How To Engage With Your Players In Dungeons And Dragons
The Dungeon Master plays a crucial role in a D&D game. While it’s true the game is designed to give all the players an immersive experience – in the end, it all depends on how the Dungeon Master takes the game forward. So, what do you do if you want to up the ante and add something extra to your next D&D session?
As the Dungeon Master, you need to remember that you’re the one who sets the scene for the story. This means that the world and all of its characters are under your creative control. So, the first step for any successful Dungeon Master is to know exactly what their world is like and how it’s going to progress. As the DM, it’s your job to know quite literally anything and everything there is to know about your world. This means you need to prepare beforehand and figure out things like the map, the culture, the economy and all the obstacles that your players can potentially face in this world. And if you think the economy isn’t that important, just wait till your players decide to become international cheese merchants or run a chain of taverns…. It will happen….
Not just that, but the Dragon Master also needs to know how many Non-Player Characters (NPCs) they want to bring into the story and how they will interact with the players.
I know it sounds like a lot. But trust me, once you know your world, everything becomes easier as you go. Because when you’ve already planned out your world, you won’t need to keep improvising during the game. All you need to do is give brief descriptions and let your players handle the rest as the plot progresses without any irrelevant or forced situations – making the game a lot more fun for them.
Another extra element that you can add into your gameplay are props and visual cues. While the game obviously needs you to dig deep into your imagination, a little help doesn’t hurt anyone now, does it? As far as I know, most players love it when the Dungeon Master gets creative with props. Let’s say you want your players to find a letter that starts off their quest. Instead of you reading out the letter, how about you actually give them the letter as a prop? When you incorporate these small little things into the game, it just makes the entire experience a little more personal and a whole lot more immersive. It stops the players from losing interest and might even give their imagination a boost in the right direction. You can do the same thing if you’re working with puzzles or riddles. Give your players something that they can write on directly to make the game more collaborative.
Remember that role-playing means that you are in a shared world. Once the gameplay starts, make sure to create stories around your players’ characters, depending on their individual backstories. Now obviously this doesn’t mean that you have to change your whole story to cater to the players. But getting them into situations that are directly linked to their personalities or backgrounds here and there is bound to get your players more excited. Keep in mind that your world should be flexible enough to be impacted by your players’ decisions. If you create a world that’s all about rules and doesn’t take the characters’ moves into account, it just gets frustrating after a point. I mean, who wants to play a game where you can’t break some rules? But of course, if you think that some rules need to be followed for the sake of the story, there’s no harm in giving your players a bit of a challenge. Let them work their way around it, it’ll keep things more interesting.
Another great tip to keep your players engaged is giving them advantages and using that as motivation. You can do this from the beginning of the campaign. For example, set a situation then get the player to roll and at the same time, check to see how successfully they make a narratively interesting decision. Based on that, you can choose to give them an advantage. Now the rewards you give out can vary in different situations but the easiest and most consistent way to build this risk/reward mechanism, is to use advantage. Now as a player, when they see that they’re being rewarded for doing something narratively complex, they will automatically be motivated to get advantages which will ultimately help them reach their goals faster. After all, there’s no harm in using the game’s rules to encourage your players, right?
Use your storytelling skills to give your players one clear group goal. Similarly, give all of them one clear individual goal. This way, they have something to work towards, instead of just mindlessly rolling the dice. Now you can add these goals at any point in the story, but I personally think that adding them right in the beginning just helps to set the tone of the game. Let’s say all of your characters wake up in a strange, dark place and discover that they are imprisoned in a cage of some sort. They suddenly see a shadowy figure walking towards them and unlocking the cage. You see how that creates a narrative that all of your players are a part of? It gives everyone a situation where they have to act immediately. Their goal here is to figure out where they are and how to get out of there – helping the game move on in an organic way.
However, a Dungeon Master’s work doesn’t just stop at storytelling. To create an engaging game, you first have to immerse yourself in the world – and the other players will definitely follow. This means that you don’t just narrate the story, you become the story. You have the power to choose how your players perceive this world. So, make sure that you’re using your words to evoke their senses. If they’re in a dark room, describe how dark it is, what the room smells like, what sounds they can hear, how cold or warm the air feels, how foods taste. You get the gist. Think of your game as a movie and do all you can to set the perfect shot in everyone’s heads. They will see what you show them, so make sure it’s good enough to keep them interested. If your players are dealing with NPCs or monsters, don’t just narrate the story, embody them. Use all the acting skills you have and through your voice and gestures, help your players immerse themselves into their encounters, instead of watching them from the outside – You don’t have to be Mr Mercer though, just remember that! Also, as a bit of personal advice… Don’t give every pirate the ‘pirate accent’ and then have the players spend and entire session with pirates… your vocal cords will be unforgiving in the morning…. I have heard…..
Above everything else, keep in mind that you’re the one who has the reigns of the game. So, every decision you make needs to be fair and impartial. If the Dungeon Master is found picking sides, that automatically just cancels out everyone’s interest in the entire world. As much as you need to control the room, make sure that you’re listening to your players and collaborating with them to help the narrative move forward. This includes allowing players to go off-path. Remember that the best part about playing Dungeons and Dragons is the fact that it offers a world full of possibilities. So, make sure that your players are given the freedom of choice. As long as you maintain a good balance between what the world allows and what your players want – you should be good to go.
Lastly, because Dungeons and Dragons is all about the experience, take some creative liberties and extend your role beyond the game. I personally think that a great way to keep the players excited is to set the right mood and nothing does the trick better than some good music. Take some time and choose the right soundtrack beforehand. Something that is helpful for your players to draw vivid mental images from your narration. A great trick is to keep the music shifting between scenes. Choose different styles of music for each location, choose different fight music for each style fight, and choose evocative and emotional music for those killer story hooks and dramatic plot twists – just to keep things interesting.
At the end of the day, as a Dungeon Master, you need to remember that this is all supposed to be fun. So, don’t think too much of it and dive straight into narrating a world that your players would love to be a part of. Plan some situations out and be spontaneous with the rest. That’s pretty much all you need to keep your players invested in the game until the very end and create an experience that no one will ever want to end.