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How can I effectively manage player expectations?

April 22, 2020 by damian


Like most skills in a GMs toolbox, managing player expectations is a bit art and a bit science. This comes partly from understanding yourself but also from understanding your players. Let's break down some main points.

Empathy
"The ability to understand and share the feelings of another." To know what your player's want to get out of your game, you first have to care that they will get it. You probably want your player's to have fun - that should be a given. But the elements of a game that are fun can vary from person to person. Many GMs start a campaign or session with a narrow scope of interest. This might range from their own interest in playing a game, to running a specific module or style, to even the extreme of having power over other player's fate. To be successful, a GM should always be more interested in what the player's want to do. Do they even want to play the game you have in mind? Whether the style, the environment, or the level of fiction (e.g. high or low fantasy), you should know what your players like. Put your player's needs ahead of yours. You're all there to have fun, but you often find the the enjoyment of a GM is seeing their player's have fun.

Be Upfront and ask Questions
There is no harm in asking "what kind of game do you want to play?" Your player's might be surprised that you're asking, as many are not used to having a voice in the matter. It also cuts through parts of their personality or gaming style that you might be sure about. If you don't get enough information, ask additional questions. You'll soon learn whether they like high fantasy, hate Elves, love diplomacy, hate long, drawn out fights that take hours, etc. By asking questions, you greatly reduce the risk that you'll get something wrong and only improve your chances of a successful session.

Find Out What Your Players Want
You might be surprised to learn that you can easily succeed in running a fun and fulfilling game session by first learning what your player's like to do. As you know from your own play-style, some people may like the in-depth crunching of number like you might see in an early D&D variant while other player's want the narrative experience that come with more story-driven games.

Expand Player Agency
You're the GM, but in reality you're just the narrator of the player's story. We're all used to player's creating their own characters and backstory, but how often do we ask the player to help us GMs create the world? The rules might differ slightly when you run pre-created modules, as those modules have expected paths. However, just as in home-brew modules, HOW the players get there is as important, if not more important, than where they are going. Ask your player's to help "fill in the blanks" of the world. Not only will this help take some of the weight of world-design off your shoulders, but the player may feel more engaged in the story, knowing that they helped shape it. You may be surprised by what ideas players come up with that you would never thought of.

How does this help manage expectations? Allowing the player to be involved in world-design may give you more insight into how they think, what they like, and what they don't like.

These are just some of the ways to manage player expectations. What are some ways that you do it?


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