Behind the Screen: Regarding Chemistry…

2008 April 2
by Dante

Yesterday, Stupid Ranger posted a great piece discussing chemistry and group dynamics. As the Dungeon Master, it is important to cultivate skills in reading the group chemistry and tweaking the way you run your game.

Group Composition

Stupid Ranger mentions yesterday that often the reality of your group chemistry falls into group composition: that is, the people that make up your player group. If you do happen to find yourself in a situation where your group is unbalanced in some way (say, too many leaders or arch-enemies within a group) you can often leverage your storyline to help balance the mix within your group.

If you have a group with too many leaders, for example, and the group is very invested in the storyline you might be able to actually capitalize on this dynamic by creating a plotline that splits your group in some way. This will allow your multiple leaders to flourish and the rest of your group to get some respite from the conflict that comes from this particular type of chemistry.

Plot can be used to solve a lot of these problems, however it is not a silver bullet. Engineering too many of these “artificial” balms to group dynamics will quickly become obvious and hackneyed, so use them somewhat sparingly.

Balance is a difficult thing

I am running into the same difficulty that SR is… describing what good chemistry (and good management of group dynamics) is a difficult thing to explain in words. I am reminded, however, of a certain Futurama episode where Bender is set adrift in the universe and encounters a deep-space godlike entity.

Bender is perplexed at how to direct the small pocket society that had collided with him, and the godlike entity tells him he has to have a light touch, and eventually is quoted as saying: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

Extending that notion to managing group chemistry is the mark of a truly fantastic Dungeon Master, I can only hope to aspire to this kind of effortless plot execution and group management!

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