As always, Mike Mearls delivers the goods:
Each participant is responsible for entertaining everyone else, regardless of player/GM role.
This is true, obvious, easy to forget and not universally accepted. The best players I’ve gamed with approach sessions this way. As a GM, I know that’s my focus, and with good players it often happens anyway — but I’ve never pushed for it to be everyone’s focus.
When you GM, do you encourage this mindset in your players? Do they come to the table with it without any prompting? When you play, do you take this approach?
I like that statement, and I think I will adopt that ideal when I get to the table next time. If everyone has that idea in mind when they sit down they shouldn’t be so worried about the kewl l00t that they will get, or worry that the character next to them is going to screw the party over again.
What’s even cooler is playing games that actively require that everyone offer input and entertain, e.g., Burning Wheel, The Riddle of Steel, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc. 🙂
I think that’s a great idea. I doubt you’ll ever get 100% player buy-in, but you can bring it up, discuss it, and lead by example.
Something about the phrasing bothers me but I do agree with it in spirit.
Perhaps if it was “Each participant is responsible for ensuring that everyone else, regardless of player/GM role, has a good time” I would be happier.
It is the ideal, and should be used relentlessly to defang “I was just playing my character” conflicts.
As Buzz mentioned, some systems provide tools that enhance everyone’s ability to contribute in a way that entertains, but no matter the system, you can stay interested in the game and be a good audience/teammate to your fellow players.
Like scott said “It is the ideal, and should be used relentlessly to defang â€œI was just playing my characterâ€ conflicts.”
I’ve known players who built their characters completely around the concept of going after another specific player and that just ruins everything. They might have had fun playfully take jabs at each other in game, but it just kills it for everyone else.
So I’m not so sure it should be â€œEach participant is responsible for entertaining everyone else, regardless of player/GM role.â€ but maybe:
â€œEach participant is responsible for not ruining the fun of anyone else, regardless of player/GM role.â€
Now obvsiously this shouldn’t go so far as “I won’t kill the GM’s monster, that would ruin his/her fun.”
Social contracts are beautiful ways to resolve a lot of issues could arise and ensure that every player has a good deal of fun.
Entertaining? Maybe it’s just a problem with the semantics, but I don’t go to the table (player or DM) to “entertain” anyone. Generally I play a game to have fun and enjoy myself and have fun with friends. While it’s true that the actions (or lack of action) on the part of others has an impact on whether or not, and to what extent, I enjoy myself I have never felt it was their “responsibility” to entertain me. That’s a little arrogant.
Having said that I agree with the spirit of the statement in regards to the fact that for a game to be successful then active participation by all parties is probably the largest contributing factor to the relative success of a game. Role Playing games are, in general, cooperative games by nature, and interaction between GM and Player(s) is fundamental.
p.s. no knock on Mearls. He’s an ace writer whose work I greatly enjoy! I just find this statement a bit (and I lack the context in which it was said) presumptuous.
There are a lot of ways to skin this particular cat — and when you only have one sentence to work with, every word makes a difference. Interesting. 🙂
John Arcadian: Players who come to the table to ruin other folks’ fun shouldn’t keep coming to the table. No social contract has much of a chance of changing that, and changing The Sentence to “not ruining” just neuters it — at least, to my way of thinking.
tmcdon: I think Mearls is using “entertain” in much the same way you used “have fun and enjoy myself and have fun with friends.” There’s an extra element to entertaining, though, which sets it apart — but they’re not that far off, IMO.
This is just another reason that Mike Mearls should be considered one of the best game designers in the Industry Right now.
His ideas on playing, while simple sounding, are profound. His game designs are innovative. I have been a big Mike Mearls fan since the release of Iron Heroes.
For all you non d20 haters out there, Iron Heroes shows some of the best d20 game design since the release of 3.0. If you have not read it, you will either want to play IH or rip all the goodies out and port them directly over to your D&D game after reading them.
Needless to say, I am a big Mike Mearls fan.
tmcdon – to me the statement says that everyone should commit to the group activity, and to making sure that each member of the group is included. I really don’t see a problem with that. We do it all the time in other social settings. And the more equal we are in taking responsibility, the better the experiences of all.
Of course in reality, commitment levels always vary, but in an activity like gaming, if they differ too much, the game really does not work as well. Sure, a church works just fine with folks who live and breathe the church, and folks who come once a year on Easter Sunday. Sure, a circle of friends who host parties and whatnot at their homes works just fine when Fred never hosts because his 1-bedroom apartment just can’t handle the group, and as a batchelor, he may even get away with being the one who only ever signs up to bring chips or soda. But I can tell you that people notice, and react to, moochers. When I caved actively, there was one guy, who did contribute a lot in other ways, whose idea of meal planning for a trip was to make sure his messkit was packed (he literally showed up at folks camp with fork, spoon, plate, and cup in hand – with no prior agreement for meal sharing – and never an offer to contribute). People started dismissing him as a loser and butt kisser (his main contribution to caving actually seemed to be politicking). I’ve had gamers that wouldn’t even commit to making time for the game, they would only come if nothing else more exciting was available that day. I’ve currently got a player who I’m ready to kick out, because he hasn’t made 3 sessions in a row (and has now missed 3 sessions in a row). I’d rather offer that seat to someone else (or leave it empty, the group was actually sort of at capacity without him anyway).
Players who won’t commit to entertaining each other at some level, as a group, cooperative, activity, are one reason we have so much dysfunctional play. Some of them new fangled “Forge” games actually demand players not only play their characters, but make sure they are tossing hooks to the other players, “entertaining” each other. Some of em don’t even have a GM to serve as the “entertainer.”
This also points out that if none of the players has a responsibility to entertain each other, then obviously that all falls on the GM. Which is really impossible. One GM CAN’T entertain everyone every minute of the game. But if everyone has committed to entertaining each other, then suddenly, even if you’re the one player not actively involved right now, you’re still being entertained. Because what’s going on with everyone else is of interest to you in some way (if only to provide ammunition for how you will throw the next hook their way).
I think the failure to live up that sentence is one of the reasons that so many people are absolutely convinced that bigger groups don’t work. (Not only convinced that the bigger groups don’t work for them, but convinced anyone that has a big group and thinks it works is delusional.) Anyway, the more people you have in the group, the more important it becomes for everyone to actively contribute and play off of each other.
If I can get the whole table laughing about something twice a night I feel like I contributed something to the evening other then just showing up to play for my own entertainment.
When I get the group laughting about something said or did in character, bonus.
If you just want kill stuff and get loot, play a video game, tabletop RPG is about interacting as a group.
Several time I’ve gone to a game with the intension of pushing some of the less dynamic players onto center stage, I usally forget, but on occassion they seemed to have had more fun dealing with a situation they normally would have left to the other players to deal with.
Frank – read my whole post
TMC – I see your point, but I think like so moany other things today, the focus of the statement is backwards in your take on it. The purpose of â€œEach participant is responsible for entertaining everyone else, regardless of player/GM role.â€ isn’t meant to focus on you BEING entertained. Viewed in that way it is pretty pretentious. But, rather the other way around, meant to remind YOU that your job is to BE ENTERTAINING for everyone else there. Whether that means making an effort to include others at the table, not shouting out the answer to the obvious riddle until others have had a chance to mull it over, or making sure that your teammates don’t die horribly when you can prevent it, or whatever else it might mean for YOU, the point is that it’s a reminder that you have a job to do too, not just sit there and be entertained.
I think I said that when I stated:
“Having said that, I agree with the spirit of the statement in regards to the fact that for a game to be successful then active participation by all parties is probably the largest contributing factor to the relative success of a game. Role Playing games are, in general, cooperative games by nature, and interaction between GM and Player(s) is fundamental.”
I think if I would have used a different set of vocabulary Frank would have understood.
My problem with the statement Mike makes is in semantics, not the “spirit” of the post. The primary reason for games is enjoyment. We play games to enjoy ourselves, not entertain someone else. In fact I have a problem with gamers who believe that the purpose of the GM is to “entertain” them.
My only “responsibility” at the game table is to have fun. Obviously with a role playing game (cooperative game) the best results are to be had by total group involvement.
I have been, recently, in a group that had a hard time scheduling regular playing time. I don’t view it as anyone’s responsibility to me to show up. If you like to roleplay, you want to have a good time doing so and sharing in some great fellowship then you’ll be there. If not: we’ll go on without you, hope you make it next time. The player who doesn’t show may be missed, there may be a sense of saddness over their absence, but the game goes on and the fun continues. As for the player unable/unwilling to take a more active roll in participating: that may simply be a matter of comfort. Hopefully they can be drawn into feeling more comfortable with whatever aspect of the environment/game that prohibits them from active participation and further enjoyment.
Perhaps you really don’t have any commitment to the others, though I truly doubt that you have no commitment whatsoever. Of course I do have this sense that people are much less willing to commit to social activities these days.
And sometimes that lack of commitment hurts. My first Arcana Unearthed campaign was a huge headache, because I had anywhere from 3-10 players on a given day, only a handfull who would let me know ahead of time if they would be there or not. And one time was terrible, a player who indicated he would not be there showed up, and decided it was time to go off and handle something from his back-story, totally blowing my prep to the water. He finally relented when I basically said, well, if we don’t do what I prepped, the game session’s over, because I’m NOT running D20 by the seat of my pants (to damn much fiddling to set up encounters – especially in AU with less support material). And I sure as hell wasn’t going to run a city based adventure (where all the NPCs would be classed, excuse me while I spend an hour writing up the spell caster you’re going to talk to) where I had nothing more than a city name, and hadn’t really read this guy’s backstory and all. The more than an hour it took before he finally said, well, you could always put the clue I need into your adventure… was one of the most painful hours of game play I’ve ever had.
Oh, and before I do custom prep for a player, I’m going to need lots of assurance from the player. I learned that lesson back in high school some 25 years ago when a player wanted to have an adventure to secure a castle site. So I came up with something. Well, come game day, that player decided to play in another game. We ran the island adventure all right, but he didn’t get his castle. And the few times I’ve done custom adventures since then have been for players who commit more to the game than anyone else, players who talk to me about the game and their plans out of session (now if I get into some of this narativist style games with bangs and such, I’ll obviously have to custom prep for players, but I’m going to be very careful about how much commitment I give them without a feeling that I’m getting some commitment in return).
Now tmcdon, are you really one who gives no commitment at all? I bet not. Now perhaps your level of commitment is less than I would desire, and that’s fine. There actually is room for casual gaming, so long as everyone recognizes that. But I’m not going to hold a seat open any more for a player who sees my game as something to do if nothing else comes up.
So I personally have absolutely nothing against Mike Mearls’s statement. I don’t find it at all presumptuous. What was presumptuous was the old form of the statement (that the GM was responsible for entertaining everyone else, with not so much as a thank you for his effort).
I just can not conceive of group activities working without commitment to each other. But that doesn’t mean that every time we do a group activity we do some new fangled kind of group hug and formal “I commit to do XYZ” kind of dance. No. For a lot of things, just simply walking in the door is sufficient commitment to the group. Simple honesty: “I really want to play Fudge not D&D so I’m joining a different group.” is commitment.
“Responsibility” is not some contract spelled out to the last minutinae with penalty clauses for non-compliance.