You can never have too many tools, and with the release of the Dungeon Master's Guide II, you will find many more DM tools at your disposal! This book builds upon existing materials in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and you'll find all kinds of things inside that should help facilitate play, especially when you have very limited preparation time. Chapters include discussion on running a game, designing adventures, building and using prestige classes, and creating campaign settings. Ready-made game elements include instant traps, pre-generated locations, treasures, and a fully realized and rendered town. For more excerpts from this book, check out the May 2005 Preview.
Almost every problem a D&D group encounters boils down to a clash in tastes, compounded by a lack of communication between a DM and the players.
Sometimes DMs feel that their players are playing improperly or even incorrectly. These players prefer style X, but the DM prefers (or thinks the players ought to prefer) style Y. Sometimes the players want a DM to cater more to their wishes, but are rebuffed because the DM places her ideas about game style above the enjoyment of the players.
Throughout this chapter, concrete solutions have been provided that solve most minor problems in a group -- providing authority figures for the rabblerousers to rebel against, allowing supercool characters to be supercool, providing enemies for fight fans to vanquish. These examples are all ways of sharing a general piece of advice you might find useful: Don't fight your players' desires -- satisfy them.
Satisfying players does not mean giving away your game. Almost every player wants, over the long run, to be challenged. Power-hungry players might think they want you to immediately rocket them to 20th level, but the fun of that would last only a few moments. Through reasonable in-game effort, the players should be able to experience their chosen emotional thrills on a regular basis.
If you're working to balance all the players' tastes and still having a bad time, it's time to sit down and communicate directly with the players. You might have mistakenly identified your players' tastes.
Most players will be reluctant to offend you. They might be dissatisfied without being able to explain exactly why. Overcome this initial reluctance by asking indirect questions. Ask them to identify their favorite moments in your game, and the ones that stick out as unsatisfying. If they have had more fun in past campaigns or with another DM, get them to recount their positive experiences there. No matter how constructive it might be, criticism is tough to give and hard to take. By keeping the discussion specific but indirect, you can zero in on your players' true desires without recrimination or hurt feelings.
Any discussion involving the formation of a plan of action will include differences of opinion between players. When different opinions begin to result in hostility between players, you need to step in, calm flaring tempers, and mediate your way to a happy solution.
The best way to deal with disputes between players is to head them off before they start. Conflicts often arise if players use the game to play out real-world grievances with one another. This sort of conflict, in which sarcastic comments lead to genuine insults and then to a sudden death duel between PCs, tends to occur when players get cranky, bored, or frustrated. By following the techniques in this chapter -- keeping up the pace, maintaining focus, balancing player tastes, and calling breaks when the group tires -- you should be able to keep these eruptions to a minimum.
If you remember to step in and guide discussions as they begin to founder, you can put emotional distance between the two disputing players. In a detached way, list the pros and cons of each player's approach. Let them use you as a neutral sounding board as they make their arguments. In most cases, doing so defuses the tension enough to prevent hard feelings.
PC-against-PC conflict arising from personal hard feelings between players should always be headed off. These fights lead to even more hard feelings if a PC is seriously hurt or killed, and these conflicts disrupt the fictional illusion of the game when characters fight for no good reason. Such fights usually end in the death of one character, which stops the game as the survivors cart the PC's body off for resurrection or the player rolls up a new character. Noncombatants might feel smugly superior to those who fight each other or, more likely, they grow annoyed. Either way, they add to the group's downward spiraling mood.
When a fight is about to break out, immediately call a break. After the break is over, ask the players if they still want their PCs to fight. Is this dispute really worth the hassle, not to mention the level a dead PC might lose if the fight results in a character's death? If the players still want their PCs to fight, suggest a hefty wager over a nonfatal duel as an alternative.
If even this solution won't satisfy them, the dispute is probably about issues between the players that you're in no position to resolve. Ask them one more time to set aside their feud. If they still want their characters to duel to the death, let them have their catharsis; it's better than if they fought in real life.
The one problem you can't solve simply by balancing out varying tastes is that of the disruptive player. On the surface, there might seem to be many species of disruptive player. One example is the rules lawyer, who knows the rules better than you do, constantly quibbles with you about them, and tries to leverage this knowledge to his character's advantage. Another sort of argumentative player focuses not on the rules but on picking apart your rulings on cause and effect, especially when his character is at a disadvantage as a result of them. You might encounter the DM emeritus, a player who usually runs a game and tries to surreptitiously hijack yours. You might have to deal with a class clown, who cares only about cracking the group up, or their cousins, the digressers, who can't pass up an opportunity to discuss unrelated tangents. The dreaded spotlight hog is especially difficult; he wants to talk and act all the time. This player is the first to jump in with a response, the last to relinquish the floor, and is always ready with an interruption.
These traits are all symptoms of the same syndrome, expressed in slightly different ways according to the troublemaker's game tastes and personality type. The root problem is selfishness: These players are more interested in attracting attention to themselves, and in fulfilling their own desires, than in contributing to a mutually entertaining game. Lacking a sense of boundaries, they're ready and able to exert pressure on you until you acquiesce to their desires.
People don't change ingrained behavior easily, if at all. Attempts to permanently reform a disruptive player end only in frustration and deepening hostility. Instead, set yourself the goal of efficiently managing the effects of the player's selfishness. Don't get annoyed; try to maintain a sense of wry detachment.
Selfish players are rarely conscious of their behavior, at least while it's occurring. Most don't see themselves as consistently running roughshod over others, and will back off if you call them on their behavior. Muster your best interpersonal skills and deal with them gently, so they don't get defensive, and firmly, so they realize their overbearing behavior won't get them the gratification they want. Look the disruptor in the eye and speak in a calm, low voice. Phrase your request for better behavior in a firm but nonaccusatory manner:
(Cut-Up) "Let's focus, okay?"
(Digresser) "Let's stay on topic."
(Spotlight Hog) "I'll get back to you in a bit. [Other player] hasn't had a chance to act yet."
With rules lawyers, clearly establish the amount of rules discussion you will allow during a game. Give rules lawyers a brief period of time in which to make their case -- no more than a minute or two. Make it clear that any ruling you make during a session is final for its duration, and that no further argument will be entertained. Explain that rules arguments slow the game down and are no fun for anyone else to listen to. Keep the spirit of the game in mind as you rule. If a rules lawyer's argument ridiculously favors the player at too low a cost, it is undoubtedly bogus, wording technicalities not withstanding. Allow players to appeal your rulings only after a session is over, and then preferably by email. (A written response seems more like work and might cool your lawyer's jets.) Warn your players in advance that you'll listen to one further argument or read one email, and then decide conclusively. Rules lawyers are occasionally right; even so, you might instinctively want to refuse them every argument because they drive you crazy. Make sure you give their arguments fair, if quick, consideration.
Respond to other argumentative players in the same way. Though you should never reverse your adjudication of an event, you might review a case and conclude that you made a bad call. If so, affirm the results but tell the player you'll do it differently next time.
If you find that a disruptive player's habits can't be managed, or that it takes too much of your focus to do so, you're faced with the extreme step of uninviting him from your group. Most people put up with mildly selfish players to avoid a decisive confrontation. Doing so is usually the right decision; no game is more important than a friendship.