GMs can’t run games without players and players can’t play games without GMs. It’s a paradox of collaborative storytelling. But players can be finicky creatures and not all GMs know how to heard cats. Here’s a few tips to keep your players happy without giving into them all the time.
Agency of Choices
Players do not like the loss of agency (i.e., control of their character or control of the situation). And in cases where this happens it sucks. They are here to tell a story with you not listen to a story by you. That said, you can make things easier on yourself by insinuating the illusion of agency. This requires you know your players a bit, but works quite well. Let me explain. It’s the same thing you do to small animals and children: you give them a couple of choices and let them decide where to go. They still have agency because they picked where they are going, but it gives you the time to plan out the game. It might make some players angry if they pick up on it, but mostly the players will understand and actively help you. You’re trying to keep the game fun and let them be their characters while also not breaking your back doing a ton of prep.
In most games the PCs are special. That is, they are the stars of the “show” and the GM should either take that into consideration when adjudicating effects or actions or give the players character traits to represent this fact. My personal favorite is using meta-currency of some type – Impulse Points, Destiny Points, Luck, Serendipity, etc. Another idea I’ve toyed with is using traits like Legal Immunity to represent a kind of “metagame” immunity to certain consequences.
Time Spent Is Time Earned
Take the time to talk to your players on a one on one basis or as a group – both if you got the time for that. Ask them what they don’t like about the game. Ask them what they do like. Ask them if you’re doing a good job and if you could be better somehow. Ask them about how they feel about the other players. Ask. More data means better gaming. Better gaming means more investment. More investment means more fun.
Picking Over The Bones
And those are a few of my favorite things to make sure the players have fun and get as invested in my games as I am. Being able to know your players well is arguably a “zero” rule, but that’s a pretty obvious thing. Another thing that I don’t think is done enough in games by GMs is retconning. If something screwed up happens and every single one of the people at the table agree it shouldn’t have then you know what? It didn’t. Roll with it. I’m not talking about failed challenges or the like, but rather situations where the dice are just being terrible or a player didn’t consider everything and their character probably would have. In those situations do the right thing, not the dice thing.