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The 1 Thing You Should NEVER Ask Your Players

Written by MythicParty - Published on December 23, 2011

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a kick-ass campaign.  It was based upon The Temple of Elemental Evil, an AD&D adventure so adventurous it needed be labeled as being a ‘Supermodule.’  Even discounting the 128 page size, the scope and scale of T1-4 (which later spawned an equally badass sequel written by Monte Cook) with its various antagonists, was mythic.  Our DM, who I’ll call Dan, ran it with the 3.0 ruleset so we could play an Old School classic in a New School edition.

While converting ToEE was impressive, Dan’s real achievement was running the dungeon in such a way that it felt as a fully functional ecosystem.  He made the entire Temple seem as if it was truly alive- with both their initial reaction and then later the active anticipation of our party.  In short, Dan’s bad guys constantly evolved which for us as players was a paradigm shift in how bad guys were run.  But there was 1 thing Dan really didn’t do well, and that was how he solicited feedback.

Last time, in d10 Things You Must Do Between Campaigns, I talked about some critical things all DMs should do when transitioning campaigns.  These (7) tips will both help successfully end the current game while sufficiently prepping for the new one.   And 1 of those tips was to Review How the Campaign Went which is to say, you need to get feedback from your players regarding your DMing skills.  Honest feedback.  Which in many ways is like a boss asking to hear how he’s doing from his employees: the boss is almost always told what they want to hear.  Let’s look at how that kind of useless (even counterproductive) feedback happens.

At the end of every ToEE session, Dan would inevitable speak those words we knew were coming, and dreaded hearing.  “Well guys, did you have fun tonight?”  Putting on our best forced smiles, everyone’s answer was always the same: “Yeah man, of course.”  Now, the majority of nights this truly was the case and therefore an honest answer.  But when it wasn’t, when the game lacked a certain something or simply wasn’t up to par, our DM never knew any better. Because what he was asking was akin to being asked, “Was it good for you too?”  By that I mean there’s only one smart answer.  In the Nine Hells, there’s only one safe answer to both of those questions.  So we always had fun, even when we didn’t.

What should Dan have been asking?  What should YOU be asking?  Its actually quite simple, and with apologies to Matt who left a comment on this piece’s predecessor, doesn’t require a player survey to happen.  There are 2 key things that you seek: “What did you guys like?” and “What would you guys like to see done differently?”  The former tells you those things that you need to keep doing.  The answers will provide some much-needed encouragement.  And these answers about what is positive with your DMing will (gradually) help your players feel comfortable enough to answer the followup query.

Which are those things that you need to do better.  Those things you should improve upon.  Put bluntly, those things you have to fix.  However the phrasing of this is crucial.  You don’t want your question to come out as, “What didn’t you guys like?”  Because that immediately puts the players on the defensive.  Which is why ‘differently’ is a great word since gamers let their imagination run rampant so they can easily relate to the possibility of differences rather than negatives.

Ask these 2 key things at the end of every session (preferably via email/forum to not put anyone on the spot), politely push for specifics, act on what you learn, and your DMing will soon level up.  Your player may even honestly be able to say that they had fun.  ‘ToEE’ next time.

Written by MythicParty

Dog-loving, movie-watching, pizza aficionado. Content Editor for DMing.com, Project Manager for AvatarArt.com, & player of the coolest characters in a weekly D&D game. Halflings are the real heroes.

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11 Responses to “The 1 Thing You Should NEVER Ask Your Players”
  1. Nikolaos Gaitanis says:

    Many a time have I faced as a DM the tensed looks of my players when I asked them that very same question. I always got a thumbs up, even when I knew that the session had gone badly.

    The article really does show the only way to get some real feedback, both in RPGs and in real life. You should always ask positive questions and provide positive alternative answers. That’s the only way to get answers that are useful to you and to the group.

  2. jonathan cook says:

    All GM’S need to read this but most of the gm’s i have had have been real a holes. one of witch took a way my character saying he had dis-horned himself and then after i made a new character he killed him and acused
    me copying another players character. i am no longer playing with them.

  3. Mark says:

    Wow how sensitve do you have to be? I’ve been lucky to play RP games with people mature enough to give and take constructive criticism. It really made me cringe reading the main article and Nik’s reply about players and DM’s unable to communicate honestly. Although being British, it has always weirded me out when you here USA’ers quote ‘if you can’t say something positive, then don’t say it’….. chuckle…. If the people you are playing with are ‘friends’ then you should be able to listen or tell the other players if you thought that a game sucked becuase of…..(insert reasons). I mean what do you do when it’s a real life situation? I just hope none of your players has BO…. Happy Gaming!

  4. nickalin says:

    Hello All
    I ask these very questions at the end of each session… I request a Likes & Dislikes note/sheet handed in from each player. Sometimes its just one word, some times its a sentence & on the occasion its a paragraph. Quick easy and a little bit less painfull, as each person can answer without pointing fingers. I get the information I need to adjust the game and they get to tell me in a way that is comfortable for us. Try it sometime…

  5. Boose says:

    I’ve been lucky enough that I game with a really close group of friends, so when I ask “What did you guys think?” and I get the canned “It was fun” I can turn back to them and ask what needed to be improved and if any parts dragged for them (usually I start this off by telling them what didn’t work for me, this way they feel that the gates have already been opened so they’re just adding to the pile). I can’t imagine having a group where we don’t feel like we can talk the game out with each other and discuss the highs and lows of a session.

  6. MythicParty says:

    Hi readers, 1st off, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my piece. I really appreciate it.

    @Nikolas- I appreciate you sharing your experiences & glad the piece was helpful to you. I truly believe that using a + based approach is key to getting + results.

    @jonathan- finding a DM who ‘fits’ with your roleplaying (and vice versa) is crucial for everyone’s enjoyment. I hope you found someone to run your games that you were more compatible. Or, perhaps try sitting behind the screen yourself.

    @Mark- you’re right, there are a lot of weird American cultural aspects. i.e. we love our violence but seem to lose our shite if there’s a bare boob. However, for me, not completely critiquing the DM always been a matter of politeness. I’ve been in 1-shot Con games where it was obvious that NO ONE had fun, yet nobody wanted to be ‘that guy’ who said something. But I think even amongst friends, there’s a tendency to not want to either hurt or piss off the person who is sitting behind the screen. Both because I think most players recognize the time/commitment DMs make, as well as how upsetting them can be detrimental to character health. Per some British guy; “Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news.”

    @nickalin- I can appreciate the immediacy of sheets at the end of the night while the session is still fresh in people’s minds. I just wonder if having time to do some reflection/thinking the evening over would provide deeper results.

    @Boose- It definitely is great when you can game with close friends. And by having the DM go 1st with what didn’t work, that definitely would put the players more at ease for giving their own criticism.

    Thanks again for reading & responding.

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