When you join a roleplaying group, you are committing yourself to a storytelling game, where the players take on the roles of the main characters. While the game master plays all secondary characters, antagonist and monsters, the players have only one role to play, yet one with a great responsibility, for they are the main driving force of the narrative.
The focus of every roleplaying game, of every module ever published and every session ever played is the story. Game master spend hours upon hours crafting the narrative, be it epic in size or simple one-session short story. The game mechanics, i.e. the system itself, is nothing more than a tool to progress the narrative.
Know what you’re in for
Every group has its own house rules, both written deviations from the system rules and unwritten rules of conduct, the group’s values or even who brings the snack this time. When you join a roleplaying group, make sure you get all the info on all these rules, e.g. some game masters frown heavily upon meta-gaming (“Oh, no, my character is down to his last hit points!”) while others have a more lenient approach to this.
This also applies for when you’re creating a character, even when you’ve been playing with the same group for years. Playing style can vary between campaigns, e.g. murderhobo-ing through Vampire the Requiem module will almost always end in a disaster, and knowing what style is aimed for makes the character creation a lot easier.
Know the setting
Whether you’re playing in a huge multilayered, multiplanar sandbox in a story that takes months, even years, to unfold, or in a one-shot session, the more you know about the setting, the easier it is to visualize everything and to sink your teeth into the narrative.
In every module, in every story, a part of the narrative offers the characters a chance to investigate their surroundings, to get to know NPCs and learn about the setting. Use these opportunities, make notes, make contacts, take time to familiarize yourself with maps, handouts and images used by the game master.
Even in long campaigns, composed of multiple modules, e.g. Age of Worms, the PCs regularly get the chance to stop their monster slaying and interact with villagers, great heroes and other NPCs, where the PCs get to ask their questions, learn more about the evil forces behind the great scheme of bringing Kyuss back to the world.
Know the story
GM: As you enter the great hall, you see a figure dressed in black hooded cloak, wielding an obsidian mace, fashioned in the shape of a skull, standing by a large throne made of blackened bones. It turns slowly toward you and grins wickedly. “Welcome, friends, I’ve been waiting for you,” the figure says in a raspy voice. You recognize it. It’s Hardan the Vicious! What do you do?
John: Hardan the Vicious? Who’s that again?
Karen: He’s the guy that murdered your father! He was the reason for why you started adventuring.
John: Oh, right… I draw my sword.
We all know players like John. The players that more than often need help with remembering parts of the story, even pivotal ones.
A great way to remember and keep notes between sessions is to keep a player’s diary or adventure log. This can be a communal diary, where every player writes their own notes, or a personal log. By keeping notes and writing down what happened in a session it’s easier to remember and to know the story.
By knowing the story, the need to brake character to get information about NPCs, places, events or villains, becomes not as pressing. You become one with the narrative and it’s a lot easier to stay in character if you’re a not constantly answering or asking who, why, where, when and what questions, regarding past events.
Know the characters and interact with them
One of the greatest pleasures of roleplaying games is to create a great memorable character and get the chances to play it. Even greater is the pleasure to have number of other characters to interact with your character and to see their relationship unfold throughout the narrative.
Don’t hold back on interacting with other PCs. Make your own stories, are you lovers, is there huge gap in religious matters etc. What made Tanis Half-Elven interesting was not is combat prowess, but his divided identity, his torn heart and his constant struggle with being a person of two different worlds. His interaction with the other Heroes of the Lance was always under that influence.
By interacting with the other characters, you also help other players to get into and stay in character. Though the narrative shouldn’t come to an abrupt halt every now and then to make sure you can discuss in lengthy terms about your character’s doubt about the group’s morality and the need for slaying all those goblins, make it a part of the story, so that your character’s campaign for a higher morality becomes a part of the narrative and not your moment to do a lengthy monologue.
Let yourself go
One of the best house rules I’ve ever seen was: “Leave all drama at the doorstep. Same goes for smartphones.”
Many players don’t play more than once a week. Though session length differs, it’s good to remember the reason for why we team up to play roleplaying games. It’s to have fun. It can ruin the fun if two players are constantly bickering about politics, religions or whatever. It can also ruin the fun having one player more interested in Facebook or Twitter all night long.
By committing yourself to the session, getting in character and save all the much-needed and always-appreciated political arguments for later, putting your phone or computer away, not only will you have more fun, but also the other players and the game master.
One of the best session I’ve ever played had all the players at the end of the night standing by the gaming table, shouting at each other, locked in a deadly combat with an undead sorcerer-king. Dice flew, curses were shouted out, prayers were offered to whatever gods were listening, the players actually played out their characters moves and I bet that they almost felt their characters’ wounds. Once the group escaped the sorcerer-king and managed to thwart its plans of taking over the world, the group celebrated like they had just scored the winning touchdown of the Superbowl. And the best part, every player in the group was older than 30 years old!
This is what makes roleplaying fun. This is the reason why we play. But we only achieve this by immersing ourselves in the story. So, let yourself go and allow the story to whisk you away, to worlds forlorn and fantastic.