No one leads a party or a game like the Game Master will. His influence is by far the most pervasive on any gaming table. – Bard of Valiant
And one of the things the Game Master has a huge influence in is who is playing in the game. When I think of a campaign I want to run, the first thing I do is decide what system best suits it then I start looking around for interested players. Many GMs are in the same situation I am, the number of available people is fairly small. When I began collecting players for Project Valiant, my total pool of people was 6. Of those, 4 decided to join up.
This can cause a huge problem if any of those people aren’t any good at gaming or roleplaying. I don’t have any more options for players so I can’t very well tell Susy she sucks or that her boyfriend Zach is too disruptive. Instead I need to step up and do my part to make the party better.
Obviously, the first thing any GM faced with this situation should do is talk to the player in question and see if they’re willing to improve and what can be done. Complaining about them or their style behind their back will only lead to further disruption and more problems. And since you’ll need to talk to someone about your problems, you might as well talk to the people causing them.
Ok, social engineering talk complete. Other than that, suppose your players are already doing their best? No one is being deliberately problematic but somehow when you run an adventure, things just aren’t clicking together well? Here are some concrete things you can do to help them out while planning adventures.
1. Know the Goals. Make sure they know the goal of the adventure and the goal of the campaign, if any. Don’t be so mysterious with the NPCs that the players have no idea what direction to turn. So obscure with the clues they never see them. Early on in a campaign, you may have no idea what the long range goals are, you might be the type of game master who doesn’t use them or you might be revealing campaign goals gradually, but there is no reason to hide adventure goals.
2. Look at the Characters. Make sure they have the ability actually accomplish these goals. Obviously, for long range goals, the adventure goals will be gathering these tools but for adventures – do they have the skills? If they do, are the skills good enough to actually have some realistic chance of succeeding? Have you sent a bunch of bashing characters into a challenge that requires a magical solution? Worse, do you have a bunch of hack-n-slash loving players with a roleplaying challenge? Or vice-versa?
3. Give them Tools. If they don’t have what they need, can you find a way to give them access to it? Micro-adventures, or adventure scenes, can be really useful here. If they need a magical solution they don’t currently have access to, can they buy it? Hire it? Can they learn the social skills to navigate Court? Perhaps an NPC is willing to teach in exchange for an item only found in a particular wooded glade protected by fierce treants….
4. Motivation. Just like you need it to keep up with this thankless job, your players need it to want to even bother chasing the goal you’ve set. If you’ve got a huge, epic story and the characters just aren’t biting the bait, stop and think. Why? Then ask the players! Talk to them about what you’re trying to achieve and ask them what you need to include to motivate their characters. Players are not your enemy and want you to enjoy yourself, too.
The huge tip here is communication. Communicate as a group so that everyone is getting what they want from the game and having a good time. Don’t be lazy or afraid to give a part of the story away if that’s what you need to do so that everyone is on the same page as a roleplaying group and everyone is having fun.