What do you do?
Not really part of writing an encounter but a critical part of running one is getting the players to do “stuff”. That can be anything from “use a different attack” to “engage with the skill challenge”.
Now oddly for me this is one of those places my real job has a lot to say about DnD, afterall successful learning needs a whole bunch of things to happen before it starts happening and many of those things should be familiar to DMs.
1. The Players Must Feel Comfortable
Before your players will try things that are risky they need to feel comfortable. They need to be comfortable in the routine physical sense, they need to be comfortable with the people they are with, and they need to feel comfortable about how you will deal with the situation.
2. Players Need to Know the Rules
This might seem obvious, but if the players don’t know how the rules you want them to try work they will be less inclined to try out those things. They will stay where they are comfortable!
3. Players Need to Know the Rewards
At school this is more complex than it is for your DnD game. Educators start talking about “relevance” and exciting stuff like that. For your DnD game it is pretty simple the core reason everyone is at the table is fun – so they just need to know that doing something new in the game will be fun.
Now there are a lot of ways to do this but I’m going to touch on only three:
- Incentives – I once played in a Vampire game (Sabbat) where the DM gave an extra xp for the most deranged/macarbe act of the session. Boy did we come up with some stuff! That game is still legend for us 15 years later. Now for DnD I don’t recommend giving xp, but Action Points, an extra use of a Utility power, or having an Encounter power “recharge” etc are all valid options to consider.
- Tell them how awesome it is.
When someone does something cool make a big deal out of it. Give then a high five, raise your voice and say “Awesome!” with a big grin. Be enthusiastic yourself.
- Say Yes Nothing dampens a players interest in trying things out like a DM saying “No”. Now sometimes you need to say no, it is part of the job of running the game. Yet if the players are being reasonable and what they want to do seems like fun say yes.
4.Ask Open Ended Questions.
This is the hardest one. Good news is they don’t have to be great open ended questions, just open ended. I ask “what do you want to do?” all the time in my games, usually immediately after describing something I want the PCs to interact with.
The room is covered in blood, like someone cut the heads off a dozen chickens at once and let them run around. Worse than the sprays over the walls and ceiling though are the pools on the floor. 4 large pools about the size of a child or halfling.
What do you do?
They might run and puke. They might roll around in it. Most likely they will start thinking “Perception check”
Don’t forget the companion question of “how do you do that?”
5. Roleplay =|= Rolling Dice
Ok this should be obvious but it needs to be said as well. Just because a player talks a little doesn’t mean you need them to make a social skill check. The player with the thug might be the leader among the players, while the shy player might have the social monster character – be sure you give the social monster PC it’s chance to shine by giving the shy player a chance to talk.
I’m one of those “player leaders” always on top of the game, knows roughly the abilities of the monsters and PCs etc etc (yes I can be bloody annoying ;)) so I talk to NPCs. I have some characters that are mechanically bad at it (no trained social skills) and I detest being asked to make a diplomacy check for a skill challenge because I asked 1 question. This makes me uncomfortable and so I withdraw from the game while the social challenge is happening.
So remember roleplaying means acting like the NPC not just making a bunch of dice rolls.
Hopefully that gives some ideas on how to get players involved. See also DMG1 & 2