DM Tip #6: Know your Players
This is probably one of the most important tips I can give, and it is the one that is too often ignored. You need to know your players. You don’t need to know everything about them as a person, but it is your duty to the game to understand what motivates each player to be in the game. What are they looking to get out of it? What are their boundaries? These are just a couple of the things you should learn about the people that sit at your table. You want people to have fun, but there may come times when you have to accept that perhaps the game you are playing isn’t going to fit what a player wants.
There are two ways to learn most of this information. One happens before play even begins, the other over a period of time. The first of these is getting to know anyone new that sits down at your table. Ask them a couple of questions. Are they more interested in the challenging fights and the treasure or do they want to solve puzzles and talk their way out of trouble. Now, in some ways you may be limited in what you can offer, particularly if you are running pregenerated material, but everything has some flexibility to it.
Don’t pick favorites. This means that you shouldn’t cater everything in your game to one specific player. Whenever possible you want to try and give each player a moment to shine in the game, something that fits their particular desires for playing the game in the first place. Sure, you and Bob may have played together for years, but if you neglect that person who is playing for the first time and just put on the Bob show, you may one day find yourself with no one else to play with.
Set boundaries and stick to them. This is one of the harder things to do. It is wise to set up some boundaries before each session of play, remember, we want this to be fun for everyone. If your game may touch on some darker subjects, talk to players before you begin to make sure everyone is comfortable with where things may go. Are you running a family friendly game where many of the players are children? Then you need to make sure any older players are on the same page and keep their own play in check with expectations.
Observe players every game. Watch and pay attention to how each player interacts with the game. Tanya may have said she wanted to solve puzzles, but as the game unfolds you are seeing that she is enjoying the rush of the battle more. If these are people you expect to play with more than once, take some notes. Look for what each player likes, what they don’t like, and where you can see they want to go but aren’t comfortable going there just yet.
If you know what your players want, you can craft a better game for everyone. This doesn’t mean they get everything they want, but you can make the game more enjoyable for all those involved. The game isn’t just about you, there is a table full of people that are here to have fun, and everyone enjoys different things, work with that.