With Gencon coming up there have been quite a few articles lately about what it means to be a good player, and while I enjoy reading them and (for the most part) agree with them all I do find that they tend to focus on the convention experience. My own gaming groups have had similar discussions about this and I wanted to share some points from those:
1. Be on time
This is really a no brainer, if the game starts at X o’clock then be there, ready to play, at X o’clock.
Now this goes a little further than just show up and play, games are meant to be a social situation, we play with our friends because we like to play with our friends. What tends to happen a lot though is that people show up at the scheduled game start time and start treating it like it’s social time for the next hour which can be a big problem if you only have a limited amount of time to play. My weekly group has solved this by telling everyone to show up by 6, we talk, eat dinner together, get it all out of our system and then play from 8 until 11, this allows us, as a group, to get all the “hey did you hear about this” kind of stuff out of our system and then focus on the game.
So if you find that a lot of game time gets eaten up by useless chatter maybe speak to your GM or group and suggest that meeting earlier to get it out of your system might be easier.
2. Be realistic and be fair about your time
Let me ask you something, can you commit to something once a week? a class, going to the gym, meeting the guys for a drink or bowling? Would you blow any of those off because you didn’t feel like it? I’ve spoken to many gamers and while they are always enthusiastic about playing in a game, they can (and very often do) vary greatly on their level of commitment.
If you are lucky enough to be part of a group that meets regularly (weekly, bi monthly, or whatever) you’ve probably had the discussion of setting a common day to meet, a weeknight or one day on the weekend. The day can change but for the purposes of the game it happens on that day.
The problem I continually meet with (as a GM, player, game organizer) is that people don’t treat this commitment as, well… a commitment. I’ve heard the excuses and to be fair, most people over the age of 18 have jobs, family, etc. but committing to a game is the same as committing to anything. If you can’t commit the time then don’t hold back the others in the group with schedule changes or lateness.
Sometimes not playing in a game is the best solution for everyone and approaching it responsibly can help you secure any open player spots in the future.
3. Be prepared
I was a scout for many years and the one lesson I can honestly say I took out of it was be prepared. This doesn’t mean just having the materials required for the game but also knowing what is expected of you, both as a player and as a character.
One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a game is having to stop the flow of the narrative so that the GM can explain to a player (or you) how a power/spell/rule works, this is fine when a campaign is starting out and everyone has new characters, but after a few months everyone should have a working knowledge of their characters and what they can do. If the GM has to interrupt things to ask a player what bonus or skill level they have that player should be able to either tell them right away or find it quickly and allow the narrative to continue.
If you come to a game make sure you have what you need, both material and informational.
4. Don’t steal focus
No matter what some people may say about role playing one thing remains the same, it’s a collaborative story. One person tells the story, other people participate in it. Like other storytelling mediums there is something called focus, wherein the audience is concentrating on a particular scene or character in order to follow the story. Now i’m sure most of you have had the experience of some idiot talking during a movie, have you told them to shut up? I know I have. So why would we tolerate it during a game?
I’ve run and played in numerous games where the people not involved in what is going on just start chatting or talking loudly, sometimes over the narrative that is going on, we’re all guilty of it. I’ve told players to shut up and been told to shut up as well and luckily the groups I play in all understand that it’s never meant in anger only in the best interest of the story.
Games are meant to be a social event but if you are there to play then play. don’t force others at the table to pay more attention to you then the GM, especially when it doesn’t relate to anything happening in the game. Managing a role playing group can be hard and it’s important that everyone have time to play their character so that everyone can have fun. Don’t draw out your turns trying to find the absolute best thing your character can do, try to plan ahead and be ready to play when focus comes to you and then let it move onto someone else.
5. Pay Attention
By this point I really have to ask if this point is necessary? It’s assumed that if you are coming to a game you are coming to game, nothing else, and yet I have witnessed people playing on their phones, watching movies (or YouTube) on iPads and even playing online games while playing.
We live in a digital age, there’s no escaping the use of smart phones and tablets (some people need to have their phones nearby because of work or emergencies), a lot of good gamers have even tried incorporating them into games, but there is never an excuse to ignore the action by watching a movie (even if you have headphones, which i’ve known people to not even bother with).
I use my iPad a lot while gaming, I keep notes, rulebooks and such on there and generally when a rules question comes up, if i’m not the focus of the action, I will try to look something up quickly. I have been guilty of going on Facebook but the difference is that whenever my turn comes up I am ready to go and I actively know what’s going on. Some GM’s ban tablets and smartphones at the table and that is a viable solution, it all depends on what works for your group.
6. Accept that Bad Things Happen
One of my most hated terms in gaming came from golf, the mulligan, basically taking an action back because of a less then favorable outcome. As a GM this basically invalidates the idea of role playing to me, allowing people to change their choices because it might turn out bad for them means that the story isn’t as important as the players winning. A good GM can turn failure into something amazing story wise, even character death, but letting the players completely dictate the action can sometimes be counterproductive.
I’ve seen players go off the handle because something bad happens to their character just as i’ve seen GM’s be vindictive and try to kill characters, it’s not a perfect world. In an ideal game the GM tells a fair story and most of the time the dice decide the action, a lot of games even have systems built in that allow the players to modify or downright change what happened (at a cost) such as plot points, drama points, sacrificing xp and so on.
One of my earliest role playing memories was watching one of the older players literally sweep the table because he was angry at what happened and that stuck with me, that was one of the worst moments i’ve experienced in this hobby but it taught me one of the best lessons, sometimes things don’t go as we hoped and it’s best to let it go and start over. So accept that sometimes things will not go your way, sometimes characters will die and the villain may win. Think back to some of your favorite stories (I’m going to mention a dwarf named Flint here, those that get this will know what I mean) and the impact a characters death can have.
So accept that bad things can happen and move on, after all it’s only a game.
7. Respect People’s Space and Belongings
It can be hard having a good space to play, a space where everyone has the room they need for everything so it is important that everyone respect each other’s space. The space at a table is finite and you should respect a person’s right to have enough space to play.
Role player’s are a curious breed, they can have many superstitions around the table and they can get pretty protective about their stuff. Some player’s won’t even allow another player to touch their dice for fear that they won’t work the same afterwards, but if you have a player who throws his bag down, a stack of book, papers, dice, a drink and whatever else and takes up a third to half of the available space then it goes past player quirks and becomes a real issue.
Players need space, we all do and hogging table real estate because you want access to your books or bag is just ridiculous. In the old days we used to play in the library (at least I did) and we had huge tables to use, if you’re lucky enough to have something comparable in size then great but most people use a standard dining room table. So please respect everyone’s right to having a fair sized play area.
Also, and this is basic common sense, if something doesn’t belong to you either ask permission before you touch it or just don’t. If you don’t like people touching your stuff randomly then don’t do it to others at the table.
Ok, no one likes to think about this but it has to be said, hygiene is important. I’m not going to belabour this but just remember, wash up and use deodorant.
9. The GM has the Last Word
In any game there is always someone in charge, in baseball there is the umpire, in hockey there is the referee, in role playing there is the GM. We acknowledge that the GM is in charge, that they are the one telling the story, and we give them our cooperation in telling that story.
It’s long been understood that the game functions within a framework of rules that the GM uses to determine how certain actions happen and if a rule is unclear or cannot be found then the GM makes a ruling. And yet I see players argue these rulings all the time, either because it negatively affects them or the party or because they feel that they know better. Sometimes this works and there are tons of GM’s who use these players to help them speed things up or make things run smoother, but sometimes there are players who just feel the need to argue against a ruling because they feel it is somehow unfair.
Regardless of things we have to remember, and respect that the GM has final say in these matters, usually because they have an understanding of events that we as players don’t. Working with your GM to make things fair is great and can help with the feeling of collaboration in any game but arguing never solves anything and usually holds up things for everyone.
10. We’re there to have fun
Games are fun, if they weren’t they wouldn’t be called games. We play them to enjoy ourselves and have fun with our friends and escape into fantasies. Like any game though it can get competitive and while we like to think of ourselves as friendly people, things can turn competitive very quickly.
So what can I say about this? Not much really, human nature is human nature and the best we can hope for is to find a group of people that we get along with and share the same sensibilities in regards to role playing, if not maybe move on and find another group with the knowledge that it’s nothing personal.
We’re all there to have fun so just remember, in the words of the inestimable Wil Wheaton: Don’t be a dick