Today I want to talk to you about something very near and dear to my heart: tabletop gaming, particularly tabletop RPGs. Last fall, I got a small group of friends together and started running a D&D campaign. There have been a lot of bumps in the road as we had some new players and I was new to acting as GM. I got to thinking about how to make games run more smoothly–not just related to game mechanics, but also player interactions. Below are my thoughts on some general guidelines Players should follow to keep the game moving and make sure everyone is having fun.
All it takes is one player to pull the rest of the table out of the game. This applies not just to RPGs, but any tabletop game. If a single player is bored or uninterested in what’s happening, it ruins the atmosphere for everyone. Most of the time, this player becomes a source of distraction for everyone. They’re the person who is looking at their phone and possibly even playing other games on said phone, while you’re trying to play a game together. They might get up and down a lot and disrupt the entire table when doing so.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of people talk about this topic and specifically mention the “dice builders” here. I agree, that these people can be distracting, particularly when their dice construction is very precarious and then gets knocked over, scattering dice all over the table. Sort of like that one time on Tabeltop when Anne Wheaton accidently hit the table and sent all game pieces flying. You’ll feel bad when it happens and it will bring the game to a grinding halt while you get it set back up.
However, some people need to have something to do with their hands and the dice are just there in front of them. If you’re this type of person, be aware that you might be distracting to other players and find something that won’t be so disruptive. Perhaps you need to have a pen and paper so you can doodle. Or perhaps you keep your dice constructs small and unassuming.
The other reason this is important is that when a player isn’t present and paying attention, they miss things and then later have no idea what’s going on. This can potentially stall the entire game while the GM or other players catch this person up. This is especially frustrating to others if you do it during combat because your turn will now take twice as long as it needs to.
Your GM has put a lot of time and energy into creating this game for you. They create maps, they develop encounters, pick out magical items to put in your path and help you out, present you with scenarios to help bring out your character’s unique skills.
So, if your GM asks you to do something before the game–or bring something to the game–DO IT. If you’re asked to arrive early to level your character so it doesn’t interfere with the start of the game, then be there. If you delay the game, that’s disappointing to your GM and to the other players. If you know you can’t make it early on the day of the game, get your leveling done ahead of time.
If your character has an ability that you’re not quite sure how to use, don’t wait until the middle of combat to ask. You can ask your GM or fellow players if you have questions about the rules. You can also find a lot just from a simple Google search. When all else fails, if you can’t find your answer, just let your GM know you’re not sure how an ability should work or when to use it. If they can’t tell you right away, they can probably find an answer or develop a house rule for it. If you wait until the middle of the game to ask, you’re going to stall the fun for everyone at the table.
Your GM is always a resource for you, but ultimately, you should know how your own character works. GMs strive to know all the rules and be experts on everything, but it’s a lot to memorize and if they’re a newer GM or you’re playing a new game/edition, they might not have it all down yet.
This applies in a couple of ways. There’s the obvious, tangible contributions like bringing snacks or drinks or even game components. If the GM is also the host, don’t expect them to provide all the refreshments as well. Perhaps your group has a BYO policy or perhaps you can take turns bringing snacks to share. Whatever the case may be, don’t expect one person to bear all the responsibility for feeding the entire group. Basically, don’t be a mooch.
It is also likely that the tangible components of the game such as maps and minis are all provided by your GM. I’ll tell you from experience that these items aren’t cheap and it adds up fast. Perhaps you have a really creative GM who makes a lot of the components, but that still means they spend money on supplies as well as even more prep time. Many GMs enjoy this aspect and like having the stuff, but it can still be a financial drain. See if there’s a way you can contribute. Your group might consider gifting items to the GM to use in-game, or throw in some cash for supplies. Most GMs won’t expect anything, so this can be a great way to show your appreciation for everything they put into the game.
You can also choose to contribute through play. Particularly if you’re playing in a campaign with a strong focus on narrative and role-playing, think about how to contribute to the story. Maybe there’s some quirk your character has that will add a humorous component. Sometimes as a player you may look at a situation and realize that you could avoid the encounter, but maybe your character wants to fight and charges in anyways. Maybe your character takes particular interest in an NPC or even another player. If you act in character and help drive the story, your GM will be grateful and may even reward you somehow in-game through inspiration dice or XP.
Be Understanding & Respectful
Be patient with your fellow players and your GM. If you have a new player in your group, do what you can to help them, but don’t smother them. Don’t treat them like they don’t know what they’re doing; don’t second-guess them or swoop in and add their rolls for them. Give them a chance to do it and help if the ask for it. Be encouraging.
Above all else, remember that it’s just a game. Don’t take any of it personally. Ultimately, the most important thing is that everyone has a good time. So the simplest rule you can remember is this: