All successful art is aimed directly at its audience. Whether the goal is to please, challenge, offend, or just create controversy, the artist has to know his or her audience in order to effectively evoke the desired response.
This goes for GMs as well. Luckily, our audience is pretty small, and we get to talk to them on a regular basis. We usually get immediate feedback, both positive and negative. And we usually have the flexibility to change things on the fly (unlike, say, a sculptor or an architect).
So, how well do you know your players, both collectively and individually? What do they want from a game? What don’t they want? Do you just know what they’ve said publicly, or also what they don’t necessarily talk about? How much can you can push them before they start pushing back? Do you know how they’ll react to the unexpected? Anything I missed? Sound off and let us know!
I would add that even if you game with good friends. Knowing them as friends — and knowing them as rolelayers — can sometimes be two different things.
Our group, in fact, recently did a quick roundtable on others’ perceptions of the others’ PC tendencies. It was an enlightening exercise on how other people see character portrayal.
@Troy E. Taylor – Having a roundtable is a great idea.
In my current game, I know two of the players well, but one I don’t know too well. He’s only just joined us, and he’s only had 1 game session so far.
I think trust is a really big factor in the GM/Player dynamic. If there’s trust there, the GM can really push and the players will know (or trust) that it won’t be overkill or antagonistic. Without trust, the line becomes less defined and there’s a great deal less flexibility.
I think it is important to have player buy in for a campaign/system proposals. I’d really love to run a Star Trek game but I could probably get buy in from only two out of four players. So I don’t run Star Trek.
We also know that two members of our “audience” don’t care much for the cyberpunk genre so we don’t play Shadowrun as a regular game.
While I might get interest in a super hero game like Mutants & Masterminds, I haven’t really come up with any good ideas for it and so I don’t go there.
Just as a GM must know the collective audience, he must also make sure to include himself in that analysis.
Having compatible interests, in both systems and settings, along with playstyles and desires, are really important to maximize the potential in any group. That is why groups should form a mission statement just like most corporations have. And this should happen before any dice hit the table.
My players in my regular games are all close friends, so I’ve gotten to know their playstyles and personalities pretty well. However, I also run a lot of convention games, and everyone I talk to at a convention game is usually a complete stranger (or an acquaintance), so it takes a little more to find out their gaming styles. I usually start by asking what each players favorite play moment was, and try to gauge something from there.
Great thought provoking short article!
In the groups I play in, I effectively only know them from our play time together. Two groups are tabletop, and the others are play-by-post. I DM two and play in the rest.
The two tabletop groups I play in formed because everyone involved just wanted to play. Thus the details of play were glossed over. We had a couple guys join then drop out when they realized that some dynamic wasn’t to their taste. The guys who’ve been on long-term are all fairly easy-going, so we tend to look past minor annoyances in the interests of having a game to plat at all.
For my PbP games, there was an application/review/accept procedure for each game. For the one I’m DMing, I took general apps at first, but then added additional requirements for the potential players to find folks who I thought were the best match for what I wanted from the game. So far it’s working out well, though I’ve found that now that summer has hit, posting rates have dropped off. 🙁
It’s very easy to GM for “you as a player”. Talking to people and giving feedback is a good way to keep the game going strong. Though some GMs aren’t big fans of critical feedback– that’s a good thing to figure out too.
@Rafe – Excellent point. Trust is huge, especially for anyone who’s ever gamed with an abusive GM or abusive players. I would hazard a guess that a lot of the “empowering players” trend that we’ve seen in mainstream gaming comes from trying to neutralize the abusive GM.
@brcarl – “…everyone involved just wanted to play.”
You hit the #1 problem (IMHO) with most gaming groups. Can you imagine if we went to the park to play ball, and everyone tried to play a different game? Even something as agreed-upon as “touch football” needs some clarification: How many hands, how much contact, field boundaries, rushing rules, how much pass interference, etc.
That discussion HAS TO TAKE PLACE, or somebody will be disappointed.