Part of being a good GM is seeing and understanding the troubles your players are having in the game. While it is not your job to tell them they could be playing differently or “better”, it is your job to give them opportunities to better utilize their characters and explore all the tools at their disposal. This often comes with a bit of work on your end, but if done correctly it will seem effortless and your players will start to look at all the different possibilities their characters can bring to the table.
Identifying Player Blind Spots
The easiest way to figure out if your players have blind spots in your game is to notice when they start solving every problem in the exact same way. This means one of two things. First, it could be that you’ve created a game where they only ever need one solution (often excessive force) and that can be corrected in a multitude of ways. Second, which we’ll focus on in this article, is that your players are not aware of the different options they have as a character in the game.
Once you suspect that it’s the second option you have to tread carefully. There is always a chance that your player likes doing things that way and knows they can solve problems with different skills, abilities, or game mechanics. They simply choose not to. Additionally, and this cannot be stressed enough, you will need to understand what your player characters are capable of in your TTRPG or you won’t know this is a problem at all. Always read your player’s character sheets so you can know what they can and cannot accomplish.
After you’ve gotten a suspicion that your player might be stuck in a mechanical rut you can start moving on to helping them.
Helping Players Overcome their Blind Spots
It does not matter if your players are defaulting to their favorite solution or simply don’t understand they have other options. The best fix for this is to build encounters in your next sessions that expressly reject that standard player action.
Helping Players Avoid Instant Combat
If your players solve every obstacle with excessive force and direct combat, design an encounter where they are literally incapable of doing so. One solution might be putting them up against an extremely powerful, but passive enemy they need to work things out with. Alternatively, you could put them on the opposite side of a force field where they need to work together with the enemy to deactivate it.
In the challenges above you force roleplay, but if your players really object to doing so, that’s not the only solution to their problems. You want to lock them out of the go to solution to give them space to explore other options. At the same time you should never build a single solution obstacle for your players. Let them try other things and figure out what to do themselves. No matter what path they take they will try new options.
Helping Players Look at Utility Skills
When your players suffer from a lack of awareness of their utility skills it often helps to try and put them in a box of some kind. This can be something like being stuck in a cave, being lost in the wilderness, or trapped in a room in a trap laden dungeon.
Once you set up a scenario the best case for you is to build a room that each player’s utilities are a perfect match for. Make the rooms low stakes and very low time pressure to allow for experimentation, but be sure that something on their character sheets will get them out of a jam.
In our survival example, your players may be lost without food or water. Suddenly, your players have to focus on survival abilities. Your casters might have spells that conjure food and drink, while your non-magical characters might have searching/foraging abilities that come into play. The more desperate you make the long term survival situation the more they will have to experiment with their other abilities. A forest survival session is very different from a desert survival session and different abilities will help them in each location.
Similarly, trapping players in a section of a dungeon will have them exploring survival skills as well as alternative ways to escape where they are. If the party has been traditionally focused on just combat, now they can flex their other abilities in a lower stakes environment.
Helping Players Use Their Items and Inventories
If your party has a hoarder mentality and just loads up on items that they never use, you need to find a way to lock down their abilities. Maybe they’re in a cave that suppresses magic and non-natural senses. Maybe they’ve been shackled with magical items that suppress skills and abilities. The point here is that you deny them their go to options so that they are forced to look in their inventories and use up some of those items that are traditionally “too good to use”.
This can be a great way to get your players to spend resources they’ve been hoarding for no reason. If they are not normally using them, this should be the exact situation they were saving them up for. While the other examples for helping encourage roleplay or utility skill use are more sure fire, this situation is less of a sure thing unless you know exactly what’s in everyone’s inventory. Simply prompting people for a copy of their inventories might help get them in the right headspace.
Helping Players Avoid Over-Reliance on Gear and Items
In the exact opposite scenario from what we just covered, players can sometimes be over-reliant on adventuring gear and items. Luckily for us, the Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, has already created a perfect example for us in Eventide island. On Eventide island Link is magically stripped of all his items and equipment. This forces the player to use their abilities to find more gear and slowly build up an inventory from what is available.
In your game you can lift the idea from Zelda entirely and make a place where your players need to explore without any of their equipment. This still leaves them with plenty of options, but it forces them to think about what their characters can do without the total reliance on items.
In a weird way, this can also be used to help your players find a better appreciation for items as you can give them small loot drops as they progress that will make them use those items they might not normally think of. This can set an idea in their head that they might want to look at the utility of items they may have otherwise overlooked for an easier go to option.
No Guarantees, But a Good Start
While the methods we discussed are rather simple and straightforward, they’re also not a perfect solution. Some players might need more of a push to explore all their abilities. Other players might go back to their old habits as soon as they can do so again. The point is not to force players into doing stuff they don’t want to, but to ensure they get the opportunity to explore their characters to the fullest.
If you do this right, you’ll start mixing in obstacles that need multiple solutions more frequently. You’ll start to think about the options your characters have and use that to build encounters that allow each of your players to really shine in game. While these tips can help you solve some problems your players might encounter, they can also help you make a more varied and interesting game that allows your players to feel more valuable to the team overall.
With that, we hope you’ll start exploring ways for your players to utilize everything they have available to them. Sometimes, all it takes is giving them the chance to do so.