Welcome back to the Zurn blog! In our last post we discussed some tips and tricks for game masters to make the experience at your table better for your players. In today's post I want to talk to the players around the table, and provided a few useful tips that will help you make the game better for each other and for your game master.
We will begin with ways to prepare for the session before it starts, then discuss things to keep in mind during the session, and end with a discussion on follow-up after the session is complete to give feedback to your GM and fellow players (as some people want to do that, and at some point every player should do that during a campaign).
I. Preparing for the Session
You can sum up all of my thoughts for players in a single sentence: "It's not about you, even thought it is about you." As the player, you are controlling one of the main characters in the story. From my school of thought as a game master, the players control the main characters, so the story is about you. But this is not an Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age-style RPG where you are the only focal character. You are part of a party, and that means that what is fun for you may not always be fun for others.
So to start off, review your character sheet before the session. If you have a special ability from your race, background, class (if you're using a class-based system), item, etc., it's not the GM's job to remind you that you have that ability. It's your character, and your character is one of the main characters of the story. So know what your character can do, so that you can shine at the appropriate time.
Second, review where you've been in past sessions. What happened last session? What things happened in a past session that haven't been resolved yet? What major things have happened in the past few days/weeks that may still be weighing on the mind of your character? All of these may affect how you roleplay during the session. Sure, it may have been a month or two ago in real life when your character's love interest died, but that could have been just a few days ago (heck, a few hours ago, depending on how much combat has happened) in the story. So review what's happened so that you can accurately represent the character in-session.
Third, prepare your mindset for the session. Long day at work? Leave it in the car. Stress from your personal life? Deal with it before you walk into the room. Love interest at the table? Don't show favoritism. You are playing a character who is part of a story that matters to other human beings, and our mindset dramatically affects how much we can add to their joy in playing the game.
Fourth, and this will be a short one because it should be self-evident: hygiene. Shower before the session. That may mean the morning before if you're going to be at work all day, or after getting home from work if you have the time, but you get the idea. These are our friends at the table, and we want to make this a pleasant experience for everyone. So take care of yourself.
And finally, a word to the magic users out there: know your lore. If you've taken spells, you should quickly refresh over what your spells do. Now, I get it that you may not remember in the moment what a spell's precise text says (more on this below, as this has definitely happened to me), but you should know roughly what your character's capabilities are before walking into the session. This will save you time during the session of looking up spells, asking the GM if you can do something, etc. because you'll have an idea of what your magic is capable of. This does wonders in speeding up the session.
All of these things, as you'll notice are really a courtesy to both the GM and the rest of the table - you're getting yourself ready before the session starts so that you are ready to engage with what comes. So now that you're prepared for the session, let's talk about gameplay during the session.
II. During the Session
Some of our comments here will mimic our recommendations for game masters, except that this is you as the player supporting your GM's vision for a clean, dynamic session. One way to do this is to remove distractions during the session. Are you constantly on your phone? Put it aside for a few hours while you're in the session. There are a host of reasons why - it shows that you care more about your social media presence and awareness than you do about the person whose turn it is, your GM who is spending hours preparing and running the session, and you may find yourself unaware of what just happened leading up to your turn.
There are, of course, other forms of distractions - if you're the kind of person who makes "dice towers" when you are bored, you may need to limit the number of dice you have out in front of you (I've taken to doing this, and it's helped me a lot). If you have nervous energy that needs to get out while you're waiting for your turn, pick up a habit that will discretely remove it (as we don't want to be disruptive - I bounce my leg, for example). But you get the idea: we are attempting to remove things that will slow down or detract from the game.
On a related note, pay attention to what the other players are doing on their turns, like these guys are doing (complete aside: the guys in the picture run the YouTube channel Nerdarchy, which has some great insight on RPGs of all kinds - you should check them out). This list is not merely a "Thou Shalt Not" list - I also want to direct you to what you should be doing. One of those things is being active and engaged on other people's turns. What are they doing? Saying? How are they processing what is happening around them, and what does that tell you about their character? All of this will help you when you interact with them, and will aid in building a cohesive, smooth session.
Similarly, research between your turns. Sometimes you remember that your spell does something, but you can't remember the range. Feel free to look it up and check the range, but do that before it is your turn. This way when your turn comes, you can simply take your turn - no need to slow the game down by doing research.
And finally, mind your volume. This takes many forms: I've had very loud people at my table before, and it made it less fun for other players who sat next to them. It could be that the person just talks a lot, and doesn't let other players get thoughts in edgewise. It could be that the player is very quiet, and just won't talk or engage with the rest of the group.
In all of these cases, the player should mind their volume. You should be talking - we are not doing an online RPG where you can sit behind your computer screen and just follow the party and mash buttons. You should be talking in a way that is appropriate for the room, and the fact that you are one of the main characters of the story (but not the only main character). So engage properly, finding the right balance for your group.
Now, a quick note should be said from an introvert who often comes to sessions as a player tired after work: this does not mean that you need to suddenly become an extrovert the moment that you show up for the session. I don't suddenly become an extrovert during the session. But I do make a concerted effort to give my best to the rest of the group because they are my friends and I love gaming with them. So I'll do what I need to do to uphold my duties as a member of the group.
But more than that, there's nothing wrong with being the person in the party who speaks up when it is poignant and powerful to do so. You can play the "strong, quiet type" who spends most of the session just watching and listening, so that when you speak it really matters. This can allow you, as an introvert, to not have to be the center of attention, but still actively engage with the group when it matters.
What is more, engagement doesn't necessarily mean dialogue. If you don't like to talk much, then show you are engaged in other ways. Do you take notes as the party chronicler? Are you drawing maps of where you've been and where you're going? Are you making eye contact with the person who is currently taking their turn? All of these things will convey to the group that you are actively engaged, and that can serve just as well as talking.
So play to your strengths. During the session, be all there, so that you can make the most of it for everyone.
III. After the Session
When the session comes to an end, our job as good players isn't done. There are two things I'll recommend doing, not necessarily after every session, but I've definitely found it useful both as a player and as a GM when my players do this. First, give person feedback to your GM. By "personal feedback" I mean avoiding words like "we" and "us," and use "I." What do you think about the last session? Were there things that could have been done better? Are there things you loved about it? Anything that they mentioned/brought up that you think your character would really latch onto (read: you want to see more of/should be more important to the plot)? All of this is good to mention to your GM.
Second, as applicable, talk with the players outside the session to plan what you are going to pursue. Oftentimes there will be more potential threads that the party could pursue than there will be time to pursue, so don't spend the first 30+ minutes of your session arguing about what you want to do. Talk outside the session, so that you can both save time in-session and also have the time to discuss why people may want to take a certain form of action. And then, of course, if you guys are coming to an agreement on something, clue in your GM so that they can plan accordingly.
There are things that are typically mentioned in posts like this (talk in character, come up with a voice, etc.), and the more I think about it, the less I see this as necessary to building a good gaming group. If you're on camera I think it will make things more enjoyable for the audience, but it is not nearly as necessary as coming to the session ready to engage, being all there when you're in the session, and giving feedback to hone the skill of your GM and get the players on the same page. If you're doing that, you're doing great.
With one of my groups starting up on Wednesday, I look forward to doing some follow-up thoughts on etiquette in the coming months as we play through more campaigns. It's one of the things that I'm sure I'll continue to refine at my table as time goes by, and I encourage your group to continually ask the question, "How are we doing, and is there anything else we can do to make our sessions better?"
In our next post, I want to tackle a thought that may be of use to you if you're starting up a campaign soon, and that is naming schemes for characters. This will be of use to anyone building a new character or an NPC for your next session, so stay tuned!