Art by Greg Taylor
Let's face it. Sitting around the table with your friends and slaying monsters with rolls of the dice, counting your gold with the tick-marks of your pencil and doing your best dwarf impersonation can be a great way to pass a Saturday evening. However, there are several things players can do to turn a good game into a great one. Outlined below are ten steps to keep in mind when preparing to head out to your Dungeon Master's house, and keeping these in mind will catapult your playing to the next level.
1. Good players are prepared
It's simple. Show up to a gaming session prepared to play. Game Masters take time out of their schedule to make sure the game is ready for you and your friends, they prepare dungeons, make props, get NPCs organized and stat out enemies; the least you can do is make sure your character is properly levelled before heading out the door. Make yourself a checklist, something you can consult every week before game that will remind you of everything that needs to be done to prepare yourself for the next day's game. Try and keep your gaming supplies together and preferably somewhere within easy reach. Most Game Masters who have gone through the trouble of organizing a game like to talk about their creations, so don't hesitate to call your GM with any questions you might have regarding your character or your preparations for the game.
2. Good players put their character first
When role playing the goal is to immerse yourself in the world that you help create and take on the roll of a character you have invested time and effort into making come to life, so when players start to take things personally I tend not to be surprised. A good player will make sure that he remembers that the story you are telling together is just that, a story. Players do their best to try and not take things that happen to their characters seriously. They shouldn't feel threatened when their characters are cornered in an alleyway, nor should they feel offended when the villain insults their name. A good player will remain conscious of the fact that their character is a separate being from themselves and the GM or other players for that matter are not out to get them.
3. Good players add to the game, they don't take things away
Choices are afforded to our characters every time we sit down at the gaming table. Do you kill the Demon or question him? Do you side with your father against your party or turn him over to the sheriff for questioning? While this point is not to adjudicate your decisions, it is to keep you aware of them. Don't be afraid to take a course of action because it is dangerous or not something expected, just remain conscious of how this action would affect the game. Let us take the bound demon for example. You could kill the demon while he is helpless, you could question him for information , you could promise to free him for a powerful magic item, or you could join with him to slaughter the guards surrounding him and make a dark pact for more power. Each of these options either adds or detracts from the game and a good player will seek to always add. Whatever choice you make you must be aware of any hang ups that might negatively impact the game. If you were to choose to slaughter the guards and attempt to bargain for power that could go over well unless the party was there and opposed to you. In that case you would then have to proceed to back stab your party members to complete your objective. Keep in mind I am not saying that backstabbing your party is wrong, but the extra work created for them in having to write up new characters and for the GM having to work this new, powerful ally into play is going to take away from the game and only add enjoyment for yourself.
4. Good players know the only thing they should leave behind are unfinished snacks
Gamers tend to be messy though not usually by any fault of their own. Gaming sessions are rife with chips and soda and sandwiches and pizza, all of which are consumed over the course of slaughtering ogres or dealing with the prince of a city. In the end though wise players should remember that bringing snacks to the session is not nearly as important as helping to clean up afterwards. Treat your gaming area as a sacred space and remember that your Game Master is not your mother, they shouldn't have to clean up after you.
5. Good players are honest with themselves
Just as habit number two indicates you should learn to disassociate your character and yourself, you must know when doing that is proving to be too difficult to do. Most role playing games tend to revolve around mature themes despite what their boxes may say. Death is a messy, bloody subject and those twenty goblins you just slaughtered got some giblets on your boots. Be aware of yourself, know what you are and are not comfortable with and make sure to relay this to your GM before the game even starts. Let him know if your not comfortable with the subjects of rape, murder or even simple mindless violence before the game begins so he can advise you whether or not these things are prevalent in the campaign.
6. Good players create characters, not statistics
When you sit down to do your prep work before starting a new campaign, it is important to remember that a good role player will make sure they understand their character’s motivation. Just as any actor wants to know why they are crying in a scene over laughing maniacally, so too should you know why your Elf hates Gnomes or why the Brujah needed to get punched when he made that quip about your fashion sense. The rules of the particular gaming system do not matter, they are only to enforce a level of success or failure on your actions and choices, when it comes to creating a character you are free to create. Build an intricate back story, remember your character is a person and you should look to real people to gather inspiration. Nobody is perfect, make sure to pepper in flaws, tics and habits that define your creation as someone you can relate to. Create someone believable even if they are an Elf that uses magic or a vampire of Chicago.
7. Good players learn to act
Your game is a stage and the entire world is to be your audience. Any player worth his salt understands what it means to act. This doesn't just mean speaking in a funny accent or wearing an eye patch. Acting is the study of emotion and learning to display emotions separate from what you are feeling. Take a few acting classes, or if that is a bit beyond your reach invest in some research. Pay attention to how you are feeling when specific emotions arise and try to emulate them when you have long sense stopped. Grow your vocabluary and try new speech patterns. Wear something you normally wouldn't and see how it makes you feel... try developing a character's personality and act like them for a day, ask yourself “What would Alyxzanah the seventh level ranger do?”
8. Good players aren't afraid to fight.
Never be afraid to take the hard way, even when the easy way will suffice. Think about it, if the GM presents you with two hallways and through a spell you mystically understand that one way is a straight shot to the treasure chest and the other leads to a whole separate dungeon which should you take? The answer is obvious to a good player, Anything the GM worked to create should be experienced. They put so much into creating the world your playing in, any good player should give it their all to fight against the odds and experience it all. Good players know that uphill battles are a better way to achieve something because anything freely given was not worth having in the first place.
9. Good players don't hesitate to cry.
We spoke about acting in a previous habit, yet it is vital to stress that a good player is willing and in fact does their best to try and emulate these emotions during game. They do not hesitate when a scene calls for a tear jerking reunion between lovers or a heart wrenching separation of mother and son. A good player jumps into every scene seeking to add to it and make it their own and make it memorable.
10. Good players always try.
There are many habits listed here to help take your role playing to the next level, things to help get a new player get called back for games over and over and over again. The most important thing to remember is that if you never try something new, never reach for a quirky habit or attempt to evoke tears from your fellow adventurers, you will always fall short. If there is one thing that can be instilled into gamers from their first roll of the dice, it is that they need to try with every fiber of their being to be a good player... and that, will make your great.