You're Not the Best Roleplayer
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today I'm reflecting on the past almost ten years that I've been roleplaying, and I realized that there was a common theme that came across as I thought about players, game masters, and the player/game master I've been in the past, and it is this: some people think they are great roleplayers, but what makes them "great" is also something that grinds against other players.
And you don't see people talk about this much online: everyone talks about how to be a better roleplayer, and some of their advice, I think, can encourage behaviors that can actually make you a worse roleplayer for specific groups/players/game masters. So toward that end, I want to do a quick five-minute reflection on three things you can avoid that will keep you from being a pain to other people around the table while trying to "be a good roleplayer."
I. Taking On a Character
A good player presents a consistent character so that their actions make sense to everyone, making it easier to work with your character from one session to another, which builds party cohesion (which is good).
Taking on a character can become a problem, however, when the traits you adopt for the character get in the way of the action, energy, and dynamic nature of the scene. I was once a player in a group where one of the players was very consistent in playing his character, but since he was playing a character who was from a far away country with different social rules, he would get sidetracked with a cut scene of him trying to figure out what was going on in the middle of the action, breaking the action and energy of the scene for a character moment.
Not necessarily a problem if it's a minute or two (as was sometimes the case), but this would sometimes take several minutes and in a few occasions led to strain for the game master who wanted to keep the scene moving but couldn't get it to move because of the character's inability to step off of a patch of snow (because "we walk on the snow, not on mud," says the white dragonborn, even though the action is going to happen a good distance off the snow, and we want to keep the momentum of the scene going, so here we are, stalled because someone won't step off of snow).
And this is particularly egregious in scenes that should be tense or build a mystery, as the DM has put a lot of effort to build the scene in front of us, but you jump out of that moment to do something tied to the character that detracts from the power of the scene for (honestly) no good reason other than, "that's what my character would do." And that is bad, because that means you built a character who detracts from the fun and energy of the game for the group as a whole.
You should have character traits that make your character unique and consistent. But your character traits should add to the scene, not detract from the energy, pacing, and momentum of it. I've moved over the years to quick quips (like "I'm getting too old for this" after blowing things up with magic, or "Thus says Erob" before a quippy proverb that's timely for the moment) as the unique distinctives of my characters because it's fast and easy to use in the moment, not taking away from the speed of the scene.
II. Knowing the Rules
Knowing the rules is a good thing - everyone should know the rules pertinent to their character (if you don't know every spell or class ability that's fine, as long as you know yours), as it will help to keep the game moving smoothly. The issue arises - and can grind against your game master or another player - when your rules knowledge comes out in ways that limit the agency of the player and/or game master.
I once had a situation where a player was asking me a question about something their character could do, and I wanted to try out something new for our group, but before I could make a decision as the game master a player piped up and said, "Well the rules say ___," and at that moment the energy of the scene died as we discussed if I was going to follow the rules, and whether as the game master I was obligated to use that rule - it killed the moment and the fun for everyone.
When you volunteer rules information as a player, it should be at the request of the game master or the acting player. Know the rules so that you can act in accordance with the game, but ask the game master what they are planning to use and not use from the rules, and then let them guide the discussion.
Now of course, not only players can cause issues for the game with rules usage. If a game master is unfair or inconsistent with the rules, that will also cause issues with your game. If you plan to use a rule, use the rule. If you plan to not use a rule, let the players know that you will not be using it. If you are tinkering with ideas, talk to your players about it upfront, and then discuss it as you go along.
This is something you should be doing: attend consistently. That's not the issue here, and I want to encourage you in this: make sure you prioritize coming to the session, as your game master has put a lot of time into preparing for it.
The warning is this: are you attending the session in the right state of mind? Was work really rough today/this week, and you're tired, and there's a chance that some of that may bleed into the session? If it's going to cause trouble for the group (the "murder hobo tendency," getting angry/short with other players, etc.), don't attend. Your attendance doesn't make you a great player - it can hurt the group if you are in the wrong state of mind. Take a week off, get in the right mindset, and then come back ready to be the best roleplayer at the table.
We want our players to enjoy the game, and that means that we may need to change our method of playing to accommodate the preferences of others. Some people don't like breaking the fourth wall. Some players don't like it when the high energy scene gets slowed down. Find a way to play well in your group.
And at times, you may find that the way you like to play isn't compatible with the group, and that's okay. Find a new group: being in the right group is oh so important to fuel your enjoyment of the game and that of the other players. And in the 21st Century, there's never been a better time to find a good group.
Until next time,