If there’s a Treasure Tables philosophy (as longtime reader John Arcadian suggests that there is), then this is its cornerstone — number one with a bullet, a gold star and a chorus of angels playing little trumpets:
Always put your players first.
Don’t ignore your own fun, but apart from that let this be your touchstone. Whenever you have to make a game-related decision, ask yourself what would be the most fun for your players — and then do that. When your players are having fun, 99% of the time you, as the GM, will also be having fun.
If this sounds obvious, then rock on. It should be obvious, but it isn’t always — and yet nearly everything you do as a GM should flow either from this principle or towards this goal. For example, leading with the cool stuff, keeping your players’ flashlight beam in mind and using the encounter formula all come back to putting your players first.
In fact, it’s time to update my maxims for GMs with this one, plus a couple of others that have emerged over the past two years:
- Always put your players first.
- Be confident.
- Make mistakes.
- Never stop learning how to be a better GM.
- When you run games, try new things.
- Learn from both sides of the screen.
Sounds like a good motto for the site. One of my revelations in GMing was realizing that I had the responsibility to enable and promote the players’ enjoyment of the game.
BUT (and you knew I was going to say that), this doesn’t mean to put the characters first. Monty Haulism is alive and well, although I see it more often as “player character exceptionalism”. The PCs are unique and usually powerful individuals, but that doesn’t mean that the world revolves around them.
I see putting players first, meaning the GROUP as a whole.
Individual players’ needs still must come second to the requirements of those assembled.
Tricky balancing act, that. I mean, if you tell some players that a DM puts players first — the immediate reaction is “Great, then he has to please ME!” — and that’s not what that means at all.
Like most truisms, this one has complex inner workings depending on the situation.
Seems to me that going for constant rock-star adrenaline-pumping blast-offs will lead to burn-out. …and boredom, oddly enough. There is a certain logic to fronting short-term frustration and angst in order to make the impending contrast of success all the more sweet.
The trick is figuring out how much frustration to add without ruining the whole batch of cookies.
Agreed, the trick to truly enjoy being a DM is to enjoy seeing your players having fun.
When you find yourself on the edge of your seat, anxious to see the players overcome your latest challenge, and share with them the release of tension caused by success, you’ve attained DMing Nirvana.
I try to help my players have fun, sometimes to excess. (I can tell when this happens because they start asking me to lay off the caffeine and sugar. Some of the things I have done to help my players have fun:
1. Buy and paint an individual mini for everyone.
2. Sketch everyone’s character for them and post the drawings etc. to a website devoted to the game.
3. Write a dozen pages of story after each session. (No, seriously, see some of my session write ups on my blog.)
I think this should apply to players no less than the GM. As a *player* you should also make a point of playing so that *everyone* can have fun. How can you have fun if you make the other players miserable?
Your point is perfect. I know that the group that’s currently forming was encouraged by playing Spirit of the Century as our first game together… a whole lot of getting to feel cool makes people you want to see again.
Telas: I agree: players, not necessarily characters.
Carolina: Yep, I meant players collectively. Individual players should come first when they get spotlight time, or when specific concerns need to be addressed, but the bulk of the time it’s very much a group thing.
Jennifer: I dig your write-ups (and your player-pampering sounds awesome!), but no fair being a tease about the minis! Do you have photos you can share?
No mini pictures, sorry, my current game is online and involves no minis. Plus I’m a mediocre painter at best, but I was the only one in my group at the time that would do it, so I did it. 🙂
Cool advice. Solidly in the “well, d’uh!” category, but it bears reminding since there are still members even in this community that think handling this is well done with the attitude “players can vote with their feet if they don’t like it”.
I’ve always struggled with the “players first” maxim. The issue that I have is that players may demand things to satisfy them (either as individuals or as a group) that the GM does NOT find fun. Another issue is GMs overstriving.
If the GM neglects his own fun, then the campaign is eventually doomed. And if the players don’t accept that the GM needs to have fun, well, that’s just bad.
While â€œplayers can vote with their feet if they donâ€™t like itâ€ may seem crass, it actually is a good maxim. But that doen’t give the GM unlimited license. The GM needs to consider the upsides and downsides of this. Make the game too unfun for the players, and they will vote with their feet (and will spread the word if things are really bad). GMing isn’t very fun if you have no players. The players also need to consider this maxim, if they don’t like the game, and a conversation with the GM doesn’t lead to improvement, then it’s time to vote with your feet.
I agree completely. I’ve played in games where the DM’s first priority is his ego and the second is realism. He can plan good encounters and adventures, but the campaign always ends up sucking because there’s this awful vibe in the air. Not to mention all the character deaths when the high level NPCs stop making excuses not to kill players.
Whenever I run a game, I use what I call the “One Piece” formula. I figure out what my audience likes then inject it into their bloodstream. The first Shadowrun mission I ran was supposed to be mostly role-playing. My players ran in guns blazing. From then on I’ve been figuring out new and creative ways my players can shoot people, and everybody’s happy.
The players have won every single mission so far, with no casualities, with cash prizes several times higher than recommended by the book. But it doesn’t get boring or Monty Haulish. Instead they can get attached to their characters, and I make them work for their prizes. My GMing style is a very simple philosophy that is incredibly effective at keeping people’s attention.