– MASSIVE ARTICLE ABOUT TABLETOP ROLEPLAYING ALERT –
(Edit: Since I published this piece a few months ago, an awful lot of people have looked at it and several of them have complained about the swear words in it. If you’re upset by profanity, I’ve written a version with all the rude bits removed that you can read and share instead.)
I have read a LOT of articles online about how to be a good Gamesmaster. It’s something that fascinates me. I get a really good buzz off a game gone well that’s hard to replicate without sex or drugs, and getting hold of those both often involves more effort than I’m willing to put in. I want to get better at running games; I strive towards it. It is a passion. I have read more books on Gamesmastery than I have on, say, the subject of my degree.
But it’s incredibly rare to find an article that teaches you how to play, and surely that’s more common? Surely for every GM there are, on average, four players? There’s this weird disconnect, that the responsibility to entertain lies squarely with the person behind the screen, and that the players just turn up and absorb it. And that’s bollocks, clearly.
So this is a thing I have written, because there is not enough of it online. It is a handful of tips on becoming a better player. I have absorbed and stolen it from a few sources, such as this thread that I started on Reddit and from my friends on Facebook, this video on Improv and Graham Walmsley’s book Playing Unsafe. Thanks to everyone for your wisdom.
A note: I am not perfect! Obviously. Looking at my face would tell you that. But I cannot pretend that I embody all of these things all at once all the time; they’re just advice, I guess, extrapolated from more than my fair share of time spent playing RPGs on both sides of the screen, and looking at players and seeing what I like and what I dislike. Hopefully you can get something useful out of it, if you play a lot of games.
ONE. Do stuff.
Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – “What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your arse and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.
Investigate stuff. Ask questions. Follow leads. No-one needs you to point out that this is an obvious plot thread while you do it. Mix up scenes, talk to people, get up in their grill. If you’re not playing the sort of character that would do such a thing, find something you can affect, and affect it.
If you keep finding yourself pushed to the back of scenes and twiddling your thumbs – why is such a boring character hanging around with the sort of people that Get Shit Done?
Be active, not passive. If you learn nothing else from this article, bloody learn this.
TWO. Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said.
You can write as many pages of backstory as you like, mate, but they don’t factor in one bit to the game unless you show them happening. Are you a shrewd businessman? Cool. Do some business, shrewdly, in front of everyone else. Are you a hot jazz saxophonist? Play the saxophone. Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree, you prick!
This ties back into the first point, really; you only exist through your actions. It is not the responsibility of other players to read your backstory, and their characters cannot read minds. Well. Some of them can, but you know what I mean. They shouldn’t have to.
So display your talents, your traits, your weaknesses, your connections. Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.
THREE. Don’t try to stop things.
Negating another player’s actions is fairly useless play; it takes two possible story-changing elements and whacks them against each other so hard that neither of them works. For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened. All you’ve done is waste time, and we don’t have infinite supplies of that.
Instead, go with the flow. Build. If the fighter wants to break someone’s nose, what happens after that? Does your monk rush to help the jerk up? To admonish the fighter? To apologise to the jerk’s friends, before shit really kicks off? To save the fighter in the big brawl that ensues, even though he was going against your will? Or to throw the biggest guy in the tavern right at him, to really teach him a lesson? Those are all examples of interesting stories. Stopping him from doing anything whatsoever isn’t.
Don’t negate, extrapolate. (See, that rhymes, so it’s easier to remember)
FOUR. Take full control of your character.
“My character wouldn’t do that” is a boring excuse, a massive NO to the game’s story on a fundamental level. It’s a point-blank refusal to participate.
Instead of being bound by pre-conceived notions of what your character would and would not do, embrace complications and do it, but try to work out why. Why is your Rogue doing this mission for the church? Does he have ulterior motives? Is it out of a sense of companionship with the rest of the party? Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.
(Do you remember that great story about that hobbit who told Gandalf to fuck off, and sat at home picking his hairy toes all day before his entire village was swallowed up by the armies of darkness? No. No you bloody don’t. So put on your backpack and get out there, Frodo)
If you keep finding yourself having to explain your actions, or not wanting to go along with group decisions because of your character’s motives… well, sweetheart, maybe your character’s motives are wrong. They’re not written in stone. The group’s the thing, not your snowflake character, and if they’re not working, drop them off at the next village and maybe try playing someone more open to new ideas. Maybe work with the group to build a character that fits in.
Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.
FIVE. Don’t harm other players.
Oh ho, here’s a jolly thief that nicks stuff from the other party members! And their Sleight of Hand roll is so high that no-one will ever notice! Gosh, what a jape.
Fuck that guy. No-one likes that guy. (That guy generally plays Kender, and I am fully of the opinion that Kender should be promptly genocided out of all RPGs. I don’t think genocide is a crime if we’re talking about Kender.) If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way. If they find out, what are they going to do? Are you going to force them to escalate? Is it fair if they kill you for it? Is that fun for them?
Similarly, attacking other players is awful, too. I’m okay with this where systems fully support and encourage this, of course – something like Paranoia or Dogs in the Vineyard – but, Christ guys, give it a rest. I am hard-pressed to think of a way where such a thing improves the game; if your group is fine with it, discuss it beforehand. But keep me out of it.
There are a whole load of things out there to steal from and beat up and kill that won’t get offended when you do it to them, so go bother them first.
SIX. Know the system, don’t be a dick about it.
If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world.
(New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)
But for the love of God, don’t rules-lawyer. Do not do that. It is not hard to work out, because here is a simple guide – if you are arguing over a rule for more than twenty seconds, you are a rules lawyer. You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.
There are times when the rules are wrong, and that’s fine, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that time the guy remembered the rule and we all laughed and had a great time because he made the GM change it.
SEVEN. Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table.
Hey! What’s that you’re playing, on your phone there? Oh, is it Candy Crush Saga? That’s funny, all these dice and character sheets gave me the impression that we were playing Dungeons and Fucking Dragons, I must be terribly mistaken.
It is hard to think of a way to be more dismissive of someone’s game than playing a different game during it. If you find yourself getting so bored by what’s going on you’re resorting to playing a game on your phone, or reading a book, or checking Facebook, then step away from the game. You are draining the group with your very presence. I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.
And of course, it’s up to the GM to offer an entertaining game. This is not one-sided. But going back to point one, act whenever you can. Give them something to work with. Unless you’re paying them money to do this, they are under no obligation to dance like a monkey for you just because they’re behind the screen.
EIGHT. If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it.
I have a rule in my games, and that rule is: “Nothing fucks anything else.” Simple. Clean. Elegant. No sexual conduct; it’s weird, often. I’ve had seduction attempts, obviously, and that’s fine. I’ve had characters deeply affected by rape. I’ve even had someone negotiate time with a skin-thief alien to reanimate a cat for the purposes of sexual pleasure as part of a heist. But, and this is the crucial thing here, nothing fucked anything else “onscreen.” And if you’re thinking, “Ha ha, okay then, but is fisting all right?” then fuck off out my game, sunshine.
And that’s the point; in situations like the ones we find ourselves in on a weekly basis, it’s easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s as blatant as discussing dead babies or bestiality; maybe it’s something much more benign, like being rude or chatting them up in-character.
If you think you might have upset someone, then ask ’em, quietly. And if you have, apologise, and stop talking about that particular thing. It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.
So, you know, be nice. Be extra nice. No-one’s going to think any less of you for it.
NINE. Be a Storyteller.
The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade. But they have a point; a GM is telling stories. It’s easy to forget that the players are doing that too.
So put some effort in, eh? Say some words. Develop a character voice and stance. Describe your actions. Work out a level of agency with the GM so you can chip into wider descriptions, or just make assumptions and describe it and see if it sticks. A good GM should go with what you’re saying, anyway, unless it really goes against their plan.
Similarly, brevity = soul of wit, and all that. A good GM doesn’t monologue, or have their NPCs have long discussions, or make players sit back and watch while their world plays out. So know when to shut up, and to keep your descriptions short – unless you’re an incredible storyteller, of course. But short and punchy is always better than long and flowery.
God, this is an awesome picture. Credit to jubjubjedi on Deviantart
TEN. Embrace failure.
Failure can be embarrassing. I know that I get pretty het up when the dice don’t favour me – when I’ve spent ages waiting to have my turn in a large game, say, or when I’m using some special power, or when I’ve been talking a big talk for a while or described some fancy action – and I use some pretty bad language, too. And not “fun” bad language, like we all do when we’re gaming. Like threatening “is this guy okay” bad.
And that’s not cool. I need to learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block. Why did I miss? Why didn’t my intimidation roll work? Why didn’t I pick the lock? Why was I seen? Who worked out that I’m the traitor? What other options can I explore?
Some systems build this in by default – Apocalypse World, for example – and they give you the ability to somehow affect the world whenever you roll the dice, not just fail to affect someone’s Hit Points. That’s great! We need to get ourselves into that mindset by default. We need to view failures as setbacks and explain why our character didn’t achieve their goal, and we need to understand that failure is not the end of the world.
ELEVEN. Play the game.
This is a game. This is not a challenge that exists solely in the head of your GM. This is not your character’s personal story arc. This is not your blog. This is not an excuse to chat up one of the other players. This is not a table to sit at in silence. This is a game.
We have signed up to play a game together. We are all telling a story with each other, to each other, and the story comes first. Step back from the heat of combat; step back from your character’s difficult relationship with their half-Drow mother; step back from the way that the Paladin’s player keeps stealing your dice.
This is a game. Respect the other players. Respect the story, and act in service of it. Respect that you will not always get your way, and that not getting your way can be interesting.
Do what is best for the game. Do what is best for the story. Be active! Be positive! Be interesting! Change things! If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.
Update: I have written more about the topics raised in points 3 and 4 – and wrapped them around Stanislavski and Brecht – in this follow-up post.
Update update: If you’ve enjoyed this piece, I’ve written a companion piece for gamesmasters in my upcoming book, UNBOUND. Check us out on Kickstarter.
224 thoughts on “11 ways to be a better roleplayer”
Good to see a lesson to players. I would add one overarching comment that runs through all of these – play a character not yourself. The GM and players will have so much more fun if you create a memorable persona to interact with. Too often I see players at the table whose characters are the same every time.
And they should have flaws and odd traits just like real people. Things done to your character or said to your character are not directed at you, the player but at the character. That works so much better if the pc is not a thinly disguised avatar of you.
i would also add, don’t always play a selfish character. once in a while playing the thief that wants to steal everything is ok, but if every character you play would rather spend half of the combat enhancing their-self, you’re table is gonna have a bad time.
While this advice can be good, it’s heavily dependent on the player and situation. This is good advice for players who are, as you say, making the same character every time and it is tedious and boring for everyone else.
On the other hand, I’ve run into players who play one archetype very, very well and it really improves the game to have such a well-fleshed-out character running around and filling a particular role. The player fills a role they know they enjoy, and everyone has fun.
I’ve also seen people try to create characters that differ too much from themselves, and aren’t able to get in the proper headspace of their characters. They either try to make the character too charismatic, and get frustrated when they fail. Or too clever, and they overthink themselves into stupidity. Or perhaps the character just fails to do anything interesting, because the player just can’t figure out what their character would do. To those players, I recommend “play yourself” a bit more. Maybe take an aspect of themselves and play it up a little bit, or imagine what they would do if they were in this situation with slightly different motivations.
I get where you’re coming from, and what you’re trying to say. However, I don’t think your advice is universally applicable to all “bad” players, or even to all mediocre players, and thus doesn’t belong in a general list like this one.
Seriously, a great article. Nice work, Alun!
I guess some expansions to your Point (6) could be:
(a) Don’t be a number-cruncher. What we’re trying to do here is to generate a fun, dramatic, and approximately internally-consistent story. Not to operate a rules set 100% correctly. If what floats your boat is statistical analysis, go and do that.
(b) If something happens in the game which appears to be statistically unlikely, try NOT to step out of character to challenge the GM’s ruling. So someone’s just fallen off a 100ft cliff and walks away without a scratch? Your character, not you, should express amazement. Trust that the GM knows the nature of the real world just as well as you do – let the explanation emerge in game, not in a discussion ABOUT the game.
Your Point (7) is incredibly well made. The advent of ubiquitous connectivity can be a killer to game atmosphere. As a GM, this article has made me decide to be LESS accepting of semi-engaged players.
The reverse of this is that by everyone being engaged, and interacting, NO PLOT CAN BE BORING.
I once GM’ed session in which the characters were stuck in a lift. There was a revolution going on at the time, and the Undercity was being invaded by deranged cannibals, but NOTHING HAPPENED in three hours of play time!
I’d assumed that the “stuck lift” incident would take a few minutes of play at most and was standing ready to cause the lift to coast, irresistibly, down to level minus ten (where the cannibals were waiting) or zoom up to the control room, occupied by the Citizens’ Commitee for Revolutionary Justice).
But the conversation between the characters was so engaging (the fear, the argument, the political debate, the revelations, the speculation, the weapons check) I just let it continue. It was a three hour cliffhanger and a memorable evening. Now I don’t recommend this type of plotting every session, but my point is that great play can lift even the sparsest of plots to a new level.
“3 hour cliff hanger” – what a great story. I can relate exactly to what you’re describing here. So many of my games I think, “Oh, this’ll take about 20 minutes” and then an hour later, they’re still working it out. Lots of fun to let the players set the pace when they’re fully engaged! 😀
I run a bi-weekly Exalted campaign, and a few sessions back this exact kind of thing happened. One of the PC’s had just massacred a whole heap of bandits with the spell Death of Obsidian Butterflies (which unleashes a flying, razor sharp swarm of, you guessed it, obsidian butterflies, that drop to the ground after the spell is completed, turning into razor sharp caltrops.) and a huge chunk of the Circle started debating the monetary value of the silver dollar sized obsidian chunks. Damn thing went on for almost an hour. Had some of the players not been the sort to whine that game has to wrap at a reasonable time, I would have just seen where it went.
We ran a game once, just my regular GM and I, during a walk across town. No character sheets, no books, no dice. Just an hour of pure storytelling. To this day it remains one of my most memorable gaming experiences.
The first game I ever GMed or took part in was like that! It was a long bus ride from a school trip, and me and my friends had all heard all about D&D but none of us had ever actually played.
So, no books, no dice, no character sheets, not even a plan, I just knelt up over the back of my seat and said the immortal words.
“You all meet in an inn, describe yourselves.”
I mean, sure, everybody was playing a pretty stereotypical character, and by the end we were dealing with talking raccoons and Santa Claus, but goddamn if that wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had on a bus.
Also to add in, I think it’s okay for your first character of your first game to be somewhat like you because not only is it easier to play but may also help fulfill some child hood fantasies you’ve been holding onto, but after that character dies or you’re group changes games try not to have the same character. You should aim to try out everything. If you start as a chaotic Neutral rogue then next time be a aim for a Lawful good paladin. After a few times of being characters you weren’t used to before (and always work hard to play your character correctly) then you can try some crazy stuff, like a lawful Evil character.
Thanks so much for this. It’s something I needed to read this week.
Great stuff, Grant. Really enjoyable. I saw this video about six months ago that made me reconsider how and why I play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtUgtX3ncTk
Although it’s kind of annoying (games other than D&D? Who knew! except everyone…), there are some nice tips in there for GMs and players.
I’d add a few bits to your list of ten. The below is just my own opinions and may not apply to everyone. It’s clear that there are a few different types of roleplayers and as a GM or a player, you can rub up against people who are playing for different reasons to you. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. 🙂
Will’s tip number 1) I find that in some of the games I play, we spend between 20-50% of the time doing combats. In some games (ones I’ve since abandoned), it’s even more than that. I can enjoy a good, quick combat, but when you’re spending 20 minutes reading up on the grapple rules (which are invariably incredibly long and boring) just because someone says ‘I grab his sword off him’, you lose the dynamism of the combat. The lesson from this is for the GM to know or fudge the rules, or for the player to take the easy option and say ‘screw it, I just attack him again’.
Will’s tip number 2) Don’t roll dice unless the GM makes you. It’s great to say ‘I make a sanity test to see if my character flips out and runs off’, but it’s even better to roleplay that without messing about with dice. If the dice are deciding when you roleplay and get into character, I’m not sure you’re doing it right.
Will’s tip number 3) Don’t actually run off. Splitting the party isn’t bad because it’s unrealistic or because it’s dangerous (it can be the opposite) but it leads to breaks in the action and people waiting for their turn to play. We’re all playing in our leisure time, and we’re all there to actually roleplay, so, while characters could and should have the limelight from time to time, playing your character in 10-minute sections with NPCs tends to break your immersion.
Will’s tip number 4) Linked to the above, it’s your leisure time. Never go along to a game when you’d rather be doing something else. Yes, it’s a real pain for the other players to have their rogue missing or whatever, but it’s much worse for them if it’s clear from your pining face that you’d rather be with your partner or having a nice walk or something. It won’t work for them, or for you. If you really can’t commit long-term, then stick to one-shots or playing by email.
Good advice! I like 2, especially.
I take your point (about not making extraneous rolls), except that, when there are a lot of players, I really like it when the GM gets around to you, and you have made all your attack rolls, damage rolls, possible skill check rolls, and possible Saves. It makes the mechanics go quickly so that combat can be resolved and real roleplaying can be gotten back to.
This is the best article on Roleplaying I have ever read. Thank you for writing it.
I would also include:
(12) Embrace genre conventions. In heroic fantasy be heroically fantastic, in a Paranoia game be paranoid, in a Doctor Who game you generally don’t whip out a gun and mow down the bad guys, you wave your sonic-screwdriver at a locked door and then run away through it etc. If you intend on going against genre conventions, expect to fail more so than not, but refer to point 10.
I would also add some qualifiers:
(Point 3 +5) In some games, inter-party conflict can be very appropriate. Paranoia, Ravenloft, WOD etc all are games where it might be very appropriate and (if done well) very cool and awesome. Again, this has to do with my point 12, generally act appropriate to the tone of the game.
Finally, the article touches on but never explicitly says: You are just one player of many, its okay to be in the spotlight some of the time, but never all of the time. Sort of the opposite to Point 1. If you prevent others from being able to act, that is discouraging to others.
For sure, if it’s game appropriate, as I say – go for it. Dogs in the Vineyard is especially good at this, without making either side feel cheated for losing. I think I need to wrap some of your (12) into my (11); the setting and genre are part of the game, and that should be respected. I guess it’s hard for new players to grasp stuff like this, because it’s a lot to take on for pretendy funtime games, and obviously bad habits spiral out of control. I just count myself lucky that I’ve played alongside a number of great players, and under a number of great GMs, who’ve taught me this stuff through their actions.
Yes. Its an important point to remember that other people are also playing. Definitly act. But let others act too. If you are the sort of person who can instantly work out what to do, thats great. But please dont do it all the time straight away. Let others who may be a bit slower to think of actions, or who like to not interrupt when others are doing things first, have a go. From personal experience, I have found myself on the sidelines at times because I am not the loudest or fastest to declare heroic action. And it interrupts story flow to say “hey my turn” or “oh I was thinking of doing that, just working out my cool line”. It sounds petty. So the quieter player may just shut up and go with the flow.
Related point, if its not your moment to shine, dont interrupt the person who is having their moment to ask rules questions, or say you are searching the dead guy. Let them shine for an act.
I wrote up a series of articles a while back titled “Be A Better Player”. Pretty much for some of the same reason you did… there just weren’t any articles out there covering this. Now mine mixed actual advice with some humor and snark so the tone is quite different. Here’s a link to the fifteen articles I came up with for it if you are interested: http://trulyrural.com/babp.html
Corollary to (8) – communicate with the other players. If something makes you uncomfortable, speak up. If you don’t like the way things are going, or hate something another player wants his character to do, talk to him. If someone is breaking the “don’t be a dick” rule, tell them you think their action no cool. This is such an obvious point (and underlies several of your points), but often people just don’t do this. They don’t speak up and spoil their own fun, and this often kill the fun for others, too. Immersion in tabletop RPGs doesn’t mean having to stay in character all the time, too.
Another thing touching on (5), (6) and (10). It’s not just that some games can handle conflict between players and some can not, or – as the comment above noted – that different genre conventions apply.
RPGs often used to be written under the assumption that every games was basically to be played the same way, and that everybody knew what this way was. Those times are long past.
Pendragon requires a very different approach than D&D. Dogs in the Vineyard is a completely different game than Aces & Eights. In order to be a good player, learn how to play the game in question.
Some games crash when there’s conflict between the characters. If you start quarreling in a dungeon, that’s a Total Party Kill waiting to happen. Other games NEED conflict, it’s at their core. If players enforce the party line in a game of Cold City or Mountain Witch, making sure characters don’t quarrel, that’s going to be a rather boring game.
Some games encourage near total immersion – you don’t have to know the written rules, you can just play your character and let the GM handle nearly all of the mechanics. It’s fun! Other games need you to know the written rules by heart, and consciously use them. It’s fun! But it’s different. If you approach Burning Wheel like Savage Worlds, it will not be fun for anyone involved.
Some games punish failure harshly, others encourage or even require it (compare oD&D to Mouse Guard). And so on. In short: play the game you’re playing, not some other game.
Your point (9) I disagree with. What you’re saying is “engage in the fiction”. Roleplay, create colour, describe. Story, in my opinion, is what you get when you look back at what happened in the game. Don’t tell stories, make cool shit happen in the game. A story is something you tell TO someone, to a passive listener. Get in your character. Do interesting things and describe them in an engaging manner. Don’t do things just because you think “oh, it is good for the story’. Do things because they interest YOU.
Very nice. I love the article and thankfully, I tend to adhere to most of those by default. (I have had my various “skin-to-skin encounter” games, however. Thankfully, never as a main plot arc. LOL) >; )
Your rule for NOT allowing them is admittedly, probably smarter. I will likely stay with that ruling in the future because you are absolutely correct, it can be quite awkward. (Mainly for others who, even though they may not be privy to the gory details, still have to suffer through the sappy/weird sidelines.)
I wish our campaign would adopt this rule. We play with two of our teenaged children, and encounter scenes can get just a bit squicky.
Word. 20+ (oh wait, almost 30+ now :/ ) years of DMing and playing and I haven’t seen it stated as well.
Hurray for this article. I am an old geek that played dice and paper games way way back in the 80s. I have always thought part of being a good gamer was learning to be an extemporaneous actor. Nothing annoyed me more than the dolts that sat at the table, rolled dice and could generate no more emotion than occasional snark. I’d use accents, get emotional, do whatever needed to be done to make the game more fun and less a fight fest. I ran games where people got into in-character arguments, wept at the death of some NPCs, did things the gamer wouldn’t have done because it was in character, ect. My old fashioned opinion is that the online games take most of this away.
Totally agree here about the online bit. Even with friends, there is a lot lost in not seeing player faces or having that extra emotion. I find this is the case, even with laptops as part of the game at the actual table (besides the DM).
This is a really great article. I’m particularly sensitive to the fact that untold backstory is a wasted effort – I’ve known so many players who write up whole books for their characters and little of it sees the light of day. If that makes them happy, then I guess that’s cool, but as it is, I always see it as so much wasted potential.
For what it’s worth, I write a regular series like this over at my blog, though it’s primarily concerned with larping (as that’s my area of expertise). Here’s a link to one of the posts in the series, you can follow the tag for the others:
I wholeheartedly endorse this and add only 1 more to the list:
Don’t play a character you find boring.
This sounds like a no brainier but i have encountered many times a person who plays a character for the group dynamic or aesthetics rather than an actual interest in the character themselves. For instance my last campaign had a tactician who was played by a person who had no mind or joy from operating in a tactical command position, practically foiling the entertainment of the finale of the campaign by disinterestedly making rolls for things he would have role-played had he cared to.
That is a really great article! I enjoyed reading it 🙂
I would just like to add something to the pints 3 – 5: It completely depends on the group you play with and the gaming stile this particular group has. I’m part in a Dungeons&Dragons group with my closest friends for about eight years now and we broke those “rules 3 -5 (I knor, those are no rules never to be broken). Our characters had amazing fights over nothing and everything, ranging from a way how to infiltrate a city to philosophic questions like “Should this bad guy get a second chance or should he be killed?”
For me it is one of the most existing parts of roleplaying to see how the different goals of the different characters blend (or don’t blend) with the main goal of the party (saving the world and stuff). For me it makes the characters much more alive if they do not always have the same opinion and are convinced enough of their own opinion to start a fight about it.
Of course a gaming stile like that is only fun if everyone in the round, including the GM, likes it that way.
Think this might be relevant. Science documentary called LIFE IS A VIDEO GAME: THE MOVIE — all about digital physics and the like. http://igg.me/at/liavg
Great points, as a GM I would love to see characters role play failure. Unless your GM is a twat failure offers a way of inriching the story and making things more fun and yes perhaps more challenging. Yes players should participate fullyand do some work. It s a lot of work being a good GM so chuck them a bone sometimes.
It’s kind of old and I actually haven’t read it, but I know Gary Gygax did write a book on such things called “Role-Playing Master.” It might be worth checking out: http://www.amazon.com/Role-Playing-Mastery-Gary-Gygax/dp/0399512934/ref=pd_sim_b_1/192-0348122-3692604
Points 1 and 2 are worth the price of admission. Many of the other points you can assist with as a GM in the form of table discipline (yes it is not my favourite word either, but hey) but passivity is deadly. The guy who does not contribute, try stuff, strike a attitude or make a move and THEN gets bored because nothing happens with his character…. that is the hardest thing to handle.
I love all of these, and most of those in the comments, even posted it to my local groups FB page.
A few others I’d include are from my own, limited, experience….
1, Respect the GM. No matter what game, they are the ones in charge. Pick your battles with them, and make sure even those are worth it. If the game is set up a specific way, getting upset won’t do anyone any good.
2, Respect where you play. I play at a store… Well, several times a week. At a home, it can feel casual and safe… But even there, its not your place. [unless it is… >.>]
Just thoughts, as we’ve had players argue with the GM’s over things that are useless. In the middle of a game saying ‘Now I GM, so I know a thing or two about blah… So let me tell YOU how its done.’ is not overly helpful. In fact, its annoying. Saying ‘When I’ve GMed it was done blah like this, but could we clairify them so I’m doing it right?’ shows respect to the GM, the System and the other Gamers.
Excellent post! Very poignant and well said. This needs to be in the “playing the game” section of a game…
Act like a grown up.
I totally disagree with number three!
Lets say I play the Monk:
What? I cant act on my characters instinct? His wish to stop a fight in a overcrowded bar? Why not? Why should I wait until hell breaks loose and the cityguard enters and arrests all of us, just because “don’t try to stop things”?
That is probally the dumbest advise I have seen in my life!
The rest is more or less very plain and logic advise in new wording.
It’s all Improv, really, and like it or not as gamers in this situation we are all improv actors for a very small audience.
It’s “Yes and,” rather than “No,” which leads to better stories. Watch the video I link at the top of the piece, it’s really good, and it explains some of this stuff better than I can.
There’s also the fact that what you described… Isn’t a no, it’s a yes and. You’ve not said “No that doesn’t happen” You’ve said “Yes, that’s hurtling towards disaster AND my monk is going to try to stop it”. You’ve not stopped it, you’re just responding to it. The appropriate GM response would be to roll it and see what happens, maybe your monk is now pulled into the fight himself by trying to stop it, or the guards break it up and end up throwing your monk in the drunk tank with the bar fighters in the confusion and now your party must break you out. Maybe he manages to stop the bar fight and gets some info from listening to the patrons argue.
Also wrt “don’t try to stop stuff”: we’ve one particular douche in our adventuring party, let’s call him the fighter. The rogue never gets to do his sneak attack, the bard never gets to try diplomacy because BAM! Super high initiative loose cannon tosser has decided to go straight for the bucketful of attack dice. The fighter in this situation is preventing the monk of your example from playing to their strengths/beliefs/plans.
You see it all the time at Larp where some douchenozzle will take the nuclear option straight away, excluding everyone else from roleplay driven solutions or longer term plans. And usually justify their railroading of everyone else and shutting down of options as “making game”. It doesn’t. It is selfish.
Once at the beginning of a campaign, we arranged to meet a contact in an alley… he tried running for it… so my somewhat-sizeable character stiff-armed him to 1hp and unconscious… presumably we were supposed to let him run and start some awesome chase sequence, but instead we had 30 mins of panicked players trying to figure what to do with an unconscious man that wouldn’t have the Guard coming down on us… good times.
This was great. Thanks for writing it. I just shared it on my facebook author page.
When I finally find another group to play in, I’ll make sure everyone reads this. It’s common sense stuff really, but I think this reminder just before a session could really enhance the game.
Great article might want to check out Johnn Four’s http://www.roleplayingtips.com
I used to read ’em, but after about three years of weekly emails I found that they were starting to get a little stale, that there was nothing new to learn from them. Which is a shame. Greatest respect for Johnn, though, he’s super cool.
I can certainly agree with 2. (your character is what’s on paper, not backstory fluff), 5 (don’t hurt players), 7 (pay attention) and 8 (be considerate of others). However, the rest I find seem like your personal pet peeves more than general ones, and involve some extremes of situations…
1 (do stuff) for example, everyone tries to play when they think of something to do, in every group there are followers and leaders, and each situation brings out different roles from people. 3 (don’t stop stuff) and 4 (take full control of your character) go hand in hand, sometimes, because of your characters setup and your style of play, you will stop stuff or not go along with something; however, in the end the party decides on what path will be taken, not a single character. 6. (Know the system, don’t be a dick) I am definitely this person, and if there aren’t rules to follow then what’s the point of a handbook? And I do take pride in knowing the rules and making sure we play by them, if everything is just a loose interpretation then it makes it difficult to make a character. Mind you it goes both ways, the DM gets every advantage and I don’t play dumb to screw the DM over, etc. 9 (be a story teller) meh that’s personal preference and style, not everyone is great at painting a picture, some people just enjoy the team aspect. 10. (Embrace failure) just sounds like over positive thinking, whippee, so you miss an attack, it sucks, let’s talk about failing a save against petrify, then I want to hear this positive embrace of failure. and as for 11 (play the game), the whole point of role playing is to play a role, I really think part of the GM’s role is to embrace the different styles and roll with the punches, so long as they aren’t debilitating to the game.
For me, I enjoy the strategy of battle and action, so at times I am straight in and others I am sitting back, while others take a centre role in the game. I know the rules and play by them, and I design my character to the style I want to play. If I could add a point, I would say to know the rules, at the very least how your character works, ie if you are a wizard, how many spells you have, how your spells work, DC, range, damage dice, etc. and any special abilities you have. This may be a pet peeve, but it’s annoying when you have to keep reminding someone how many magic missiles they get, or how many attacks after 3 or 4 sessions.
Please use the enter key more when you post; what you’ve written, there, is largely unintelligible.
I feel similarly about the rules, but not quite the same. I’m all for throwing the book out for the fun of it but, when your GM consistently bends rules to make it more fun for them but not the players (like disregarding stats, by forcing players to submit to arbitrary failures and such, when they should be relevant just to pursue their own telling of the story), that’s when they need to be figuratively beaten upside the head with it.
I don’t enjoy having failure forced upon me when I know better. At least not just because the GM wants things to go her (or his) way and they’re being stubborn about it. Rules-lawyering is not measured by time but by reason. How reasonable is the dispute and is it worth not simply leaving the table for a better GM.
I usually do it by the sum total knowledge rule. If no player nor gm actually knows the rule off-hand, then establish the rule you’re going to use for it for the rest of the night and apply it consistently. Rules that are too complex and rarely used for you to remember how they work probably need to be rewritten, anyway. You can’t gist everything, but you can’t kill too much time searching for guidance. Knowing how the rules were made can help you gist more accurately.
I like that you pressed the idea that its the players story also, it not up to the GM alone to push the story forward. But the best thing you posted is that the GM is not just there to amuse the players, he or she is there to have fun also. I see so may GMs running games they don’t enjoy. They are not game slaves, if the players are happy, but the GM feels like shit it is also a fail. I find it interesting that some disagree with rule 3. As a GM and player my first thought was to reject it too. But then you wrote this little blurb, “Stopped Action is doing nothing.” Even if the player is being an asshole, stopping him/or her from doing that asshole action is just joining with the assholes, because as much as it feel good to beat the every living crap out of that jerk’s character made just to push your buttons, your stopping the game and doubling the number of assholes.
This reminds me of what I usually label Rule Zero: “It’s a game, not a competition. Even if you’re here to win, it shouldn’t be at anyone’s expense.”
I love it! I just shared this on Facebook with the caption, “This is the article on roleplaying that I wish I had written.”
There are two points in the article that commenters seem to disagree with most. I agree with the article in both cases, but understand why some people may have a different point of view.
THREE – Don’t try to stop things.
The first rule of improv is, “Say yes.” There are exceptions, but those exceptions are extremely rare. That said, roleplaying games are not just improv, and exceptions to the “say yes” rule are a little more frequent in roleplaying than on stage.
In general, however, it is better to *do things* than to *not do things*. It is better to respect your fellow players’ decisions than to contradict them. It is better to act and allow others to act, than to be static and enforce inaction on others.
Take Grant’s example, “your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened.” Let’s look at three ways it could play out:
1) The fighter punches the jerk, then the monk puts his hand out and says, “We can resolve this peacefully.”
2) The fighter starts to punch the jerk, but is stopped by the monk.
3) The fighter’s players says, “I punch the jerk.” And the monk’s player says, “No, don’t.”
In scenario 1, both the fighter and the monk get to do what they wanted, and to roleplay their character as they see it, with effects in the game world. In scenario 2, the monk’s action was to stop the fighter’s action, which means only the monk got to have an effect, and only a minor one. In scenario 3, nobody did anything, nothing happened, you’re arguably even succeeding at playing a game.
Scenario 1 is the best case. In it, the monk’s player doesn’t abuse the vagaries of gaming (Did they really roll initiative, and the monk won, then ready an action to stop the fighter from punching?) to interdict the fighter, but also puts his pacifist (or maybe just prudent) personality on screen, WITH the fighter’s hot-headed personality, rather than INSTEAD OF.
FIVE – Don’t harm the other players.
I agree with Grant about the rogue who steals from the party, fuck that guy. There is a social contract at the gaming table, and he’s breaking the most important part of it. That social contract says that we’re all here to have fun, and that we’ll help each other have fun, rather than killing each other’s fun.
It’s totally fine to have disagreements between characters, even fun. In the right context, it can even be fun to have fights between characters. The important question to ask is, “Will it be fun for the other player?” It’s highly unlikely for a player to have fun by being repeatedly stolen from without recourse.
Some of my favorite roleplaying moments are of PvP conflicts, and I know that the other players I was conflicting with have the same opinion, because we conflicted in ways that were fun for all. If you enjoy PvP conflict, then find out from your fellow players what types of conflict they enjoy and focus on those.
Early in our current game I mistakenly tried to Miyagi a young female NPC during her morning calisthenics. She proceeded to school my character by kicking his behind with a staff (what I now call a “pain stick”). The characters are still talking about this. The dice rolls worked against me but propelled the game forward. Even though my guy got his butt whipped by a little girl it was interesting, funny, and worked to enhance the story and the gameplay. So conflict between characters shouldn’t be shunned, just managed correctly.
PS: The wizard and I later saved her and the “mother-superior” from a burning building. That was great symmetry.
I am fairly new to role-playing, and 6ish years ago this article would have been a godsend, as it is I had the privilege of playing under a DM with 25 years of experience, and with a group that had members that had been playing for as long. and my advice to add would be to observe players that have been playing longer than you, see what they do and do not do and pay attention to who has fun and who doesn’t, it is a quick and easy way to get into the flow of the game and the style of your particular DM.
Interesting article, and equally interesting comments. I particularly second the motion of “Play your character, not yourself”. I have seen too many players who play the same thinly veiled version of themselves all the time. This is not only boring, it leads to nasty arguments because players who are really playing themselves tend to have their egos too much in the game.
I would add: Show up on time!
Most people have busy lives and the time they are allocating to gaming is time not being used for anything else they want/need to do. If you show up an hour or two late, you are showing disrespect to the other players and their time.
Re: making someone uncomfortable, it’s great if players handle this on their own, but I consider it more the GMs responsibility. He/she sets the tone, and gets to decide who plays in his/her world. Sometimes this type of problem results from a basic personality clash between players, and resolving it satisfactorily is not always possible. It also depends on the group — in my current group, sex is a very frequent theme and sometimes graphic. We find The Book of Erotic Fantasy amusing. (We’re all over 40, no kids around). That works for us. It all depends on the group.
I would also add: Know your preferred style. Some players simply don’t work in some groups (I.e. the one who likes hack-and-slash does not fit well with a group that is more interested in social interaction with NPCs, and vice versa). Pick a group that has a style you’re comfortable with. While a little bit of a stretch can be fun, this is a hobby, not a job. If the game you’re in feels tedious for you, find another group that likes a style you enjoy.
Lastly, regarding embracing failure — this is ok once in a while. If it happens too often, the GM should adjust the difficulty level, fudge some dice rolls, or otherwise make modifications . Nobody enjoys a game where they feel useless or unsuccessful. Real life gives us all plenty of experience with frustration and failure. Your character doesn’t have to be perfect all the time, but you shouldn’t feel humiliated either.
“I would also add: Know your preferred style. Some players simply don’t work in some groups. . .”
That is a particularly excellent addition! I would put it this way. “TWELVE – Find the right group and the right game for you.”
Sure, that’s fine, in theory, but how do you know you’re *allowed* to participate and have your character do stuff? How do you know what’s safe to do and won’t mess up everyone else’s plans?
You’re always allowed to do stuff! (I mean, presuming you’re in the scene.) If you’re worrying OOC about messing up plans that may or may not exist, that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. So clear it with other players if you’re really worried, but please, just go for it otherwise. There’s no need to bend over backwards trying to please other players getting precious about their plans.
This will really affect the way i play! I think that the principle of gaming mainly is to have fun with your friends. I dont want a stickler GM, but in most cases, rules are important. Thanks!
Great article, but…
Disagree a bit with Rule 4: FOUR. Take full control of your character. “My character wouldn’t do that” is sometimes the right response.
Example scene starts with your character taking a bath in the nile so you can get attacked by a giant alligator and everyone comes to save you – but you say NO. Why is that reasonable? Because your character 1) deathly afraid of water 2) cannot swim 3) is a native of the area and knows about those giant crocs.
Sometimes your character wouldn’t do that and the GM is on crack or just trying to make your character look stupid. A good GM wouldn’t do that true… pick another character or contrive something more reasonable for that character to accidentally fall in the river they fear so much.
You’re referring to a battle for control between the GM and the PLAYER. And you’re right! The player should generally win that battle, although hopefully it never occurs.
Grant (the author) is referring to a battle for control between the CHARACTER and the PLAYER.
Imagine you’re playing a game and the group has to travel across an ocean to continue the adventure. (It’s a medieval setting, so this can only be done by boat.) Your character is afraid of water, or boats, or has sworn off sea travel. Some players are so wrapped up in one particular image of their character that they would refuse to get on the boat! They would say, “My character wouldn’t get on a boat.” Then, they’d either wreck the game (at least temporarily) or ditch the character and make a new one.
They would let the CHARACTER beat the PLAYER in a battle for control.
A better approach would be for the player to simply change the character. He might say, “I’ve sworn off sea travel, but the mission is important. I will forswear myself and board the boat, but I must do penance every day we are at sea.” Maybe he could arrange a BA Baracas move, have the other players knock him out and carry him aboard, and be pissed about it later.
Good example…I had a dwarven champion who said the exact thing, did get on the boat…then a kraken destroyed it . It was the champion’s moments in the wreckage that ended up saving the party though and just ended up further ingraining his hatred for boats and water.
But then, there can be great moments with that. I had a character that was deathly afraid of boats after too many terrible boat experiences in the campaign (Ravenloft). When she freaked, the other players simply knocked her out and dragged her onto the boat. It worked and was a great game night that we still bring up in conversations.
However, I do get tired of players who never want to do anything because it is “against their alignment or character concept”, especially when the nature of the campaign was explained well before character creation.
Samantha writes: “However, I do get tired of players who never want to do anything because it is “against their alignment or character concept”
There are two sides to this coin.
If I am playing a paladin or knight character who takes honor seriously, I may not want to murder prisoners who have surrendered, or do some of the other mostly shady actions of many typical murder-hobo adventuring groups.
This is a valid character and the other “good aligned” players should act accordingly. If you want to play a group of murder hobos, then fine… but be up front about that play style and scratch “Lawful Good” or even “Good” off your character sheets completely. Don’t punish the players who actually do want to play in character by always choosing actions that would run counter to how the character should behave.
The whole group needs to agree with the types of characters that are going to be in the game, otherwise, why would these people who don’t even like one another adventuring together? In game conflict can make character interactions interesting if the players agree that they want that kind of in-game social drama.
But if that kind of character friction isn’t planned by the players and only happens because some of the party want one kind of game while the others want something different, then the whole group needs to have an out-of-game out-of-character discussion about what people desire from the game.
Perhaps I want to be Shepherd Book on a ship full of rogues… or perhaps I want to play a character where murder is unacceptable morally and ethically if that’s within the realistic character concepts for the campaign. If everyone is fine with that at the start, but then starts torturing and murdering people six weeks into the game, don’t blame me because the other players have broken the social contract of the game.
You run the risk, there, of becoming an antagonist to the other characters; not in a BBEG way, but more in a “we want to do X, but character Y won’t let us.” Which is basically what antagonists do, you know? That’s the definition. With pre-written media, it’s easier to pull off the Shepherd Book character, because the writers are in total control over what he does and says and how every other character reacts to same – so you can have a dramatic arc, that sort of thing. In roleplaying games, especially old-school ones like PF and D&D, there’s a real theme of playing to your character’s best interests, because your character is the one sliver of control you get in the game compared to the godlike GM, so it can be hard to effectively pull off that “disapproving guy who helps you and gradually makes everyone a better person” role. (Much easier to play the “pious guy who falls into bad ways,” because that doesn’t involve the majority of the players going against the most efficient method of play.)
So look; I dig it, I really do, and you’ve hit the nail on the head with the “talk about it beforehand” bit. But until our community as a whole is willing to cede control of their characters even a little, and do what’s dramatically interesting rather than self-serving, you’re gonna have a hard time of it.
As a DM, I have a goal for the end of the night. If each and every player feels guilty that he/she hogged the limelight, then it was a good game. If some do and some feel that the weren’t given a chance at the spotlight, I failed. If one character seems too shy to act on their own, I set up a deliberate trap to paralyze or capture everybody else, and make sure the shy character knows that the fate of the party rests with him or her. Most of my experienced players recognize when this happens and keep quiet about it, with the result that the shy player not only sees that it is OK to take the lead on certain actions, but he is the only one who can save the world, so he had darn well BETTER take the heroic actions! The players are the heroes (or villains, or whatever) of the game; they are automatically 20 steps more important than the NPCs. Think of a party populated by Conan, Hercules, Gandalf, Merlin, The Grey Mouser and the Stainless Steel Rat. Would Gandalf not try to take the lead rather than sit back and let Merlin make all the decisions since he is OBVIOUSLY the better wizard? Would Conan meekly follow behind Hercules, and only attack the targets that Herc told him were OK to attack? Each player should think that he is the MOST important player, but to be modest, don’t let the other players think that you think that, and PARTICIPATE!
Sorry about this rambling a bit, but I haven’t slept in a bit, and my brain has been replaced by a slightly wilted sprig of parsley.
I admire your style, sir. I try to give every player something special in every game, so I like it when people jump on suggestions and extrapolate because that makes my job much easier.
Or madam, actually. I assumed you were a dude. Apologies if not.
I love the article and have shared it where many people like it. Some people have complained about the profanity. It just turns off some of the people in my circles. Which is really a shame as you have a really great article here about being a positive player of an RPG. I am sure that this seems petty and overly sensitive, but there are people who are offended by any amount of course language.
Sorry to hear about that, Tasha. I hope you manage to get some use out of it despite the swearing.
I found this! It should help your friends if they’re upset by the old profanity, wherever they find it: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/simple-profanity-filter/ackkocjhcalcpgpfjcoinogdejibgbho?hl=en
Quite the number of great comments, and great rules, all around. As an addendum to point 8, I would point out for people to remember do not be afraid to tell the GM when he’s being inappropriate or being a dick, and I’ve been guilty of sitting back, watching my fellows in uncomfortable silence, when a GM has torn into someone for nearly nothing at all, including using common sense and their character abilities, approved beforehand, that shortcutted a portion of the GM’s adventure. If _anyone_ is doing things that make you uncomfortable, _including the GM_, speak up and talk about it, do not suffer in silence or you just may end up doing number 7, above, and doing something _else_ because you are no longer having any fun at the table.
As far as rule 7 is concerned, some people may have to be doing a few things that would normally be a bad thing at the table, like a teacher, who loves to play, but also has to finish grading some papers. Friend of mine does this, love her to death, would rather her not do this, but I’d far rather the distraction than not getting to play with her in during the normal school year, so yes, normally don’t do things that take your attention away from the game, but there are extenuating circumstances, and if you do find yourself not having fun at the table, and wishing you were doing something else, find out why you are not having fun, ask yourself why you are there, find ways to have fun with the hobby if it is something you love, or perhaps it is not the hobby for you, or it may be that the GM for your game is not the right GM for you, not everyone’s gaming style works with everyone else’s.
Doing something else can also be a good way to deal with situations where the party splits up. That happens a lot in my game. While half the players are active, if the other half are playing iPad games or checking their Facebook pages no one gets bored. It’s not obnoxious if you’re doing it to be quiet when it’s not your turn.
I did it once 🙂 Pulled a smart move and cut the adventure short. My GM laughed his hindquarters off and still loves to tell the tale.
Awsome and well put post about code of conduct on the RPG table. Well said lad.
By the way, to anyone subscribed to this thread, I’ve written an update blog: http://lookrobot.co.uk/2013/06/23/stanislavski-vs-brecht-in-tabletop-roleplaying/
I think rules three and five can be broken within reason and dependent upon the group and the game – in Pendragon you work as a team so you have to be on the same page but in our 7th Sea game characters frequently do minor things to each other – another character threw stuff at my character’s backside when he was knocked out cold and so as a result when that characer was in the pillory for something else my character gleefully took the opportunity to throw stuff at him when another character had calmed the crowd down – both characters behaved like numpites but that was the point. That said I lost it as a player when a couple of my friends decieded that their characters were going to push the big red button to see what happened and for a giggle – the GM assured me it would have failed as a point of principal – much depends on the group it’s all about respect between them – so it’s never a cut and dried matter. The dynamics of group playing against each other can be as interesting as the results of one group members unrestrained action – for example with the monk and the fighter – the two of them facing off against each other and the argument between the two afterwards could be as interesting as the potential bar fight.
As for rule 5 – again it can be done under the right conditions in our Dragon Age – one character stole from another one whilst the party was forming and there was an interesting character based plot with the thief returning the item without being discovered and the victim then finding out later which was further complicated by the thief now being attracted to his former victim who has since started a relatiionship with another character. In 7th Sea quite often there are arguments and facing off between characters and tangled web inter-party relationships. However one PC tried to kill another one as a result of personal agendas that seeped into the game (namely their attempted victim was their ex in real life) – unsurprising that player ended up leaving the group shortly afterwards due to real life inter-party conflict – not fun. You can do inter-party conflict but it has be in the spirit of not violating rule eight (do nothing another player is not happy with) and it can’t be personal out of game.
You raise an important point. I have seen out-of-character animosities or romances torpedo several games. This has most often happened when a male GM has had a crush on a female player ( I suppose the genders could be reversed but it seems a lot less frequent). The love interest then gets special favor, NPC’s react more favorably, the party finds awesome magic items that only she can use, etc.
Note to players and GMs both: This NEVER works out well. The other players always resent it, which usually leads to their picking on the GM’s pet. The other problem with it (for the player) is that the kind of person who will favor his would-be girlfriend’s character is also the kind of person who will punish that character if he gets rebuffed or dumped.
Ladies, if you are the recipient of this kind of treatment, do not be flattered by it or go along with it – it will not go well for you in the end. Set boundaries at the outset. If you’re interested in the guy, by all means go out with him but keep your flirting out of the game and tactfully let him know that you don’t think in-character favors are fair to the other players. If you’re not interested, make that clear from the beginning, and if he can’t keep his disappointment from making him pick on your character, run don’t walk for the door. It simply isn’t worth the aggravation.
If the first thing the GM says to you is not “Tell me about your character”‘ it’s “You have such beautiful small feet” (yes, I’ve seen that happen) – the appropriate response is ” OK, we’re done here”. Trust me.
Yeah, I can definitely second that…. if any GM or other player in the group keeps diggin your character because they actually try to dig you while YOU are *just not interested* – it will eventually break the group, if they don’t stop it. If it’s a GM, not a player, things can get worse.. a lot worse…
(But, I also have to say, don’t necessarily have to. I actually did encounter one who managed to stop it when things got cleared to an “uhm.. no, i’m not interested, please stop.” and/or only ever gave out things that actually profited *the group*, not that one player. The one thing the player got more than others was some more sessions and side-plot, in personal sessions/email game parallel to the group, being fun, but actually benefitting the group, not that player’s character.)
On the other hand, an annoying player liking you too much or too little is way enough already to break a game. I still remember one got my char killed for no reason whatsoever via unlogical and world-breaking GM help, because she disliked me and the GM was her friend. Holy cow. Speak of taking offgame things into the game. NEVER a good idea.
And the one who constantly tried to dig my char, i.e. me through my char was annoying as fuck, ruining the fun I got out of the game, as well. Even more so, when the GM introduced a friggin “temple of arousal” or something, trying to mindwipe my char, whom I explicitly wanted to be ASEXUAL because *I* am uncomfortable with that in game…. -.- Byebye to that group.
I will never understand how people could seriously bring up the topic of raping my character at the table, talking about it jokingly, when I had explicitly told them that I am even uncomfortable with too much flirtation directed at my character, because I as a player don’t want to roleplay such scenes.
There are things one CANNOT take out of one’s characters, because there are definitely things that are too far away from you to play it correctly or things you do not want to play because they are not fun to you. Never feel pressured to do that. The game is supposed to be FUN for everyone, you included.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
(My players now have homework).
Excellent article, happily shared among my numerous gaming friends, including the fresh-faced group I’m GM’ing now. I touch on this in a blog about applying character-development concepts of writing to your PC.
Wonderful post. Really enjoyed the candor and anecdotes too. Out of all the points you made, number one is the best. I often GM and play alongside players that just don’t do anything but wait to be entertained and engaged. Point four supports point one, so that is my runner up point I do enjoy.
Regardless, all of these are very helpful. Alas, very few players would heed such advice, since there are so many different type of players, from the rules lawyer to the casual gamer, that often these points would be ignored. I will actually refer this article to gamers I know, hopefully they will take something away from it.
I like your stuff.
Have you heard of Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. It’s very much inspired from the acting side but also takes a wider view on how to get more from play.
Yup, I’ve read it – I mention that in the third paragraph of the article, actually. It’s pretty good! It inspired Point 3.
This is fantastic, and in the years I have been dabbling, both with table top roleplay and free form forum roleplay this is some of the best advice I have ever seen.
I will definitely be printing it to take and show to my bi monthly d&d crew which has been having a lot of problems of late. I think this might clarify a lot of things for us as players and get us to take a long hard look at who is really at fault for the negative dynamics.
Great article. I’m not a fan of computers, iPads at the table. I have a great group…that’s my only issue.
I disagree with the Kender remark! They can be a lot of fun if you’re not, you know, a dick. I am the GM at my game and don’t get to play as often as I’d like. In all the games I run (campaigns with a reg group, not one offs) I have an NPC with the party. It’s always a smaller character like a Kender. It’s nice to have a comic relief character that can move a story along. Kender will say anything. They may run off in the direction you want the party to go. Or get arrested and force the party to deal with that, etc. If done right, Kender can add a lot of amusement to a game.
I am… I am still going to have to disagree with you on Kender, and I stand by my original genocide comment. Glad you liked the piece though!
How can you hate Tas?! 🙂
I get what you are saying though. If a PC is a Kender, they can be super annoying. If you are doing it to have fun, move the story along, and make people laugh it can be a good time. Based on your genocide feelings, I would take it that when you play with a Kender, they are only trying to mess with the party and steal their stuff. That’s just being a douche. If you are in my game to mess with the party or be a rules lawyer, then get out. In my many years of playing pretend I have come across many a rules lawyers (PC: but that shouldn’t happen like that. Me: You can shoot F—ing fireballs and teleport while fighting a dragon! This is okay though?!). They are no longer part of my group.
As a player I’ve been in one disagreement with a DM (At a store with a guy I never had as a DM before) I was playing a minotaur. Rolled a lot of dice for damage. He told me I was rolling one extra D8 (Out of about 12-15 dice) & yelled at me for cheating. I explained why I rolled what I rolled. He insisted that I was wrong, etc. I told him, “Bro, I won’t use the D8. No big deal. Just trying to have fun…We’re only playing pretend. Relax”. This made him more mad. Maybe he was hoping for a fight over rules? I want to play, not argue about my rogue D8. I was told later that he is a pretty serious gamer & folks were shocked that I called D&D “pretend” and that really pissed the guy off. Let’s call a spade a spade…it’s pretend. I love the game, but c’mon.
I like using Kender as NPCs though. Or a gnome, gully dwarf, etc. You don’t want a NPC that will overshadow the actual PCs. Small characters can be put in the background, open a door, nudge the group into solving a puzzle, and even run off and disappear if you want the PCs on their own for a bit. I’ve had my PCs get captured (By Strahd…good times) and be saved by the Kender that got away. The PCs learn their actions have consequences, that there are smart villains too so “get ’em” doesn’t always work, and that the little guy is important as well. They still have to escape, find their stuff, confront Strahd, etc…the Kender just opened the door.
I guess I have a soft spot for the little guys. Heh. Sorry for the ramble.
“The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade.”
Or maybe because the World of Darkness games are actually meant to be played and experienced as -stories- instead of copious dice rolling in old castles to find new boots. Just a thought.
Gonna go ahead and refer you to the sentence immediately following the one you quoted to suggest that I might be aware of this fact
Great article, but the profanity was completely unnecessary. As a writer, you should be able to make your point(s) without swearing for swearing’s sake.
I love swearing! I think it adds an important informal tone. If you’re super-bothered by profanity, may I suggest this Chrome plugin that can rid your web browsing experience of words that you don’t like? https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/simple-profanity-filter/ackkocjhcalcpgpfjcoinogdejibgbho?hl=en
I also find swearing helps me blow off some steam better when I write as well. When I’m writing an angry piece that is.
Quite decent advice. The only ones I have issue with are 5 and 8 (I like intra-party conflict and have a high tolerance for “uncomfortableness”) but even those are good rules of thumb when breaking into a new gaming table. I guess “issue” is not the right word…I’d de-emphasize those ones in favor of most of your other points.
I’m so fucking tired of passive role-playing.
Very good thread!!! thanks for the tips!
People need to remember this is a game where we are all coming together to tell a story as a group and share this experience. It’s not about winning or losing or being the best player (as you see it in your mind) or forcing your will upon a party or particular players because it’s funny or because you think it makes you look awesome.
As we all know, there are many different gaming styles. Players need to recognize that their gaming style might be bumming out other players and probably their GM, too. GMs can try to mitigate that but there’s only so much they can do.
Players need to set their (and their characters) egos aside sometimes for the sake of the party, or rather the sake of the game and the other people in the room with you, you need to just chill out on “that’s what my character would do” when it’s detrimental to the experience everyone has come here to have.
“My character was a thatcher before becoming a famous 18th level mystical fighter/monk/cleric/were-monkey from the Book of Unnecessary Complexity. My altruistic streak dictates I must fix the roof of the inn this very night.”
Yeah… but what about the haunted castle across the street? The party could sure use your ability to climb in the window and open the door for us.
“Nay, I must explain in great detail the manner in which I shall procure suitable thatch for the roof and from which field using which scythe, then I shall discuss how my character shall lay each bundle and then… blah blah blah. And by the way, my character dislikes some aspect of your character so I’ll make sure to make your life as much hell as possible and thwart everything you try to do – because it’s what my character would do.”
That’s crazy – it ruins the game for everyone else and bogs down the story to a rediculous degree, and it’s making me want to quit gaming altogether before I explode and damage my friendship with these folks outside of gaming.
I agree that the overpowered character and the player addicted to the sound of onhis vwo iice acnb e quite annoying…but what really pisses me off is when a player is describing a character and presumes to tell me (or an NPC) how I/ they feel! That’s not part of the description!!
In that sort of situation, I’d be inclined to use that character quirk. Maybe to get the character to witness something to pull the plot along. If you know about his habits in advance maybe something like.
“As you pick up the sythe, you notice that the blade is actually a medium viper, what do you want to do?” And have it attack him if he doesn’t drop it. Once they deal with the haunted house, all the tools go back to normal and he can finish repairing the roof.
Jason Morningstar (Fiasco) wrote up an article on tips for players in the 2012 Wyrd Con Companion Book: http://wyrdcon.com/2011/2012/12/21/2012-companion-book/
Jason is also a guest of honor at this year’s Wyrd Con, and will be running games and talking about RPGs, larps, etc. http://wyrdcon.com/
That’s a nice article, thanks for the heads-up!
Using four-letter words doesn’t bother me at all. But the tone of the piece is so hostile, so arrogant, so dickish, that it gets in the way of communication. That’s not something that some Chrome plugin can fix.
Amen, amen, amen! And to number 8 – if someone is making you uncomfortable, say something before it gets out of hand AND realize that good players are not their characters. Is it the character that is pissing you off/weirding you out? Good, deal with it in character. Is it the player? Say something and work it out! Of course I can think of a great character example that goes against almost every point but that is definitely exception proving the rule. Thanks for a good article.
This is fantastic advice. Required reading in every game guide, for sure.
I write a lot on game design and GM-side stuff on my site, mostly because that’s my experience. But the need to tell players how to play has always struck me as a “well duh” concept. Clearly I was wrong. I recognize myself in a lot of this advice, and not in a good way.
Very well done.
Outstanding article! Many thanks for condensing so much truth about fruitful RPGing in one blog post. I’ve read so much GM-setions in sourcebooks and even whole books which provided at least half so much useful tips.
Another rule could be: Trust the GM! They are not there to kill you. They want to have as much fun as you do. Over thinking things and being afraid to act is very frustrating if you are trying to out think the GM and trying to stay one step ahead.
I agree with you for the most part, I have had more than GM who is there only to have a power trip, and will want to kill the party. It makes me not want to play the game and usually I stop, I will find a group of level headed people to play with where if I do die it is not because the GM wanted me dead but because I made a poor choice or had some bad dice rolls, I am fine with that and I probably had fun and a ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moment.
But yes, trust your GM.
Gotta admit I am very guilty of number 7, I don’t mean to be and I don’t really think about it but yeah, I’m kind of being a dick. Something for me to watch myself on when I am next out.
Awesome. Any interest in writing a version of this for our game Battlelords of the 23rd Century? It’s perfect and what we try and tell people since sic-fi is always hard to role-play, especially sic-fi that isn’t a licensed property, like ours.
I will link this far and wide. Thanks.
Well, having never played your game, I don’t think I could really teach people how to roleplay in it with any authority. But I’m really glad you liked the piece!
Excellent advice for real life too. Thanks 🙂
Some of these I like, some I don’t. Over the years I’ve gotten a bit reactionary against “story”. I don’t want to play a character in some improvised story or contrived plot that follows genre conventions and narrative tropes. I want to simulate the life of an imaginary person in a hypothetical world that possibly runs on alternate physics. If I just wanted to make stories, I’d write stories. Roleplaying lets me do something different that I can’t do with anything else, and stories are a dime a dozen.
What you said about goals in (1) is great. Goals help inform player and character on what to act towards so they aren’t simply reacting to plot happening to them. And if my Monk’s reasoning, personality, and goals tell him that allowing the fighter punch that jerk is really fucking stupid, then my Monk’s going to stop him, because building the fucking drama isn’t my goal, and it shouldn’t have to be. It shouldn’t have to be anyone’s goal and it shouldn’t be assumed.
This should be required reading for all RPG players. Thanks for the write up!
The trials and tribulations of #7… As a GM I find that one the most annoying. I have spent hours upon hours plotting and planning to make this night fun and your phone or laptop is obviously more interesting to you? You can play on your phone at home.
Excellent advice. I’ll be linking this on my game group websites. I didn’t find the tone hostile at all, for what it’s worth.
“Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree, you prick!”
This! Absolutely this! I have no use for the character who says: “I’ll just camp outside the city and wait for everyone.” To hell with that guy. That player can go sit in his car too, until he decides he wants his character to join in with the rest of us.
Mug him, then put him up for sale in a location the rest of the pc’s are going to be. Spawns a mini adventure for him to get his gear back, introduces an enemy organisation, and shows the dangers of trying to opt out. Plus generates adventure hooks – what happens if the pcs are out bid?
Except for the few points about players being involved in the game, this post probably demonstrates how limited you and many of the other reviewers are as DM’s (not GMs). If a player is not participating, but seems to be otherwise engaged, it is probably because you are railroader. You have a story in mind and you want all the little cogs to listen to you and play within your framework. I found many DMs are very limited in the ability to handle reasonable alternative views from their players. Usually the most telling sign of a bad DM or GM is their handling intercharacter conflicts. Rather than embracing or even encouraging this type of interaction, they stamp it out at all costs. It is character conflict, not player conflict, and limited DM’s don’t realize that this type of conflict can lead to the best games and adventures. As a result, you rarely see these player limiting games develop 3-D characters.
Of course this a pointless argument if you only run scenarios, as long term interaction of PC’s is irrelevant. But in a continuing game, you’ll do yourself a disservice if you do not spend the time trying to find why the player is reluctant to join in. If you did and can adapt, you’ll problem end up with a better story than you originally conceived.
Usually the most telling sign of a bad player is their ability to blame everything on the DM or GM without accepting any responsibility for themselves.
Dude, what a bunch of crap. I have been gaming for 30 years and every bit of this article is right. I have found that most players play themselves in the games and character infighting is usually the same as player infighting. Stomp it out quickly!!
Exactly what Todd said. This stuff is great. I think with some experienced consenting gamers, which emphasis on the experienced and consenting, I don’t fully agree with the stuff about sex. Even then though, I’ve only encountered one or two game in as many decades where that went off smoothly.
As a long time GM and player I have to admit that there is so much truth to what is written here that it’s a breath of fresh air to have it in digital print someplace.
Good points. To many people, both players and GMs, act as if the entire game is in the hands of the GM. It is good to remember that we are playing together with each-other.
But I do think that some rules-lawyering can be fun. As a GM I rather enjoy when I get some surprises I can’t control.
Step 5 is a load of dick. Sounds like you want a no fun zone.
Step 5 is right on the money. If I want a PvP game, then I will join a PvP game; otherwise, keep your weapon/hands to yourself.
Except “PvP” is an artificial distinction that draws attention to a difference between PC and NPC that should be all but invisible to the players.
If the GM has successfully created a setting where actions have consequences, a rule like this is not necessary, because characters who act like dicks are gonna have a bad time.
I wouldn’t say it was artificial at all. When was the last time you played in a campaign that focused entirely on characters not controlled by the players? There’s a social contract involved in playing games, and part of that gives player characters more attention and an amount of protection than NPCs.
Two speak of two extremely disparate things: 1) Time/Attention – Well, obviously because the PCs have people behind them who want to do stuff; 2) Protection – Whoa, there. In YOUR social contract maybe, but MY social contract says “Put me in a believable world where I can do whatever I want but everyone’s actions – including mine – have fitting consequences.” And I don’t think that’s rare.
But that’s beside the point, because the GM is creating those natural consequences, the social contract isn’t necessary. Player is a jerk and robs other characters. Instead of jumping out of character and wagging your collective finger at him, the players apply their investigative skill, quickly figure out the culprit, and hang him by his fingernails. Roll up a new character.
Or his amazing thieving skills earns him the attention of a trickster entity who starts stealing things like his name.
Granted, you’ll have that guy who will roll up a new character with a whole new way of harassing his own playmates, and THEN you should shove this rule in his face. My point is that the line is fuzzier and further along than you’re suggesting.
Fantastic article. You hit on so many points I agree with and have felt myself. So many players fall back into “We’re here, entertain us!” and forego their job to facilitate the game for themselves and others.
Whoops, did I just address you as Alun, Grant? Sorry! My bad!
Why the casual misogyny? The swearing is fine, but all of the demeaning references to women you use when you want to rebuke players who displease you really comes across as juvenile and petty. Maybe it would make your article a little more impactful if you didn’t insult half the population with your sexist put-downs.
I… uh. That’s not a thing. That’s not a thing I did.
Interesting. I am usually pretty perceptive to that sort of thing, but I didn’t see it in this article.
Phil was obviously reading some other article. There’s nothing of the sort in here. Happily forwarded this to all my friends, some of which are female gamers.
Think Phil is one of those white knight hopeless romantics. Gonna have to swing your sword one day Phil to get a real woman.
I know this article is quite old, but I believe it to be a “living document.” A document profound enough that it is ageless. I found myself nodding in agreement to every single point the author made. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m perfect; in fact, there are several points where I could use some improvement and take the advice to heart and/or as a good reminder.
Thank you for taking the time to write such an awesome article. I’m going to copy it into a word document (proper citation of course) and ask all of my new players to read it… and read it myself occasionally.
Was brought here by my GM (not in a condescending fashion) and have forwarded the link to all I know in the hobby. Very helpful read. Thank you.
Hello I have a blog in italian about rpg ( and japanese, but it’s not inportant in this case ), I found this article very helpful and I want to translate it and post on said blog, can I ?
Sure! Link back to my site when you do, please.
A bit late to the party here but I wanted to add that this was a great read. Been suffering from some burnout and reading this article really helped me remember what’s important. Thanks for that!
The issue, really, is that a lot of games don’t REWARD good practice. They’re broken machines, and we have to remember to act in a certain way – and that’s rubbish! Try playing FATE, if you’ve not already. It’s a great marriage of mechanics and fiction.
3 seems odd to me. The argument that because A stopped B nothing happened is weak.
If the Monk stops the Fighter from punching somebody, or merely attempts to stop the punch then that is an action.
What happens next? Does the fighter shrug off the monk’s hand and continue anyway? Does the fighter turn on the monk? I know that would violate another rule, but would it make sense to let some hostility grow?
Does the tiny pause give the punch-target a chance to respond in some way and instigate more action – peaceful negotiation, all-out brawl, or exciting chase?
Maybe the punch was just a poor example.
If character A is spending weeks of sessions building some grand scheme and B is spending weeks trying to tear it down then that’s likely a problem. I can envision scenarios where that might be interesting and even fun; but more often it will simply create frustration and anger; particularly if it is a total negation.
This is a quote from an other article, that is about people taking the example to literay. I Think it was a really good breakdown of things!
“The other thing that stands out to me is that I think some people who read your previous entry were taking things a little too literally. Saying “don’t negate, extrapolate” does not mean that you aren’t allowed to oppose other characters at all.
It’s not saying that the monk isn’t allowed to stop the fighter from beating on a random guy in a bar, it’s saying that the monk should find a way to react after the fact to create a more interesting scene. Call it “additive storytelling”: the monk stopping the fighter from ever punching the dude is 1-1=0. If the fighter punches the guy, and then the monk steps in, you’ve changed the equation to 1+1. This equation can then continue to be added to, extrapolating and creating a more interesting story because of it. If the equation ever reaches 0, the entire process becomes a failed attempt and you’ve created a void of interest, which is easily the largest game-killer out there.
So maybe the monk decides to take the dude under his protection: put a +1 in there. Or maybe the dude decides to take a swing at the monk, mistaking him for another enemy: that would probably create a +2 situation, as the monk and the fighter would have to both react to the new threat. Maybe someone watching the scuffle runs to get the town guard, so now there’s a time limit: +1. Maybe the back room of the bar is occupied by a criminal element that doesn’t want guard attention, so now they have a vested interest in the troublemakers out front: that’s at least a +2 situation, though it offers the possibility for more additions down the road.
Really, it just distills down to the “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” cornerstones of improv acting: you always want to move forward, not backward.”
I was introduced to this today. Mostly I agree with it, but the more I think about it, the more issue I have with point 3. Interesting conflict CAN come out of stopping another player. It’s HOW you do it.
Sure, your Monk can just try and catch his fist, OR your monk can take the blow full on for the person who was going to be punched. Or maybe the Monk can redirect the fighter’s attack into a wall or someone more deserving.
Maybe the punch takes out a chunk of a wall and the guy who was to be punched is scared shitless. There are A LOT of good reasons for one character to stop another character doing something stupid.
Or let’s shift your example around: Is it uninteresting for the Monk to try and stop a berserker in full rage from cracking the skull of an innocent?
Admirable article in my opinion. I felt tempted to blame you for absence in Oberhausen, Germany, 16 years ago (when our last dedicated group failed). x-)
“For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened.”
Good cop, bad cop routine… Maybe by intercepting the punch, I made the jerk more sympathetic to me, which will make him open up and give me all the info we wanted… maybe if the fighter punched him all we got was trouble and being kicked out of the settlement we were in…
I am a 54 year old newbie to RPGaming, particularly the RP aspects. This article was very useful….some of the suggestions I have played out already just because it’s kind of the type of person I am. (#1 my friend Erol calls “pull all the levers and push all the buttons” strategy.)
I am an extreme extrovert, but I have to say the first time I did a 100%, center-stage Role Play I was a more than little intimidated. Okay, I get it…maybe my Paladin, upon entering a temple attended by temple-maids should not have blurted out “when I get this feeling, I need spiritual healing”…I guess my point is this: teaching game mechanics is something most experienced gamers are good at and happy to do. So please experienced gamers, if you bring a newbie into a game please try and at least pretend you are laughing with them and not at them. geekshame can be a deep shame.
You left out a big one: “Stick to the Setting.” Vikings in a Western. Ninjas in medieval Ireland. Unless the GM says upfront that it’s a thing, then it’s not a thing. As a GM I’ve had to stop running several games because the players decided that the Setting wasn’t really a thing and it just sucked all the fun out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love quirky and unconventional character designs, but those characters need to function within the logic of the setting.
Great post! I know a lot of players see this as going over the basics. But it is great to have it somewhere where new players can get a head start. I direct my new players of https://fyxtrpg.com/ to this so they can see what is expected. It really does take everyone at the table to make a good game, not just the GM. And even though I’ve known these rules for years, I still break some of them. So it is good to be reminded to keep your playing on track.
Let me start by saying I wrote recently my own manual for players it’s one page long because I believe the important facts are not long to explain. So you can imagine I agree with your ideas. I agree with all arguments and appreciate how well they are explained. Really the article is so good and insightful I need to suggest an improvement in order to keep a sense of my critical aptitude. I think it would be great if the ideas would be more linked, that there was an explicit argument about the game globally. Anyways, thank you fo sharing. Best for you.
This might interest you…,
“The 7 Deadly Sins of Character Creation”
Thank you for this post. I sometimes wonder what my Chiss’s motavation and has opened my eyes.
So if I see a player mess around with his phone Im going to eather tell him to sod off or throw dice at him.
I may get a chance to put it in a bucket of water.
I’m a big fan of #7.
I don’t know how many game nights were effectively half of the time we were at the table. The other half was looking at related and unrelated supplements, costumes, and other completely random shit we could have gotten together and seen/discussed easily at non-game times. Yeah, gaming isn’t a job, but FFS, if you’ve scheduled a game from 6pm-9pm, play the effing game from 6pm-9pm. Do all the bullshit before, after, and briefly during food/toilet breaks.
Here’s a recent (very minor) example of “my character wouldn’t do that” that happened in my D&D group. This is a fairly new campaign. I’m playing a paladin, let’s call him Otto. We’ve been hired by organization X to perform task Y. Another party member (call her Anna) is contacted privately by another NPC, and asked to do Z. Anna tells the rest of the party that she has this new additional task, and asks whether the rest of us want to sneak away in the dead of night and aid her.
My initial in-character reaction is “We have a job to do first.” The Lawful Good Otto respects the legitimate authority that gave the party their original mission, and he’d be loath to just kind of fuck off in the middle of it. Anna’s alignment is also many, many steps away from Otto’s, and he doesn’t trust her. (In-story, Anna had found the party completely by accident, and some mutual ass-saving happened. With my director-stance hat on, I predict a grudging respect developing between the two of them, probably with Otto trying to convert the evil-aligned Anna to his own good deity. And, to be honest, probably failing.)
In the end, our contract-giver Bob told us “For your ongoing task, we need you to investigate location Q,” which happened to be where Anna’s mission was as well. I’m not sure if the GM did this directly in response to *me*, or if Bob was always going to explicitly send the party there. But it solved that problem.
So, was I being an asshole, or was I paladinning right? My instinct was that a paladin simply going along with an evil character “just because story hook” would have been worse than making at least a token protest. I thought that would be like a subtype of point 1, e.g.: “Encounter with an NPC? Eh, let the bard handle diplomacy, I’m keeping my mouth shut for now. Someone suggests that the party do something that your character wouldn’t necessarily agree with? OK, I won’t express an objection. I’m just kinda ‘there’, at all times, without contributing.”
The thing was, I knew all along that Otto would go on Anna’s quest, eventually and for some reason. Anna’s player knew it. The GM knew it. The other players knew it. My intention was simply not to be passive: I wanted to talk about it first, to sow the seeds of character development through interaction. There probably would have been a better “yes, and” that I could have used, but in the heat of the moment I didn’t think of it. I’m a new player — been playing for less than a year — and from the initial feedback I got from someone a few months ago, I know that passivity/not contributing enough is a problem I tend to have. So I tried doing the opposite, in what was perhaps an ill-advised way…
I’d be interested to hear what people think, if anyone’s reading the comments on this old post.
Well, it wasn’t “no,” was it? It was “yes, we’ll get on that once this important business is concluded.” So I think you’re fine.
Kender Genocide? You’re an asshole. I enjoy playing the little bastards. I’ve often used stealth to get through a campaign in a way no lumbering warrior could. Not to mention my business acumen tends to mean the entire party has triple their gold. Do I nick a few things here and there? Yes, but I know for a fact I’ve become a valued member on my abilities as a munchkin assassin.
…..Plus everyone gets a laugh when they roll me down a hill in a barrel. Comedic relief is a must on occasion.
Oh man, that suggestion one is VERY important! Once I was playing with a group of friends and I was playing a fighter for the first time. I used Charisma and Intelligence as my dump stats so that he could smash things and combat was fun! The problem came up during the more roleplay-heavy parts. See, we had smart, charismatic characters in the group, but in conversation they just sat quietly.
Each time an NPC wanted a response from us, I’d wait 10-15 seconds to see if any of them had anything to say, then blurt out something that is in character but is obviously not the best way to handle the situation. It got to the point where both the DM and I had to say “Uh, guys… you REALLY need to speak up here when NPCs are talking. You don’t WANT the dude that mainly cares about smashing things leading you around.”
Kill all kender? Really? Then the very first time I played D&D would have been boring as hell and all comedic relief would have been OOC laughter at the expense of the DM’s brother, who kept changing his character every five minutes and making unfunny jokes. Our characters never would have gone to Ravenloft, the bard never would have rolled a critical with the vorpal sword the DM let her have and beheaded Lord Soth, and my kender never would have taunted Strahd and somehow (still don’t know how) lived to talk about it or hoopaked Soth’s head out the castle window. Our group, as friends, still talk about those games and characters. Did my kender occasionally find her fingers in somebodys’ pockets? Yes, but she learned very quickly to leave the wizard alone and it was worth the laughter of taunting the tiefling to make him stutter.
I’m glad you had fun, but my stance remains unchanged: immediately destroy any and all Kender found.
I’m really confused about all of the Kender hate. You talk about doing stuff and playing your character yet are against those things regarding Kender. I assume that you had a bad experience with a bad/annoying player…but you gotta get over that. I’ve had bad experiences with bad DMs, but I still play the game
If somebody plays a Kender, you have to just go with it man. If somebody is playing a Kender correctly, it should really enhance the experience and add comedy to the game.
Obviously, if ALL the player does is steal…excuse me…borrow/find items from other PCs it can get annoying and ruin the experience…but the same goes for somebody who picks fights with players.
They are essentially children. I have a 3 year old and she has enhanced my ability to play a Kender. If a 3 year old child takes something that is yours, it’s not because s/he is an asshole, it’s because s/he’s 3 and happens to like that thing. The concept of ownership is a bit different through the eyes of a child. Somebody playing a Kender should take items from players but use them right in front of said player. The “Oh, it’s a good thing I found it…you should be more careful with your things” line is always funny.
DMs could only allow items to be taken that will not have a huge impact.
I recommend that you try playing one at some point. It can be a lot of fun…it’s actually difficult to role play correctly. There is a fine line between a guy playing a Kender and it being a fun, comical, experience and a dude just being a dick.
I’ve never actually played in a game with a Kender, not at all, and I’m sure you’ve had a lot of fun playing with them in your party in the past.
But that said: Kill All Kender
Kender are like Ewoks: your love or hate for them depends on your gender and your age when you first encountered them.
As an old dude, I say kill all kender
This. This is exactly spot-on. And well-written. I want to print this out and hand it to all my players. ^_^b
My biggest idio during a good AD&D session is the player who has to leave and hasn’t planned for the night or nights:) The story really doesn’t get rolling until we are a little punchy with red rimmed eyes, bloated pizza bellies, and running the coaster of caffeine “High’s” and “Low’s”. That’s truly when the magic starts to happen:)
Fun fact: I used to run horror LARPs that started at 1am and ran until dawn for this precise reason
Nice!! That would be a blast.
I’m old school AD&D. Playing since 1980; still play that way. Pencil and paper all the way baby!! I enjoy the basic classes, all the new classes were put together for people who don’t know how to role-play. I can be anyone I want with the basic classes. I revel in the openness of the game without cards or playing pieces. Finding it hard to locate players in the 50ish age bracket 🙂
These are some great tips. It never hurts to have more advice on how to hone RPing, especially if you are new. Though it can be hard I think the one about never harming party members is a great one. It can be awfully tempting at times but there is nothing more that shuts down someones RPing as when they are being attacked.
Good fucking read! That is all!
Something I would like to add, is to remember that your character doesn’t know everything the other characters do. For example, say the group has split up. Group A may have found out what the bad guys weakness is, group B would not necessarily know this until A informs them. So if you are in group B, don’t go straight for the bad guy’s weakness.
I say this, because in my regular group, one of the player’s brought his young brother along. Despite all the players and the GM pointing out the above, he still does it. Prime example, being, a player told me where he kept something in his hut. The young brother was elsewhere at the time. Yet, when we got to the hut, he went straight to it. I was the only one who IC was actually told. It can get quite annoying.
That is annoying, GM should probably step in there and say bloop! You do not even know about that so no. It is B.S. that the GM would even have to pull that card out but then again that is bad roleplaying.
Another good piece of advice: try not to get everyone killed. Don’t be the guy who throws pebbles at balors, drags everyone into freezing water instead of using the boat that’s right over there, runs screaming through the ‘traps of the world’ museum and threatens dragons while naked.
Brilliantly written article. Everything I think a player needs to be aware of. Having GM’d for 36 years now, I’ve experienced all of the problems that engendered your words, but you’ve summarised it in such a cogent form, and given players guides to fix them.
I think I might put your points on the player’s side of the screen!
Disclaimer: I have not yet read through this in total. I just stumbled upon something, which makes me want to comment on it: Actually, keeping another *player character* from doing something CAN, in some cases, lead to another interesting plot: that is, assuming that you have interaction between your characters and not only interaction as “players vs. environment”. If I try to keep the fighter from punching someone, 1) that does not mean I succeed, 2) if I succeed, he will probably be enraged towards me, leading up to either 3) a discussion with me (whey, that’s “something happening”, too, and sometimes quite important, more than just another pub brawl would have been!) or 3) probably even a fight with me instead of that tiny jerk, both possibly drawing the whole group in and giving the whole group something to do, be it in talking or action. Adversary group interaction occasionally, making the heroes have to get their act together again, rubbing up against each other, etc. can be the most fun you ever had and hilarious as hell as well as bitterly dire. As long as you don’t let it get too dire (and I do not mean the GM here by “you”, but the group – you’re playing a GROUP, after all; family squabbles and fights and jerks each other’s hair, but in the end you hold together again, possibly even MORE tight-knit for it) all is fine and even probably better than it would be, if you’re just waiting for GM plot. Never a book so cool as when the lead characters have some interaction, too. Often never a story/characters so flat, if they agree in friggin everything.
Just never make characters SO different from each other that they would never stay together, following common sense and at least SOME kind of logic. We can ignore ingame logic for offgame sakes quite far, but only so far.
As described above, be a squabbling, fighting, gerrymandering family by all means, if you want to in the most extreme terms – but be a FAMILY still. 😉
Disclaimer: I have not read your comment in full, but I saw something and felt I had to respond:
Try reading articles in full before you comment.
Well, this article is very well-written, and certainly makes some very good points in an interesting way. That said, it all depends on so many different details that this is kind of good generic advice, though parts of it need to be adjusted to game, group or situation.
However, what rubs me the wrong way is that you wrote “Because it is about fucking time someone wrote one of these”. Like you’d be the first. You’re not – someone has. It is quite old (and maybe a bit dusty), and was written by some less important fellow called Robin D. Laws…
My GM linked this to his facebook page, and it’s brilliant.
On the “Five, don’t harm other players” I’ve got a bit of a laugh.
In a mecha based game, fighting away, I’m leader of the squad and things are going ok. Something big and nasty gets into melee with me and I tell my squad to shoot it. The rules state that whomever dodges the worst gets hit. I dodged ok for the first two, but the 3rd shot did more damage to me than all of the enemies did combined.
I ordered it, got shot and took full responsibility. So if a player does hurt you and it’s all in character, go with it.
Also failure is fun, pushing games and character to see what you can do and how far you can go is great, failure means you’ve reached their limit. I can dodge 2 shots a round, I can’t dodge 3.
I’ve always had problems with failure if I like my character too much. If I get attached and INTO them with the role playing, and then they die, I do get bummed. Its actually messed with me a bit as a DM because I’m reluctant to kill a player. But I think my players have finally gotten me past it, thanks to them. They’ve encouraged me to kill the crap out of them if they earn it.
I have to say, overall this article is great, but I disagree somewhat with #3 and #5.
For #3, you should avoid killing your teammates of course, but if you don’t want the fighter to punch a dude its incredibly fair to try and stop him. The NPC should still react to the obvious attempt at hitting him. The Fighter will still have to try and justify himself, and it should spark a decent in-group discussion that could lead to some party progression. So TRY and stop other players from doing something if its wildly stupid, unsafe, or against your character’s views. It’d be insane otherwise. The DM should make it a challenge for you, and honestly the other character might thank you for stopping him from giving right hook to the king.
#5 You absolutely can and should say no in character to some things, so long as you don’t halt the game with it. Give the DM an out he can twist on you. If you refuse to do something to solve a problem , still try something else. If your ally gives you a mission to kill a king, and you refuse to straight up kill him. Refuse, but suggest trying to get him disposed instead. The other character can deny you, in which case go along to stop that character and try to convince the others. I agree with your point, don’t let your character’s ‘don’t’ completely cock block the story, but don’t not say no. Feel free to say no if your character would, just have a different game plan to try along with it.
Who died and made you the king of all RP? About half of this advice only applies to a very narrow play style. The rest is just bad advice. Also, you have a shitty, abrasive attitude and can just generally fuck right the hell off.
#7 is one that my group has a serious problem with. We’ve had to issue a rule that computers/kindles/phones are turned off during the game.
#8 has sometimes been a problem. Not so much from “on screen sex” but from a player who spends way too much time on the Urban Dictionary looking up kink words to use in the games.
#5 I’ve lost long time friends over this one. PVP is simply something I won’t tolerate in a game, and will leave a group that condones it or ask someone to leave my game over it. It’s just not worth it.
This is a great post and good for new players. I did something similar. Create a 10 Commandments of RPG Gaming. How to be a good player and keep the game fun for everyone. https://fyxtrpg.com/10-commandments-of-rpg-gaming/
Very good post. I just discovered it.
Since you mentioned it, would you recommend a few good articles that are geared towards being a good GM?
I don’t actually read a lot of gamesmaster blogs, but I love The Alexandrian. That’s some clever shit right there: http://thealexandrian.net/
I just wanted to say “thank you” once more. This article is making things easier with my players for 2 years now. I just share a link and don’t spend half a month explaining stuff. Kudos.
I agree with most of this. The uncooperative group is always less functional than one where everyone works together. The Gimli/Legolas rivalry is what’s to be aimed at with mutual antagonism. I hate this character so I want to outdo him – not thwart him.
The point about backstory is that it’s never going to be as real as what happens during gaming sessions. If characters build on what their experiences are, and develop their behaviour accordingly, it makes the characters very real. I hate X because one of them nearly killed me. If we find potion Y, I want it, because it saved me that time. I don’t trust that guy, he let me down.
A lot of this is a matter of the GM supporting characters when they add some characteristic. If he’s the main representative of a particular race, then maybe meet some NPC’s who have some things in common.
And, IMO, I’d favour giving actual rewards for roleplaying well. This could be done by percentage bonuses, say, on experience points, or whatever. It’s a problem with some roleplaying games that the roleplaying is something separate from the game. It’s as if one made charging noises every time you moved the knight in chess – you might enjoy it, but it’s separate from the result. If someone’s got a really good character, then that character deserves some kind of reward for the entertainment value.
As to the presence or absence of sexual activity – it’s whatever a particular group is comfortable with. “My character should be allowed to…” cannot override what people want to experience. This goes for torture, explicit description of violence, abusive language – if everyone’s ok with it, then fine – otherwise, restrictions are entirely reasonable.
I really like this post. But it’s caused some upset in my roleplaying group about whether it’s bad roleplaying to be a passive type of player. My response was point out the opposite of each point, as an example of what makes for bad roleplaying:
ONE. Don’t do stuff. Be completely passive. Never try to make anything happen in the game.
TWO. Don’t act out your character. If forced to speak in character, monotone, monosyllabic acting only.
THREE. Stop other people doing things. If someone tries to do something, stop them. Break the flow whenever possible.
FOUR. Refuse to interact with the story. Your character would never do that for… “reasons”. Make sure your GM never gets to use any of the prep they spent hours on. Who cares if they’ve given up lots of their free time this week trying to make something fun for you.
FIVE. Spoil other players’ enjoyment. Undermine other players’ character concepts. Derail the plot. Force conflicts that other players haven’t bought into.
SIX. Don’t bother understanding the system. Learning the rules is pointless when you can get someone else to explain them to you… every single time you roll the dice.
SEVEN. Don’t pay attention. Your phone is more interesting than the people you’re sitting with. Make sure they know it. Have no idea what’s happening when it’s not your turn.
EIGHT. Make other people round the table feel uncomfortable. Even when asked not to broach a subject. Especially then.
NINE. Don’t describe anything, ever. Its the GM’s job to entertain you. Why should you have to add anything to the game? No combat action should ever require more description than, “I hit it with my sword”.
TEN. Have a tantrum if your character fails at something. Winning good, losing bad. Your character should always succeed at everything you ever do, or you flip the table.
ELEVEN. Don’t play the game. Roleplaying is about a group of people building an awesome story together. Don’t engage with building that story, and if possible, distract others from doing so, too.
Ah, this is nice! I’d not thought of it this way. But yeah, being passive isn’t great; I think that there’s a time and a place to shut up and let other people take the spotlight, of course, and that if we’re all doing stuff all the time the game becomes a cacophony of nonsense. But I suppose you could view that as being active, too, at a stretch – staying engaged with the game and choosing, actively, to step back to let others perform, setting up situations where their characters can shine, and so on
I know that THREE is under some contest here, and obviously it’s going to come down to whatever works for your group, so I think there’s perfectly fine justification for enforcing a rule like this at your table.
However, I do take issue with the notion that in the situation where the monk stops the warrior from punching a dude, that ‘nothing happens.’ That might be true in the broad GM view of the game, where events haven’t transpired that might trigger consequences, or whatever. But ‘something’ has happened, and that thing is character development.
Two characters in a conflict of personality is the best kind of PvP you can have in a game; it doesn’t cause real harm, it can happen quickly, and it can help both players define their characters and discover what their limits are when dealing with a situation that isn’t black and white, Us VS Them.
Depending on the situation it may or may not make a huge difference whether this conflict happens after the action or beforehand (thus canceling it), and so it comes down to the GM and the players to decide what is best for the fiction. But to simply say that ‘preventing another player’s action because nothing happens’ is just incorrect. Plenty happens. It just may matter more to the characters than to the GM. Don’t lose sight of that while you are trying to push the overarching story forward.
Consider though that the action doesn’t have to be blocked for the conflict to occur. The character can be allowed to act, and the other character to take issue with it. Since there are now clear consequences that will have to be dealt with sooner or later, there’s even a better basis for the conflict than some hypothetical worry.
If the prevention is established first, and doing the action would “block” the prevention, then there’s still room for conflict.
I imagine we can all think of examples of both kinds of character conflict and growth in fiction.
I just happened by this article and wondered if you have written a similar piece directed toward GMs. Many GMs I have played with have a very awful outlook. They believe they are God and what they say goes.
A GM is meant to facilitate a story…
Hey! I’ve written a GM edition as part of my new project, UNBOUND: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gshowitt/unbound-rpg/description
This is fucking brilliant.
I’d like to add some stuff to it. You can read that here: https://nazhuret.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/how-to-be-a-good-player/
Yes, I am going to have my players read your post.
I may just read it aloud to them before we play next.
This indeed is a great article, thank you foe it
(three years have passed, but the theme is still uncovered mostly, what a shame)
Please, we’d like to translate an article to russian for rpg-news.ru webzine. No profit, all the credits and links wil ead to you, etc.
Wow, I have read a lot of these in magazines and sourcebooks, on blogs and videos and podcasts, but this one is spot on! You nailed it man. I just shared this facebook and pleaded with everyone in my group of 2k gamers to come over and read it, as a favor to themselves, their group, and the hobby in general. Great work.
Love your article. Some nuance I’m not agreeing with, that’s maybe 1% of what you have written. Good writing and great points which will help me reflect and improve on my GMing and particularly at playing. (Much better GM than player)
Is there a way to contact you directly ?
I want to make a translation of your article in French (if it has not already been made of course).
I’m sure a lot of people will be interested in it 🙂
I’d like to poke fun at point #5 – mostly because I have played a Kender, successfully, who didn’t set out to screw anyone over. I mean, seriously, I was as against that as anyone. I just wanted to play a small, adorable innocent who used the improbably successful weapon known as the hoopak.
And I never stole anything – we role played it out. At no point was I whispering to my DM that I wanted to steal other PC’s stuff. At no point was he pushing me the dice and whispering, “DO IT.”
Yet somehow I wound up with the macguffin the party had spent months trying to find in my pack when I decided to use the rule that would allow me to randomly reach in my pockets and throw something at an enemy.
It worked, but we lost the macguffin. Lead to some excellent role play too, as I had to basically explain how I had it in my possession in character – without resorting to the out of play explanation, which was, basically, My GM was a Dick. 🙂
12) Don’t be a slave to the rulebook.
GMs are routinely advised that it is their game, they have the right to make adjustments to the rules as needed to ensure everyone’s enjoyment; the same goes for players. Partly, of course, this a rehash of the advice against rules lawyering above. It is also, however good advice for dealing with potentially problematic traits like the thief class, Kender race and so on.
The description makes Kender sound like chaos on two little legs, but would drive your friends to genocidal frenzy? Insert the wisdom to realize that non-Kender don’t appreciate their borrowing ways for some reason. Malkavians sound like chaos, period? Force your character to fight his/her dementation every step of the way. Character is overpowered compared to the rest of the party (see countless rants about munchkins and power-gamers), figure out why the heck your character is hanging out with these weaklings to begin with.
This leads directly to #13. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Not only does that help with moderating problem traits, it also helps avoid traits which can’t be moderated (the paladin in a party of murder-hobos) or which are simply hard to keep moving (non-combatants in a combat scenario).
I’ll be honest; my husband sent me this because I was having trouble paying attention during his games. He still doesn’t see that the problem is NOT “oh, she hasn’t thought about this yet.” I have loads of fun in games that he is not DM’ing.
But I like to be the “fun” characters. The gobbers in Iron Kingdoms. The bards in D&D. The characters that are just plain *more fun to play* because you can be ridiculous every now and then and everyone will just ROLL WITH IT.
Hubby is a more “serious” role-player, by which I mean he prefers solemn, LotR-esque adventures and tends to turn my more “fun” characters down.
And then he wonders why I don’t like gaming with him as DM, when our gaming styles are so thoroughly mismatched.
My husband sent me this, forgetting that *not knowing these tips* isn’t actually the problem.
The problem is that I like to play “fun” characters. Weirdos. Misfit bards. Gobber alchemists. Nerdy gnomes who come up with way-too-complicated mechanical solutions to a problem and have to be gently talked down.
Hubby prefers to DM “serious” campaigns, like LotR. Characters with even the slightest hint of a “gimmick,” however innocuous, are vetoed every time. (But not otherwise-serious characters with pun names–Jenny Sayqwa was approved without question.) And then he wonders why I don’t have any fun. WE HAVE DIFFERENT PLAYING STYLES! I have fun playing, just not when he’s the DM.