Anyone who has ever had a “successful” roleplaying campaign generally can recall the times and personalities of their fellow players and Dungeon Masters (or Game Masters, Storytellers, etc.). I use the term “successful” meaning that the group as an entity stuck together through schedule changes, missing out on other events, and spending hours together around a table with pen and pencil playing as characters in a cooperative storytelling experience. The length of time varies and is truthfully irrelevant, what is important is the group works for the benefit of playing with each other and ignores the passage of time until they one day realize, “what have we’ve been playing together for 3 years now?” There also other kinds of successful groups: ones where the players happily reunite after months or years of separation to sit down and play a game together, ones where the group continues to play through online mediums like Skype or Roll20. My point is the group synergy never leaves even after a campaign is finished.
I spent nearly 5 years on and off with my players from my first D&D group when I started playing over a decade ago. Every few months or even years we would organize ourselves to play a one-shot campaign cooked up by one of the players who wanted to DM. I had offered my services from time to time as a co-DM for multi-session campaigns for our group since I had an encyclopedic memory of all source and supplementary materials for D&D 3.5 Edition rules, and including a fair memory of most Pathfinder material. Anyways, we would reconnect and spend anywhere from six to eight hours for a single fun night filled with insane combat and hilarious roleplaying moments. Once those games finished, we would return to our lives until another opportunity presented itself again when our schedules freed up. Nowadays I dungeon master for Team BAJA and recently a second group where the adventures take place in the Forgotten Realms.
There must be a reason why I’m writing this sort of article, as it is a departure from some of the articles I’ve previously written here. Well, I was talking to one of the players in the new group I starting DMing, this player informed me that on the day of our second session, they had contemplated about bowing out of the game but ultimately had a fun night roleplaying with friends and myself propagating their mischief and misadventures. I thought about what was said to me, I thought about Team BAJA since they are in fact my longest running campaign to date, beating my personal record by 6 months, and thought about my old D&D group as well. I realized that the greatest legacy from any D&D game is truly the memories shared between the people who play together, but their longevity as a group is defined by other elements. I thought back to the many different groups and experiences between them, and looked at the ones that were successful versus the ones that many preferred best forgotten. From there I extrapolated the few things that seemed to work well for me from those campaigns and groups.
Things that Worked for me as a Dungeon Master:
- Always listen to your players and ask about the sort of games they want or like to play (whether it be other roleplaying games or video games)
- Adjust to the group’s dynamics, there are groups that break into skits from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail and some that treat a game like the Lord of the Rings. Learn to read what the players are doing and adjust the style of the game accordingly. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
- You’re never going to make everyone happy, but compromise where you can and give the characters something to look forward in the future
- Saying “yes” is not always the correct, you’re allowed to say “no” too. Use “yes, but…” as a compromise.
- The DM is the final word for rules delegations but refer back to be adjusting for the players.
- Everyone is here to have some fun, so play into the vices and hilarity that ensues while mixing in moments of heroic importance
- Find a way to give a character a moment to shine, whether it be a scene or an encounter. It doesn’t have to be within a single session (unless you’re running a one-shot) but should always try to give everyone an opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the story.
- A DM has the sanctity to allow whomever they want to play at the table, listening to any concerns and problems that may arise from the players. BUT should only be a last resort when resolving issues that cannot be solved individually by the players.
- This a game, everyone has a stake in it. You’re not alone in your decisions. Everyone, including the Dungeon Master should always have fun together.
My own personal experiences with problems that arose either between players or even with myself as a DM to another player directed my thoughts to a general conclusion. Sometimes there are problems that arise within the players, whether it be obligations that the game interferes, scheduling issues, interpersonal disputes, and out-of-their-control (OOTC) events. I personally try to keep myself involved with my players, I do not need to know every facet of their lives but I like to check-in with them regarding life events. The largest concern for most DMs comes when you have disruptive elements such as disruptive players that may cause strife or discord within the group. Often times, if other players voice these concerns there may be a need for a DM to converse with the disruptive elements. Sometimes a compromise can be reached, other times they cannot and ultimately may be asked to leave the group. I’ve had some hard choices and experiences in that department even in my tenure, it’s never easy but sometimes a decision is needed and will be made. A Dungeon Master can be understandably frustrated during such times but sometimes it requires talking to your others players and getting feedback from them. The game is a group effort
I rarely find a Dungeon Master who goes out of their way to exclude an individual or group of people from playing Dungeons and Dragons (or most roleplaying games). There are exceptions of course, but I’m assuming a vast majority of Dungeon Masters tend to be inviting and welcoming of players. There are of course limitations, like the group size and its capacity-a common problem. Players and DMs who play together, who bond over the experience together, sometimes will want to share such joys and victories either together or with others. Since 5th Edition was released, the game’s audience exploded and there came sudden droves of new players and fans. These players needed DMs, there were many veteran DMs from D&D’s history who came to take up the mantle. Others became DMs for the very first time, learning the game along with their friends around a kitchen table. With the power of the Internet, new DMs can learn from various mediums from their own fellow DMs or even veterans of the game. The success of many D&D podcasts, YouTube shows, and Twitch shows has expressed the great love for the game, but also for the love of having stories being told and unveiled to them in real time. The sharing of stories is something primal and integral to the origins of humanity’s culture and roots, we are born to tell stories and sharing them is one of the greater joys of that experience.
Ultimately, just as the Dungeon Master has many things to consider to running a game session and a group; the players who participate also have their roles and contributions. Thanks to D&D entering a more mainstream platform, new players can learn from other players from podcasts and dozens of videos as well. Even if a group’s players doesn’t take this sort of initiative, there are still some rules of etiquette that sometimes need to be addressed or reminded.
Things Players should consider: (note: some of these were suggestions from my own players)
- Be respectful to your fellow players, and Dungeon Master. That includes respecting the idiosyncrasies of the characters but that does not excuse being rude or demeaning.
- Be attentive. It’s fine to have side conversations but don’t distract others from playing a scene. No one likes to be that one person who spends 20 minutes making a decision on a combat turn when they should have thought over a few options while waiting for their turn. Yes the situation can change, but that’s why between your turns you hopefully had enough time to think of a few options. If necessary, ask your DM. They are not always out to kill you, the monsters and enemies are but can still provide some useful tactical suggestions.
- Give everyone an opportunity to shine. Sometimes you need to let someone else do something or suggest something, sometimes those ideas are great.
- Respect the time your Dungeon Master puts into the game. Dungeon Masters often spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours on average to prepare for a game session.
- Communicate with your DM. They are sometimes the host, organizer, and spend a fair amount of time preparing for the sessions. Just make sure you communicate when problems or issues arise. Even if you don’t have an issue, communicating with your DM is always important.
- Respect your Dungeon Master’s ruling. If your DM has already given you the chance to plead your case, respect their ruling. Don’t argue with them, just like the referee from a sporting event, respect their decision even if it does not fit along what you desired. The role of a DM is not necessarily to counter your actions (though sometimes it may seem that way), they are here to balance the interpretations and rigidity of the rules with common sense.
These were some of the things my players over the years have either exhibited or told me seemed to have worked for either themselves or in the campaigns I’ve run for nearly a decade. Everything here is merely things to consider and not direct advice or even mandatory. I never believe that any of my advice or suggestions are anything more than that, everyone should take what works well for them and their group. Every group dynamic is different, what’s important is the need for adaptability and flexibility. As 2017 begins, we all face another year full of uncertainty and challenges. Some we will overcome, others will require more tenacity and resilience, and some we might find ourselves beaten, but ultimately we shall face them and together reach the finish line once more. I hope this article give some of the readers some point of inspiration or perhaps reminder of the things that matter when it comes to their group and playing this amazing game. I wish everyone the best in the upcoming year and let’s have some amazing stories and adventures ahead.
If you think there are some other tips or advice that has worked for you in the past, please post them in the comments section down below.
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I’ve had this trouble for years – folks just come and go, often disappear altogether, but such is the reality of things when you play online.
This should help, though. Thanks a bunch.
Playing D&D is always a group effort, people making compromises and adjustments accordingly. Communication is ultimately the key to success.
Definitely agreed, and I’ve made many good friends and we’ve managed to play together for years – albeit on-and-off – in spite of constantly changing schedules.
But then there are guys who just disappear without a word of warning. It happens, and it always depresses me.