Table top gaming was once relegated to the darkest corners of the basement, surrounded by old pizza boxes and soda cans, hiding the faces of the players from the accursed day-star. In recent years, however, watching table tops be played has become almost as much fun as playing in them, especially with a good story teller. I frequently find that my games include one or two people who aren’t playing, but sit in the room to record the ridiculous things that get said or done. I have special rules for the people who are observers in my game, and sometimes I feel like these rules should be unnecessary but every time, I get surprised.
Have you ever been running a game and had someone around who wasn’t playing but insists on talking to someone who is? Have you been another player in that game? Have you been the one being talked to? How about the one doing the talking? Recently, I was one of the players who was sitting there during a Dungeons and Dragons 4E game, waiting on another player to make her move during combat and one of the guys watching us play was talking to her about something, slowing down our game. What made matters worse was that the GM was trying to also talk to her. So, first rule of watching games is not to bother the players, especially if they are currently making an action, working on making an action or talking to the GM.
So, the players are in a room with a table and a mirror and you’re thinking ‘Really? You don’t know the answer? Really guys?’ So maybe you blurt out the answer. This is going to anger the players because maybe they think that you think they’re too dumb to know the answer. This angers the GM because you just gave away the secret of the room and potentially ruined part of the game for the players. I’ve run this particular puzzle before and have had it go anywhere from seconds to nearly an hour before the players got the solution and every time they’ve been proud of finally getting there. Having that moment of achievement taken away because of someone who wasn’t even part of the game sucks.
In review, one of the most important things you can do while watching a game is not distract the players or solve puzzles for them. But here’s something I bet you weren’t expecting. If you’re watching a game, there are two important things you should do before the game even starts. You should first ask the GM for permission to sit in on the game. Some GMs might be opposed to having something else in the room. The second thing you should ask is if this is a one-shot that may be run again in the future. I have a bunch of one-shots that I run in Fudge, many of which I have run multiple times. I have no problem with people who have already played sitting and watching the game to see how they go differently but if I know someone wants to play in a later run, I will not allow them to stay in the room because it ruins the puzzles and surprises.