1. Arrive on Time
...So everyone can start together, and you don't miss out on stuff if we start without you. On-time arrival communicates mutual respect for all the other players gathered. Things come up, schedules get busy, emergencies happen - but communicate these things so the GM can plan accordingly.
2. Think about your turn before it happens/get organized
This is a life lesson. Get thyself organized; everything will take less time, you'll be less stressed, and EVERYONE will appreciate you more. ;)
If you're a monk with a million attacks...maybe roll your damage and attacks together. Then, if the attack hits, you already have your damage. If it doesn't, discard the rolls. Easy-peasy. Set your dice out that you're going to roll ahead of time. If you're hasted (ugh), maybe even write down your own order of operations to keep yourself focused on your tasks, then check them off one by one.
If you're a caster, READ YOUR SPELL. Know what it does, understand its range, casting time...all those frustrating details; but ESPECIALLY have ready the Save DC and WHAT exactly the DM is supposed to roll, if there even is a save. Bonus: casters who narrate what they do to cast the spell adds great depth to their character and the visual art of it all, plus demonstrates an understanding (maybe) of how the spell works, so try it out!
(In 5E) The Attack Action, even if you have Extra Attack, consumes your action, so unless you are Hasted, you cannot also cast a spell, or interact with an object, or grapple a foe, or do anything big after that. Your movement moves you across the board...that's it. A Bonus Action is specific - if you do not have a feature that would grant you a bonus action, assume that you do not have one to spend. An understanding of this speeds up play dramatically - and actually allows a lot more to be done each encounter, as more player turns will occur - this way no player feels that they need to CRAM their turn with stuff to do because they won't get another chance later.
As a DM, I've made a few house rules for player ease: 1) Potions take a Bonus Action to consume yourself, but an Action to give to others; this way, there's still a cost to healing, but it doesn't consume a full turn. 2) Sometimes, as context or creativity might allow, I have expanded the use of the Bonus Action - this is something I will try to do less of, as individuals have become confused by it/try to abuse it. 3) As per the rules, a Bonus Action spell does NOT allow another leveled spell as an action; me and my fellow DMs rule that one can cast a Bonus Action spell AND another spell of 2nd level or below (but the core rules state "cantrips only" for this).
There ARE class features/feats/items that mess with these basic rules, of course, but everyone is held to that initial standard. Knowledge of what rules you can bend, and what you can break, will speed up turn time and allow more opportunities for everyone. PLUS, it helps the DM avoid unnecessary rules lawyering/arguing/etc. that can drag down play.
3. Share the Spotlight
This is a group game. Don't hog the spotlight.
This requires some personal and social awareness. There can be a lot going on, but no one wants to feel forgotten. It gets harder with bigger parties, but if everyone stays aware of their own spotlight, no one should feel slighted.
It goes a long way, especially if you think that what you're about to do is going to take some time, to INVITE another party member, maybe one that isn't used to playing much yet, along for the ride. This makes them feel wanted (yay), gives them a joint opportunity to shine, AND forces the initial player to interact with their party in character. Maybe the whole group follows - sweet! I'd rather an ensemble with everyone taking part than a looooong solo with everyone else waiting.
4. Listen to the Game Master
If the Game Master is talking...listen. Your side conversation can wait, that random thing you want to say that you just thought of...can wait. This isn't me trying to squash anything; quite the opposite really. It's to set up a level of respect. If the GM listens to you as you describe something, then listen to her as she describes something.
Your GM works hard for you; they have a tough job, and they need to be given the space to help paint the picture in front of you without being interrupted. Some great emotional and effective moments can be hindered by a player making a joke in the middle. Don't spoil the fantasy of a detailed resurrection ritual just because you thought of a thing - save it for later.
Plus, this ensures that everyone comes along for the ride in the fantasy, at least for a little bit. Details are all shared; collective in the theater of the mind. It grants the DM space to craft a great picture. Seriously. Shush.
5. Rise to the Challenge
...and don't whine about its difficulty.
As player-characters get stronger, they will undoubtedly face off against more and more powerful entities. Wizards are SCARY at high levels, and some dragons are ALSO wizards, so... Mind Flayers are terrifying; there are some creatures that will just bring your hit points to 0 as an ability; Legendary Actions keep you humble; Intellect Devourers, though weak, can still decimate your party. ALSO, heists are hard. Planning is hard. Maybe you're not a sneaky person, maybe you're not a planner, maybe you just want to set everything on fire and call it a day.
We can use these moments in a fictional game to help ourselves become more complete people. Rise to the challenge to improve your planning, your execution, your self-control, your spell usage, your creativity - don't whine about it, TRY. Because anyone can roll a NATURAL 20. :)
Have an awesome day.
See you at the table.
Games are full of lessons.
Some found through annoying tutorial levels, where a perky sprite leads you through platforming and interrupts your thought patterns... While others are found through trial and error, or keen game design (Mega Man X for SNES or Shadow of the Colossus, for example). Most of these lessons are only for the function of PLAYING the game effectively, but with so many games, commonalities, tropes, and certain expectations transcend gaming platforms and cement in our minds our paradigm of the world.
I grew up playing games, digital and tabletop, but the latter I have always found to be the most rewarding. Tabletop games force us to PLAY WITH OTHERS, a powerful, and surprisingly rare, circumstance in today's digital world. Playing with others in an open-world system that supports out-of-the-box thinking has influenced the way I approach my life, my dreams, my work, and my interactions with my fellow humans. It's powerful stuff, and I'd like to share some of what I've picked up over the years with you.
Confused yet? Good. TL;DR - I'd like to present to you 10 Life Lessons I learned from tabletop gaming.
1. There is always more than one way to win.
When the adventurers approach, they see a lumbering troll, a chain running from its leg to a post in front of a moat and drawbridge. Fighting the troll doesn't have to be your first choice, though it may be the easiest (for most). Maybe the party has no fighter, only a druid, a wizard, and a rogue; the rogue might have a shot, especially if someone distracts this thing... But what if you couldn't fight, or didn't want to?
What if you spoke to the troll? Charmed it? Put it to sleep? Freed it from its chains? Sometimes an ally, even a magically-induced one, can be a lot more advantageous than another corpse. And a friendly troll might, with the help and pep of the adventuring party, rebel against their cruel masters and become an adorable friend to the group.
Point is, there is always another option; some options are more likely than others, but fortune favors the bold. :)
2. If you're going through hell, keep going. There's some sick loot at the end. Perseverance.
Life is not easy, and anyone who says so is lying. Music takes thousands of hours of practice, but the feeling of being "good" far outweighs that time. Getting fit takes hard work and discipline, but you'll live longer and feel better. Lesson? Anything worthwhile is going to take some struggle and perseverance to reach that sick reward at the end. Keep. Going. It's often the most difficult before the finish line.
3. Failure is your friend.
Learning from our mistakes is a huge part of living a full life; don't be afraid of rolling that natural "1." Own it instead and see what happens in your awesome narrative. Then, take note of what went wrong and why, so you can grow and learn from it in the future.
4. Cheating isn't fun (Godmode is boring)
Remember Starcraft? Remember the cheat, "poweroverwhelming"? Yeah... That felt good for maybe, what, a single game? And afterwards, you just sucked all the skill and fun out of the game. Good job. Now you feel awful, don't you?
So when you REALLY want to hit that guy and you're just not rolling well that night...what's to stop you from fudging the numbers and smacking the big bad and being the hero? Your integrity. And the moment you start down that path, the luck mechanic of the game and your own skill at maneuvering elements to your advantage, is gone. Ripped out by your immediate "need" to succeed. It kills the soul of the game; and it will rob you of the excitement of live play - because for you, victory is guaranteed, and where's the fun in that? PLUS, this one has the additional consequence of destroying your perceived integrity with your fellow players. THEY'RE not cheating, so how come you are?
5. Side Quests can have even greater rewards than the main plot.
Sometimes we can become so focused on the task at hand that we avoid the things that could be the most rewarding. An odd job, a night out with friends, finally giving in and going skating even though it makes you uncomfortable...these things can have hidden gems of awesome. Try new things, because you never know what you'll enjoy or not, and you just might find something really special while you're taking that tangental path.
6. You can't win if you don't act.
Inaction is the dream killer. Sitting around won't burn fat, staring at the screen won't write your paper, complaining about your life won't change it; take action, or you'll never go anywhere.
7. You don't have to face the world alone.
Whew. This one, for me, is rough. Mainly because I hate asking for help; I want to do it on my own, I don't anyone to do it for me. Here's the thing, though, no human can do everything on their own. AND, as I've learned very recently as an adult, we all need help sometimes, no matter how independent we try to be.
In an adventure, when you face a dragon, you don't do so alone. Your party - friends, allies, family - have your back. We might all experience the TPK together, if we're not smart, but our survival rate is much much higher if we all work together.
The tricky part here is sincerity. A sincere person is honest with themselves and tries to maintain a level of connection and respect with people, even if in just a small degree. They don't abuse a connection with someone, taking advantage of their help and banking on it. In a party structure, the hapless rogue shouldn't sneak off all the time with the assumption that the party will just always save him. We'll save him because he's saved us in the past; there's a bond there. A sincere person is genuinely thankful for help, even if it is difficult to ask for, and works tirelessly to strengthen the bond with those around them.
The point is, relationships take work. If you take them for granted, then help may not be there when you DO need it. So, take care of each other with kindness and sincerity, and you won't have to face the world alone.
8. Never be afraid of taking all the wrong paths until you find the right one.
Life is about learning. Go forth, and learn all the wrong ways to make an album. Sometime I'll find the right way, and I can learn quite a bit by traveling all the others.
9. Sometimes...you just have to let it go.
If you cannot change the outcome, and can do nothing at the moment to influence it, let the emotion move through you and let it go. It serves no one, especially yourself, to ruminate on matters that, in the long run, hold no sway to you. So why waste time and energy on them?
10. Stirring the water makes everything hard to see.
This last one is going to need some in-depth explanation.
There are very few things that bring me from "0-60" - elements that would push me into irrational anger. There have been only a few key moments in the last three years of teaching and DMing that has brought this out, and each one was during a specific exchange between DM and player, player and players, and student and student. Each instance, I feel, falls into this lesson, and showcases that wonderful (sarcasm) little idea of "stirring the pot."
Stirring the Pot refers to deliberately being irritating or provocative for the express goal of causing drama with a person or a group.
I do not think that in any of those instances people were/are intentionally "stirring the pot." However, there are people in this crazy world that we live in that don't seem to be aware of their own effect on others - or if they are, they do not seem to care. Their main goal isn't necessarily to irritate, it is to "win." This victory is found in getting the last word, getting their way, bending the rules to a certain point, breaking the rules (just this once, I promise!), blatantly betraying the party, being overly mischievous and tangental (irritating) because "that's just how my character would act," or otherwise being overtly offended if they are not the center of attention, and whining about it in overly dramatic ways.
I bring this up specifically because I have experienced being stirred, stirring myself, and the growing up moment of stepping back from the "stirrage" and taking a deep breath. I will admit that it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit of argumentation. People are so easily offended for minor slights, misunderstandings, and preconceived notions that it's almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE.
If we are too busy getting the last word, too busy "winning" the argument, too busy lamenting the fact that it isn't our turn yet, so far down the rabbit hole of our own voices sniping back and forth that we forget what we were talking about or doing in the first place - then we cannot see that the solution has already been made, and, often, that the rest of the group (or the world) has already left us behind.
If we are too busy being "that guy," we fail to see the team's solution, and are often holding the team back. We fail to work together because we're too busy stirring everything up, just because we see the opportunity to do so. We also miss important details - the DM just described the room to us, but we were too busy making a snide remark, that now we're making nonexistent assumptions about that room or we're unnecessarily confused.
There is a maturity in taking a step back from that mentality, so that one can see what is actually happening within a greater context. One begins to listen the GM's ruling, recognize that further arguments are unnecessary, and moves onward with the rest of the group. The real "victory" is in removing oneself from the argument/tangent/thought cycle and stepping back.
In life, quite a lot of good can come from practicing empathy and understanding the time and place when stirring might be allowed. Let's be clear: mischief is awesome, but there's a time and place for it; great role-playing is awesome, but there's a balance to good RP and positive player to player interactions; bending the rules and breaking them with context is fine, but pushing for them after a ruling has been made and justified is irritating.
So many times that we unintentionally stir things up could be avoided if we just let the water settle for a moment, so we can see the truth at the bottom. If everyone in the group can see the gem at the bottom, we're so much more likely to move forward together and get it - saving time, energy, and ourselves.
Let the water settle.
I'll see you at the table.
A Little Info Up Front
With the new semester just around the corner, we've got more players interested than ever before, and a few spots here and there available for folks to come play with us.
However, many of the parties with openings have been adventuring with each other some time, a few nearly two years. They've built strong bonds with one another, some fighting literal gods together... So how does one join into that kind of dynamic? Well, in short, slowly. But here's some more detail!
1. Read the Room
I put this one first because it is the most important life skill I have ever picked up in my years of teaching, performing, and just plain existing among other people.
Each of us possesses an ability to "read the room;" to gauge how others react to our presence early on in an interaction, the things we say and how we say them, and feed ourselves information on how to react in a way that isn't obtrusive to the other. It arrives in the form of that feeling at the base of your neck when you realize "I said something wrong" or "That joke didn't hit the way I wanted it to." This amazing superpower is frustrating, because it relies on immediate hindsight, but one can also address it immediately in public and help assure the others that nothing ill was intended. "That sounded better in my own head, sorry" or "That joke didn't land well, did it?" The trick is listening and learning to how the room reacts to your speech, mannerisms, and characterization and make slight adjustments as you go to keep everybody in a good place.
Unfortunately, there are many role-players so obsessed up front with the idea of their character and how they feel they want to express themselves that they end up ignoring the remaining people in the room, and their level of comfort, which can quickly lead to even the best people feeling frustrated with the "new guy."
So, when joining an established adventuring party (or work group, study group, livestream, podcast, social brunch, or any new social group), try this: imagine your character (you) at their highest level of expression...then scale it back to half power. I don't say this to CRUSH YOUR CREATIVITY and single you out; I say this to allow space for the others to allow YOU to grow a part of THEIR party. Because let's face it, you're the "new guy." A strong adventuring group is a delicate thing; too many are broken by internal strife, misunderstanding, destruction of boundaries, and feelings of isolation - so allow yourself and the others in the room time to get to know you, instead of explaining your entire backstory the moment they meet you. ;)
2. Find Your Niche
Established parties have established skill sets for each member. When things get nasty (combat or not), everybody knows what their job is and how to support each other. You've got to find where you can fit. Often, with a group that's been together a while, there isn't necessarily a gaping hole for you to fill - they've gotten this far without you, you know. So you need to find how you can augment their current establishment; do things that others struggle with, bringing something new to the table.
3. Take Your Space, But Respect Theirs
They won't trust you right away. To let you in, I mean really let you in, is a huge rarity first thing. You're going to have to earn your place, and respect their distance. This means not being offended if they're unsure how to work with you in the beginning. A new person is ALWAYS jarring.
If they cross a line with you, let them know, so you can establish boundaries, BUT if you do this, you MUST respect theirs in turn. If it's not okay for someone to reach out and pat your head, maybe you shouldn't poke the Rogue with a mage hand the first time you meet him...
Again, this is interaction with an already established group. They've wrecked bandits together, bonded over the corpse of a spider lich, done tavern crawls, and survived many a bar fight. They're friends, in some cases, even considered family. Being new is difficult. Be patient. Respecting boundaries goes a long way toward building trust early (in fantasy and out).
And often, establishing that level of mutual player respect, will speed up that whole trust thing exponentially.
4. Slowly Blossom
It's easy to get excited, you're playing an awesome game with awesome people... But take a deep breath. Feed them your personal story in small snippets; if they ask for more, reveal only what is comfortable. You don't have to fish through your bag for your handwritten backstory and then slam poem it to all of us - you can keep it vague.
This also allows you to edit your character as you go. You don't have to feel pressured about all of the intricate details in your backstory making perfect sense right away; it's YOUR character, you can make changes to the things no one knows yet, and that is extremely powerful to your own agency. You choose what to reveal and when; mystery can go a long way in building a bond based on what you can DO first, rather than focusing on where you came from.
Much like #2, you can find stronger connections to the party by finding (and editing) how your story intertwines with their values, desires, and skeletons.
5. Challenge Yourself - Create Agency - Reflect
Maybe you've never played before, and this is your first experience with a tabletop RPG; maybe you played a long time ago and want to see how the new edition of the game functions; maybe you've come from eons of playing the best games in the universe and you want to see how we lowly mortals function; maybe you're coming from a bad experience and are just trying to find your place.
Breathe. Just take a deep breath. Then take another one, and remember that no entity in the universe begins perfect.
GMs have a difficult job. They need to balance conflict with success, and provide contextual hooks for the players to help drive a narrative without railroading them. In other words, give the players agency of choice while also telling a story.
If you take damage, heal. If you get cursed, find a cure. Random demon possession? Something to overcome - maybe even an awesome side quest toward redemption where you discover the mystery of your bloodline. Not sure what to do? Improvise! Still not sure what to do? Engage your AGENCY.
Make a goal, and pursue it. And share this goal with the GM so they can find better ways to support your personal development as a player and a character. And, as the group gets to know you, they'll understand your goal(s) as well; able to back you up, as you have backed them up I'm sure.
Conflicts that arise in the game's world are opportunities for you, and your character, to persevere and grow - not personal attacks for you to complain about. Challenges to overcome, and stepping stones toward that goal. Reflect on what these steps mean to your character, and to you, the player. Doing this puts everything else into perspective and helps remind us that not everything can go our way every time. Sometimes settings are not kind places, and we must rise to the challenge, rather than complain of our hand dealt.
In closing, you can learn a lot by scaling back at the onset. It keeps you from looking as if you're trying to derail or "steal" their thunder, while allowing you time to read the room, find your niche, take your space, and align a goal on your own.
A good party is a delicate thing, and people can be very protective of it. Please remember and respect that perspective if you're jumping into a group that's been together for awhile. If you grant them that respect at the beginning, you WILL grow into the group easily and quickly.
BUT...if you don't grant them that space, there can be hurdles to overcome later; boundaries that have already been crossed, messages already sent. Not impossible to overcome, of course, especially with good people, but it will take longer to find one's place.
Hopefully that didn't meander too much. Here at QW we always try to foster positive gaming experiences with a high measure of patience, understanding, and teaching; none of us are ever perfect, so benefit of the doubt is great. But at other social game scenarios, new players may not be given that breadth of allowance.
Looking forward to the new faces already at the door.
I'll see you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.