There are many ways to enjoy roleplaying games and most of us take part in games as players. We all know players who are great to play with and perhaps some who are not as fun to have in the group. Here are 8 tips on becoming a better roleplayer.
I’ve been playing roleplaying games for more than 25 years and I’m still learning. Every time I meet a new player or a new game master I learn something. Mostly I am discovering things about myself. What kind of player I am, how the other players perceive my characters and in what way I can help the other players get the most out of the session.
I’ve picked up a few things along the way that I try to do to keep things fun. Of course, most of these might seem obvious and don’t necessarily need much explaining. Still, I have been at table where one player’s behaviour was so disturbing, vulgar and even threatening that I was about to phone the police (long story, I’ll save it for later), so I guess that sometimes it’s good to have these little reminders. Anyway, here are 8 tips on becoming a better roleplayer.
Ok, this is perhaps the most obvious one. If you can’t attend the session let the game master know in time. Of course, shit happens and sometimes life gets in the way, everybody understands that. When life gets in the way time and time again however, perhaps it’s time you give life your full focus. Having sessions cancelled after the players left home, picked up pizza and beer and sat down by the gaming table, is not fun.
But you can show-up in physically though you’re miles away mentally. And to be honest, I find that more disrupting than being a no-show. You don’t have to always give a five-star performance, but if you foresee spending more time on the phone or online than paying attention to the game, simply excuse yourself from the game.
Life sometimes needs your full attention, everyone understands that. Many of my fellow gamers are raising children and have careers to attend to, as do I, and they have my utmost respect and there’s nothing wrong with prioritising. And if you can’t make it, your game master is only a phone call or message away.
Take part in the story
I think that most of us have both played characters that had moral issues with the group’s actions and been in groups with that kind of characters. Sometimes these can get out of hand and either slow the story down to a grinding halt or even seriously derail it in a bad way. I’ve even had players saying that their character would never take part in the groups chosen trail of actions, simply straight-out refusing to take part in whatever the group decided to do and putting it in a really hard spot. In most cases, after serious debating and some great use of diplomacy skills the players finally decide to join in.
I’m playing a neutral dwarf druid in a Greyhawk campaign, where the characters are a part of a resistance force, assembled by many different groups, fighting the armies of Iuz. The campaign is great and it has offered us, the players, many great roleplaying moments and chances to discuss in-character about the consequences of our actions, many of which would not survive an investigation by some good aligned order of paladins. My character constantly ponders on why the resistance force is aligned with groups who are obviously evil and if the enemy of our enemy is always our friend, making her even doubt her own actions.
Ask the questions why, when, how, who and what, instead of saying no. Find out why your character would do that and take part in the story being collectively told around the table. After all, the story isn’t about your character, but about the group as a whole.
Know the rules, let the game master be judge
As a game master I hate arguing over rules. As a player… well, let’s just say I’ve got stronger opinions on that kind of behaviour. Know the rules, especially, know the rules relating to your character. Don’t spend too much time browsing through book after book, arguing over rulings and debating if this rule should be interpreted in this or that manner.
Of course, new players don’t need to know everything, that goes without saying. Almost every player I know welcomes new players and would go out of their way helping them getting to know the system being used, the rules regarding their character and even offer tips on roleplaying.
So, if you know the rules the game runs more smoothly, but don’t be a rules-lawyer or number-cruncher, constantly calling out the game master or the other players. If you have something you’d like to discuss with the game master about her rulings, please let it wait until after the session.
Don’t be a jerk
Roleplaying is supposed to be fun (see below). That’s why we gather to play. Just as in every other social activity be kind and respectful. If you make someone uncomfortable, don’t be a jerk about it. Say you’re sorry and talk to them about it.
A player in one of my groups is transsexual. I sometimes forget myself and address the group using masculine pronouns and nouns. So far, my friend has been a sport about it, but I think that says way more about her than me. Nevertheless, I don’t want to come across as a jerk and I am genuinely sorry about this.
Also, most groups I know have strict codes on PvP. So, no matter how high your Thievery skill is or how much your character hates the other characters, please refrain from attacking, stealing, maiming or torturing the other characters. Most players don’t like to have their character killed by the other characters.
The first year I played, a new player joined the group, one way more experienced than I was, and showed up to a game playing a drow. I was playing a high elf and didn’t know about the animosity these two subraces share. I played my character as I always had, a bit naive and eager to trust the other characters. Deep into some castle the drow backstabs my character, killing it in two rounds. I was devastated, because I didn’t understand why. Ever since I abhor this kind of roleplaying. But perhaps that’s just me.
Perhaps the best part I find roleplaying with children is that they aren’t afraid of going into details describing their character’s actions. I constantly find myself amazed listening to them and I can almost see it as vividly in my mind’s eye as they can the things they are describing. Somehow, along the way of growing up, many of us lose that ability and need to retrain it.
Never forget that you are the storyteller for your character. The game master only sets the scene for you. Make the most of it. Use it to spark the imagination of the other players and help them see and understand what your character is doing. Don’t break their immersion.
“I run across the hallway, drawing both of my blasters. I dive into cover behind the crates, look over my shoulder and shoot at the first stormtrooper, the one that has blastmarks in his white armour.”
“I move six squares to the crates where I have cover. I shoot the stormtrooper that Alex wounded.”
Don’t fear failure
Some of the best sessions I’ve taken part in were not where the party had a great success, slew the dragon and claimed troves of treasure. No, some of the best ones are when we failed, made huge mistakes or miscalculations.
This one time (not in band camp) when we were knee deep in Age of Worms, using Pathfinder, we were fighting some demons. I was playing a LN human fighter, doing my part and tanking the best I could. The cleric in the group decides to blast the area with the spell Holy Word. It had devastating effect on the demons, but also my fighter.
“Wait, what!? You’re not good aligned?” he cried out. I only found out later that he had almost TPK’ed the party in a previous campaign using Cone of Cold when the group was fighting demons or devils that were immune to cold damage. Unfortunately the other party members caught by the spell weren’t immune to the biting cold.
Failure, however, is not only great material for player stories, but also, if you embrace it, it can be a great part of the narrative. After all, despite the fact that your characters isn’t human, she is only human and it is human to err. I’m not saying that you should go TPK’ing your party over and over again, just to get a good story out of it, but instead of being bothered by not succeeding all tasks, make failure a part of the narrative.
Perhaps similar to failure, but don’t be afraid of roleplaying a character that isn’t perfect. None of us are perfect, so why should our characters be? Make sure your character has flaws and odd traits, something that might even embarrass her and help the other players and game master to perceive your character.
I once had a player who always aimed at playing the strongest character in the group. He himself was a bodybuilder and he didn’t mind his character being about as bright as a brick or with the charisma of a traffic light, as long as he had the highest strength score. If that’s what floats your rock, man, then go ahead and play the shit out of that muscle. Make sure you’ll get opportunities to bend bars and lift gates, but don’t fall asleep the moment the strength checks are made, take part in the game and also play up your imperfections.
Make sure everyone is having fun – The Golden Rule
Whatever else you might think of these tips, make sure you take part in and share the responsibility in everyone having fun. Don’t hog the spotlight, share it and make everyone feel like they’re a part of a group, a part of something larger than themselves (psst, this also applies to game masters, because sometimes they also forget to make sure that every player gets a chance to shine).
Don’t be the player who always takes the lead in social encounters, make sure that the other characters also get a chance to act and react. Don’t be the player who takes forever declaring actions during combat, constantly running through your spell-list or debating if this feat is applicable or not. Be the player who engages with the other players, who takes part in the game and is ready to have as much fun seeing the successes of the other characters, just as they would be the successes of your own character.
Encourage and give praise, both to players and game master, where it’s due. You liked the way the rogue danced across the tightrope over the moat and managed to open the gate for you. Great, let the rogue’s player know. Was the game master trying voice acting the NPCs for the first time? Give her a pat on the back and make her feel good about it, trust me, she was probably rather nervous about it. Did one of the players show up with their new miniature painted by themselves? Take notice of it and admire it. Be a good sport and help the other players have fun and feel good about themselves.
Keep the Golden Rule at heart at all times and you’ll have the art of roleplaying mastered in no time.