I’ve talked before about how I believe the main job of the GM—besides having fun, of course—is to elicit or evoke emotion (e.g. fun) in the players. Before we talk about techniques to elicit those emotions in the pursuit of fun, however, you’ll want to use a player survey or otherwise determine what kind of players are in your group and the kinds of things they find fun in tabletop roleplaying games. That way, you can focus your efforts on cultivating certain roleplaying games elements and techniques, saving you time while maximizing the return at your table.
There are multiple ways of determining the preferences of your players, the simplest of which is to just ask them what they like or don’t, but I prefer to use an online survey to collect my players’ responses. The benefits of doing an online survey from a GM’s perspective include collecting all your answers in one place and being able to easily visualize responses.
On the player side, the online survey allows them to take the survey when they can, take as much time as they need, and—thanks to the anonymous/solitary nature of online surveys—express feelings that they are uncomfortable voicing in front of the party or to the GM directly. Social anxiety and peer pressure (like conformity and group think) are powerful forces, and the goal of the survey is to circumvent both and get to the heart of the player’s likes and dislikes.
There are several different approaches to determining player preferences, which can be generalized into player archetypes commonly called “player types” or “playstyles.” Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering is a classic book of RPG/gamemastering literature, while GNS theory and its evolution, “The Big Model,” are other interpretations of playstyles and player engagement.
The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons has its own overview of player types specific to the types of adventures in D&D, which can be found on page 6 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Since my campaigns are commonly fantasy adventures, I used their broad categories as a starting point for building my own player survey, a copy of which you can take here on Survey Monkey.
If you’re interested in administering this survey to your players, I can send you a copy of the survey via Survey Monkey if you leave a request with your email address in the comments, otherwise feel free to adapt elements for use in your own player survey. I haven’t tried adapting the survey to a campaign set in the modern era (with or without paranormal elements), but I would be interested in hearing what kinds of questions you’d add to better suit your specific campaign!
For some of these articles, I’ll include an exercise (maybe it’s journaling, maybe it’s experimenting in your home game) that you can do to get you to interface with the material more.
Administer some sort of player survey to your players or use your past experience with them to determine what they enjoy most about RPG campaigns. Figure out which game activities are most popular among your RPG group and which, if any, are unpopular. You might also want to look at a more granular level—the individual questions themselves—to determine what about Exploring & Worldbuilding or what about Fighting & Optimization your party really loves. Record this information in a campaign notebook for future reference.
Starting in December (once NaNoWriMo is over), I’m going to continue this blog series with posts that delve into techniques for evokeing emotion for each of the categories. You can subscribe using your RSS feed reader of choice—or sign up for email updates using the sidebar to the right—so you don’t miss them! Thanks again for reading, and I hope this gives you a good starting point for crafting a player survey of your own!