Kaiser Keeps DMing: How to Motivate your Players

Good morning, day, evening and welcome to another Issue of DMing for Dummies! This Issue will focus on the hardest part of DMing, making sure your players WANT to be at your table. We’ll cover some topics like how to Read your Players, How to Interact with your Players, Shifting the Spotlight, Call Backs as well as some Location/NPC Good Practices. As an overall we will also cover to Reinforce Positive Actions from your Players.

I hope this will be helpful and feel free to contact me on the Forums or Discord to discuss or offer suggestions!

Reading your Players

Well, you’ve been DMing for a Session or two and you’re not sure how your Players are feeling. ASK THEM! While you’re new to DMing, you lack the experience to know how things are going, so ask your Players! Did they have fun today? What did they like, what did they not like, what would they like to see in a future session.

Try to keep an eye on body language of each Player. Some signs of silent interest are leaning forward, nodding along, taking notes. Signs of disinterest vary in degrees; just because a Player is on their phone or doodling, doesn’t mean they’re disinterested. There is a large overlap in people who play D&D and people with neuroatypical conditions, so don’t assume the worst right away. Communication is key!

Interacting with your Players

During the game, keep track of the time, make sure to have at least one interaction with each Player within a certain amount of time. For new DMs, I’d recommend every 20 minutes, you make certain to exchange at least one line of dialogue with each Player.

  • “What does your character do during this time?”
  • “Does your character want to intervene in the current situation?”
  • “Hey, don’t forget your character knows/is good at X, would you like to help/hinder your party?”

Even if you don’t talk to your Players, be sure to acknowledge their existence: eye contact, a nod and a smile go a long way to making the Player feel welcome at the table.

Shifting the Spotlight

You’ve worked on your basics, you can somewhat equally distribute your attention to the players, but some sort of pizzazz is missing in your sessions. BE UNFAIR! You’re hopefully had a few sessions at this point, the players are getting comfortable with their characters, and you know enough of their backstory to improv some background characters and help tie the players to your world. Don’t be afraid to make the focus of the session be on 1-2 characters. Tie more of the plot and the story to them, have their personal interest drive them to follow the quest and have their character motivate the other characters to follow along.

Set up the story so that there is internal conflict: the paladin wants to go save his temple, but the rogue grew up in the orphanage run by the temple and was mistreated. The other 3 characters of the 5-person party now must choose sides, do they support the paladin and continue the poor management of the local orphanage, do they support the rogue in overthrowing the temple, or do they find some middle ground? This session would highlight the backgrounds of two characters, introducing characters and locations from their past, but it would certainly make for a much more memorable and unique session/arc than “Undead bad, go clear tomb”.

During the session itself, don’t be afraid to spend and hour or two focused on a specific sequence that only has part of the party. Such sequences usually work best with occasional OOC moments to get a laugh/reaction out of the players that are not directly participating. Maybe ask those players to name some NPCs, to suggest rolls for the DM to make, to add their own DM flair to your own session. These kinds of things are different group to group and even session to session. Try out new things and ask for feedback from your group!

Recurring Gags / Cast / Locations

Like an good TV show, recurring fan favourites will always be a great way to reengage the party after a serious sessions. I personally have developed several PCs who started life as quirky NPCs. The Gnomish Artificer who runs a magic item shop that only sells items you want and never what you need. The innkeeper’s son who wants to be an adventurer but is too young. You’ll never know what works and what doesn’t, so don’t feel too stressed about planning NPCs and their backstories, let them grow organically.

Set up a running gag with the character, a line of dialogue or a silly item. I’ve had the party be stalked by a rock because several party members where too obsessed with keeping watch. An NPC that was with them would keep Sleight of Handing the rock after they broke camp and then place it near the next campfire on the following night. Many sessions later I would occasionally reference the pyramid-like stone whenever someone rolled particularly well or poor on Perception and would get a round of groans and “Not again!”s.

Once a player character had a bad interaction with an NPC and the NPC exclaimed “I don’t think I like you!”. Next Charisma check the player made was poor and a different NPC repeated the line of dialogue. The third time, an NPC exclaimed the line of dialogue before any interaction had even occurred, surprising the party and getting a mixture of chuckles and groans from the Players.

The players could have a favourite tavern/town that can evolve from arc to arc. Let them influence the hiring of staff, maybe let one quest let them set up some new trade route to the town. Showcase these changes as it lets your players feel closer to the world and lets them feel like their decisions matter.

Positive Reinforcement

Last but not least: When your players act in a way you like, reward them. It is better to reward the players too much and hand out too many magical items, than to leave your players unsatisfied. If the players are behaving IC in a way that upsets other players at the table or worse, upsets you as a DM, either you can interrupt the session and have a serious conversation…. OOOORRRR you could try to curb that behaviour IG. The best way to do so (IMO) is not antagonistic to the character who misbehaved, but by having the other characters be elevated due to the actions of the misbehaving character. Its hard for me to list examples/solutions as what is inappropriate at one table might be the norm at the next.

Feel free to discuss below as well as add your thoughts! The above will be edited with feedback and I hope can exist as a living guide! May the dice guide your fate!

Thanks to @BufoBufo @Elenaaa @svn for being at the relevant DM workshop and helping me stay motivated and focused to actually write this up!


Reading your Players

  • ask them
  • tell them what you want
  • make a session 0
  • also be a human being or a decent lizard person^^

Interacting with your Players

  • try to give every player equal spotlight; encourage the quieter players
  • plots about (challenging) personal values are great
  • (quote: @H treasure can also be it’s own reward)

Recurring Gags / Cast / Locations

  • give your campaign a ‘theme’ is helpful
  • use recurring casts & locations is great
  • if something/someone worked really well, use that/them more often

Positive Reinforcement

  • give feedback is very important
  • tell your players how their characters have influenced the setting
  • you can also use the rpg system to reward them (e.g. give out Inspiration in a D&D 5E game)

Focus on having fun!