On Being a Good Player

Posted: April 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So one of your friends is planning on running a tabletop game and you’re going to play. Are you prepared? Here’s a handy dandy guide to being a good player and all the things that you should know.

First off: What system is your GM planning on using? Do you know it? Is it related to a system you know? Have you never seen it before in your life? Its your responsibility as a player to make sure that you have at least read through the basic player section of the rules for any system you haven’t played in before. If you have time, don’t just read the rules, make sure you understand at the very least, the rules that apply to you. If you’re going to be playing a ranger in a 4th ed D&D game and you’ve only ever played Mage: The Ascension, you should probably at least understand the system for powers and probably also healing surges. Understanding the basics of the rules and being able to read your character sheet are the two most basic things that a player can be able to do that will put you on the path to being a good player. Its amazing just how much a game can be slowed down by players who are asking which dice they need to roll and not knowing how their own powers or items work.

So you can read a character sheet and you know what dice you need, but can you make your character? While this isn’t a mainstay of good player etiquette, it is just a good thing to be able to do. Now, it depends largely on the system in question, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect you as a player to read the section on character creation and try to familiarize yourself with it. Character creation by and large isn’t terribly difficult if you just take the steps available in the player section of the rules.

So now you have a character. Does your character play nice with the game you’re going to play in? If your GM has a major NPC who is a 7 year old demi-divine cleric of Heironeous and your character is a Black Guard of Hextor, turns out that probably won’t work. It might be fun but will it be fun for everyone? That’s the question. If all the players are trying to destroy the cleric, then maybe. Although, I have to admit, that would be an odd game. A bunch of skilled adventurer types trying to take out a 7 year old? Anyway. Wow, now I can’t get the image of a bunch of adult adventurers trying to beat up a 7 year old out of my head. Moving on. So, playing nicely with the other players is important, but at the same time, don’t sacrifice character traits just to play along. Remember that the goal is for everyone to have fun. This doesn’t mean you should come up with something like I hate magic so I’m going to kill all mages, it means that maybe you consider magic to be the coward’s way out. Maybe you’re a pacifist and choose not to carry weapons. This is a perfectly reasonable character concept, so long as you’re careful about how you interact with the other characters. Its really up to you to make sure that you and the rest of the party can have fun together. If your idea of fun is wild PVP and the GM is cool with it, then sure, but make sure that everyone it having fun.

I figure I should write out some very simple rules. Lets call it the Code of the Gamer.

1. I will attend game sessions. If I cannot attend, I will inform the GM.

2. I will come to game prepared to play. This means I will have my character sheet and dice and anything else I need to play, including a knowledge of my character.

3. I will not only be physically at game, but also mentally. I came to session to play the table top and will not play another game during this one.

4. I will strive to ensure that not only am I having fun, but so are the other players and the GM.

5. My GM is a person and I will treat them as such.

6. Leave real life drama at the door and don’t let it interfere with the game.

These rules are extremely simple, but startlingly important. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watch games crumble into dust because a player never told people they wouldn’t be at session. Envision a couple people sitting around a table, dice lying unused with their character sheets. One person is playing Angry Birds on their phone, the GM is sitting dejectedly behind their screen and the other person is idly reading through the player’s handbook. “Anyone know if Bob is coming?” “I think so…” “He didn’t say he wasn’t.” “Lets give him 5 minutes.” 5 minutes later the discussion starts again. Does anyone know if the mysterious Bob will be attending? Did he have the right day? Does he even care? By not telling anyone that he wasn’t coming, Bob could possibly kill the game and ruin everyone else’s fun.

You might think its enough to be there and do things on your turn, but its not. I know a lot of GMs who have a no laptop or smart phone policy during their games. While not strictly one of them, I can understand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over at someone’s computer during a game and discovered they were playing a game. I understand the allure of digital character sheets and virtual dice, but it isn’t fair to your DM and to the other players to not be paying your full attention to the game.

Remember that the GM is a person. I know its hard to understand in this modern age of video games and even the ability to run a tabletop from around the world, but despite all that your GM is not a perl script (unless they are, in which case I want a copy of your code). If your GM gives you an instruction like the start of game or that something isn’t allowed in their game, listen to them. If your GM is inexperienced, help them and don’t use the fact that they don’t know the rules as well to your advantage. And here’s the really important part: if your GM and you disagree about something, anything, give yourself about a minute to rationally argue your case. After that point, if the GM hasn’t changed their mind, do what they say and ask about it after session. Above all else, this is just a game and nothing truly terrible is going to come of it if your character dies in the game. Your paladin can fall, your character could die, your wizard could lose their magic. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and your GM is probably doing it for a reason.

I said this in the article about being a GM and I’m going to say it again, the rules can all be simplified down to “Don’t be a dick”. As long as everyone is striving to have fun together and play nice like good people who passed kindergarten, then the game will be a success. If you’re going to do something and you think that maybe you might make someone angry, upset, annoyed or just not have fun, then think long and hard about what you’re considering doing.

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