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Facilitating Choices

by Mike on 15 November 2021

At some point in all D&D games, groups of adventurers, and the players who run them, must sit down and make a choice. It might be about a particular direction they're going to take. It might be about an important negotiation. It might be about whether to kill, capture, or let a villain go.

At this point players spend time discussing their options, come up with ideas, and eventually make a decision. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Debates get heated. Strong personalities push down quiet ones. Arguments become circular and burn a lot of time. Or everyone stays quiet waiting for others to talk.

During these times our DM role changes. Instead of facilitating storytelling, we're facilitating a group discussion. We have an important job in this situation and it's worth taking time to understand this job, what pitfalls we might face, and ensure everyone still has a good time at the game.

Clarify the Goal

First, we can help players understand the goal they're trying to achieve. What, exactly, are they aiming for? What do they want? Is their goal clear? We can do this best by asking questions rather than telling them anything.

"What's your goal?"

Players can lose track of their intentions and we can help them out. We might ask questions to lead them back to the goal or we just remind them about what their characters already know.

Lay Out the Options

Next, we can help the players lay out the options. We can start by asking the players to describe their options and then help them clarify them if they're having trouble. Hopefully there aren't too many options. Three options are often best.

Ensure Everyone Gets a Voice

It's easy for a strong personality to dominate the conversation and make the choice for the group without the full group's concent. If the stakes are low, the rest of the group may just go along. As a facilitator, we can stop and ask each player what they think. Ensure everyone gets a voice.

Break Character With "Pause for a Minute"

Sometimes a player may have their character perform an action that bypasses the choices of the other characters have. A character might kill a prisoner or reveal some vital information to an NPC or something else that marks a permanent shift in the story. While this action may be fast in the world, we can pause the story and talk to the players out of character by saying "pause for a minute".

With "pause for a minute" we stop the action of the game and talk to the players outside of their characters. We can make sure every player is at least ok with the choice before jumping back into the game to let the action continue. "Pause for a minute" is a great tool to get past "that's what my character would do" sort of situations.

Unanimous or Majority Decisions

Most of the time a decision can be reached when a majority of the decide to go a certain way. Sometimes, however, the stakes are high enough or have a big enough effect on the game that we want to ensure there's a unanimous decision. If a decision is going to have a big effect on one or more characters, those characters need to at least accept the choice. Players shouldn't feel like their character had to go directly against their bonds and ideals when they didn't have a stake in it.

It can be hard to know which choices require a unanimous vote and which can be decided by a majority vote. The best way to tell is to ask them. Once a majority chooses, ask the minority if that's acceptable. If they say "sure, everyone else is ok with it, I'm fine" then go forward. If you get the feeling that they're uncomfortable with the choice, or the discussion ends in a stalemate, return to the discussion and look for different options. Reframe the question or the situation. Break out of the false dichotomy and look for a new approach upon which the group can agree.

An Important Moment in our Games

Facilitating choices is an important moment for us GMs. It's the time when we're most able to ensure our players build trust with each other. It's a time when we can ensure the environment is friendly and everyone has the opportunity to make a choice. Take the time to recognize the moments and practice the skills to facilitate interesting choices.

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