In the thirty plus years I have been playing role playing games I have heard one question in particular thousands of times "How do I become a better player." Way back when I started at the age of nine I would launch into a totally uniformed lecture about what I felt made a good player. Looking back at that kid, I understand why some people wanted to punch me in the face. I have matured and I have learned a lot about the game and what it takes to be a better player. I have decided to pass on a bit of the wisdom I have picked up over the years. The following list is not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of tactics and strategy; there are plenty of books for that. This list is intended to give rather simple advice to people who want to put more into the game or who want to see other players do the same.
10: Turn off the Cell Phone
I literally cannot count the times that a game has ground to a halt because someone answered their cell phone in the middle of a game. Not only do they answer the cell phone, they get up from the table to have a conversation while the rest of us wait. Once one person has done it, soon everyone is checking texts, making phone calls, or using apps. When everyone is involved with their phones it is something just short of a miracle to get everyone back at the table and the game going again.
I get that sometimes you have to have your cell phone on. However, I do think that you should not answer every text and phone call you get while you're gaming. I know that answering a cell phone is not the end of the world but it does interrupt the game. If you must answer a cell phone try to make the conversation quick because the longer you are on the phone the longer it takes for the game to get going again. Be considerate of other people's time.
9: Plan to Arrive a Little Early
If you have been on a flight in the last fifteen years chances are you were told to arrive up to two hours early to account for security checks and the like. If you have ever been a job interview, you have likely showed up a little early. While a game may not be quite as important as the two examples above, planning to arrive early is a good idea. Planning to arrive early not only gives you time if you get stuck in traffic or have to detour for some reason, but also gives you time to hang out with the other players and chat before the game.
I know that sometimes you simply can't plan to be to the game early. Real life happens and most of us have jobs that end at a certain time. If you can't arrive early try to arrive on time, if you know you won't be on time (or you won't be able to show up) let someone in the group know.
8: Bring Food and Drinks
In my experience, most games tend to occur later in the day and last for several hours. In both these cases there is a good chance you will wind up getting hungry or thirsty during the game. Instead of waiting to get hungry then ordering pizza or take out, try bringing your own food and drinks. If you have your own food and drinks you won't have to stop the game to order food. While bringing your own food means less time stopping the game, it can also be cheaper than ordering take out.
An idea to consider when it comes to food and drink is having the group take turns bringing munchies and drinks. One week one player brings munchies and another brings drinks. Each week two different people get the job of providing these things. This can help spread the cost around and is also a great way to promote camaraderie at the gaming table.
7: Let Other People Have a Turn
Some players can absolutely dominate a game by never allowing anyone else to do the talking. This kind of person will tell everyone what their character should do, monopolize conversation with the non player character and in general not allow anyone to do more than roll dice. If you are one of these kinds of players try to tone it down a bit. Instead of jumping up to take charge, encourage other players to make decision.
Some people are naturally more inclined and capable of speaking up and making decisions. There is nothing wrong with that. However, when you monopolize a game you are depriving anyone else of the chance to learn and grow in the game. The worst that can happen is someone makes a bad choice and someone (or everyone) dies. This is not the end of the world and creates a great opportunity for people to learn what not to do in the future.
6: Speak Up Once in a While
The exact opposite of those who won't ever let anyone talk are those who refuse to ever talk at all. When someone won't talk during the game everyone else begins to wonder if they are enjoying the game or care about what is going on. I get that not everyone is gifted with the ability to articulate clearly, but this doesn't mean you don't have something valuable to say. It can be a bit hard to do the first couple times, but if you speak up once in a while you will probably get a bit more out of the game.
If you are too intimidated to speak up, start small. If you disagree with a decision the party is making say so and explain why. Everyone may not agree with you, but if you do this often enough the rest of the group will start to listen to you more. It can be tough to put yourself out there, but if you do, you will likely find the game more enjoyable.
5: Accept that Bad Things Happen
No matter how much you stack your characters abilities to be really good at something there will always be a chance of failure. When you fail don't allow that to get you frustrated or angry. It can really suck to have one of those nights where every single die roll seems to work against you. When this happens try to keep your head up and remind yourself it is just a game. The last thing anyone wants at the table is for someone to throw a fit over a bad die roll.
Don't mistake accepting bad things happening to mean you should let the game master roll right over you. There are a lot of game masters that get a lot of pleasure out of mopping the floor with the party. When this kind of thing happens on a consistent basis, call the GM out. They may not be aware they are doing it and it can make for a better game. You can read an article I wrote about bad game masters here.
4: Be Nice to New Players
We all started out as new players once without a clue about which dice to roll. When a new player is showing interest in the game and joins your group, try to be nice to them. I have seen a lot of new players lose interest in the game because people treated them like they were stupid. If instead, people had taken the time to explain how things worked and showed some patience those new players would have turned into experienced players and added to the gaming community.
One thing you can do is volunteer to be your group's new player helper. When you do this you are taking on the role of helping new players figure out how to play. Not only can this be a chance to show someone else how to play, but it can be a chance for you to refresh your memory on different aspects of the game.
3: Understand the Game
some role playing games have a bewildering amount of rules and expansions. This can make mastering those rules a bit intimidating. Before throwing up your hands in defeat look for any resources that are designed to make the rules easier to understand. Most systems have some kind of rules-lite book or a book meant for beginning players (like the Pathfinder Strategy Guide). If this kind of resource is not available ask other players about the rules and takes some notes.
The thing to keep in mind is that you're not going to learn all these rules in one sitting. I have been playing role playing games for a long time and I still don't know all the rules. When I have a rules question I ask other people about it. If they don't have an answer I look in the book to see what I can find. Understanding the game is far more of process than a destination so don’t get discouraged if you feel like you're not getting the rules down by session three.
2: Be Prepared
Life is chaotic at the best of times. There are days when it will seem like everything is conspiring against playing. For this reason it is recommended that a player prepare themselves with everything they need well ahead of time. I have a backpack I use for the gaming books, dice, and other things I tend to use most often. This means that I can leave the house and show up at the game with everything I need to play and don't have to fumble around when I need to double check a rule or clarify a point of contention.
By being prepared you will see that the game runs more smoothly for you. When the game runs more smoothly for you, it can and probably will run more smoothly for everyone else. By having your character sheet current, having the rule books you need to use, having your dice in a bag, and having the other things you need, you don't have to spend near as much time asking other people to provide those for you and this is a good thing.
1: Invest in the Game
I can't stress too much the importance of this aspect of the game. I realize that most rule books are in the sixty dollar range now and that can seem beyond a person's means. However, looking at the price of the book is the wrong way to approach the subject. Yes, that shiny new rule book with the new book smell costs sixty dollars, but when the cost of the rule book is split among the hours of entertainment that rule book provides, there are few things that are as cost effective. A rule book will last years (if not decades as is the case with some of my books) and in the time they are owned they will be used time and time again.
If you really can't afford a rule book there is a chance you can still afford dice, pencils, and other things. Try to see if you can work out a trade with someone who can. The idea here is that by buying into the game you will feel more invested in the game itself and thus the role playing experience will be more rewarding.