There’s plenty of information out there to help aspiring Game Masters (GM’s), but not quite as much for players. Most resources are players’ handbooks, which generally deal with the rules of the game and how to play, not always how to be the best player you can be. The wonderful thing about role-playing games is that it’s an ongoing learning experience as well as a group effort. So, without further ado, here are my 10 Tips for being a better player, in no particular order.
1 – Play
To quote Michaelangelo in the latest Ninja Turtles movie: “Learn by doing dude.” You’ll learn more about the rules, the game and what it means to be a player when you’re actually at the table throwing dice. And if you can’t play with friends, you can always try out a solo adventure like our own Sentinels Watching. Most games that have boxed sets also include solo missions that are specifically good for new players but may leave veterans frustrated with the lack of options. Failing all that, online games are becoming increasingly popular, such as Dungeons and Dragons Online and even Heroes of Neverwinter on Facebook. These games give you some idea of how the game works and an insight into the mechanics, but I still think rolling dice with friends is the best way to learn.
2 – Read Them Rules
It sounds obvious, but read the rules. It’s easy to get by without actually studying the rules, but this generally slows down the game and puts added pressure on the GM. I’d recommend focusing on the introduction, character generation and combat sections in general. Some books follow quite a different format (such as the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game), but will recommend chapters for players. Read them. It’s not necessary to know the rules off by heart, but having a general idea of where everything is, will speed up the game. Also, get yourself your own copy of the rules to have on hand for easy reference during the game. Most rulebooks are available in PDF format from places like Drive Thru RPG, making them much cheaper and easier to use on small devices like net books and iPads.
3 – Read
Reading the rules is important, but that’s not all you should be reading. There are tons of resources out there, from advanced players’ guides to online forums and blogs like this one. Also, reading stories set in a similar genre to what you’re playing can really spark the imagination and give you some great ideas for where you want to take your character. My current character, a duellist, had me scouring Wikipedia and the net in general for more information on “the gentlemen’s game”, which had some interesting results, including finding rules for duelling that intricately detail the amount of blood required to pay back various levels of insult.
A word of warning though, especially for younger players, there are plenty of sites you don’t want to visit because the information on them is worthless and unhelpful. I generally start with Wikipedia if I’m doing my research on the web and work out from there, using the “See Also” and “External Links” sections.
4 – Be Prepared
Having your character, dice and miniatures ready is always a good idea. I keep a folder of character sheets that goes to each game and I make sure I update my character as soon as possible when he levels up. A good way to level up is to find a character editor that works for you and use that, along with the rule book. For Pathfinder I use Erian_7’s Excel sheet, which is pretty complex but very useful.
Keeping notes from past sessions is also a great idea. It helps you to get back into the game quickly and ensures you don’t miss any of those important hints the GM keeps dropping.
Lastly, bookmark any spells, special abilities or sections in the rules you’ll need to look up during the game. It will make it look like you read the rules and give you street cred with experienced players.
5 – Play Your Character
I think it was Steven King who said that characters write themselves, you just record what they do. It’s the same with role-playing. Eventually your character will walk into trouble while in your head you’re screaming “No, don’t go down there, it’s a trap!” And do you know what? That will be okay. My duellist character has a knack for shooting his mouth off, while I’m usually reserved and often prefer to take a back seat. The key really is to just play the character as you envision him, which makes for some great role-playing and a great game in general.
Talking in character is a very useful way to get into and stay in character, and most GM’s I’ve played with tend to give awards to those who use a different voice from their own. My wife recently played a half orc that had everyone in stitches because of the voice she used, which not only added to the game but made her believable as a hulking male half orc barbarian.
6 – Be A Team Player
This is a general tip, but remember that role-playing is a team game, be prepared to work with everyone and you’ll be a star player in no time.
7 – See The World – Imagination
A while back I posted about imagination gaming, so I won’t say too much here except that, in role-playing, you need to try and see the scene in your mind’s eye. I find the more I imagine the scene, the more I get lost in the game and the more I enjoy it. The simplest way to do this is to ask questions about the five senses: “What do I see? What do I hear?” and so on.
8 – Run Some Games
Walking a few miles in the GM’s shoes is a great way to be a better player, because you understand what it’s like to run a game and can sympathise with the GM when things get busy at the table.
9 – Help The GM
Helping the GM goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly. Filling a cup, offering snacks and even tracking initiative order all help the GM focus on telling the story. You might even get bonus XP for your troubles, who knows.
10 – Help New Players
Helping newer players is a good way to improve your own knowledge of the game and, again, to keep things flowing. Finding rules for them is a great way to get more familiar with the rules yourself and lets you learn about characters you’ve never played before. It also gives you something to do while other players are busy with the GM.
Ultimately, the goal of being a better player is to be someone who people want to play with – someone who covers their side of the game in an entertaining and fun way without being “that guy” who makes things unpleasant. If you keep working at it, your game will improve, which will lead to more fun for all and more table time for you. It’s a roll you can’t critically fumble.