We, as DMs, have limitless control over the worlds we create with our players, but the real world is a completely different story. Sometimes it can be hard to get a group of people with different schedules together to play, but every now and then the really world will really hit someone in your group hard. Hard enough that it’s going to change how your group has to play. As DMs, not only do we have to be great storytellers and gamers, we also have to have skill with people management. When a players issue changes your game, here are some things you can do.
Talk to them. Make sure they understand these changes aren’t their fault. Let them know they aren’t a pariah or anything stupid like that. These changes are for the betterment of the group, not to make someone feel alienated.
Get their input. Get them to talk about the solution they’d come up with. Letting them help will make them feel less like it’s their fault. Their solution will both make the group see their helping and make them feel like their helping, and at this time, it’s all about helping.
Don’t stop your game. Maybe you need to take a quick break or something, but DO NOT stop playing. This is probably the worst thing you can do. Do what it takes to keep your game going. The game might be just as important to your player who’s having the problem as it is to you. Who knows, you game might even help them feel better.
It’s a common problem every DM has. If you let it get too out of control it can turn into a full blown case of DM burnout. I’m talking about writer’s block. Being an aspiring writer myself, I know a few ways to beat this scourge. Here are some tips to keep writing that game:
Look over old material: Looking through your old notes, players’ backstories, and campaign notes can help get you back in the mindset you had before writer’s block attacked. And while you’re there, maybe you’ll notice a plot hook you dropped that never came up or you’ll see something a player wrote in their backstory that you sink your teeth into. Sometimes, when I’m looking over my old notes, I notice important NPCs or campaign themes that haven’t come up for the players. Figuring out how to incorporate these into the next game session can help get the creative juices flowing.
Look at monsters: Nothing gets me excited about an encounter quite like exciting monster art. Go online or crack open your books and look at some sweet van style, fantasy art. Some artists that always help me are Michael Komarck and Wayne Reynolds. Their vibrant and active styles always get my writing muscles ready to flex. A great exercise, when you’re having trouble writing encounters, you should try to recreate the fights depicted in the art.
Write the adventure you’ve always wanted to write: I have this dream encounter I’ve always wanted to run. After sneaking on to an airship, the players find themselves on the open air observation deck, facing down a major antagonist. This is when the fireworks start. I’m willing to bet every DM has these dream situations to put their players into. If you’re like me, you always say ‘someday’. Why not make someday today?
Recycle: Don’t be afraid to reuse old stuff. Hey, you wrote it. I have a reoccurring minor villain called The Lizard King and I have no idea how many things I’ve run him into players. If you’re worried that your players will be upset that you’re using things over, don’t be. It goes one of two ways: they either get nostalgic or don’t really notice the difference. Hey, this stuff inspired you before for a reason.
So next time you get hit with writer’s block, try some of these tips. They work for me. I’m also interested to know what works for others. What’s worked for you?
I think my favorite session in a campaign has to be the first one. I always introducing the world to my group and forcing them together. This one was especially sweet because we’d spent so much time making characters and the world.
I’ll admit that I had been a bit worried as to how my new group would take to the game. They were all new players. They had played with me once before and that was the extent of their experience. I’d met them through a theater group I’d recently joined and they’d asked me to DM for them when they found out I could. We used my worldbuilding method to create a world and I wrote a nice little first session for them. It went far better than I could have imagined.
First a little background on the world. The country this campaign happens in is called Illycera. It was once an empire, but it’s been torn apart by a civil war. It’s isolated from the rest of the continent and is experiencing supply shortages. The empire worships Bahamut, while the rebels are worshipers of Tiamet. All of the players have been touched by this war somehow. At the start of the campaign, the players have found themselves on the Bahamutan side in what could be the final battle of the war. The Bahamut government has decided to throw as many resources as they can at this fight. To that end, they’ve hired the Wyrmbreaker Knights who are lead by Ordon Bloodmoon.
When we were making the world, I added a circle for a character of my own, Ordon Bloodmoon. The players knew he was going to be their enemy going into the campaign and they know eventually they’re going to have to stop him. I was worried they might act when he was the bad guy when their characters first met him. They didn’t. They’re all naturals and it’s awesome. They not only took to the game quickly, but they started roleplaying at a level I hadn’t seen at a table in years. I had to cut two fights from what I’d prepared because they were so into it.
The battle is taking place at the Temple of Tiamet; it’s believed that if the Bahamutans take the temple, the war is over. The players and Ordon have been tasked with infiltrating the temple. They enter and the players find that Ordon has his own agenda and no real interest in winning the battle. The players witness as Ordon blatantly murders the high priestess of Tiamet and destroys the temple with the help of his pet necromancer, Vinalia. She summoned an undead dragon that went on to destroy the temple as the might of the Wyrmbreakers slaughtered what was left of both armies.
Overall, the new group really took to this beginning. They freaked when they realized there was a dragon buried under the temple. They really enjoy the roleplaying aspect; they loved talking to every NPC they met. And while the group does have some speed bumps, they can be fixed. And I’ll be sure to tell you how I do that soon.