5: Am I Allowing Downtime for Role-play?
Sometimes as DMs we can feel pressure to advance the story or plot in our game. However, by doing this, we can sometimes miss out on downtime activities and role-play. Especially if you have a group that enjoys the social interactions among each other. Providing a few days to mill about town or setting the scene for a quite dinner by camp fire, can result in fun interplay between the characters. It can be tricky, as DMs tend to utilize NPCs in role-play environments, but allowing the party the space to build bonds and reflect on their own adventures can encourage future role-play as well. Don’t feel like this downtime has to last hours. Even if the party shares a nice dinner, making a few remarks to each other in character, and when the time is right, you can have the scene fade to black with comment like “You all finish your meals over polite conversation, and turn in for the night”. If the players are enjoying themselves with plenty of banter, then as the DM, you sit back and enjoy! I do find that just giving the players a brief bit of respite can lead to fun role-play between the party, therefore, building bonds that will in-turn help drive future stories forward.
4: Do the Players Seem Excited by My Rewards/Loot?
Unfortunately for players, not every encounter ends with a mythical weapon for them to wield in combat, and as DMs, we have to conjure smaller rewards. Gold is a classic, but only works well if your players feel they have something to spend it on. If you unitize gold, make sure to introduce shops that carry potions, masterwork weapons, or even a few magic items. Maybe the party can’t afford this items yet, but it gives them something to save up for, and makes gold a bit more exciting. That being said, you can also spice up your rewards with one-time use items, such as scrolls. Giving a low level party a scroll of fireball can be exciting, and get them out of a pinch. All while feeling powerful as they toast their enemies. Of course, this scroll burns up in the process, as not to unbalance your game. Rewards don’t always have to be tangible items either. A reward can come in the form of an NPC hosting the party for a dinner in their honor. Maybe the dungeon took a lot out of the characters, and your players alike, and some downtime would be a nice reward. Just as we discussed in our previous DM question. Keep in mind favors that the NPCs maybe able to grant the party, as these maybe worth more that gold, and assist them in their current quest.
3: Are the Players Properly Engaging with My NPCs?
One of my favorite aspects of session prepping is when I have an interesting NPC that I am excited for the party to interact with. Finally, when the introductions are made in game… the players are largely uninterested. As DMs, we don’t want to railroad or force our ideas, but there maybe a reason your players are not engaging with your NPC the way you expected. I find one of the main reasons is trust. Do your NPCs regularly betray or are genuinely hostile to the party? If so, you can understand while they may only engage in a minimal fashion or seem distrusting. Allow your players to gravitate to which ever NPC they like, but make sure to vary up personalities. Remember, enough things are trying to kill the players in your world, so a friendly guard can go along way.
2: Am I Encouraging Interesting/Creative play?
You see it all the time at the table. The player’s eyes light up, as they suddenly have an idea to attempt something cool in order to overcome the challenge you have set before them. The player explains what their character is trying to do, and someone says “you can’t do that”. I never want to hear that at a table. It’s the death of fun. You can do that. It may not go well, or you may have to roll a skill check, but a DM should never utter that sentence. Tabletop RPG rule-books have evolved to account for an amazing number of situations, but they will not account for all. You, as the DM, will need to come up with a solution that is fair to the player and will allow them to express their ideas and actions at the table. It can be scary to make up rules on the fly, but remember this is your world, with your friends. Encourage this creative game-play in a fair way, and as long as everyone is having fun, you are DMing correctly.
1: Have All Players had the Spotlight this Session?
Sometimes a person is shy at the table, or one of your players is having an off night. It is completely okay. However, during a break, I will often check to make sure everyone has had the spotlight on their character at least once. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to complete some solo monster battle, rather, has everyone had a chance to interact with another player or NPC? Or, in combat heavy sessions, has everyone been able to down an opponent? Sometimes the dice are not on our side, but if a player has been having a rough night, and they finally land that hit… but the foe still has some HP left.. well, I will fudge that last bit of HP. Followed by a description of how the player finally vanquished the fiend. Small tweaks like this turn a night of “I couldn’t hit anything!” into “The dice were not on my side, but I FINALLY got the kill!”. As a DM, if you are keeping the player spotlight in the back of your mind, you can create these small moments that enhance the fun at your table. All while no one being the wiser.