GM Tips: Ask Questions and listen

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer a few tips related to that most useful of GM resources, the players.

1. When your PCs enter a new scene listen to what the players are saying

It may sound obvious, but one of the easiest ways to discover what a players is looking for in a game is to listen to how they describe their character actions and activities, for example:

As we enter the tavern I’m looking around to see if there’s anyone who looks like they might be trouble.

This is a very obvious example, but if your player is constantly looking for trouble it’s a fair bet that they’re hoping for some combat, or perhaps a way to cunningly avoid said trouble.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask your players questions

The players are often overlooked in RPGs as a resource for the GM, the gameworld is built for the players to explore and tell stories in, so why not get their input a little more directly?

Of course you don’t want to stop in the middle of a dramatic scene to ask a question about a foreign land or what the PCs hometown was like, but when you have a quiet moment or such things become relevant, feel free to just flat out ask the player and then work their answers into your narrative.

Player: I’m going to head to my favourite bar when we get back to town and relax, that dungeon was intense.
GM: Okay, you make your way towards your favourite tavern, what’s it called and who owns it?
Player: Umm, it’s called the Crossed Pikes and is owned by an old crotchety dwarf.

3. Keep your questions specific

If you make your questions really open-ended then the game pacing might get bogged-down whilst players struggle to think of answers, be specific in your questioning and you’re more likely to get a prompt answer.

For example, don’t ask:
GM: So what are dwarves like in this part of the campaign setting?

Try something like:
GM: Do dwarves here live in the mountains or do they mix with other races?

4. Once your players are answering questions, build on them or ask for clarification

Just because you’ve got a single answer of your player that doesn’t have to be it, don’t slow the game down by asking them to fill in a four page survey or anything, but equally don’t be afraid to ask a few additional questions if you have time.

GM: Okay so this crotchety dwarf, what’s he so annoyed about?
Player: Maybe he got injured fighting against some goblins and can’t fight anymore.
GM: Great, is this place high-class or a bit more common?
Player: It’s a rough and tumble dive of a bar, there’s always some trouble, that’s why my character likes it.

5. If any of the player’s suggestions contradict/don’t fit your campaign don’t discard them out of hand, try to tweak them to fit

Players don’t have all of the information about a campaign world like a GM does, so it’s quite possible for them to make suggestions that don’t fit in with some fact about the campaign world they’re unaware of, or perhaps they just envisioned things differently. As the GM you are the final arbiter of what will and won’t be included in the game, but rather than simply dismissing a suggestion out of hand, try and reach a compromise or make some suggestions how the idea could be tweaked to fit the campaign, this will make the player feel like you value their suggestions and will also give them an idea of what sort of things are suitable for the game in future.

Player: I was thinking that the lord of the fief drinks regularly in the Crossed Pikes.
GM: It doesn’t seem likely the lord himself would drink here, also he hates dwarves, but how about his son or a close servant drinks in here regularly.
Player: I like the servant, perhaps his butler drinks in here or something?

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

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