Tips To Be A Great D&D Player
The photo above is by Diacritica, via Wikimedia Commons
Just a quick note to let you know that we can meet at Gen Con. Get your FREE tickets to the DSPN Q&A panel to meet Rudy Basso, Celeste Conowitch, Brittany Quintero, Vegas Lancaster, and more of your favorite podcast people. I’m only at Gen Con for one night, so this is the best way to meet my friends and me.
Many of you know me as a game master. It probably won’t surprise you to learn I’m also a player. In fact, two of the regular games I used to run saw me hand the reins over to friends and now I’m a player in those games. I picked up another regular game, so I’m lucky enough to play in THREE regular games. I also do some play-by-post and one shots here and there, so I actually play more than I run these days (or at least equal amounts of each).
I should mention I’m not just playing fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons (run by the amazing Andrew Kane) in these regular games. I’m also playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (run by the great Rudy Basso) and Lamentations of the Flame Princess (run by the princely Greg Blair). I am learning a ton from all of these games and their various masters, but that’s another blog post!
Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up as I become a player once again I wanted to share. Also, a quick shout-out to everyone who posted on the World Builder Blog Facebook page. Ya’ll had some great advice I’ve incorporated here.
I can’t stress this one enough. Above all, pay attention to the game. Not just when it’s your turn. Not just when the GM speaks. Pay attention like you’re watching Game of Thrones or Lost or whatever your TV jam is. This is courtesy not just to your GM, but to everyone at the table. It keeps the game moving faster by eliminating those, “Wait, what’s happening?” moments and paying attention also increases your own enjoyment of the game and absorbs you into the story. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s happening in your game and remember the story between sessions if you remain an active listener at all times and try to keep off your phone (or other webpages if you play online).
Listening is great. Being part of the story is even better. Certain storytelling techniques only work if the entire group of players has buy-in. For instance, if you’re playing a horror game, the scares only come if you let yourself be scared, instead of claiming everything the GM does is cliché or corny. You’re there to play a roleplaying game, so play a role and have a blast. Throw yourself into the character and the story. Be heroic when the story calls for it, and be silly, cowardly, sad, etc. when the story calls for it. Go beyond listening and feel for the other characters, NPCs, and monsters on their turns and you’ll be cheering victories harder and welcoming plot twists, even when they’re not great for your character. In other words, the more engaged you get in your game, the more fun you’ll get out of it.
When the GM presents you with a hook, take it! Odds are your session will be a lot more fun if you follow one of the prepared threads your GM has ready rather than rebelling against them to find adventure somewhere else. A hook may seem lame, but remember that what may seem like a simple escort mission almost always turns into something greater. Give your GM the opportunity to start the story and then drive it as a player.
When you fail or die, don’t let it get you down. Remember you’re telling a story. There has to be some dramatic tension to make it a good story and that means risk of death and failure. When that 1 is rolled twice in a row for a death save or when you trigger that trap instead of disabling it, embrace the failure with gusto. Take the chance to do something dramatic and narrate it as if you’d just scored a critical hit. Master this skill and no dice rolls are bad. They’re all just separate paths in a choose your own adventure story.
Do What’s Asked
If your GM asks you to send a character backstory, level up between sessions, or send a quick email about which plot thread you’d like to pursue in your next session, take a little time to honor those requests. If you can’t, give your GM notice that you don’t have the time. Your GM does a lot prep between sessions and doing the few things that are asked of you really help them prepare and keep the game moving.
Help Out Your GM
There are times when a GM might ask someone to take story notes, track initiative, or map a dungeon. Volunteer for this stuff! Your GM has enough to do, but it also benefits you. Tracking the story of your game in these ways keeps you attentive and engaged, which helps you get more out of the gaming experience.
Learn the Game
If you’re playing a new game, learn its basic rules. Learn what your character can do. This is another courtesy to everyone at the table that speeds up play, but again, it also helps you out. When you know what your character can do, you’re always prepared, adaptable, and optimized as a storyteller AND as a gamer.
Characters in an adventuring party sometimes disagree about a specific course of action to take. That’s ok! There will be times your ideas win out and their will be times everyone dies because Bob’s idea was terrible. Succeeding is fun, but the latter is a story you’ll tell forever. Stay flexible when working with a group and remember that tabletop RPGs are a team effort. Be a team player first, and a main character second.
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August 3, 2017 @ 10:59 am
I’m taking the notes for a game I am playing in right now and it definitely helps me stay present/focused. We play on Roll20 a lot and the temptation to open another browser tab to look up something to quickly check email or social media can be strong, but if I am keeping track of session events it definitely keeps me engaged.
When you make your character, have some backstory that gives the DM hooks. Don’t be the crazy loner who has a past filled with people that are all dead already. Have a home, have a family, a rival, whatever. Have some personal interests or goals. I’m not saying that you should come up with something that you would pursue with singleminded focus to the exclusion of storybooks from your DM, but side stuff. Did you take the noble background for 5th ed? What are the business or political interests of your family? Imagine that your party learned of an abandoned mine inhabited by goblins or orcs or whatever from the DM’s main plot and the party has cleared them out. The main story probably leads on to something else, but don’t just ignore the empty mine. Maybe the mine is not totally played out. Nobles or Guild Merchants can go back to their groups and suggest that maybe they want to take over the vacant opportunity and you get a kickback or increased standing in the organization. Are you a Criminal in a guild or a Pirate on a crew? Maybe your buddies are looking for another base and that mine fits the bill. Whatever it is, having those little side endeavors makes you care about the setting and the NPCs more and gives the DM extra depth to find ways to motivate you.
Also, be intentional about not hogging the limelight. Maybe you are someone who naturally does a lot of “good player” things already. The DM may really appreciate that and they end up succumbing to the path of least resistance. The story tends to focus more on your character than the others because you are giving the DM more to work with. Talk to the DM or another player on the side and try to figure out a way to push that light off yourself for a bit. Try to actively get another player character to take center stage.
August 3, 2017 @ 12:35 pm
I agree. I take notes too to avoid the temptation of opening another tab and stay focused on story. It’s easier than you think to suddenly be scrolling through Facebook! I love giving the DM some hooks and being intentional about not hogging the spotlight. To the latter, I add when the spotlight shines on someone else do what you can to keep the focus on them for a bit (ask questions, set them up for cool actions, give them a sweet buff, etc.)
August 3, 2017 @ 12:19 pm
Come prepared. Have your character sheet ready, your dice out, and (if appropriate to your game) your mini on the table. This also includes showing up on time.
Know your class: it’s not the DM’s job to know what your spells do or how your features work. That’s on you. Your DM might know them very well, but if she’s never played that class or subclass before, then some of the details might elude her – and very few people have all the spells memorized.
If you normally play as the DM, then resist the temptation to impose your style on another DM. On the contrary, I make notes to myself about what I can learn from the other DM’s style – even the newest DMs do interesting things I might enjoy trying out later.
Don’t be a rules lawyer. If the DM asks you how a particular rule works, then by all means help them understand what the official rules are, but always remember that the DM at the table can overrule anything if it doesn’t make sense in the circumstance or the group just wants a different feel.
August 3, 2017 @ 12:41 pm
I agree. Don’t backseat DM (the temptation is real sometimes). Learn from new DMing styles. That’s a great tip!
Five points for great D&D players | Skald's Forge
August 3, 2017 @ 12:56 pm
[…] reading Tips to be a great D&D player by James Introcaso, I thought I’d expand on it with a few thoughts of my own. His post is […]
August 3, 2017 @ 3:31 pm
Ahm… tip to write a blog post. Give credit on a photo used.
August 3, 2017 @ 3:33 pm
Ah right you are. Let me fix that immediately.
August 3, 2017 @ 3:51 pm
Thank you! 🙂
August 3, 2017 @ 3:52 pm
Thanks for making something great and putting it on Wikimedia Commons!
In Review: August 3, 2017 – Jon Bupp
August 3, 2017 @ 5:43 pm
[…] On the World Builder’s Blog, James Introcaso gives some great advice in Tips to be a Great D&D Player. […]