DM Tip #13: Don’t Play Favorites
This is a trap a lot of DM’s fall into. It might be a family member or your best friend, or it might be someone that is simply more engaged than the rest of the players, but you need to avoid playing favorites, and, much harder, avoid looking like you are playing favorites. Remember that everyone at the table is there to have fun, and that quickly becomes less fun for the majority if it is always the same person that kills the big bad boss, gets the best treasure, or rescues the kidnapped prince.
You also need to avoid the opposite as well: treating someone harsher to avoid looking like you are playing favorites. Confused yet? There is such a fine line you need to walk as a DM at times, and it can be a bit nerve wracking. The number one rule is that if the players start to complain, you need to address that as soon as possible. It isn’t something that should be done during the game, and if possible, you will want to talk to people privately. You can derail an entire group if it starts to become one person suddenly becoming the target of everyone else’s grievances due to either real or believed favoritism.
If it does come up, treat everyone’s concerns with respect. You may have been playing favorites without realizing it, or perhaps you just thought it would be nice to give your sister a little extra treasure or your husband that magical sword he’s been wanting. Make them earn it just like everyone else. The best course of action if favoritism does pop up in your game is course correct. If players have brought it up, apologize, do better, and move on. Do not try to shift the blame to the player that was thought to be a favorite of yours. You are the DM, what happens at the table is all under your authority. That includes mistakes, so own them.
The hardest notion of playing favorites is when you have that one player that is much more engaged than the rest of the table. That is your cue as the DM, and thus the game’s leader, to try to get those less engaged players more in the swing of them game. It won’t always work, and you shouldn’t force a player that prefers to be more of an observer to take center stage. But, you do want to make sure that everyone that wants some time in the limelight can achieve that. Have a thief that prefers sulking in shadows, give them a special puzzle that only they can solve. Have that character that never seems to make that perfect attack when it is needed most, give them a short time bonus or advantage on a roll. Now, you might think that doing things like that is exactly what I just told you not to do, but it really isn’t if it is done in the spirit of balancing the fun so everyone gets a piece of it.
This is one issue that nearly every DM has experienced at their table. How you handle it will play a huge part in how well the group sticks together going forward.
Just remember the key element to a good role playing game, everyone is there to have fun.