Let’s Talk: Tabletop RPGs and D&D – Being A Good Player – By Stephen Stachofsky.
What makes D&D something that is not only popular again, but such a lasting standard in the industry of role playing games? What about D&D has inspired video games for nearly three decades, filled countless tomes of books, spawned trading card games, and produced several terrible movies? Some might tell you that it is the system, the way D&D works, the numbers. I disagree. I say D&D has survived through five different editions and countless spin offs because of one simple truth; Players make the game.
I am a long time fan of all things D&D and tabletop RPGs. Until recently, my experience was mostly as the consumer. Reading the books, playing the games, creating characters, and that sort of thing were the norm. Just about two years ago, Ben and I dove into running a Fate Core campaign centered on the universe of Star Wars. This has changed me, and now I find myself in the DMing chair more and more often. So, as a DM, what makes my campaigns great? Again, it always comes down to the players. But what makes a “good” player? What does “good” even mean? Here are my top ten aspects of a good RPG player, I know that sounds cringy but bear with me. Keep in mind that these are written from the point of view of a DM in order from least important to most important.
10. A good RPG player knows the game.
Knowing the game is an important aspect of playing any tabletop RPG, but especially D&D. Good players learn their class, effects, actions, spells and equipment. They know how their skill checks work, and which skills work best for which situations.They are always researching and experimenting to find the best set up and kit. This kind of player is developed over time. New players to the D&D table can start to develop these skills by studying the PHB or the rule books for any tabletop RPG but ultimately experience forms this skill in a good player.
9. A good player is willing to be the main character.
The DM’s job is to help facilitate telling a story. As a player, it is your job to determine how your character will interact with the story that the DM provides. Every story has a main character, and sometimes it can be you. Being a player who is willing to be a main character means that you are a player willing to take the reigns and make decisions. Your backstory is written so that the DM can make use of it. Being the main character can feel a little self-centered, but it can allow a good player to really develop their character. Good character development is the lifeblood of enjoyable sessions for the whole table.
8. Combat effectiveness doesn’t equal a good character or player.
A good player realizes that being the best at combat is not as important as having a well-rounded character. Having a high attack and excellent combat skills can be a lot of fun and you can feel like a total badass, but if combat was the whole point of D&D, we would be playing video games instead. A tabletop RPG is most fun when characters are interacting with each other not just beating the tar out of baddies. Good players are willing to use their social skills and skill checks to solve problems without conflict or in spite of combat. Again, these kinds of players generate opportunities for their characters to interact and develop in new ways. Players who are willing to take actions as their character would act, even if it is contrary to what the player thinks is best are players who have mastered their ability to create a character and not just a battering ram.
7. Good players take notes.
Seriously. Take notes. Please. No person can remember everything and sometimes the most important details are things the DM will not remind you of and you’ll only hear that information once. A good player will keep notes that are important for both them and their character, but also notes that are important for the party. If it isn’t you taking notes, you might not be getting the information written down that you need.
6. Good players know how to discuss differences of opinion with the DM.
Despite what some people will tell you, the DM is human, and sometimes their idea is not the best idea. Just because the DM has one idea doesn’t mean your idea as a player isn’t also a good one. A good player knows when and how to argue with the DM. Let’s say the DM punishes you for a crit fail and your character is going to be knocked prone. A good player might argue that they should be given a dexterity save, the DM will be able to set the DC and this way the player feels like the effects are fair. The DM will still have the chance to say no, but a dex save would be totally appropriate. Or if the DM is adding flavor descriptions to a scene and you feel as though your character would perceive or describe something differently, definitely say something. D&D is collaborative and players should have their say. A good player also recognizes when to stop arguing with the DM so that the whole table can move on. These kinds of discussions are particularly fruitful in “theatre of the mind” segments.
5. Bad things happen. Roll with them.
It is easy to get into the mindset of “My character can’t really die,” but a good player knows that death is an ever-present and real option. Good players will take bad things happening to their character and become better because of it. Arguing that your character shouldn’t die from a cannon blast to the face or a crit from a baddie is not going to go well, and will just aggravate the table and the DM. If a player falls into a trap and is knocked unconscious, they have just provided an opportunity for the party to problem solve. Near death experiences are excellent character development. In one of the episodes from Storytelling Breakdown’s first season, Ben quoted Robert Mckee and the quote applies here too, “true character is revealed in the decisions a human being (or dwarf or orc or elf) makes under pressure.”
4. Good players are not afraid to be a supporting character.
Sometimes you should take the reins with a character and sometimes the good player knows to step aside. Good players realize that their character isn’t always the center of attention and are willing to support the characters that are the current focus of the story arch that they are playing through. Supporting other characters is sometimes harder than playing the main character. Good teamwork is great for the party and keeps everyone wanting to play more.
3. A good player is attentive and plans ahead.
Especially during combat, there is a lot of time between your turns. During combat a good player is always watching and planning to take advantage of an enemy, help an ally or be ready to take their turn. Even simple things like rolling the damage dice for the weapon or spell you’re using at the same time you roll your attack can save time. Out of combat, a good player is attentive to both their fellow party members and the DM so that they are always ready to add their input to a situation, or aid in another player’s checks. Good players are also planning for long term character goals as well. The best players are able to dialogue with their party as their characters, but all good players are in a constant state of dialogue and planning with their party.
2. A good player hates “no,” most of the time.
D&D and other tabletop RPGs are immersive and cooperative games where the DM and the players actively partake in an act of creation. Put simply, everyone at the table is actively shaping the world around themselves. When a player or the DM provides a detail or an idea, good players will take it and run with it. The age old principle of “yes and” which makes for great improv also makes for great D&D. Sometimes the DM may have to make a call to stop an idea for the sake of not breaking the game, but good players often reserve that call for the DM. One clarification to make here is that players should always feel comfortable enough to say when they are uncomfortable and be able to say no without having to explain why. Fate Core has a mechanic called the X-card that allows players to edit out something that’s made them uncomfortable and it helps to keep the game fun, inclusive, and safe. Ben used this for one Fate session that had the potential to dive into some darker subject matter. It went unused, but all players knew the option was literally on the table.
1. A good player is the player at the table.
In this crazy world the table might look more like a tablet or a computer screen, but the best players are the ones who are there. RPG’s of all sorts are progressive and compounding events. Each session, usually, continues off the last, so being at the “table” whatever it looks like, makes for the best kind of player. The player who is reliable and consistently proves to be at the table on time (when possible), and ready to play, is the player who is asked to be at the table. Even if a player is lacking in some of these other aspects, if they prove to be reliable, they will often be asked to join anyways. Most of the other aspects of a good player can be learned in time, but reliability is rare, and the most important.
Many of these aspects and tips are things that we are constantly working on and I’m not saying that I possess all of these myself as a player. As a DM, these tips are meant for everyone as a reminder, not as a criticism. We love the game and we love to make the game better. Hopefully these help.
If you liked what you read or you have your own tips and ideas for being a good tabletop RPG player, drop a comment below, or share the podcast and blog with your friends.
Until next time,
Stephen and the Storytelling Breakdown team