Picture by Teresa Stanton
As any good DM will tell you, the game doesn’t exist purely for the DM’s enjoyment; the game belongs to the players, too. Sure, the DM is the one who calls the shots, but there won’t be much of a game if the players aren’t having a good time. (Ever tried DMing yourself? It can be done, but it’s sort of like baking your own birthday cake – vaguely sad, and a bit pointless.)
One way to make your players happy is to design a campaign around them. This approach requires you to be flexible, but in the end, it gives players exactly what they want. Here are a few tips for creating a custom campaign tailored to your players’ wishes.
Don’t Plan Anything
Instead of sitting down for a session of character building, make your first game session a collaborative discussion. Don’t come to the meeting with any preconceived notions about characters or game theme and setting. Just toss ideas back and forth, and do your planning after the group has decided what kind of game they want to play.
Ask each player what they want from the game, and listen to their answers. Do they want a Planes game? An Underdark campaign? A steam-punk romp through Eberron? What about the theme? Some players like city-based games full of guild wars and intrigue, while others prefer a straightforward "kill all zombies" plot. What sort of role-play to combat ratio do the players prefer? Do they want to play in a world that’s heavily mapped out, or one that will require lots of exploration? Which alignment do the players want to be? The answers to these questions will be your blueprint for building the world.
What if They Can’t Decide?
Of course, not every player will see eye to eye. It’s best to let the players hash out their differences through organic discussion and debate. If they reach a stalemate, you can give each "side" a few minutes to summarize why they think their idea will be the most fun for the group. After they’ve delivered their summaries, put it to a vote. In the case of a tie, well, you’re the DM. Your vote is the final word.
The Game is Flexible
If you’ve got a game setting tha’s really near and dear to you, you can still incorporate the group’s wishes. Most game themes can be inserted into any campaign setting, and vice versa. It might require a little creative tweaking, but you’re a DM, so you’re probably good at that sort of thing.
Do It for the Players
Remember: at the end of the day, you want to make choices that will bring the most enjoyment to your players – and sometimes that requires compromise. If you just absolutely can’t stomach the thought of running a violent Chaotic Evil campaign (or a righteous Lawful Good one), be honest with the group and try to meet halfway. You’re the one who has to run the game, so don’t agree to something you can’t live with.
Are you running or playing in a collaborative game? What kind of experience has it been? Tell us all about it in the comments section!