Content of the article: "Preventing strife, when I switch from DMing the characters to speaking to the players."
I am sure most of us have been there. A player has their character perform an action and your first thought as a DM ranges from "this is bad for this player" to "this is bad for the group" to "this is just downright terrible for the game as a whole."
Novice DMs often try to resolve these actions solely within the game, almost like they are playing a video game on Iron Man mode and saving/reloading would ruin the experience. Some common solutions are to "let it play out" and "if they die, they die." Another common solution will be to brute force a solution through an NPC, a magic item, a curse or something similar. The theme to this second solution is it robs the players of choice and puts them back on track.
My principle assertion: it is appropriate and necessary to break out of the game and speak directly to the players to resolve / prevent a problem. This rests on several principles:
- the DM is a player too and should have fun
- the game is a collaboration of multiple people at the table and everyone should have fun every session in a reasonably consistent manner
- everyone deserves a reasonable amount of time and attention every game session
- everyone has the right to have the game take place within their comfort zone as discussed in session 0
- everyone there wants everyone to have fun. You don't have a 'bad apple' in the bunch. If you do, it may be as simple as asking the bad apple to leave.
So lets start with some obvious places where you should switch from DMing the character(s) to speaking to the player(s):
- If the character's actions will lead to a lot of wasted time then speak to the player. By wasted I mean lots of work and dice rolls and none of it furthers the story in a meaningful way.
- If the character's actions hog the spotlight for too long. I don't strictly divide the time, but keep an eye on talk time. If one person is talking for 2 hours, DM for 1 hour and then the other 4 players get 15 minutes each, you need to speak to the player.
- If the character's actions sabotage the game in a harmful way. You know this is coming when the old "but my character would do that" phrase is uttered.
- If the character's actions break one of the agreed upon session 0 principles. I do not like having children die on camera in my games. I avoid allowing the situation to come up but if a player goes out of their way to do this, it's time to talk to them, not DM for them.
How to do it?
If you think its a quick lapse in judgement that is easily resolved try calling the person by their name, to help them understand you are not speaking to their character, and give them a quick nudge. "Hey, remember in session zero we decided no pvp combat."
If you think the player will feel called out, hit pause on the game and ask for some time to think about what to do next. In between sessions, speak to the person privately. Ask them about their feelings and try to figure out what is going on. This works best when the session is at a natural breaking point and it isn't too early. This is rough to use if the situation is coming up early in the night. If necessary, you can ask the player to delay their action till next time and then speak to them between games. "Can we come back to this later? I need some time to prep."
If you think the player will be ok with discussing what is happening in front of everyone then take a moment to clearly state that you want to talk to the players out of character. Make sure everyone understands that this is not an in game discussion. Then simply state what you think is going on and ask questions you do not know the answer to in order to find out what is happening. Some ideas for questions:
- "How do you think everyone will feel if we keep going down this path?"
- "How does this make the story more fun?"
- "I sense that there is some discomfort around (action). Do I understand your intent correctly? (listen) Do you think there is another way to do this that is better for the group?"
- Dealing with careless players
- It’s what my world would do
- Outside Perspective on My Frustrations as a Player
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