1. Slavish Roleplaying
There is inherent in D&D, and other paper-pencil RPG’s, a social gaming contract. That is to say, that we’re gathered at this table in the spirit of teamwork. Though inter-party conflict can be rewarding, woven into the tapestry of the game is the idea that each party member serves a distinct purpose(s). Each of us is a valued member of the team, and none of us can do this on our own. I understand that the DM may be asking you to suspend your disbelief, here.
“what do you mean, join them? I met these people 20 minutes ago, I have no basis to trust them, and I’m expected to embark on a life-threatening journey here? We shared a drink, but my character sees no reason to put his life in the hands of these questionable tavern-goers… “
Yes, that is exactly what we’re asking you to do. Meet us halfway, devise a reason to throw your lot in with these lunatics, and contribute to the narrative.
“my rogue isn’t moved by the maiden’s plea for you to rescue her betrothed, and so he won’t risk his life on this quest. There isn’t any gold in it for him, it’s just not the way he would behave. He’ll stay behind…”
Maybe there isn’t a monetary reward here to tempt your character – so be proactive, and find a rewarding way to meet the other players halfway. Maybe your rogue notices the maiden’s father is a wealthy diplomat, and he likes the idea of caching in on his debt later. Maybe the the boost in his reputation will result in more lucrative contracts. Something. Anything.
2. Distracting Behavior
Believe it or not, the other players are picking up on behavioral clues from you at the table. They’re picking them up from the DM at the table. If they find you checking out, starting OOC (Out of Character) side-conversations, wandering into other rooms of the house… You’re giving them tacit permission to do the same. It’s a difficult thing to maintain atmosphere, suspension of believe, or even tension. Become a force for good at the table. Show interest in other characters’ actions, and you’ll both be rewarded 10x over. If you’re noticing genuine problems with pacing, suggest ways to improve it.
3. Fudging Numbers
Ok, let’s set a few things straight. SOMEONE knows you’re fudging the numbers. And he’s mentioned it to the others. Isn’t that a nasty feeling? At the least, the DM has a hunch that your string of good luck is suspicious. He’ll intuitively pick up on it, or he’ll figure a mechanic is broken on your character sheet. He may not call you out on it, understanding he can’t prove it. So instead, the DM will start fudging his rolls, behind the screen, to counteract yours. He may fudge the die rolls to preserve the sense of danger, to stick it to your character as pseudo-punishment (which will be lost on you), or to maintain some sense of balance in each encounter. Monsters will start to treat your character differently. You’ll notice the nasty ones target you first, wizards seem to walk in prepared for your set of tricks, etc. At best, your hands will be kept full during encounters – as you steal the most interesting foes. At worst, the rest of the party will feel the pinch, as encounters are beefed up to counteract your “natural” 20’s, perhaps beyond their abilities to handle… So knock it off. Failure can be the most rewarding part of the game, if you’re willing to throw yourself into it. Don’t just fail, fail spectacularly. Fail creatively. In the end, all players want to affect the scenario – for good or ill. Give your DM the chance to describe your effect on the campaign world, for better or worse…
4. Sabotaging the Party
You’ve been arguing in front of the bandits’ guardpost for 45 minutes, hidden in the brush. Finally, the bard decides he’s had enough (really, the player decides he’s had enough), and he walks out into the open. He knocks on the rough wooden gate…
“Devron Swushbackle, at your service. You savages ordered delivery? Open the door, it’s arrived…”
You know how it ends. The gate opens up, chaos ensues as the bandits flood from the guardpost & swarm the bard. Carefully laid plans disintegrate as priority #1 becomes protecting him. In the right context, it’ll be a memorable scene, and a rewarding one. Work on picking up cues from fellow party members, express your character’s impatience, request permission to run reconnaissance, something. Recognize, though, that some characters find this sort of drawn-out planning the most rewarding part of the adventure. Maybe shopping in town drives you mad. You could embark on a lengthy solo mission, leaving the rest of the party waiting, or worrying. Or you could build a scene/narrative around the shop itself. Interact with the shopkeep/armorer/weaponsmith/innkeeper on a higher level than a navigation menu. Ask the DM questions, flesh it out in your mind. Weave it into a narrative, as opposed to sabotaging the party.
5. Checking Out
You’ll get out of each session no more than you put into it. That is to say, that if you check out each time another PC opens his mouth, each time your turn ends during combat, each time your cup is empty… well, you get the idea. You’re diminishing your own enjoyment. If your smartphone comes out, your ipad powers up, you embark on a dice-tower building project, well… You’re doing more than that, as you’re pulling others out of the game as well. It’s difficult enough for a DM to establish some semblance of an atmosphere – better to lean in, pass the spotlight around, and be a source for good at the table. Become genuinely interested in your fellow party members, and you’ll find them doing more interesting things.
“Rowan, you’re a paladin by trade. You seem to be a good judge of character, what do you think of the count? Is he hiding something from us?”
Find yourself bored as combat slows to a crawl? Suggest a brainstorm, for improving the pace of encounters. A mini hourglass, a designated initiative-caller, a whiteboard in plain view of everyone, all go a long way in adjusting the pacing of combat encounters.
6. Stepping on New Players
It’s an easy thing to do. 50% of the time, it’s born of nothing more than an excitement to share the game with a newcomer. Be careful NOT to let your “generosity” smother a new player. There’s a reason people find this game intimidating. There’s a lot to it, and it’s inhabited a taboo corner of geek culture – until recently. Give new players the space to explore the game on their own. Try to APPRECIATE a fresh approach to the game, and to problem solving. DO NOT criticize their combat strategies as being sub-optimal, and recommend improvements in real-time. DO NOT pressure them into particular builds. And for god’s sake, DO NOT count their dice for them. They’ll figure it out. I promise. Instead, make yourself available if they have questions & treat them with the respect you’d expect as an experienced player.
7. Failing to Contribute to the Snack Fund
Need I say more? Bring a 12 pack of soda, a bag or two of chips. Tight on cash? Try throwing a couple of bucks into the snack fund instead. Work out a rotation, don’t go broke, but do your best to contribute – It’s easy to take advantage of your host, or a generous player.
8. Engaging in Non-rewarding Conflict
This relates back to #1, Slavish Roleplaying. In a nutshell, try and limit inter-party conflict to those which are dramatically rewarding. Those which contribute to the narrative, rather than distract. D&D, at its core, is a social/cooperative game. Now that sounds cliché, but what it means is this: A large part of the players’ motivation (not the characters, necessarily), should be to…
- strengthen the bond of the party
- support each other player’s character-concept in game
- weave your story alongside the other characters’
- work together towards your goals
The exception to this rule comes when tension or opposition within the party results in dramatic/role-playing rewards. In order for the latter to work, remember, both PC’s need to be on the same page. Don’t allow contempt for a fellow player’s choices/judgement creep into the narrative. Find a compromise that plays to each player’s character concept. See more in “Rewarding inter-party Conflict”, then dig up Issue #281 of Dragon magazine for a great article on “Logjam Busting” (resolving inter-party conflicts), Pg 57.
9. Critiquing (Rules-lawyering)
This is a pretty familiar trope to most of you. It’s true, you may have memorized each page in the players handbook, you may have the rules compendium on your ipad, etc. Understand that a good DM may fudge or ad-lib rules to preserve pacing or flow during a session. This goes for undermining the narrative, too.
“this seems straight out of the short story I skimmed in your bathroom”
If you’re noticing inconsistencies, and can’t help it, try phrasing it in the form of a question. E.g., is this a different magical lighting effect than the one we experienced earlier? I noticed the mechanics seemed different… Is this the same barkeep we met months ago? I seem to recall his name being different, and I’ll approach him if he’s a replacement for the last guy.
10. Violating the Social Contract
This is an umbrella, of sorts, covering all we’ve talked about thus far. Like we agreed, D&D comes with a social-gaming contract. You’re here to work as a team, and create an enjoyable narrative. You’re responsibility is to embrace the other players’ character concepts, not deny them or diminish them. Understand that Randy may not have the same vocabulary as his character, Devron the bard. So assume Randy’s dialogue is “reflected through a clouded mirror.” Make the adjustments you need to in your own mind, to allow him some margin for error. Pass the spotlight, at the expense of optimization. Yes, you might have a higher intelligence score, but be willing to ask the brainiac-wizard for his advice. Re-inforce his character concept by offering him chances to shine.