[RPG] How to deal with differing interests as a DM


A few years ago, I ran a short-lived 4e campaign with a bunch of players who all had a different idea of what aspect of the game was the most fun to them.

2 players, close friends, wanted to treat this like a typical video game RPG, where more of the intrinsic interactions, like information gathering, talking to NPCs, or even just being in town was dull. They wanted to just fight the bad guys, get loot, get experience, and level up.

Another was the complete opposite, he loved the non-combat situations, he'd love to talk his way out of a fight with bandits, or would love to stay in town and find out all the stories of what was going on. When it came to combat, you could tell, especially with the direct approach the others took, that he was dejected.

Then the last was completely about the immersion, he wanted to make sure we were counting arrows, tracking rations, maintaining weight, and more than anything making sure that people stayed in character.

As best I could, I tried to include everyone's varying interests in the game, by including a mix of good social interaction, combat scenarios, and tried to keep everyone as immersed as possible by making them keep track of their inventories and tried to keep metagaming to a minimum. However, everyone's dislikes seem to have won over and the group eventually lost interest and we stopped playing.

I say all this because recently, interest has been brought back up with the group about getting another game going (this time in 5e), and I worry this same concerns will end this game again. So my question is this, how do I, as a DM, try to make sure every type of player (described above) is enjoying the game, and not try to bog them down too much with what they don't like?

Best Answer

Outsource it to your Players

I find this happens in games where there is an unspoken agreement that the DM is going to in charge of (everything) about the world, and the players are going to be in charge of their characters, and that's it. That is, historically, the way games have worked. But it isn't the only way they can work.

You could for example, sit down with your players, and talk about what kind of game you'd like to play, what kind of challenges they'd like to face, and ask them how they'd like to balance those interests. You can bring up these issues, and ask them for solutions. If nothing else, it'll prepare their minds for there being times in game when they won't get to do their favorite thing.

Build the Game Together

There are tools for building a game. Depends on how deep you want to go. If you're comfortable taking a lot of input from players on how the world is going to be, you could use Sparks For Fate Core. It's built to use with the Fate RPG, but there is absolutely no reason, if you understand Fate as a game, that it can't be used to build worlds for other games. You don't even have to allow Aspects to mechanically influence the game, just use Sparks as a worldbuilding tool.

This will likely make your players more invested in the world, and so they'll be more interested in the roleplaying opportunities you present. The GM still has ultimate say over what happens in the game, but the players get to say what they're interested in. It might depend on your GM style, and whether you're comfortable adapting to player input into the setting. For me, it actually takes work off of me to not have to come up with things I think will be interesting to the players. I can simply riff off of the things they've already told me they're interested in.

Taking one step back from the setting/game design of Sparks, you may find The Same Page Tool useful. This is a series of questions that prompts the players and the GM to talk about their expectations. As mentioned before, a lot of things can be unspoken in games because of a misguided expectation of "building suspense" or "preserving mystery" for the players. I'm here to tell you that you can talk about the meta game, and still have the in-game moments be fun and surprising. Throw out the unspoken rule that the first rule of the game is we don't talk about the game.

Rolemaster Zodiac

Rolemaster is an old school game that had a section called Gamemaster Law, which is useful to anyone who plays RPGs, whether or not they play Rolemaster (I never have). Like the astrological Zodiac, it categorizes players into different types according to their proclivities while playing, so that you as the GM can better organize them and deal with their needs and potential problem areas.

Try to remember that humans don't always fall neatly into stereotypes, but the ability to say "Oh, Kyle is a Dragon, he's gonna wanna loot all the corpses, I should probably prepare for that" is often useful. Or, "Stan is a Hound, he's totally going to want to find out what the barmaid knows about the missing caravan, I should probably give her stuff to say"