Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ten Things Every Gamer Should Bring to the Table

When I first thought about this article I had an intention to write about things like dice, rule books, and maybe a couple of nifty gaming aids I had picked up recently. However, as I looked around I saw so many articles that talked about those things I decided I didn't need to add another voice to a subject that is already well covered by other people. A bit bummed I tucked this article away in the back of my head until today when I was struck my a bit of inspiration.

While a lot of gaming articles talk about physical things you should bring to the table, I haven't seen many articles on things like mental attitude and teamwork at the table. I am sure there are plenty out there, this is the internet after all, but I feel like this has a better chance of offering a unique perspective than if I simply wrote yet another article about how important pencils are. I am not saying those articles are not valuable, in fact I think every player should read them, I am saying that I felt I didn't have much to add to the conversation.

So what should every gamer bring to the table?

10: A Willingness to Play

This might seem self explanatory (and it is) but I think it still needs to be said. If you are coming to a gaming table without a desire to play you might want to think about doing something else. You don't have to be all gun-ho excited about the game every single session, but you should want to be there. If your not happy at the table try to figure out why and resolve the problem. Maybe you don't like the game master, or maybe you are conflicting with one of the other players. Whatever the problem is, if it is keeping you from wanting to play you should attempt to fix it.

9: Be Willing to have a Positive Attitude

Life sucks sometimes. There are days where it seems like everything is against you and that nothing is going to get better. Even when you don't have a really crappy day there are things that can cause you to have a negative attitude before the game. You might have gotten in an argument with your significant other, you might have had your car break down, etc. While no one expects you to be happy about a bad situation, when you show up to the gaming table, try to let some of that go and embrace the game with a good attitude. I know for me, the chance to game is always a welcome thing and often serves as shelter from the storm called life.

8: Be Willing to Commit

This might seem to be he same as a willingness to play but it is different. Having a commitment to the game means you will do your part to be a positive addition to the gaming table. Whether it is simply showing up on time and having all the stuff you need or maybe bringing snacks for everyone, making the game a priority is an important part of being part of a gaming group. Do not confuse this with anyone saying you can't have a life outside the game. You can and should have a life outside the game.

7: Be Willing to be a Team Player

One of the things I don't see stressed enough is the idea that gaming is a team hobby. Maybe this is because a lot of people think teams only exist in sports, but teams exist everywhere including at the gaming table. When you are at the gaming table you are more often than not part of a cooperative effort. Sure every once in a while you get to be the person who stabs everyone in the back but this shouldn't be the go to role for anyone. I know some people thrive on being the person who screws everyone over and in the real world we call those people jerks. Don't be a jerk, be part of the team, it will make the game better.

6: Be Willing to be Patient

Sometimes a game can get slow or the game master can focus on one player for a long period of time. When this happens it can lead to feeling a bit antsy. After all, when you are at a table to play a game it is kind of hard to not be playing while some other player is getting the lions share of the game time. While a good game master will limit this problem, it is still going to happen. Rather than get upset use this time as an opportunity to plan your character out for a few levels or maybe do some work on your own campaign world. By having something else to do when the focus isn't on you it can really help you stay calm and patient.

5: Be Willing to Let Everyone Have a Turn

There are a lot of different kinds of players at a gaming table and some of those players can be a bit demanding. Every table has a player that does most of the talking and that is okay. However, a problem can occur when a single player dominates so much of the game that everyone else starts to wonder if they are ever going to get a turn. Again a good GM can mitigate this problem but if you are the kind of player that tends to have the focus a lot, try letting up and giving other people a chance.

4: Be Willing to Stay at the Table

Sometimes it can be hard to stay focused on a game. Personally I know I tend to lose focus on the game when combat starts. I like combat but because it generally works on some kind of turn order I have been known to get up from the table to grab a drink, use the bathroom, and other stuff like that. While most of the time this is okay, there have been times the game was held up because I had wandered off. I am not saying don't ever get up from the table, but when you do, try to get back fairly quickly.

3: Be Willing to Contribute

This goes along with being part of a team. A team is only as strong as it's worst player and no one should want to be a bad player. Not everyone is going to be super awesome RPG player, it's just not the way the world works. However, if you focus on bringing the best you can to each session that will help make the game better. Maybe your a good tactician, or maybe you have some great jokes. Whatever it is that you excel at don't be afraid to bring it to the able.

2: Be Willing to Grow

I have been playing role playing games for over thirty years and I still don't know everything there is to know about playing or game mastering. Every time I am at a table I learn something new and I like that. Admitted sometimes I can be a bit of a grognard and not like changing myself or how I play, but I do try to keep in mind that growing as a player and game master is an important thing to me. I also think it should be important to other people.

1: Be Willing to Have Fun

I know this seems like a no brainer kind of statement but I have seen people actually do their best to not have fun at the game. Most of the time this is because they are mad at something and are not ready to let it go, but really they are only hurting themselves. Even if your lucky and get to game every single day you should do your best to make the game as fun as you can. While yes, having fun at the table is a team effort, if your not willing to have fun, not only do you impact your gaming experience but you can impact everyone else's as well.

That is it with the list. I hope it made sense to some people, hope it was useful in some way. I know a lot of what I said was common sense, but hopefully it benefits you in some way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How to Deal with a Problem Game Master Part II: The List Goes on.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about dealing with bad game masters. I had intended to get back to part II and continue the list sooner but life seems to have it's own plans for me at times and the ideas in my head all want to get out at the same time. This is a good thing because it means I seldom am at a loss for ideas to write about, but can mean getting back to a subject takes longer than I intend. Anyway enough about my personal problems.

The reason I am putting articles together about the various types of bad game master's and how to deal with them is because it seems something few of us want to talk about. Among table top gamer's the game master occupies a position of great respect and provides players with a chance to play. The problem is there are a lot of bad game masters out there. It is my hope that talking about this accomplishes two things. First I hope it helps players recognize they are not alone in their struggles. Second I hope that game masters will read this list and use it as a means of self reflection and recognize their faults and work to improve their game mastering.

One thing I want to clarify before I get started on the list is that I am not talking about occasional lapses. I am not talking about a good game master who sometimes has a bad night. The following list (and the one I wrote before) are talking about a game master who has an extreme degree of these characteristics. There is no such thing as a perfect game master and all of us have ways we could improve. Enough babble, on with the list.

The Unprepared:
The unprepared game master is the game master that always shows up without having anything prepared for the night, forgets rule books, dice, and other things. They haven't thought about the adventure they will run, seem to care less about using any real rules, and in general doesn't seem to care about the game at all. On top of all this, the unprepared game master seems to expect the players to create the story. While allowing room for players to do their own thing is a good idea, it can be taken to far and lead to a series of boring and unproductive game sessions.This can be frustrating as a player because it often leaves you feeling like you should have done something else.

The best thing to do with an unprepared game master is help them prepare in some way. Maybe suggest an adventure idea you like the sound of or buy them a pre-written adventure you think would be neat. A lot of times an unprepared game master doesn't really have the time to prepare a game and giving them something easy to run that requires little planning can be a big help. Another idea would be to offer to switch off game mastering duties with the unprepared game master. By doing this you can take some of the pressure off the game master and give them more time to prepare between weeks.

One thing to think about is if the unprepared game master actually wants to be the game master. A lot of time a game master is willing to do the job but may not have their heart in it. Game Mastering is a pretty serious commitment and can eat away at your free time. If a game master is not someone who enjoys preparing for a game session, then they are likely to not bother with it. If this is the case then you might want to suggest someone else take over the game master duties or even do so yourself.

The Un-challenging:

The un-challenging game master is the gm that is never willing to actually provide a serious challenge to the party. Their monsters are always too easy to kill, their riddles too easy to solve, and their adventures too easy to complete. For some reason the un-challenging game master is afraid to actually provide the players with a serious challenge and this can lead to a stale (though easy) game. While no one wants every single encounter to result in a characters death, if the game isn't challenging on some level it can get boring pretty quickly.

In my experience an game master that is afraid to challenge the party because they don't want to make anyone mad. Generally a player in the past has gotten really upset that their character got hurt or died and the game master doesn't want that to happen again. The best way to deal with this kind of game master is to let them know you won't get upset if a character is hurt or even dies. By letting the game master know this you are freeing them up to make the encounters a bit more difficult. Be careful though because you might wind up with a GM that winds up going overkill on the group.

One thing to think about with an un-challenging GM is if there is someone at the table who might be a bit of a whiner when their character gets hurt. I have had several times where one player will throw an absolute fit if I manage to hit their character and go into a full blown rage if their character happens to die. While I hate to admit it, I did let this affect how I game mastered that group and over time the group got smaller and eventually completely disbanded. If you have a player that you feel is causing the game master to be to easy, try talking to the player and letting them know your feelings.

The Puppet Master:

The story teller GM is the gm who wants to tell a story and treats the players like robots whose only purpose is to further the plot of the story. While everyone likes a good story in the game, no one wants to feel like they are a puppet without any ability to make a decision for themselves. A lot of times the story teller is a wanna be writer who uses the game as a means of telling their personal story. I don't think there is any thing wrong with telling a good story as part of the game, I do think there is something wrong when you don't allow the players some input into the story.

If you want to address your problems with the story teller the best thing you can do is to talk with them. A lot of times the story teller just wants to tell a good story but feels like the players don't care enough to contribute. If you talk with the story teller gm about how you feel like you can't make any choices, they are likely to listen. If you really want to make the story teller happy tell them about a story line you would like to explore with your character.

Unfortunately there are going to be story teller GM's that won't change the way they run a game for anything. The story is simply too important to them and they often view the players as an audience for their greatness. The only way I have ever found to deal with this kind of game master is to simply refuse to be part of the audience. It sucks, but at some GM's will only learn after hey loose everyone in a group.

The Burn Out:

The burn out GM is the GM who starts out supper enthusiastic and runs a great game for a few months then seems to lose energy and interest in the game. Eventually the game dies and about a month later the burn out calls you up and tells you about their newest campaign. Having a burn out for a GM can be a frustrating experience. They tend to start out with awesome games but they always die out and this can leave a player feeling frustrated at never finishing a campaign.

If you have a burn out GM the first thing you have to do is find out why they burn out. If they are burning out simply because they lose interest in the game, the best thing you can do is find out why the GM is loosing interest. By discussing the game with them you will show that you care and that will encourage the GM to keep going.

If the Gm is burning out because they have to much going on in the rest of their life, try lending a supporting ear and suggest scaling back on the game a bit. While it sucks to game less, a lot of GM's appreciate being allowed to take breaks. By giving the GM "permission" to slow down a bit it is likely they will regain their enthusiasm for the game and things will slowly get back to where they were.

The Rules Don't Matter:

Every GM will occasionally make a rule up on the spot or overlook an occasional rule in favor of a smoother game or better story. The Rules Don't Matter GM goes beyond this to a point where you are often left wondering if they even bothered to read the rule book. This GM will often make up one ruling then turn around and give a totally different one for the exact same situation. If you complain about this inconsistency they are the first to say "This is my game and rules are guidelines" or "If you don't like it play with someone else". This can make things frustrating when your trying to point out how a rule should work or even just ask for some consistency.  While sometimes rules do get in the way of the game, playing with a GM who never uses the rules can make a player feel like the time they invested in their character was wasted.

The reason there are GM's that have a rules don't matter attitude exist is because the rules of most role playing games can be a bit cumbersome in some areas and the GM gets frustrated by this. If this is the case, you can help the GM out by explaining how a certain rule works. Don't be afraid to talk to the GM about the rules a lot of times the GM is more worried about slowing down the game to consult a rule then they are about following every rule in the game. If the rules are important to you (and there are times they should be) then let the GM know.

Closing Thoughts:

There are still more bad GM archetypes to discuss and I am sure I will get to them in the future. For now though this is a list that a lot of players (and GM's) should be able to relate to. If you have, or are, a GM on this list the best thing to do is discuss your feelings with your GM. A lot of times we game masters don't realize we are doing these things and if you point it out to us we are more than happy to make changes. Don't expect things to change right away, habits are a tough thing to break. However, if you can be patient with us and help us be better game masters, it will make for a better experience at the gaming table.