Keeping Good Players

 Posted by on November 16, 2011  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments
Nov 162011

Good players are golden and as GMs, we need to treat them that way. Here’s a list of ideas to keep your players happy and coming back.

  1. Make every player feel like their PC is your favorite character. Focus on each PC in the party for a set period of time: one session, one month, one adventure. The length of time doesn’t matter as much as making sure that every PC gets the same amount of time.
  2. Listen to your players, in and out of character. Players are great sources of inspiration.  Treat your players with respect.
  3. Read what your players give you. It’s important to them, or they wouldn’t have given it to you in the first place. Find a way to incorporate something from that information into your game, even if it’s just having the character run into a college roommate and say “Hi.”
  4. Try to give every player the same amount of attention every game session. You don’t need to set a timer for exactly 10 minutes (though you certainly can, if it makes it easier); just rotate your attention on a regular basis. If circumstances cause you to spend a greater amount of time in one session with one or more players, try to give the same amount of time to the other players over the course of the next few sessions.
  5. Let the PCs have a lasting and real effect on the game world. Reward creativity and good thinking with more than gold and experience points. Have a grateful city name a street after the party, let one of the PC’s songs become a popular hit, have the party overhear bards telling stories of the party’s latest acts of heroism, etc.
  6. Never tell a player how her character feels about something. Unless the PC is under mental influence from an outside source (Charm spell, Dominate discipline, etc.), the player alone controls the character’s feelings and actions. Tell them what happens, don’t tell them how to feel about it.
  7. The same goes for PC actions. Unless the PC is under some type of compulsion, never tell a player what their character does in a particular circumstance. Similarly, try to avoid telling a player that they can’t do something. Let him make an attempt. Give him an impossibly low chance of succeeding, but let him try. Use common sense with this; most players would be okay with you telling them that their normal human character can’t pick up the Empire State Building or fly unaided.
  8. Don’t get bogged down in mechanics during the game session. Make a ruling and move on, unless the players want you to look something up. Include you players in this by asking one of them to look up the mechanic in question.
  9. Make sure the NPCs are there to help the characters, not to do things for them. It’s okay to have an NPC participate in a party’s victory, just make sure that the crucial actions are performed by the PCs.
  10. Respect your players’ time. Show up on time to game sessions and try to avoid canceling on at the last minute. Understand when non-game obligations interfere with play. After all, most players have jobs, spouses, kids that will sometimes take precedence over play. Real Life always trumps game. And for God’s sake, if someone tells you not to call after 8pm, don’t call them after 8pm.
  11. Keep control of the game. Don’t let players bully you into making decisions you don’t like. If you have to boot a player to keep the game fun for everyone else, do so politely. Cut off rules discussions that threaten to become arguments. Stop the session and/or separate players when they start to argue or get angry with one another (out of character).
  12. Be organized. That doesn’t mean your game notebook needs to look like it came out of DayTimer ad. Just be sure you can find what information you need when you need it. Be particularly careful not to lose information your players give you.
  13. Be a gracious guest. If you’re not hosting the game, treat your host’s home and family better than you would treat your own.

(This is an excerpt from the GM’s Field Guide to Players, the up-coming book from, due to be released this fall.)

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I’ve been gaming since August of 1980 when I crashed a D&D game at summer camp. Two weeks after that, I DM’ed a game for the first time. Since then, I’ve GM’ed everything from D&D to World of Darkness to Toon. Basically, if I can get my hands on it, I’ll try to run it. I’m a web designer and freelance writer by trade, and I’ve written articles for Inphobia (originally called White Wolf Magazine), Challenge, and Ars Magica’s supplement Medieval Tapestry. I also write two other blogs: Evil Machinations and On My Own Two Feet.

  One Response to “Keeping Good Players”

  1. Great list. As of a few weeks ago I was a first time DM in a one-shot with a bunch of friends-turned-D&D-players. We ran the level 1 Dungeon Delve adventure to get a hand on the gaming mechanics, etc. We are going to try to get a regular campaign going, and I plan on running the “Shadowfell Keep” module. I’m way more into mechanics than I am the ‘creative’ aspects of the game so far. These guidelines will definitely help a new DM like me to remember to show everyone a little love!!

    Thank you!

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