You are here

Players - What Makes Them Tick?


Everyone loves a good story. It's what great DM's eat for breakfast. The stories we write, in a way, reveal to our audience (ie, our players) who we are and what we stand for in this life. The critical path of great stories is the development of empathy, and understanding, of the story's central participants and their varied circumstances. A good story takes us out of our own lives and puts us in someone elses' lives and allows us to come away with a greater understanding of ourselves in the process. But everyone finds their own meaning differently through the myriad of characters portrayed therein, and not always necessarily from the Protagonist, ie: "good guy." We sometimes like a movie, or a book, because of the bad guy. The bad guy helps us to define more clearly why we--for the most part--continue to stay and be good, for he is one more example of what we must never become. (Or, if you're bad yourself, the bad guy allows you to relate to someone.)

So what makes a story . . . "good?" As I have come to learn posting untold posts across varying boards, everyone has a different opinion about everything, heh, including what it means to be good. For a story to be good for a wide range of people, it has to have characteristics that almost anyone can relate to and understand: love, loss, revenge, tragedy, triumph, etc... And it has to make you care about what you're doing. If you're going to DM a game for a mass of people you don't know (like players matched on the service), the story you write will have to be more about the NPCs in the game (these the DM knows) then it can be about the players! Yes, for the most part, you can guess what the players will like: experience, loot, challenging and intelligent combat, etc... but this obvious stuff wasn't the point of my writing this. I'm talking about being able to reach down past all the obvious needs and write stories that touch the person playing and will leave a lasting impression. For Chapter games, the DM will be able to write stories that focus more directly around the actions of the player characters, enabling them to achieve a much higher degree of immersion into their worlds. The story itself can become entwined around all who play, taking sudden veering twists, inspiring new feats of creativity from the DM. Little is better for us DM's then when we reach down into ourselves and pull up a gem of creativity based on a player-spawned Plot twist!

For Chapter games, I believe it is important to take a little bit of time and get to know those who will be playing in your game; to learn what makes them tick. Even if they are old buddies but you haven't asked before, take a moment and ask them why they play the game; them not their character! Some will reveal they play the game to become something different then they are in the real world; some play to become more idealized, better, versions of their present self. Some play just for the social aspects of friends getting together, while others play to gain loot and treasure or just to accumulate the best magic items the game can offer. Some play to gain prestige or fame (in-game), while others seek to feel that they are making a difference somewhere.

To be able to give each player what they want, you have to know what that is! I'm not saying you have to give their desires to them on silver platter, far from it. :) A good story needs suspense, and as the previous DM Article illustrated so well, a story is made only better when a goal for which a player seeks is threatened by internal conflict(s). There has to be a real chance for failure, as well, failure the players come to know is going to be real in your game, or else all subsequent struggles will lose the intensity they might have had. The players can't think the DM is going to be their friend. They have to understand from day one what makes the DM tick as well, and for the most part while running the game your job should be neutral and impartial. The part of the DM that is "their friend" existed in writing this session's story, in involving them in it, in bringing them in to your world and your circumstances and making them feel something they will hopefully remember a long way down the road.

Maybe I'm too ambitious for my own good, but I don't think so. I speak from experience here, not as a brag, but as a few random moments of pride I carry with me. They are what drive me to continue on as a DM. I have had players laugh until they were blue in the face, and player that have wept, however quickly hidden from the other players. (I too have wept, when players surprised me.) I have had roleplaying moments where players had to stop me to tell me how stunned they were of my acting and how cool that last 'bit' was. I've had moments, as I'm sure so many of you've had too, that live with me even now, hilarious moments that live on in us as a sub-culture and only we know what we're even talking about. It's good stuff. . . And all of this from understanding my players' external motivations for playing.

If you don't know what it is that I'm talking about, I only have a final bit of advice: empathy! Remember empathy, if nothing else. Almost everyone wants to be understood, accepted, praised for who they are, real OR invented. You may not like the evil or dastardly character a PC in your game is roleplaying, but if you continue to reward him for playing IN-character well, he will remember your understanding . . . forever.

Thanks, friends. Take care.


Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
  • up
  • down