DMing 101 – Players

 

In DMing 101 I’ll be giving generalized advice on how to run a tabletop role-playing game. The articles will not presume any knowledge, except being able to read. And maybe knowing what dice are. And paper. And a computer. Maybe some other stuff. I’ll also presume that you can remember that DM means Dungeon Master. Some people call it a Game Master or GM, but I don’t. Suck it up.

There are a few quick start guides on how to DM out there, but DMing 101 will offer a fairly easy set of tips that a novice can follow to make his/her games something truly memorable.

DMing101

Players

The hardest part about your job is the players. Presented with a world without consequences your so-called friends will reveal themselves as the lunatic genocidal maniacs that they hide for the other six days of the week, so how are you supposed to deal with these mental-ward-escapees?

The best intentioned of players are still dangerous sociopaths
The best intentioned of players are still dangerous sociopaths

Protagonists

When building their characters it’s worth talking to each of your players to gauge what kind of people they’re creating. Consider their motives, why have they taken to a life of adventure, who or what do they hold valuable, and what kind of quest might drive them forward? These can help you tailor your story and quests to give your players a personal connection. Perhaps add people from their character’s background to your NPC pool, or devise a scene that mimics a moment of their history.

There’s nothing wrong with imposing a few restrictions on your players characters, after all you’ve already imposed one by setting the genre, what use is an internet hacker in medieval Germany after all? If you feel it necessary there’s no reason not to ask your players to take certain conditions into account when writing their characters. Take these for example:

  • Your character is in prison. Why?
  • You were all raised in a monastery. What did you study, and how did you feel about your training?
  • You need lots of money. Why are you so desperate?

A few simple guiding notes like these can help you get a campaign started, or set a theme throughout. You can, if you feel you need to, ban certain classes/races or even entire rule-expansion books for the purposes of keeping your players in keeping with your world, but be careful not to over-restrict them. Your group will want to make their character, their way, not just play your storybook.

PvP

Maybe should have mentioned this in my first DMing 101 article. If you haven’t read it yet, do so now, then add this to the list:

Rule 5: Keep it away from the table! You’re people, you argue, you disagree. Your characters are much the same, but it’s important to remember that your disagreements are not theirs, and vice versa. It’s bad gaming to pick on a character because her player owes you £20, and it’s just as bad to hold a grudge against your DM because your character broke his own legs by accident (Mike!) so do your best to separate life and game. If your differences are insurmountable, it may be time for someone to leave the group.

With that firmly in mind, I actively encourage you to pitch your players against one another! Amazing things can happen when players find their characters directly at odds with another member of the group, and when their motives clash. It’s not a lot of fun when one character habitually steals from the rest of the party, but suppose two players have need of a single unique item. Who gets to use it? Whose need is greater, and how do you decide?

All the time with you people
All the time with you people

As a prime example (from a game I once ran) a paladin of the god of war disagreed with the dwarf-fighter’s decision to kill a woman driven to violent insanity by a consumptive plague. While she was barely capable of damaging the heavily armoured party members, the dwarf thought it was a kinder thing to put the woman out of her misery before she caused herself more pain, but the paladin felt that her death was dishonourable as she was unarmed and unaware of her actions. The resultant argument was one of my prouder moments at the gaming table.

Party Management

Of course, life will inevitably get in the way. Players will come and players will go, and one of the hardest things to do is to write their characters in and out of your campaign without it seeming too jarring. Writing a player out can be fairly simple, they could have engaged in a personal quest, or disappeared into a deep bottle a couple of towns back. Who knows, one day that character could come back in a blaze of glory.

A new character is best introduced as part of a scene, introducing them mid-action, or perhaps having the rest of the group stumble across a scene in-progress that’s part of the new characters story. Perhaps the new character comes with a new quest of his or her own, or (by prior arrangement with the player) forms part of another character’s quest, or directly influences a larger storyline.

My own particular group of genocidal maniacs. Mike (co-owner of Quotesfromthetabletop.net), Dey, Sarah, Nathan, Alan, and Giles (with his eyes shut because there's always one)
My own particular group of genocidal maniacs. From left to right: Mike (co-owner of Quotesfromthetabletop.net), Dey, Sarah, Nathan, Alan, and Giles (with his eyes shut because there’s always one)

NEXT WEEK I will be bringing together all the advice I’ve given so far into a mini-campaign, but so that you guys know I’m not cheating and using an old campaign, you guys are going to write it for me!

If you haven’t liked GOSW on Facebook yet, you may want to do so today. The first comment on the link to this post sets the genre, and the next five comments write characters that I’ll tailor the adventure to. For those of you interested, here’s your character sheet:

CHARACTER NAME
BACKGROUND – e.g. Ex-soldier turned thief, Orphan raised by university
COMBAT STYLE – Are you the armoured front-liner? Sniper? Utility spell caster?
MOTIVATION – Are you driven by greed, vengeance, glory?

Keep your answers short and sweet, no longer than 5 words each, and let’s see what we come up with!

UPDATE – The genre is Sci-fi noir, and all character spaces are taken!


My name is Joel (Terra_Phi most places) and I am an experienced DM of nearly 7 years. I also run a site called Quotesfromthetabletop.net with a friend of mine who’s much better at site-building than I am. If you’re interested in getting into tabletop role-playing, our site is full of good reasons, all the stupid and brilliant quotes and stories that could only ever happen at the table

23 thoughts on “DMing 101 – Players”

    1. I allow Paladins of any alignment. Much more fun, AND it looks like D&D 5th edition will have rule support for them all to make them individual.

      Care to give me a character ready for next week?

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  1. I have a problem, and I would like your input on it.

    Me and my group have been playing every week for several years now. So we’re all experienced for better or for worse.

    My girlfriend took to tabletop RPGs really well, but she’s the type of player to get offended if something happens to her character or she feels dicked over in any way. Obviously, this sucks, but I can’t just let her not play. Playing these various games is a big part of my life that I’d like to share, but talking about it normally leads to arguments. So I’m kind of stuck, and people are less inclined to DM.

    How do you deal with players like that? Do you just ask them not to play anymore? Any advice for my situation?

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    1. That’s a tough one. Often the best solution is to leave that player be, but there are other options. Try screwing over everyone at once every so often. Once she gets used to the even handed treatment she might feel less picked on and more connected to the rest of the party (united in suffering sort of thing).
      If you can arrange it so that any amount of suffering her character goes through is at the beginning of a session and try to end it on rewards that might leave her feeling more positive too.

      Difficult situation, but I hope that helps. If not, it might be time to ask her, not to leave, but to really consider whether or not she’s enjoying herself at the table

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  2. You’re very welcome. Another idea springs to mind though, has she ever DM’d a game herself? It might help her to see things from the other side

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  3. Here’s a character for you :3

    CHARACTER NAME – Sir Isaac Schnicklesnap
    BACKGROUND – Self-proclaimed sir, actually poor.
    COMBAT STYLE – Mind control and deception
    MOTIVATION – Lust for status and power

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