Players Want Answers
Dungeon Masters (DMs) get a lot of different kinds of compliments, and it’s probably one of the best non-direct forms of feedback they can receive. There are different reasons people choose to run roleplaying games, and different ways they approach the task, so the feedback they want to get is obviously going to vary. For me, the most satisfying compliment I’ve ever gotten as a DM was “I couldn’t tell which parts were planned, and which parts were made up on the fly.”
One of the goals of running a roleplaying game is to make the players feel like they are in an actual, functioning reality. When you do this, you delve into what makes these games different from video games and board games; you are giving players something without the boundaries and limitations of other games. One of the most important things for every DM to keep in their consciousness is that, within the setting you’re playing in, there is already an answer to every question. That is the subconscious understanding of the players, and that is the truth you are in charge of creating. When a player asks a question, there must always be an answer.
I remember playing in a Pathfinder game where the DM was working from a pre-made adventure. He was obviously newer to DMing, but he had good energy and made all the players, who were strangers, comfortable with each other. However, for whatever reason, he was intimidated by the idea of answering questions that weren’t covered by the module. When asked the name of the magic lantern we were seeking, or asking what time of year it was, his answer was “I’m not sure, it doesn’t say on here.” I understood he was being honest, but it also meant the immersion was diluted; there were simple boundaries I could not cross.
A DM must know that, as the creator, there is nothing you can “break” in your world/game, so you have nothing to fear from creating something on the fly. You hold an almost unfathomable amount of power and control, and you have every conceivable resource available to cause future events to play out in whatever way suits you. You don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes; you should be diving into the answers that feel right in the moment with the knowledge that as you say them, they become truth. Let the players wonder why the lantern has such a silly name, or why this tavern has the same name as the bar from How I Met Your Mother. Any answer is better than “I don’t know”, because it reminds them that they are exploring a fully functioning reality, and that their are no boundaries to their experience.