It’s easy to see a role-playing game as a one-way street; the flow of information is generally from GM to players. But the GM should also be collecting information on his players and their characters. If you’re paying attention to your players, you can really make the game fun for them.

After all, the players are your primary audience. They’re also your opponents. You should go into each session with a solid idea of what they want, and what they are capable of.

How? Glad you asked…

Listen to your players

  • Ask your players what they’d like to see more or less of. If they won’t commit to something (and many gamers won’t), ask them what their favorite event or scene is. Least-favorite?
  • Talk to your players outside the game to see what they’re interested in doing, both individually and as a group.
  • Follow the conversations of your players as they discuss the game. You can not only find out what they’re expecting, but more importantly, you can find out what they’re not expecting.
  • Make a note when Alice mentions that she hasn’t had much opportunity to use her social skills, or when Bob gripes that his area-effect attacks are useless against the string of solo opponents you’ve pitted against them.

Read their character sheets

Keep updated copies of your players’ character sheets, and study them

  • If you know what your player’s characters are capable of, you should have a good guesstimate of their chance of success against tonight’s foes.
  • Players love the spotlight. Give each of them the opportunity occasionally with a tailor-made encounter in which his or her character can shine. Let the fire-mage annihilate legions of ice devils, or let the burglar burgle.
  • Put some excitement in your players’ lives by exploiting their weaknesses. Dominate the tank, or grapple the mage.
  • Scan their little-used skills and occasionally make sure they get to use them. Players will often select a skill because they want to use it, or because it fits their concept of the character. Throw in an opportunity for the triathlete to swim, or for the barbarian to intimidate a mess of bandits.
  • Re-read their background stories. Is there a character mentioned who can fill a role in your campaign world? Is there a mystery or unresolved conflict you can exploit? Players love it when they are part of the world, instead of just inflicted upon it.

Got any more ideas for learning about your players or their characters? Care to share any experiences where a GM showed that he or she was paying attention to the PCs? Sound off in the comments and let us know!