This week we’re talking about how smart players are. Sorry, but this one is mainly focused on tabletop games.
Players will almost always try to think ahead of their Dungeon Master. If they can out think you, they can predict what you’re going to do next, and be prepared for it. And if they’re prepared for it, they stand a much better chance of surviving it. Probably, at least. The thing about players, though, is that they generally have to discuss their theories with each other, and considering they’re generally sitting across the table from you, you generally get to hear both what they’re planning, and what they think is going to happen. A bad dungeon master will take this information and use it to thwart their players at every turn. That is the sort of behavior that leads to players communicating with each other only in whispers, passed notes, and semaphore. As a rule, if your players decide to leave the room once in a blue moon because the ultimate battle of ultimate destiny is about to happen and they want to keep their preparations secret, let them. But, if they leave the room when deciding what route to take to the store, you need to reevaluate your table dynamic.
That being said, one of the greatest thing a DM can do is steal from the players. They are going to be coming up with all kinds of ideas about how your game world works anyways, you might as well use some of them. If you’ve come up with an explanation for something, like why the chancellor is plotting his revenge against the king, and the players have decided he’s out for revenge over the perceived slights the king has been heaping upon him for the last thirty years while you decided he was being mind controlled, incorporating the player’s idea will only enrich the story. Perhaps the demons in his head found firmer purchase thanks to the years of abuse he felt he had suffered. Storytelling is a collaborative effort, and it pays to get help with it. That being said, don’t tell your players you’re doing this, as it detracts from the feeling that the game world is a concrete place. Letting players know you changed your mind about why the great space war was fought based solely on an offhand remark one of them made about how funny it would be if the space elves had masterminded the whole thing will draw unwanted scrutiny to your universe and make it seem far more fluid than it should be. Also, while blending of ideas can be done fairly regularly, such as the mind controlled chancellor example, outright stealing of ideas, such as the space war being masterminded by the elves and not starting over a mineral dispute in Alpha Centauri, should not occur with any kind of regularity. Players love to find out that their suspicions were right all along, but it doesn’t do to let them think they’re smarter than you are, unless they do actually guess what you are planning, in which case they earned it. Quick little explanations, such as the shop keeper being prejudiced because he hates elves, are generally fair game though.
In summary, your players sometimes have good ideas. Just don’t ever tell them that.