fine players backing you up.

#5 Comment By Redbaeyr On August 10, 2011 @ 9:56 am


As one of the players Patrick agreed to GM for, I can say without hesitation that it was appreciated, and that he had his “A” game whether he wants to admit it or not.

We started with no idea of what we were going to play and within 30 minutes had a setting, adventure idea, and 4 pretty fleshed out, fun characters.

We played it partially for laughs (by common decree) but it still had action, suspense, etc.

A good game, a GREAT game in my opinion if you take into account the external details

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 10, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

[6] – Thank you! It was an honor to run for you and your group!

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On August 11, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

This post didn’t go the way I thought it would… I was already dialing up a handler to keep the autograph seekers at bay. 😉

More seriously, if you enjoy the game, let it show. If everything comes though game adjudication and NPC dialogue, it’s hard to figure out what the GM actually feels. So take a moment and make it clear.

#8 Comment By BryanB On August 12, 2011 @ 10:38 am

[7] – But I already have your autograph. How many more fans do you really need? 😀

#9 Comment By lordbyte On August 12, 2011 @ 10:58 am

And this is exactly what I meant 🙂 If a player does something awesome, he gets rewarded, if he roleplays well, he gets rewarded (not in gold or loot, there are many other ways, even just noticing and bringing to attention what he did).
Rewarding people just for being there is what’s wrong with our society… If everyone’s a winner, no one is, progress halts and society crumbles!

#10 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 12, 2011 @ 11:57 am

[8] – Thank you for the clarification, but I’d like to ask another question of you: Why not thank them for being there? Weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and many more events you will often hear the host say “Thank you for joining us.”

Now when I say thank your players I mean players. Not observers, but participants. I want to be clear on that before moving forward.

Let’s say that the player does nothing awesome. His or her play is mediocre, possibly bad even. Why not thank such a player for participating even if his or her performance was less than stellar?

I’m not saying reward the player for bad or average play. I am saying to thank the player for his or her participation. You can still address bad or mediocre play, but why shouldn’t you thank the player for spending his or her time with you? You have no right to his or her time, but he or she still decided to share ti with you. Does that not deserve a show of gratitude?

Furthermore, what if saying “Thank you!” is the first step in improving what that player brings to the game? Is it not worth what little effort is involved to thank someone if it might lead to a better experience?

I never suggested that you make everyone a winner. I am saying that you should thank everyone who played in the game. There is a difference between the two.

#11 Comment By lordbyte On August 12, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

Let’s turn your argument upside down:
Shouldn’t your players thank you for the tons of time you put into creating exciting adventures, memorable NPCs, thrilling encounters. The hours you spent poring through books, reading every fantasy novel under the sun, practicing accents, just so you can give them a great afternoon / evening.
What do you get in return? The smiles on their faces, the thrill in their voice as they stare not at you, but at the scene itself, trying to figure out a way to best their opponents! And if you’re lucky an updated character sheet.

#12 Comment By BryanB On August 12, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

[9] – Manners go a long way towards promoting a satisfying experience at the gaming table. It is polite to thank people for playing, just as it is polite to thank the GM for his hard work. To me, the two go hand in hand.

I think it is really nice when players express appreciation for the hard work that I put in on a game, especially when they really enjoyed their experience as a player. But I don’t GM with the expectation that I will get that appreciation.

I always treat my players with courtesy and respect and for the most part, my players have given me the same in return. Manners or overtures or whatever you want to refer to them as is just common sense. Gaming is a two way street between GM and players. Both a GM and their players deserve respect. Both groups can be appreciated for what they do. In truth, however, a GM is nothing without their players. You might consider that. 🙂

#13 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 12, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

[9] – The funny thing about gratitude is that if it is not given freely and without provocation then it isn’t gratitude at all.

I do not run my games expecting anyone to thank me no matter how much work I do to prep for the game. I have discovered that I benefit more from the people around me when I focus on benefiting them. I thank my players for being there when I show them the results of my work.

I could do all of that work and never run the game, but once I have ran the game and I see that the players are entertained by my work it reinforces my confidence in myself and my skills. I thank them for that experience.

[10] – Yes, common courtesy is essential to a good game. I’m glad that you pointed that out, but when I read “a GM is nothing without their players” I knew that you understood exactly what this article is all about.

#14 Comment By lordbyte On August 12, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

@Patrick Benson – Then we are in agreement. Giving gratitude where it’s due, just throwing it around will only cheapen it.
@BryanB – As for common courtesies how can that even be an issue? How the hell can you roleplay an entire society if you don’t even grasp the basics of human behaviour, it’s a non-issue. It should be a non-issue as it should be ingrained, especially in a DM.
I’m just against the entire idea of thanking people just for showing up, I work hard to be the best DM I possibly can be and expect my players to appreciate that. Just as I appreciate anything a player does for the campaign and their character, anything that sets the mood, be it a great description of their actions, a nice background, an unexpected twist in an adventure… I will spotlight it, and encourage it, essentially setting the standard of behaviour and it works.
And yes, a DM is nothing without his players but prostrating yourself before them isn’t going to keep them, au contraire… Making sure that your prep-work is up to par, and bringing your a-game to the table is. I cringe when I hear about the umpteenth wipe of a group, because their DM was clearly a power-hungry asshole, but they kept coming. Until they found a better one 🙂
What I mean to say is being courteous is a non sequitur. If you’re not a decent human being keeping a player group is the least of your worries.

#15 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 12, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

[11] – Yes, it seems that we are now in agreement. If that is what you were suggesting from the beginning then we always were. Again, I never said to just throw gratitude around. The article made it clear that you should thank your players for their participation.

I’m sorry if I did not understand that you were advocating showing gratitude based on merit. Your first comment seemed quite confrontational and implied aggressive opposition to what I was suggesting. I hope that you understand and appreciate that when I write something for this site I stick by it aggressively myself.

#16 Comment By lordbyte On August 12, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

A normal reaction, I was a bit confrontational as I felt it was too much of one of those feel-good posts were everyone sagely nods their head, as disagreeing means you’re a monster 🙂 I felt that the gratitude where gratitude is due was a bit missing from the tone of the article.

#17 Comment By BryanB On August 12, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

[11] – Yes, common courtesy should be ingrained. But just because it should be ingrained does not make it so. By extending the courtesy of a “Thank You for Playing,” or a “Thank You for Running,” we all promote proper behavior.

I will agree with you that if someone can’t extend a simple “Thank You” to their players or to their GM, then they do indeed have some social issues that extend beyond a gaming table.

#18 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 12, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

[12] – Understood. I thought language like “Who is helping you to get what you want? Thank those people.” strongly implied, if not outright said, that you should give gratitude where it is due. I’ll keep your comments in mind when I write future articles.

#19 Comment By kwixson On August 13, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

For lordbyte and others, may I propose a different approach?

Please kindly set aside the question of merit for just a minute. Instead consider Patrick’s call for gratitude from the standpoint of “customer service” and promoting your “brand” as a GM. In the context of players-as-fans, as Patrick originally framed his case for gratitude, thinking in terms of branding and customer service is probably not a bad way of considering it.

When someone goes into a store they may be thanked for coming in to shop, whether or not they make a purchase. It gives the prospective customer the sense that the store is warm and friendly, and if they don’t make a purchase this time the store’s courtesy has increased the chances the customer will come back and make a purchase in the future. If the store instead gives the customer an attitude of indifference or, worse, aloofness until the customer commits to making a purchase, that store won’t be in business for long.

It improves my reputation as a GM to be polite and courteous, and yes, grateful to the people who play with me. It redounds to my benefit. In a competitive sense, between a good GM who is always warm and friendly and glad I came, and a great GM who is indifferent or cold or gets surly if I’m not sufficiently generous with praise for his excellent GM’ing — I’ll take the former every time. I expect others to have the same sense of it, so I’d rather be the latter as well.

Neither “branding” nor “merit” are perfect contexts for this discussion, however. Playing RPG’s are entirely a recreational and social affair. Returning to the question of merit, I’m quite sure that society will not crumble if we all started being nice to each other when we’re engaged in liesure activities and social interactions. Merit and achievement are appropriate for education and work, sure. Perhaps if this were about whether or not someone should win the blue ribbon (or more appropriate to your issue, a honorable mention just for showing up) in the science fair, or a raise at work, or a scholarship for school, I would agree with you that our society has some issues to deal with. Maybe even if we were talking about sports, I can see a case for a merit-based outlook.

Playing RPG’s, however, is a collaborative activity. It’s cooperative. We are not concerned with individual achievement here (or we certainly shouldn’t be, I would argue.) We’re gathering together around a game for fun and socialization. Let’s not, then, get carried away with who owes what to whom.

It’s simply the case, and I think this is what Patrick was getting at, as the GM has the most invested in any game session, he/she has the most to gain from expressing gratitude to those others who have come to play. As the fulcrum for the group, he/she has the most incentive to ensure the players not only get good GM’ing, but also that the players feel welcome and appreciated.

I study behavioral economics a bit, and a little game theory (as in, the mathematical science that relates to human behavior.) The science backs Patrick up. It’s the science that backs up Dale Carnegie’s intuition, if you know who he was. You are more likely to get thanked by your players if you thank them first. The more you thank them, the more they will return the thanks. Individuals may vary, but the more you give the more you get. And that’s science, not platitudes.

Overall you will get more satisfaction from GM’ing the more you let your players know that you like them and you are interested in them as individuals. Even if you don’t like them much or you aren’t very interested, you will be rewarded for trying to like them more and trying to be more interested.

Those writers, publishers, and other luminaries Patrick was alluding to, they all know this, so they make time for their fans like Patrick, and they show interest in him and thank him for being a fan. GM’s have the same reasons to be nice.

#20 Comment By lordbyte On August 13, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

@kwixson well then that’s where I agree to disagree. I will appreciate those that deserve appreciation. Otherwise I just cheapen the very act of giving thanks if it’s not deserved.
I hate walking into a shop where they feign interest with fake smiles and greetings. A heartfelt greeting will be answered in kind, but I rather have someone who’s authentic to me.
I worked in many customer service positions myself and I felt clients appreciated me more being upfront and real than the fake one that follows procedure.

#21 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 13, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

[13] – Well said. Excellent point about the science backing the article up. My degree is in Behavioral Science, and even though I work in IT what I learned about how people act (especially in groups) has given me a huge advantage in my career. It isn’t enough to just know the technology. You have to know how people react and interact with the technology as well.

[14] – Your experience is one valid interpretation of such situations. Successful sales and customer service professionals that I work with would interpret it differently: You greet that person for entering your establishment, because you want them to know that you value their time. Even if they don’t purchase anything, they did decide to spend some of the one resource that they will never replenish with you. That is their time. They will never get the five minutes that they spent in your shop back. Ever. Time has value far greater than money, and you can never get a loan for more of it.

Being up front and honest is a quality that I appreciate with retailers, vendors, and sales people. Greeting a person is a common courtesy though, and if you do not greet me it shows me three things immediately:

1) You can’t bother to make the minimal amount of effort to start off our relationship on the right foot. I doubt that you will put forth extra effort in the future once you have my business.
2) You choose to see me as potential cash. Fine. You have failed to show me that you are interested in me, and why I might be visiting your business. Even if you know how to solve my problem you can’t, because you do not have the skills needed to extract that information from me.
3) You do not care about your business. Your first priority is to make a profit. At zero cost to you a greeting might lead to profit. You did not even initiate a zero risk tactic that can help you achieve your first priority. If you don’t care about your business, then it is obviously nothing that I should care about either.

Thank you, lordbyte, because your comments have helped to expand my original article via what you and others have said. I believe that your approach is not the best one, but by expressing your dissent for my approach I and others have had the chance to defend this article. I believe that we have collectively show how powerful gratitude is when a GM shows it to his or her players.

#22 Comment By lordbyte On August 14, 2011 @ 7:16 am

Glad to have been of service.

I didn’t say I didn’t greet customers, as I’ve said before that’s basic politeness. I did make sure that I never feigned interest, faked smiles or layered it on. A rude customer, wouldn’t get a chewing out, no I’d go icy cold super polite on them. While I never took any formal education towards behavioural psychology, I am blessed with pretty decent people-reading skills. I never faked information to get something sold, I’ve always been honest, even though that would go against my business (never did sales, all technical, but I helped quite some sales along by being honest).
If there’s one thing you cannot replenish in life it’s your honour. You want to replenish time? Travel faster 🙂

To return to gaming:

Basic politeness is a non sequitur. You don’t have that you won’t have a game (for long).

I do not agree with thanking people for being there, I thank people who have made an effort (though for some being there was an effort), be it by a straight thank you, or in other ways. That’s the only point I tried to make.

#23 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 14, 2011 @ 9:23 am

[15] – Understood. The point that you intended to make was most likely overshadowed by opening remarks like “What the shit?” and “My players thank ME!” Please forgive me for needing more feedback and clarity on your part in order to understand the exact point that you were trying to make. I hope that you understand why it was not obvious to me from the very beginning.