Welcome the last part of this series on helping DMs recognize what motivates their players to play RPGs and how they can make sure both DMs and players find what they seek. After the introduction in part one, I discussed how DMs can tweak adventure to address Power Gaming, Butt-Kicking and Tactics in part two. Part three was about Specialty, Method Acting and Storytelling. This last part will talk about Lurking and Instigating. As a bonus, I’ll talk briefly about a my persistant pet-peeve, the Selfish player.
Watchers and Lurkers are easy to cater to, they are there to hang with friends and groove with the others, regardless of the activity. Your effort to meet their needs should not so much focus at the gaming table as around it.
If you suspect that lurkers hide under your table, you should
- Keep the game on the lighter side of serious as you won’t likely get very deep commitment in the early sessions.
- Allow some “social unwinding” time before the game. Let players catch up with each others and chat about movies, hobbies, families, etc. You should also plan a few breaks during the game to allow such players to hang out without having to focus on the game all the time.
- Be tolerant of the use of electronic devices, lack of focus or occasional out of game geeky conversations.
- Be on the lookout for the evolution of the players, many stop lurking with time and become motivated by other aspects of the game.
- Call on the players to take an active role, decision or a leadership position unless the player requested it.
- Enforce strict adherence to table rules like speaking in characters or razor-sharp focus during combat. Please avoid any “you snooze, you lose” attitudes.
- Encourage players with more dominant personalities to dictate, or more importantly, berate lurking players into adopting efficient tactics. Some lurkers are very comfortable doing basic attacks all session long*
The instigator is the nemesis of many DMs, always on the lookout for the one element that will unravel the DM’s carefully crafted plan. Just ask my friend Yan when I once managed to reach the end of a battlemap with my barbarian 1 round before it was scripted to explode and destroy a dragon’s hoard. Yet an instigator can also be your best ally to make things move at a healthy, breathtaking pace.
When players make you go “hmmm”, you should
- Provide lots of hooks, clues, levers, buttons and figurative “Do Not Open” or “Don’t You Dare Touch This” signs all over your adventures
- Put seemingly crazy dangerous elements in some encounters that end up saving everyone’s bacon when triggered
- Be ready to have the social boundaries of the gaming group challenged. Stand as guardian of what is or isn’t acceptable behavior at the table
You should not
- Treat instigators as enemies of your game. Instead harness their energy and impulsiveness to drive the action
- Put dungeon combat encounters too close to each other so the instigator “accidentally” triggers them all at the same time
- Prevent the actions of players from changing the planned outcome of an adventure, instigators will resent it
Bonus Content: The Selfish Player
A fellow reader left a comment on a previous post about another category of player: One that exploits the game to his own advantage. I tend to put such players in the same bin as those who hog the spotlight, argue endlessly to extract advantages for their PCs and generally are complete and total dicks. I think these shamelessly selfish players are the most toxic, fun-killing people you can have around a table, on both sides of the screen.
I wrote a very virulent post on them a while back. Were I to re-write it, I would likely be more diplomatic but my fundamental belief about dealing with them remains the same: don’t tolerate overly selfish behaviors at the table and kick recidivist out of your game ASAP.
But What About my Fun?
As I mentioned back in Part One, the key here is to marry your own style, which very likely overlaps with a few of your players, with that of the others by adding elements to encounters. Don’t overdo it and don’t try to please all players at the same time, therein lies madness and frustration for all. Rather, hit one player’s motivation here, two there and try as much as possible to cover everyone over the period of two sessions. This will improve your players’ enjoyment of the game tremendously and will lower the chances of your campaign fizzling out.
Here’s one last piece of advice, try to become more of a Lurker/Watcher yourself. You derive fun from creating worlds, fighting battles, building complex encounters and such. You can however derive true satisfaction by facilitating your players’ fun. Witness how much pride and joy they get from overcoming your challenging encounters and interacting with your rich story hooks. I’ve had moments of pure joy where my players were deep deep in character for long minutes and all I had to do was observe them, arms crossed behind my head, nodding as they excitedly planned for the next scene.
Thanks for reading.
**I’ve found that many of the simpler basic attack -driven D&D Essential classes like the rogue and the fighter were great for lurking players.