A few years ago, I ran a short-lived 4e campaign with a bunch of players who all had a different idea of what aspect of the game was the most fun to them.

2 players, close friends, wanted to treat this like a typical video game RPG, where more of the intrinsic interactions, like information gathering, talking to NPCs, or even just being in town was dull. They wanted to just fight the bad guys, get loot, get experience, and level up.

Another was the complete opposite, he loved the non-combat situations, he'd love to talk his way out of a fight with bandits, or would love to stay in town and find out all the stories of what was going on. When it came to combat, you could tell, especially with the direct approach the others took, that he was dejected.

Then the last was completely about the immersion, he wanted to make sure we were counting arrows, tracking rations, maintaining weight, and more than anything making sure that people stayed in character.

As best I could, I tried to include everyone's varying interests in the game, by including a mix of good social interaction, combat scenarios, and tried to keep everyone as immersed as possible by making them keep track of their inventories and tried to keep metagaming to a minimum. However, everyone's dislikes seem to have won over and the group eventually lost interest and we stopped playing.

I say all this because recently, interest has been brought back up with the group about getting another game going (this time in 5e), and I worry this same concerns will end this game again. So my question is this, how do I, as a DM, try to make sure every type of player (described above) is enjoying the game, and not try to bog them down too much with what they don't like?


7 Answers 7


Outsource it to your Players

I find this happens in games where there is an unspoken agreement that the DM is going to in charge of (everything) about the world, and the players are going to be in charge of their characters, and that's it. That is, historically, the way games have worked. But it isn't the only way they can work.

You could for example, sit down with your players, and talk about what kind of game you'd like to play, what kind of challenges they'd like to face, and ask them how they'd like to balance those interests. You can bring up these issues, and ask them for solutions. If nothing else, it'll prepare their minds for there being times in game when they won't get to do their favorite thing.

Build the Game Together

There are tools for building a game. Depends on how deep you want to go. If you're comfortable taking a lot of input from players on how the world is going to be, you could use Sparks For Fate Core. It's built to use with the Fate RPG, but there is absolutely no reason, if you understand Fate as a game, that it can't be used to build worlds for other games. You don't even have to allow Aspects to mechanically influence the game, just use Sparks as a worldbuilding tool.

This will likely make your players more invested in the world, and so they'll be more interested in the roleplaying opportunities you present. The GM still has ultimate say over what happens in the game, but the players get to say what they're interested in. It might depend on your GM style, and whether you're comfortable adapting to player input into the setting. For me, it actually takes work off of me to not have to come up with things I think will be interesting to the players. I can simply riff off of the things they've already told me they're interested in.

Taking one step back from the setting/game design of Sparks, you may find The Same Page Tool useful. This is a series of questions that prompts the players and the GM to talk about their expectations. As mentioned before, a lot of things can be unspoken in games because of a misguided expectation of "building suspense" or "preserving mystery" for the players. I'm here to tell you that you can talk about the meta game, and still have the in-game moments be fun and surprising. Throw out the unspoken rule that the first rule of the game is we don't talk about the game.

Rolemaster Zodiac

Rolemaster is an old school game that had a section called Gamemaster Law, which is useful to anyone who plays RPGs, whether or not they play Rolemaster (I never have). Like the astrological Zodiac, it categorizes players into different types according to their proclivities while playing, so that you as the GM can better organize them and deal with their needs and potential problem areas.

Try to remember that humans don't always fall neatly into stereotypes, but the ability to say "Oh, Kyle is a Dragon, he's gonna wanna loot all the corpses, I should probably prepare for that" is often useful. Or, "Stan is a Hound, he's totally going to want to find out what the barmaid knows about the missing caravan, I should probably give her stuff to say"

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Expanding on "Build the game together", you may want to reference the Same Page Tool and/or something else that's similar \$\endgroup\$
    – Randomorph
    Jan 24, 2018 at 18:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ We can't have links here to PDFs distributed online against their copyright; I've removed that PDF link. Absent that, you might want to explain more what “Rolemaster Zodiac” means (the answer could have used more explanation of that anyway), and consider using a different, freely-linkable example instead. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Randomorph, The Same Page Tool is a great idea. I've never sat down and gone through it item by item with my players, but I often ask them things like that when we're building a game together. It's certainly a less invasive solution than Sparks. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 18:41
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie, thx, linked to a Youtube vid instead. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks good to me! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 19:01

I cant't say there is a perfect solution because it depends on the people you are playing with.

But I can share my experience as a DM and as a player.

We have a big group of 6-7 people (including DM). And in fact we talked a lot about what we like and what we don't like that much.

  1. We have the guys who like to fight a lot.
  2. We have the guys who like to roleplay a lot.
  3. We have the guys who like to solve riddles a lot.
  4. We have only one guy (me) who likes to track every arrow, every day of rations etc.

As we talked about who likes what we got to the point that we need everything mixed all together. It is as simple as it sounds. Some sessions are fully loaded with fights, some sessions have less fights and more discovering.

We mostly play custom campaigns and we change the DM after each campaign which results in very different styles.

One thing to "tracking everything": No one tracks his stuff as precise as me. Our DMs (me included) have no problem if the players don't track it that hard. But we CAN track if we want to.

In the end every player has to accept that there are other players who maybe like other parts of the game. Also if there is a riddle the fight-lover could lean back and if there is a fight the riddle-lover could just roll dice instead of explaining in detail how they fight.

One last thing I don't really want to suggest: If your players can't fit with the players in your group they may look for other players who like the same play style as they do.


Talk to Your Players

Almost every answer here is going to suggest you talk to your players. If you take nothing else away from this, let it be that you talked to your players. So what are we talking to them about?

Manage Expectations

Expectations can be a powerful thing in life. We often regard the outcome of things with relation to our expectations rather than an objective account of the results. Put simply: When expectations are met, people are happy. For example, even a bad movie can result in a good experience if you expected it to be worse than it was. More to your issue, you don't want to manage the expectations of quality, you want to manage the expectations about what your game is about. At the start you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Talk to your players. Talk to them together! Have a session zero in which all of you discuss the type of campaign you'd like to play, the setting your players are interested, what characters they'd like to play, and what rules you want to follow. I've had just as much fun talking about the session we just played as actually playing it. This session can similarly be fun and educational. You don't need to have a campaign set in stone by the end, but use this session to manage expectations and get information. After that, Define a concrete style of game and make sure everyone knows what it is before the campaign starts. This can be done in the days/weeks after session zero, but when the campaigns starts, let everyone know what your goals are. How much ammo are you counting? How much time do you want to spend in town? How much role-play are you going to strive for? Do you expect players to role play? Are you managing metagaming? Now, this doesn't mean that every session is the same. You don't need to pander to every player all at once every session.

Ensure the Party is Flexible

Make sure that the characters being played actually belong together and work well. Part of this is designing encounters to fit the party. But, if your immersive guy has all role-play spells and your video-gamey dudes are playing to "win", you will have conflict. The former will be bored by combat and the latter will be bored by role-play because their characters are intrinsically bad at those aspects of the game. So after you've managed expectations, make sure your players characters are flexible enough to handle different styles of play. Being a specialist is fun and rewarding, but turning your character on and off for different encounters is not. Make sure everyone can fight, everyone can roleplay, everyone can solve puzzles or whatever. It's okay to play a character that's good at one of those things and bad at the others, but it's not okay to ONLY play when your character is best at it. So make sure everyone is engaged in every activity.

Be Flexible Yourself

After you've set expectations and had a few sessions, don't be afraid to have a session that steers a little towards one type of play. Try to engage your video gamey players in some roleplay or get your role-players in some combat. My gut tells me the non-video-gamey players are perhaps more experienced and/or more flexible. At the very least, they seem to more open to a wider variety of game styles, whereas, in my experience, video-gamey players tend towards a singular style of play. So forgive me if this is directed a little at them. Engaging your players in new styles of play is a question all it's own. But, to speak very little of this problem, reward them for engaging in the different styles. More importantly, find the things that really engage them! Let each player have their time in the spotlight and make sure when they are that other players have fun as well. Better said than done. Your players need to be self-conscious of this too. They need to let fun happen for the other players, even if its not as fun for them.

Most importantly, roll with the punches. Some of the best sessions come from unexpected moves from the players. A recent example for our group was spending time in town creating costumes for our pirate crew. We had a lot of fun and none of us knew we wanted it coming in. So if something interesting starts to occur, let it happen! Don't plan too hard.

Manage Agency Accordingly

Make sure when a player is trying to speak with an enemy or any NPC that your video-gamey players aren't jumping in headlong. Even if they say "I attack", you have the power. Accept that input and let them know what happens, even if the result is "Give this player another moment". And vise versa, if a player tries to open up role-play mid battle, they don't get to speak for 5 minutes in a single round. Control your players if things get out of hand or if one type of player tries to steal the spotlight too often or too long. But make sure you're receptive to the wants of your players. Keep managing those expectations. If you control agency, make sure they know why. "Player A, i see you want to battle, but let Player B speak a little bit longer, or else join in the role-play naturally if you can". "Player B, I see you want to open dialogue mid-battle, but as long as everyone is fighting, it doesn't make sense for these Goblins to listen to what you have to say"


Get together, set a style, branch out from that style sometimes, reward flexibility, make sure your players are letting fun happen to other players.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I wanted to react to the "No you don't" advice, but... I can't disagree. There are players out there who don't know how to let other people have the spotlight. And while my initial disagreement was based on shutting down player agency, well, sometimes players don't realize when their agency is stepping on other people's agency. And, that's the only reason I'd shut down a player's action. It's fine for folks to say "just don't play with players like that", but nobody has a group of players who are absolutely perfect. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 21:32
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @DoctorKill that was what I was hoping to get across. Limiting agency is a big thing and shouldn't be done lightly, but if you go with the flow of the game, there's always the risk of one style of play taking over. I think it's perfectly reasonable to have a meta discussion about certain actions, especially when those actions are very quick. Also, players don't do anything, you accept input and do what you want with it. GMs are the agency handlers. If a player says "I attack", you may say "one moment please" or what have you. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 21:36

The problem you talk about has been dubbed "20 minutes of fun packed in 4 hours of game" by game designer Mike Mearls: when players each want something different, they are doomed to wait a lot of time for some brief part that caters to them.

Of course the best thing to do would be to play with people who have fun with the same things.

If this is not possible, just be honest to your players: tell them that you know they have different tastes and that you will try to cater to everyone's tastes. If they're not ok with waiting for their part, maybe gaming together is not that good of an idea.


For the player who loves tracking resources, there's no way to make players who aren't interested in that enjoy it. So don't try. Instead, let that player track equipment and consumables that are shared by the party, as well as their own stuff.

I do that for a historical game where I'm the player who's most interested in historical details and equipment. My character is the "baggage master," in charge of supplies, and also our armourer, who maintains everyone's guns. Since I learned that I shouldn't try to enforce my own standard of realism on other players, this works really well.


You Might Not Be Able To

The pessimistic but truthful answer is, "You might not be able to."

Bear in mind, there is a difference between:

  1. "I enjoy X activity more than Y and Z," vs
  2. "I enjoy X activity, but Y and Z irritate or bore me to tears."

If you've got mostly players saying or meaning 1) above, then there is hope. You can follow almost any of the suggestions here-- talk to your players, use the Same Page tool, collaboratively design the campaign, etc. All of these are ways to get to the same point, which is that you and your players all know what you want.

I would emphasize also something you're already doing-- designing the game with a mixture of aspects that appeal to everyone-- and make it explicit to your players. I think of this as a form of "spotlight time" where each player gets his or her time in the spotlight, so to speak, with the added expectation that someone's spotlight time is going to focus on the aspect that he or she enjoys most.

If, however, you've got mostly players saying or meaning 2) above, and they all have different X's, then you've got a problem that just might not have a solution other than refactoring the gaming group which is potentially fraught with real-world social consequences. You cannot, after all, force someone to enjoy something that they do not enjoy. I, for instance, would claw my eyes out with one hand while gnawing off the other if I found myself in a game that featured detailed provisions-tracking-- it's just not my thing. If everyone is having that reaction 2/3 or 3/4 of the time while waiting for the "fun" to happen, that's just going to end badly.

Ultimately, whether this is the case is something only you and the other players are in a position to assess properly. What I would do is follow up those other suggestions, e.g., the Same Page tool, and listen carefully not just to what each player enjoys, but what they don't enjoy and how much they don't enjoy it. This will give you much better insight into whether you can get spotlight time arrangements that work.

Finally, one note: Don't forget to account for your own preferences in the game, either. GMs are players, too, and if you spend all your time on stuff you don't enjoy, it will eventually become visible.


Get Everyone On The Same Page

There's even a tool for this. You can find it here. And a lot of discussion on this site as well, e.g. here. I don't agree with 100% of it and for me, personally, about half of the answers are "well, it depends." But it's a start.

You use it to tell the players what kind of game you will be running, and they can adjust their expectations to suit. If there's a clear consensus you can make adjustments - but don't fall into the trap of making it into a survey. You can't take incompatible goals and mush them together into something that's fun for everyone. If one person likes to play craps and another likes to play chess, you won't make them happy by playing chess but letting the players gamble for extra turns.

But then you have the Eight Kinds of Fun. Here you very much can take a little of column A and a little of column B. Fun #1, Sensory Pleasure (which I like to think of as "showmanship") is one that everybody likes. Whether you do great voices and dialogue or paint great miniatures and draw great maps, this is something that will appeal to everyone. It won't save a bad game, but it can make a mediocre game better. Fun #5 is another good one - but you won't always have it at the beginning. Where the challenge comes in for the DM is figuring out which kinds of fun each player likes, and how they can allocate their limited time and talent to maximize the amount of those fun things per unit time.

One good way is to cut out things that nobody likes. Maybe your players all really like making maps, and in that case a game about getting lost in a cave will be great fun. Maybe one player really likes making maps and nobody else cares, in which case you can make navigation fairly straightforward, that player will deal with it and everyone else will just go along with it. You can usually identify this player because they're playing a ranger. Or maybe nobody wants to deal with maps in which case just print the maps in advance and hand them out when players reach the appropriate places, or just build a game where navigation isn't important.

In the end, not all players have the same interests. That doesn't mean you can't all play in the same game - you must simply find the overlapping interests of the players and make sure that everyone gets something they need. Even among players with similar interests, they might express them in different ways - one challenge-seeker might want to power-level their character, while another might prefer solving a difficult puzzle. If there aren't enough overlapping interests, you should probably change the composition of the group.

The less dead time you have in the game where nobody is having fun, the more time you can devote to keeping players with different interests happy. This is one reason you, as a DM, should know your system. If you have to stop and look things up or argue about the rules, that drains fun lightning fast. Most players have some reasonable tolerance for boredom, and won't mind much if you include something that doesn't particularly appeal to them. But players who are extremists about one particular aspect of the game or another usually don't mix well with players who don't care about or actively dislike that aspect. You can mix a hack & slasher with a storyteller with a little care and consideration, because their goals, while disjointed, are at least compatible. But you can't mix a powergamer with a simulationist because they are actively opposed to each other - even if they're friends outside of the game.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .