This is Our Game:Do you ever find yourself favoring a certain PC and how do you prevent this?

Every month our group of contributors circulates a point about running a D&D game, or some other RPG-centric problem to address. We all stew and think about it for a while, then write up a response. At the end of the month we compile our responses for your reading pleasure.

This month’s question is: Do you ever find yourself favoring a certain PC and how do you prevent this?

Geek Ken – As much as we don’t want to admit it, I think as DMs this does happen a lot. It’s pretty easy to end up promoting one plan of action or idea from a player, and be a little dismissive of others. This especially is true when you have a player or two making some really convoluted plans for something that should have been a kick-down-the-door action. When you end up promoting one play style or reinforcing a plan of action over others, you slip into playing favorites. I try to give positive feedback to player actions as frequently as possible. If a player is being super extra cautious for something that would be trivial to do, I try to bite my tongue and give a nod to their effort (but I do slip up and fail to do this at times).

One thing I’ve learned DMing is to try and drop the things that I enjoy when playing and try to cater to what the players like. To help with this I try to give every player face time. Every once in a while I try to bring up an opportunity to allow that player to shine. If you’ve got a player that is the big undead killer, with feats and abilities made to wipe them out, having them fight against goblins and orcs for the entirety of a campaign is punishing them. Once in a while you have to throw that player a bone and let them take the spotlight on a side quest or a short dungeon delve verses the undead (even if the campaign is directed elsewhere).

Lastly, I try to continually get feedback. I always end a session asking what everyone thinks and are they having fun. I can immediately get a feel if players are enjoying themselves (and more importantly what they liked). Hopefully your group is open enough to talk a little about what they didn’t like either. Giving the players an opportunity to talk about the game is a great way to make sure no one is feeling like they are being left out.

DreadGazebo – I’ve always tried really hard to avoid this mainly due to the fact that my wife is always a part of our games and the last thing I want is people thinking I’m taking it easy on her because of the fact. I think often times I actually ended up so deeply wrapped in this mindset  that I probably wound up being harder on her than anything. It is easy however to fall into this sort of situation, although I don’t find my trouble is with actually favoring someone as much as I do gunning for testing a certain character’s threshold for pain.

I’ve had players in campaigns before that just don’t seem to care about the fact that I, the DM, have prepared hours worth of content, only for it to be ignored while they fidget with their phone or stare at whatever cartoons my kids may have been watching at the time. Usually followed up by “uhhh, what move do I want to use” contemplating for 3 minutes then just using the same damn at-will they’ve used every turn before this one. Things like this coupled with having to mention to a player that it’s their turn more than twice usually results in instantly being pissed off behind the screen. “How ever did that goblin archer crit you twice in a row, he must have uncanny aim!”

I realize that this may seem justifiable to most DM’s but in all honesty I really just try and make sure everyone is having a good time, primarily prioritizing others over myself because I’d like them to keep coming back and playing. This masochistic approach to DM’ing isnt’ for everyone but really I aim to please,  what can I say? Far too often though I do fall into these subconscious roles of punishing one character more than the others due to the player controlling them being an asshat. It’s not always the big things though, sometimes just proposing an overly intricate way to accomplish something simple that could have taken 2 minutes instead of 20 is what sets me off.

I try and go behind the scenes after the game and look at what maybe I’m doing wrong, or talk to someone close to that person and get their insights before I go saying anything – I have been known to be a bit snap-judgmental at times. My last group was far from open and that was the reason it fell apart, gaming in good company is now my primary concern, not group size or composition as before. No two tables play the same, if you find yourself falling into one of these pitfalls try and pull yourself out of it before the long haul sets in, it may just save your campaign. Feedback is king.

ObsidianCrane: Ok I’ll say it; favoring one character is OK. Seriously it is. Making one character more central to the plot of the campaign than the others is ok. In fact my current campaign is based very loosely around the development of one character and the effect that has on an NPC. The trick is not making that the focus of the game for the players. Favoring one player at the table is indeed a problem, and for me it is a problem I have to deal with in my professional life as well, where favoring one student is a problem. There are many things that are said to people that are learning to be teachers that apply to the art of DMing and avoiding favoring one player over all the others.

Things like being sure to look at each player and ask for their input one player at a time. Make sure you check things like the skills the characters have so that each of them has a chance to shine, if you have to encourage retraining so that everyone has a skill only they are particularly good at, or only they are trained in and make the rolls trained only, do that. Find jobs at the table that suit the temperament of each of the players, someone to track initiative, someone to track the loot, someone to track the NPCs, someone to be the “rules peep” (can also be the optimizer if the other players are happy to have that sort of help), being the “snack peep”, or the miniatures peep and so on.

The main trick is making sure that even when your story is more about one character than the others that your games are still equally about all the players. Just like teachers learn the names of the naughty children, then the good children, then the average children (normally), so to do we as DMs direct our attentions certain ways (along similar lines actually). The trick is taking steps to ensure that you don’t fall into that trap, that you find strategies to ensure that everyone gets a go (and both DMG1, and DMG2 have good advice on this). When you do find those strategies and get everyone engaged with the story and the game then the number of naughty and average children players at the table will be zero. Of course just like in teaching getting that perfect state is pretty hard, and like teaching the trick is to keep searching for new paths towards that perfect state.

Thadeous: I’ll admit that I have favored a player from time to time. It’s not something that can be avoided. At any game table there will be players whose company you enjoy more than others. There will also be, from time to time, players whose company you enjoy far less than most. With such a distribution of personalities it’s hard not to reward those who make your game more enjoyable and punish those who make it less bearable.

Often favoritism is subconscious and happens spur of the moment.  I don’t think I have ever sat at my desk, planning my next adventure, thinking about how I’m going to make one player feel much more valued than others. Favoritism always rears its ugly head when decisions need to be made on the fly. Which character will the center of the story this session? The player who puts time into his story and brings lots of energy in to the game, or the guy who argues about all the rules and whines every time something bad happens to his character?

I know those are two very contrasting players but my first reaction to this topic is to blame the players. Really though it’s hard to think about rewarding players who make the game harder while making those who make it more enjoyable take a back seat. As a player I’m not always the most energetic, or the most involved, and I’m not going to fault a DM who does not pick me to get the next magic item, or be the next center of a story arc. The game has to be fun for the DM as well, and favoring the players who keep the game fun, keep the game fun.

This does not mean it’s right to favor a player over others, it’s still something DMs should be on guard for. How can you tell if you are favoring someone more than others? Look at your players, is there someone who is constantly getting on your nerves? Is there a player who is always questioning your rulings? Is there a player who is always changing their character just to try to break your game? Is there a player you know out side of the game, and you often spend time picking on them or making fun of them? I’m sure there is, and a DM should make a list of all the times they have been the center of the story, or how their gear stacks up to the rest of the party.

It’s going to happen in almost every game; when it does I think one of two things will happen. A. Your players will become more sensitive to it and begin to get upset when favoritism shows up or B. Your players will begin to see that you are treating the least liked player badly and they will start to follow your lead. Neither of these are good for your game or the people at your table. Talking to your players one on one, even the players you don’t get along with all that well, is important to staying in check. Take your players out for a beer and get some feedback on how they feel they have been treated, and how they see you treating others. Some players see things differently than others so make sure to talk to everyone to get a big picture view of what the feeling is at your table. Communication is the best defense against party unrest.

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.

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Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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