Continuing a series discussing how to be a better player, this article is the second on the subject. Most gaming advice out there is pointed at game masters, and while players can gain a fair amount of insight from those articles, it’s always a byproduct. My intention with this series is to offer advice on the skills players can cultivate to be an asset to any game table, both in their actions and in their understanding of the game table.
Now, just to state it up front, I am not a perfect player. Many of my articles have talked about my own foibles as a player. Let’s just state it, I have no chill, and if I’m irritated it always comes out. Still, I am always trying to improve so my favorite GMs keep inviting me back to their table. At the very least, I can talk about the things myself and other GMs look for in the players that join our games.
Know Yourself and What Kind of Gamer You Are
The second topic for this series may seem a little odd, but the best players I’ve gamed with always know who they are as players. They have an understanding of the games they enjoy, the types of characters they play best with, and ultimately the games in which they bring their best to the table. This isn’t an active skill that will help you directly at the table, but it will help you find the right games for you to play and be your best.
Know What You Enjoy
There are so many games out there. Old school games, traditional games, indie games, crunchy games, light games, and more genres than I can count. If I try, I know I’ll forget some and end up with comments because that genre is someone out there’s favorite. Because there are so many choices of what to play, it really helps to have a grounded understanding of what you enjoy as a player.
What genres do you gravitate towards? Is system mastery important for you? Do you have to know other players at the table? Figuring out what makes you tick as a gamer not only helps you fill out a satisfying schedule for a convention but can also help you explain to your home GM what kinds of things you want out of a game. While many GMs may come to the table with a concrete idea of what they want to run, many will go to their players and ask what they want to play. The last thing they want to hear is, “Whatever.”
Tone is as Important as Setting or Rules
Many folks will say they know what they like, but they’ll declare just a system or a genre. Thing is, a system or a genre can have a lot of wiggle room and mean different things to different people. It is just as important to know the tone of game you prefer as it is genre or system. For example, horror can encompass everything from Ten Candles to Monster of the Week with a large number of elder gods in between. I know many players that like both of those games, but I know that I’m not one of them. I adore the design concepts behind Ten Candles and how it tells its story of hopeless horror, but I know myself well enough to know that it is not a game for me. On the other hand, a Monster of the Week game where we have a chance of helping keep the ignorant folk in the suburbs safe for another night is just my style.
Many folks will have broad tastes as far as tone goes, but it’s helpful to understand that there is a wide variety of options out there. While I enjoy humor, I don’t like slapstick or cartoony humor. To put it in the frame of superhero stuff, I am here for the wisecracks of Young Justice, but not the goofy shenanigans of Teen Titans Go. Figure out where your sweet spot is with tone and that will help you just as much as understanding genre and system.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
While it is important to understand the specifics of what you enjoy, you want to be careful not let that knowledge close doors to other games. The RPG hobby is constantly growing and evolving in some pretty amazing ways. It is perfectly acceptable to keep playing a beloved old game, but by refusing to try newer games, you limit your opportunities and pool of players to game with. If sticking with second edition AD&D is what you want to do as a player, more power to you, but I find the hobby to be richer and more vibrant for seeing all the other ideas designers have brought to their games.
Another aspect of this is accepting and understanding that different people like different games. Tribalism can happen in any niche hobby, but I find it super annoying whenever I hear people putting down other games because they’re not the games they prefer. To share two responses to this, ‘Don’t yuck someone else’s yum’, and ‘Let people enjoy things.’ This is not saying to never critique games, but there is a time and a place and someone telling you how much they love their game is not the time to tell them how your game is better or their game system sucks.
So, to sum up, take a chance on an interesting sounding game you don’t know at a convention, or let one of your GMs bring a one shot of that cool new game you’ve never heard of to your game night.
Don’t Take a Seat for a Game You Know You Won’t Enjoy
Many of us play games because our friends play. Sometimes this can lead to agreeing to play a game that you know is not going to be fun for you in the long run. I love how gaming lets me connect with my friends that also game, so I fully understand the temptation to play anything and everything you’re invited to. But if you absolutely know you don’t like a certain type of game, but that’s what your friend is running? You’re only going to make yourself and your GM friend miserable by taking a seat at the table. It can be hard to say no and the fear of missing out is real, but if you know you really don’t like Star Wars games, there’s only so much enthusiasm you’re going to be able to bring to the table for your friend’s Edge of the Empire campaign. Let someone else have the seat at that table.
For new players, don’t stress out too much if you’re not sure what you really like in games other than the little bit you’ve already tried. Figure out what parts of the games you have played that you enjoyed and what parts you could do without. As you gain more experience, you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself and be able to seek out the right games.
So how does this work for you folks? Do you have a handle on what games make you tick as a player? Please feel free to share.
Other Be a Better Player Articles:
Is there a link to the first part? It would be nice to have them linked so I can share the first one and have it easier to jump from one article to the next one 🙂
Aaah, good idea, Tomas!
The two bits of advice you referenced, â€˜Donâ€™t yuck someone elseâ€™s yumâ€™, and â€˜Let people enjoy things,â€™ remind me of an important counterpoint: It’s okay to advocate for yourself.
Recently I’ve tried a few new rules systems with experienced GMs I haven’t played with before. While playing these systems has surfaced concerns about how playable they really are, that’s not what I’ve really had trouble with at the (virtual) table. Nor is it issues of content or tone. It’s issues with play styles– of the GM, another player, or both.
For example in one game I played recently there was one player– whom I’ll call Player 1– who played the game like he was the only PC. In every encounter he’d declare a multi-round action before initiative had even been rolled and demand it be resolved immediately. When I asked him to be more collaborative, he sneered at me for “Wasting time.” Worse, the GM catered to Player 1 by resolving all his actions first every time, basically allowing him to “solo” several encounters. Even worse than that, the GM showed favoritism to Player 1. When I decided, “Hey, maybe bold, unilateral action is the preferred style here” and acted as such, the GM punished my character with harsh in-game results. Player 1 always got Nat-20 type rewards.
When I spoke up at the table to the GM about these problems, the GM (predictably) denied everything that happened. Player 1, also predictably, attacked me, saying the only problem he saw was my overbearing ego. The other players were silent… either because they were okay being basically NPCs, or because they were afraid of being bullied next.
Obviously the right next step for me was to leave the game and not play with Player 1 or that GM again, which I did. But speaking up as I did, even though it halted the game for 10 minutes and risked derailing it altogether (if other players had agreed with me) was still the right thing to do. I will not be told NOT to speak up when things are wrong just because other people– particularly the wrongdoers– are enjoying them.
BTW, I have plenty of examples of bad play at the table I’ve interrupted a game to speak up about, or other players have interrupted to speak about. This is just one.
What you’re saying is different than what I was trying to get across with saying ‘let other people enjoy things’. Too often, someone will bring up a game they enjoy and someone else will immediately jump in and tell them how stupid that game is. It’s basically pissing on people who enjoy a thing you don’t like. I’m talking about telling someone they’re wrong for liking something you don’t like.
What you’re talking about is a situation where your enjoyment of the game is being actively ruined by the actions of other people at the table is different. I would never tell someone to sit there and take it. Maybe, if everyone else is obviously having fun, you just quietly excuse yourself and explain why to the GM later rather than stopping the game, but you don’t have to sit there and ‘take it’ just for someone else’s sake of fun.
I’ve enjoyed this series of articles you’ve been posting. I can definitely relate to your section about hesitation to try new things! I feel like we can all be victims/creatures of habit.
Thanks for sharing your insights.