Being a (Better) Player

There’s a fair number of blogs and videos about being a good player, or a better player or a great player.  This is merely the things that I’ve noticed in my  decades as a GM that make a player stand out (in a good way), make the game more entertaining and/or make my job as the GM easier.  It’s by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list but these are the things I definitely always appreciate when my players do them.

This is not to say that not doing these things make you a bad player.  Being a bad player is far more about what you do do rather than what you don’t do.  Basically I think you need to work to be a bad player.

Character Quirks and Foibles

Ultimately I don’t mind if a character is min-maxed or designed to take advantage of combinations or whatever.  I can work around that if that’s how the table wants to play.  Just give them a personality, beyond their class/ancestry/background.  Give them quirks, give them foibles.  Little things that you can interject into a game to make them more then the numbers on a sheet.  What food do they like?  What music do they listen to?  Do they have a go to order when the party gets to the tavern?  Do they have a saying or a pattern of speech they use frequently?  Above all else though remember that those character things don’t really exist until they hit the table.  If your character grew up in a culture that is known for hot and spicy foods and they look down at simple bland tavern food – it doesn’t matter unless you bring it up in game.

Recognize the Planning Spiral

We’ve all been there.  The party needs to do a thing.  So they come up with a plan.  Then another plan.  Then another plan.  Then they circle back to the first plan.  Rinse and repeat.  Planning is good.  Over-planning is painful.  Nothing drags a game’s energy and momentum down like over planning.  Not even a shopping trip.  Not even a travel monologue.  Some games are notorious for this (Shadowrun, I’m looking at you) but it’s never good.  Being a player who recognizes the spiral and who can guide the game away from the yawning abyss of over analysis is a big thing.

Look for Adventure

Your character should have a reason to be risking their life, social standing, relationships, or something else important.   Your character is the protagonist in a story which requires you, the player, to be actively engaged in making their life interesting.  There is a big difference between a character being reluctant to adventure and having to be dragged along and the player being reluctant to adventure.  If the player is reluctant then they’re going to be looking for all the reasons for their character not to get involved.  It’s far better if the player is actively looking for reasons to have the reluctant character get involved.  If both the player and the character are reluctant then the game grinds to a halt and wheels start spinning.

Be Prepared

Knowing the rules/mechanics for your character is a huge thing.  Not only does it speed things up but it also shows to the GM that you’re interested/involved.  This extends to the game as well.  When your turn comes around or when the GM turns to you and says “what would you like to do?” be ready with a response.  If it’s combat, know what you’d like to do, even if you don’t know the mechanics you should know what your character would like to do.  If it’s a narrative scene you should be paying attention so you know what’s happening and how your character will act or react.  

Keep Notes

Keep notes on everything – NPC names, locations, factions, treasure, job offers etc.  The GM has a lot on their plate and as a campaign progress their notes can be pretty extensive to have to search back through.  If you know the name of that shopkeeper or that starship captain or that tavern the party is banned from then it makes things easier.  Another thing I’ve noticed when I take notes is that the process of actually writing it down myself rather than relying on others makes me more likely to remember it without having to check.

Try to Accept Failure

Sometimes characters are going to fail and this is a hard, hard thing to accept.  Many good and great players struggle with this, even if the failure doesn’t result in a character death.  Ideally in the game,  failure is just a pause or presents an obstacle to overcome rather than stops things cold.  Checking out of the game after failure doesn’t make the failure go away.  In my experience it actually tends to compound things as you become more prone to errors and more stressed.  Learning how to roll with failure is a crucial skill for players and GMs.

Play the Game In Front Of You

This doesn’t mean put away your phone (but yes, that too!!) but play the game the GM and other players are playing.  This should all be laid out in a session zero but if you all agreed to do an epic dungeon crawl then don’t complain about the lack of political machinations.  If you’re playing space truckers scraping by, don’t go looking for the space wizards with their laser swords.  If, in the session zero, the group decides to play a high stakes political game and that’s not for you then bow out rather than fumble through.  Not all games fit all players but you should play the game you agreed to with your full attention. 

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