Author Archives for pyromaniacpress

December Goals – Back in Balance

Its been over a month since my last post – that’s an eternity in blog years.

November was a big month, but despite that – or perhaps because of it – I haven’t found the time to chronicle any of the events of the last moon here on the site.

PAX was a huge eye opener, as I suspected it would be. Not only was it a great experience, but I learned a lot about how these conventions are run, how RPG sessions work (and when they don’t work) in this setting, and about how I can transport some of these lessons into my personal pathway going forward. More on PAX in it’s own post chain.

November became the month I once again overloaded myself on RPG project work – despite my assertion to pace myself and not get in over my head like before. Sigh. Apparently I didn’t fully learn that lesson. I expect come the end of February (my Kickstarter deadline) I will rue my choices. That being said, in RPG development the goal posts are always shifting, and some changes can’t be anticipated or helped.

The first of my problems was not unexpected – print issues again! What a surprise. This seems to be a common theme with me. I updated me 5th edition Campaign Guide for WLBR, and lo and behold, what was once whole became broken. In making internal changes I must have missed a step in PDF conversion, and ended up with an unprintable book (the digital version is fine). Chris Tang from DrivethruRPG (a man with endless patience) has helped me rectify the issue. There are some inexplicable delays between DTRPG and the printer at the moment, but delays are to be expected (always). Hopefully it’ll be resolved shortly and the print version will once again be available.

The second issue was a scheduling problem. What started as a ‘slow and steady’ background group project for DM’s Guild (with Alex Clippinger and Scott Bean) was suddenly moved up the priority list as hints began that other guild producers were working on similar projects. Second to the table will hurt the project, so it’s now become a high priority that WILL interfere with my Kickstarter material production in ways it was never intended too. Hopefully we can clear this out before it really begins to hurt the kickstarter schedule.

Finally, and most excitingly, I was presented with an opportunity I simply could not pass up. The author Richard A Knaak – of Dragonlance fame – wants to turn his new novella line setting – Rex Deraconis – into an RPG line for D&D and Pathfinder. Despite my already overflowing workload, I HAD to jump on board with this. The chance to work with one of my favourite authors could not be passed on. I’m lucky enough to be partnered with Phil Beckwith of PB Publishing (another Perth local) on this. Exciting times set for 2018.

But this rollercoaster is not without cost. Between my day job, various project commitments and gaming responsibilities (DMing is an obligation not easily set aside), family and friends I’m spread very thin right now. Too thin in fact. Continuing in this way is more pressure than I need heading into the holidays. With that in mind, my December goal is to bring everything back into balance. I need to make a better plan than lurching from job to job, crisis to crisis, and most importantly, I need to make time to do a little bit of everything.

And so with that in mind, I plan to put my feet up with a cold one and watch the cricket (that’s the rest of the world’s equivalent of baseball to any US readers). I mean, I’ll still have my laptop and I’ll be working as well, but I’ll be recreating at the same time. That’s a thing right?

Creating a Better Character

AKA – Guidelines for crafting something unique while avoiding the Special Snowflake.

character_sheet_rev6

 

There is lots of advice on creating better character out there – from mechanical to social aspects and everything in between. I don’t claim this is original information, but I do feel that it is good, simple advice for anyone wanting to build an RPG character in any game.

Everyone wants a unique and fun character to play. Occasionally though, in pursuit of this we get what is known as “The Special Snowflake”. These are the characters that are so overdesigned in their uniqueness (rarest of the rare) that they become problematic for DMs and other players. The Special Snowflake might have a selection of abilities designed to exploit loopholes in the rules, or they might have such an overwrought and inflexible characterization, backstory or personality traits that make them unsuited to team play. Examples include trying to make a character as difficult to hit or defeat as rules combinations allow, trying for the magic combination of statistics that generates the most damage possible per attack, or having them overspecialise to the point where they simply cannot fail at a certain type of task (also called the ‘one-trick-pony’). Mechanically this creates balance issues for the DM because in order to challenge such characters against their strength, it often makes the other characters vulnerable or makes it impossible for them to contribute to overcoming that challenge.

"Piss off Demogorgon. I'm untouchable bro!"

Drizzt is the ultimate ‘Special Snowflake’ because he is the rarest of a rare creature (purple eyed drow) who is so heavily draped in plot armour as to be essentially unkillable.

Possibly worse still are the personality choices that make a character difficult to co-operate with. Again examples might include an inflexible attitude to communication, an extreme phobia or prejudice, or – and my personal biggest dislike – the ‘strong, silent, lone wolf’ anti-hero who is a difficult to be around and won’t play nice because his personality is ‘edgy’ (read ‘jerk’). In rare cases players might actually craft a character that is all ‘roleplay focussed’ and mechanically unsound in the rules system as a way of exploring a concept. These characters generate their own issues as they become an anchor a party that must ‘carry’ as they are simply unsuited to succeed.

Finally, there are the characters that are mechanically sound, and may even be fundamentally acceptable from a general roleplay sense, but are created without a view to the context of the campaign. For example, if the DM has crafted a spy vs spy, shades-of-grey morality thriller campaign, and a player creates a morally rigid crusading knight then no matter how valid the character is, it simply isn’t going to fit with the setting being offered as the environment to play in.

The best way to describe an RPG is a collaborative storytelling experience. It is both collaborative with the DM and with the other players. As such, creating concepts that directly conflict with a communal experience is counterproductive to RPGs. Better characters are built to work with the system rather than against it. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise completely on concept, you just need to work with the rules, players (DM) and setting.

When creating a character, keep in mind three simple guidelines;

 

Create an appropriate backstory

Characters should have a backstory to give them some depth beyond their statistics, but this backstory should be tempered by the ideas of co-operation, flexibility and growth. Characters in books and movies don’t spring forth complete in the first act. You watch them grow and evolve as the story unfolds. This is true of RPGs as well. You are starting at the start, not the end. Give the character enough backstory to define their general values and behaviours, but be flexible enough to change and grow in the campaign. RPGs are all about the journey. Allowing a character to evolve with the story will give you the best gaming experience. You’ll generate better immersion, and encounter less interpersonal conflicts, both in and out of character.

Who is 1

Is this really an appropriate character that’s going to have a meaningful contribution to make?

Ensure mechanical skill without mastery

Everyone likes to succeed and few like to fail. Failures can take games in interesting directions, and should happen in a game, but not too rarely or too often. Building a character to be either infallible or conversely hopeless creates mechanical headaches for a DM trying to balance a game for a range of players and characters. Characters should have mechanical strengths (and weaknesses) but they should save extremes for the end of the campaign. Do you want to be the greatest thief whoever lived and flit from shadow to shadow like a wraith? Great, but that’s a goal, not a beginning. If you achieve it mechanically, and are impossible to discover when hiding (ie maximised stealth) what is left for the character to strive for? Also designing a character to be the “greatest” anything shows a lack of regard for the other players and their play experience. You are part of a team and need to be part of it, not apart from it, in order to get the most from a primarily social game. This goes doubly so for players who feel it is somehow necessary to outdo or show up the other players (see my other post on trying to ‘win’ an RPG).

Laura Diehl

Every great archmage begins as a dreaming apprentice

Connect the character to the setting

Finally, a character should be crafted with a connection to the campaign setting. In part, this is to avoid the massively inappropriate character conflict (for example the dwarf in an elven empires campaign) but also to give the character something to strive for within the story rather than just be carried along by it. Many DMs will run a Session Zero, which is time set aside before commencing to impart the major themes and tone of the adventures to come. If not, go ahead and ask your DM about the setting or world. If a character is connected to the setting the player will have more opportunities to collaborate with the storytelling process, and really that’s what RPGs are all about. If you can find goals within the story rather than in spite of the story, the DM will be able to find more moments to let you shine.

As always, this is by no means a complete list, but it is a great foundation to ensure you get the most out of your character and the game it is in.

Micah

Review – Minotaur’s Bargain

This adventure, from JVC Parry and Phil Beckwith (of PB publishing) is 20 pages, including a cover, 1 page contents and credits, 12 pages of adventure, 4 pages of appendices, 1 page review and 1 page advertisement. It has several colour illustrations and colour maps.

This short, low to mid level adventure casts the PCs in the role of diplomats, representing a local town in an endeavor to secure Minotaur mercenaries against an imminent Orc invasion.

SPOILERS

The adventure wastes little time on story, shanghaiing the characters straight into the action. Negotiations are short, with literally the only outcome resulting in an arena trial to either prove themselves or atone for insult.

The dungeon/arena is a series of deathtrap and skill challenges that must be overcome to progress. Completing 4 unlocks the final arena fight that is a stand up combat against the final boss – a minotaur gladiator. Success or honorable failure gains the aid of the tribe, while abject failure does not.

END SPOILERS

Minotaur’s Bargain is an unapologetic dungeon crawl with a thin veil of story. Each challenge is a HP/Resource sink designed to reduce already limited PC resources (only allowing a single item per character into the challenge). It does however offer several clever ways for pcs to scavenge resources along the way. In many ways this is a team based obstacle course. Mechanically sound, the various encounters are so varied and disparate it would still have many players questioning the logic of such a medley of otherwise unconnected challenges under any other circumstances.

The truly clever presentation of this dungeon is that it fits the stereotypical minotaur maze theme, but dials it up to 11. Realism takes a backseat to ‘cool’ and we’re asked to ignore it much as we forgive the unrealistic elements of an action movie because its an entertaining spectacle.

I am generally not a fan of “just because” or “because magic” deathtrap dungeons, but its honestly hard to dislike this adventure. It gives just enough justification to swallow it, oozes cool, adds stripdown and subtle scavenging to PCs that (by this level) have begun to rely on toys and gimmicks. There’s enough logic, risk/reward and variance in skill checks to keep everyone interested and is thankfully the right length to limit the burnout of oversized dungeons.

This is not an adventure for players or DMs that like roleplay or immersion. There is little here for high Charisma type characters. That being said, this is intended to be the first of a trilogy, so a connecting story is potentially in the works.

Similarly, some players may resent the effective railroad into the dungeon, or try to fight their way out of being pressed into it. The adventure turns on an assumption of success or acceptance of failure.

Final Rating

The adventure has an attractive layout, and makes good use of the sectioned isomwtric maps to break up the text and pad the limited (though appropriate) art. The maps are clean and can double as player handouts.

Minotaur’s bargain is a slick dungeoncrawl that makes the PCs action heroes at the expense of deep immersion. However, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. Its perhaps not the type of adventure you’d want to play every session, but in isolation it is a strong, fun adventure.

I’d rate this 5 stars for presentation and 5 stars for content, for a final rating of 5 Stars.

You can get this very cool adventure here.

Review – The Bleak Harvest

In terms of full disclosure, I was privy to this adventure in its original draft form before it was picked up by TPK games. The author gifted me a copy after release.

 

As this is an adventure review, I’ll write a brief summation, then I’ll indicate spoilers to come. If you intend to be a player, skip the middle section and go straight to my final comments.

The Bleak Harvest

The Bleak Harvest is a 66 page adventure from Jason LeMaitre and TPK games, with an evocative cover, a credits page, 6 ½ pages of background & setup, 46 pages of adventure, 7 pages of appendices, 1 page advertisement and 2 pages of legal text. It is in appropriately muted colours, with mostly B&W art (a few colour) and colour maps.

Warning – The Bleak Harvest is a true Horror adventure. The themes within are both potentially confronting and in many ways a very subtle creep-up-on-you nasty. This adventure isn’t for everyone. At times it runs a very close line to where I think the limits lie in the Open Licence, but never over. There’s no overly gratuitous violence or body horror, but it still hits you.

For those unfamiliar, TPK games runs a dual rules format, where Pathfinder and 5 rules are placed concurrently in each section, with a text colour change noting the distinction. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s not confusing or distracting when done well (see Final Rating).

The premise of the adventure is that the PCs are asked to check up on the King’s cousin, who has been recovering in the prestigious Willowbrook Saniatarium for the last year. The King has lost contact with the institution and his messengers have failed to return. The PCs – presumably because of their skill set (8th-9th level PCs) are asked to investigate. Several other hooks are provided for less civic minded adventurers.

 

SPOILERS

The sanitarium has fallen under the influence of a Lovecraftian ‘outer being’ style entity, which is engineering its entry into the world through a ritual sacrifice of those afflicted with madness. Its earthly agent is a broken acolyte (seeking reunion with lost loved ones) who has complete access to the facilities, inscribing symbols and assisting a cult and idolised aberration to complete the dark rites by giving them access to the 25 souls-driven-mad needed to complete the ritual.

The party has just 2 days to uncover the conspiracy and halt the ritual. A timeline of events is provided for the DM.

What follows is a sandbox style investigation through a stereotypically creepy location (which is not a criticism) with some very subtle and clever elements, including the fact that identifying the duke is exceptionally difficult, but logically accounted for.  The records are gone, the staff are mad, confused or generally unhelpful, and the duke – by virtue of his madness – has developed a new personality. Better yet, the mechanic that allows for this has him take on one of several developed characters (the DM chooses or rolls randomly) ensuring a fairly integrated investigation where no one of the possibilities is more or less fleshed out than the others. Each offers insight into the current situation, but only if the PCs can navigate their unique psychosis. There are enough red herrings and personal agendas amongst the NPCs to generate true doubt, and again these are handled with depth and complexity.

The investigation eventually leads to a showdown with an otherworldly horror, either because the PCs themselves have uncovered the conspiracy, or because hew timeline advances the action. Its a solid mechanic that keeps the adventure moving without feeling forced.

SPOILERS END

 

The adventure has suggestions on managing tension, horror and madness, difficult choices and options that really put pressure on the PCs and advice on increasing the difficulty or injecting a little chaos into the mix.

There is a surprising amount of content and complexity here. There is no wasted space and a lot going on here. In addition to managing the themes, the DM needs to control the tempo and the various NPC and creature personalities, motivations and agendas, not to mention a timeline that moves in the background and numerous ongoing and triggered effects.

This is not an adventure for a novice DM!  

 

Final Rating

Firstly, Jason is clearly a horror fan, and a fan of ‘good’ horror at that. If you know your genre it doesn’t take much to see the nods to various tropes without overdoing it or throwing it in your face. As a story adventure it is amazing. If you don’t run this at night with the lights down and play creepy ambient music (even if such embellishments are not in your normal repertoire) you are doing your players a massive disservice. Horror is all about setting a mood, and this adventure delivers in spades.

There are, however, a few technical issues with the product.

There’s no contents page and no bookmarks in the PDF. It makes navigation difficult and cumbersome, and I have to say it’s one of my personal pet hates.

No significant spelling or grammatical issues jumped out at me, and I didn’t see any major rules mechanics problems. However, there are places where the text colour change to differentiate the 5e from Pathfinder rules is missing, and odd places where the rules language deviates from the standard. There are also a few layout issues where text is affected by the placement of art, and the text bounces from left aligned to justified throughout.

While the maps are good – courtesy of Elven Tower – half are unmarked and half are keyed. No “player” versions are available for the keyed ones. Again not a major issue, but it would be a nice inclusion.

Finally, the PDF price is $10. That’s not unreasonable, but it is at the upper end for a 60 odd page PDF. If you are like me, your expectations would be high for that price range. I can be more forgiving of a lower priced item. I feel like the production values might have missed the mark for the asking price.

The ‘minor’ issues begin to add up here. None are deal breakers, it really clashes that the author’s attention to detail is not matched by the layout and production. It could really use a v1.1 with some of the easy fixes addressed.

Having said that, nothing in the above critique should put you off buying this adventure! The content, presentation and atmosphere of the story alone easily eclipse all the small imperfections. If you are a fan of otherworldly influence horror this adventure is definitely up there with the best I’ve encountered.

I really look forward to more of Jason’s work in the future, though he’s set himself a lofty bar to clear with his first effort.

I’d rate it 5 Stars for content and 4 stars for presentation, for an overall rating of 4.5 Stars

You can get this creepy, atmospheric horror adventure here on DrivethruRPG.

What Lies Beyond Reason – Session 1 (Difficult Circumstances)

This is the first post of the current group of players I have running through the What Lies Beyond Reason adventure path.

The group roster includes

  • Bree Greenbole (Sarah) – Female Halfling Ranger
  • Celadir Nailo (Wil) – Male High Elf Wizard
  • Dart (Christian) – Male Human Rogue
  • Felix Marston (Cameron) – Male Human Sorceror (Gold Dragon Ancestory) & Lawyer (he wears suits and carries a briefcase)
  • Mutt (Daniel) – Male Human Monk (and Librarian)
  • Kahma (Lachlan) – Male Halfling Monk
Inn in the Rain by Dante Cifaldi

Difficult Circumstances by Dante Cifaldi

Session 1 – Difficult Circumstances

On a dark and stormy night, our heroes all crowded into a nasty, ramshackle Inn at a crossroads a week’s travel north of the Eternal City of Anduria. Each had their own reasons for being there, and none had met before.

The inn of the Sleeping Dog held an interesting array of characters, including the PCs, plus;

Bob

  • Bob (the old and surly bartender)
  • Melissa (the naive barmaid)
  • Thorgrim (a scholarly dwarf warrior)
  • Lucious (a young and overly dramatic troubadour)
  • Duran and James (travelling merchants)
  • Rufus and Faldor (shady mercenaries)
  • Theric (a tight lipped trapper)
  • Barret (a jovial gambler)

The PCs engaged each other and the occupants in conversation, learning the following;

•  Lucious responded to flattery, longs to see his talent recognised, and was on his way to Anduria to become famous. He seemed to find the thought of street performing, commoners and the poor confronting, he protected his prized lute, and was wary of Kahma. Ofcourse it might simply have been Kahma’s aggressive forwardness that was off putting.

•  The Merchants Duran and James were guarded about their wares and their travel plans, and while briefly interested in business arrangements with the noble houses of Anduria, have a keen eye for a con or ‘exaggeration’, and did not warm to Dart’s charms.

•  Thorgrim seemed reserved at first, but soon opened up on discussions surrounding scholarship, libraries and filing systems. He and Mutt found common ground quickly.

•  Felix ingratiated himself into a card game with Rufus, Faldor, Theric and Barret. His atrocious playing was matched only by his ability to engage with the players. Rufus and Faldor are brothers that take paying jobs, regardless of the morals of said job. They took Felix’s card. Therric is a local trapper that comes to the crossroads to sell furs, play cards and drink. Barret’s poker face was exceptional, and Felix feels he may actually have been out-“lawyered”. While he could draw nothing interesting from Barret, it was clear the man’s card skills were exceptional, and while he was almost certainly cheating, Felix and Dart couldn’t pick it specifically. Barret was definitely out of place in the wilderness setting, striking Felix more as a city man.

As the night wore down, everyone slept as best they could while the storms lashed the sodden inn. The PCs seemed to have a collective (or at least disturbingly similar) nightmare of twisted creatures, chaotic weather and much pain and suffering. It had the feel of something more than a dream, like a secret was just out of reach.

The inn collapsed, dumping the inhabitants into a deep pool of water in a cavern below, the hole blocked by the congested rubble of the destroyed structure. Taking a quick headcount, Bob, Duran, Theric and Melissa were missing, though Melissa turned out to be injured on a ledge above the pool.

Fall Cave by Dante Cifaldi

Fall Cave by Dante Cifaldi

While Kahma’s spelunking skills came to the fore, the fiery Halfling was unable to mount a heroic rescue of the damsel, who objected to the proposed plan of A) jumping or B) rope bondage (which of course was a misunderstanding, the Halfling’s words amounting to “I only want to tie you up for your own good” coming across more sinister than the angry hero intended). Melissa was rescued, though it took some smooth convincing from the Felix, as well as a magical demonstration from Celadir, to achieve. Melissa

Kahma also spotted a strongbox on another ledge, but this was left in place.

Examining their options (with Mutt testing the water several times – yep – still wet!) the PCs found their way into a savage art gallery of rather unpleasant subject matter (cave paintings of death and slaughter), and on into a geode-like cavern, where brittle crystal reflected and amplified the light of a runed, twisted metal ring (around 8 inches across). Celadir pocketed it, but not before noticing that several of the group eyed it with more avarice than curiosity.

The Ring by Dante CifaldiThe group encountered some very wet and angry spiders the size of dogs, and infact these were only babies to a large arachnid that lay concealed in a size passage. While the threat of poison, fangs and was significant, the group found that sticks, fists, feet, giant hammers, arrows, fire breath and knives were to giant spiders as rolled up newspapers are to normal ones, and the arachnids were vanquished. The eagle-eyed Bree discerned an opportunity with some loose rocks suspended in the webbing, and Dart obliged in dropping them with a well timed arrow, ending the peril of ‘mummy’ spider.

Spider Attack Final

Spider Attack by Dante Cifaldi

Further investigation of the larger spider lair turned up a vein of gold, and while the group lacked the necessary tools to extract it, they did manage to chip out a small amount while Felix unconvincingly tried to hide the improvised mining by shouting “WHAT NOISE? I CANT HEAR ANY NOISE” above the noise. Luckilly the NPCs were otherwise occupied and did not investigate.

Session End

Reveiw – Deadly Dungeon Doors

Deadly Dungeon Doors by Glen Cooper is 60 pages of… well… exactly what it advertises.

It has a colour cover with a very enticing illustration, a content/credit page, a foreword, and then 54 pages of content, 2 advertisements and a revisions summary. The content is in 2 column format, essentially B&W (there are intermittent ‘splashes’ of colour added in tables), some basic unique B&W artworks, with a nice clean layout. It lacks bookmarks, and for a 60 page electronic book that’s a big comfort omission, requiring the reader to manually navigate the material.

Chapter 1 deals with slight rules variations, and the ‘how to use’ the contents. To be honest while it’s a simplified mechanic I’m not sure it was a needed departure from the 5e core rules. Especially if you are ‘dropping the doors in’ as it advises you, you might very well have differing mechanics in your adventure, which could cause some confusion. If you were prepared to adopt the mechanic wholesale for all objects it might work. For me, I could take it or leave it.

Chapter 2 is a series of roll up tables to creature a truly random, unique door or set of doors. Aspects from size, materials, lock type, traps, level of concealment, quirks and more.

Chapter 3 is a series of tables with pre-generated doors assigned to appropriate various locations. The tables are set up as random rolls, but you could just as easily pick and choose as you like. These are a quick and easy selection tool. It’s a good inclusion.

Appendix A is a fun little flowchart to help you keep track of your creation process, as there are lots of variables.

Appendix B & C are Door Record Sheets to allow you to save and immortalise your creation. You get one larger spacious record sheet I assume for the doors you are really proud of – complete with a diagram box if you are artistically inclined – and a second page that has 2 summary record sections. It’s a neat inclusion that shows a real attention to detail.

Appendix D is a glossary that redirects back to sections of the book and the official rules where they apply. It’s a pretty slick summation, and I can see it being very helpful while using this supplement. The one thing that puzzles me is that it’s not in alphabetical order. If you want to use it you need to scan the table for what you want, then follow further direction in the entry. It’s not as user-friendly as an alphabetical listing would be.

Appendix E contains 13 unique – even by the standards of this supplement – and flavourful doors that range from clever, to deadly, to downright fiendish. Each comes with its own B&W artwork and these are a genuine joy to behold. Some are not suited to a more story driven campaign, but would be right at home in any dungeon or more light-hearted affair. Honestly, this section alone would make this a worthwhile purchase.

Appendix F is a 1 page example of a door created using the material in the book

Appendix G  is a nice little “Rogues Helper” checklist. It presents like fluff but actually reads like crunch, offering genuine game mechanics advice on dealing with doors and traps.

And finally Appendix H is a series of monsters that pretend to be, hide within or are integral to certain doors.

Advertising – While I have no issue with in supplement advertising one of the central pages of the book is a full-page advertisement. Ugh. Ugly and unnecessary. It reminded me of the magazine style advertising of the 80’s and 90’s. In a magazine of unconnected content I could overlook it as part of the transition from one article to the next. In a cohesive book on a single subject it was jarring and really ruined the sense of flow and immersion. It could have been discreetly placed at the back of the book. There is a second advertisement late in the book, but it’s more subtle and collects artwork like a handout, so it’s not so jarring.

Final Rating

There are only a few spelling issues, and none that really jump out. I saw no mechanical mistakes, and offers a range of difficulties meaning it is usable at all levels. It’s a clean book without being pretty, and the art is detailed enough to meet the needs of a rule book. I think some detailed colour art might have propelled it from being a great book to a truly outstanding book, but it’s a minor issue. The lack of bookmarks makes navigation cumbersome, which is also minor, but annoying.

All in all this is an excellent sourcebook and every DM can find something here. As a toolkit it is comprehensive and the plug and play doors are just masterful.

I’d rate it 5 stars for content and 4 stars for presentation, for an overall rating of 4.5 stars

You can get this fantastic book of doors here on DM’s Guild

Guidelines for Players – New and Old

There’s lots of questions, answers and advice (solicited or not) about what it takes to be a good DM. The DM’s role is a challenging one, no doubt. There is also occasionally some advice about being a good player, but probably not as much as there should be.

While the DM has a lot of responsibility in terms of managing the game framework, the players are just as responsible for ensuring the game runs smoothly and that it is comfortable and fun for everyone. More often than not, difficulties in an RPG group are caused by one or more players forgetting some of the more important aspects of the collaborative gaming experience.

What follows is by no means a comprehensive list, but touches on the critical aspects of being a ‘good’ player;

 

Guideline 1 – Fun is the most important thing.

RPG are games. It’s in the name. Fun is the most important thing. If you are having fun, great, skip the rest of this and move to Guideline 2.

If you aren’t having fun, or aren’t having as much fun as you could be, it’s worth examining why. Maybe the game style isn’t for you. Maybe the player group dynamic isn’t working. Maybe you are simply not in the right frame of mind for the game right now.

There can be any number of reasons for a lack of fun. Most can be overcome easily if you recognise what they are. If you can’t work out the issues within the group, it might be best looking for other options. There’s a whole world of games and gamers out there. You’re likely to find a good fit if you are willing to look. There’s nothing more damaging to a gaming group – and your overall enjoyment of RPGs – than persisting in a situation that isn’t right for you.

 

Guideline 2 – Your fun is as important as (not more or less than) everyone else’s

RPGs are – with a very few exceptions – group games with one DM (occasionally more) and 2 to 7 players (occasionally less or more). That means there are a number of people, all different, trying to enjoy the game. If the group dynamic is good, everyone should be working together and playing off of each other to create a shared experience as equals. Everyone has fun, and everyone leaves eagerly anticipating the next session.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes imbalances are created when different styles or perspectives on how to play can clash. In an RPG group one of the most critical aspects is to understand that everyone should be equally represented, respected and involved. As a player you should be aware of not only ensuring your needs are met, but that the other players are getting theirs met too.      

If you, or another player, are getting too much or too little opportunity to be active, there’s an imbalance. The DM will try to correct this, but you can help. Ask the other players what they want to do when situations arise where choices can be made. Actually listen to their ideas, especially if that’s ‘not the way you would do it’. Offer advice or opinions, but don’t try to tell other players how to play. Support and encourage other players. Celebrate their successes along with your own. Take your turn, but not more than your turn. By allowing equal opportunities for all players you’ll have more fun, they will have more fun, and everyone learns from each other.

 

Guideline 3 – RPGs are a team game

Following closely on from the above, RPGs are team games. This isn’t Counterstrike (a first person shooter for the uninitiated). Running off to do your own thing, lone wolf style is only going to cause problems on multiple levels. If you want to play alone, choose a different pastime. By sitting at the gaming table with a group of other people you are acknowledging that you are joining a team activity. Attempting to make it a singular activity is much like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole – it just doesn’t fit.

Team perspective starts at character creation. You might think a tomb robbing, undead raising necromancer is cool, but how will the rest of the group react when you start defiling corpses? What about an edgy anti-hero assassin who plays by his own rules? It makes for an interesting video game protagonist, but is that really going to work in an adventuring team? Your character concept is your own, but you also need to think about the setting and the other players, and whether or not it’s a good fit. Characters built to be self-contained without consideration for the rest of the group are called “Special Snowflakes” and no one (who isn’t playing one) really likes playing with those characters.

Similarly, when adventuring the premise of most RPGs is that the characters work together, providing various skills and strengths to the group to achieve goals. If your character wants to go it alone, try to star at every turn or activity, or is generally just unhelpful, it’s going to make the game tougher, and less enjoyable for everyone (including yourself). I know a player who constantly claims “I can’t play a rogue because I’d HAVE to steal from the party”. Setting aside his very myopic concept of a rogue, that kind of play is only going to upset people. Couching disruptive or selfish behaviours as “I’m only roleplaying my character, and it’s what they’d do” is the worst kind of justification. Think about it like this. Why would a group of characters that are in mortal danger from their occupation trust or accept another that doesn’t have their interests at heart? The players of those characters would be more than justified in kicking the Special Snowflake out of the group, and could honestly say that’s what their characters would do.

On the other hand, Characters designed and played to contribute to the team are not only going to make the party more effective, but they will be valued and enhance the game experience for everyone.

Guideline 4 – Be prepared, and be involved

As a player, turning up on time, bringing everything you need, and being interactive and involved is the icing on the cake. While it may not make or break a game, it is certainly noted, particularly if a player fails to do so repeatedly.

As a group activity, it takes co-ordination, effort and time to set up and continuously run a campaign. People are arranging their lives and responsibilities around finding fairly large blocks of time to play. Ensuring all the small details are attended to is really a mark of respect and courtesy to everyone involved and an acknowledgement that their time is as valuable as yours.

It goes doubly so for in-game activities. Paying attention and being interactive an involved when it’s not your turn speaks of respect, and ensures smooth play because you are following the changing conditions of the game around you. It also allows you to plan your next actions to ensure no time is wasted when your next turn coms up. Conversely playing on your phone or tablet, talking over or around DM exposition or other players or otherwise becoming distracted or disruptive practically screams “I don’t respect you and only care about my experience”.

 

Guideline 5 – You cannot ‘win’ and RPG and you shouldn’t try

An RPG adventure might have a beginning, series of events or action and a clear climax, but it never really ends. It’s not an adversarial game. It’s a collaborative storytelling experience. The true strength and value of an RPG lies in the journey itself, not the conclusion. It’s not a race to the end where you win the game. You cannot ‘win’ or ‘lose’ an RPG. You can advance, succeed, triumph, conquer or you can suffer setbacks, disaster, defeat or death. The differences are subtle, but important. All of these outcomes are emotive and open, whereas Win/Loss are final and closed.

When you plan an RPG, you will get more satisfaction investing in the journey and tailoring your character and play style to that purpose. Having the ‘best’ toughest’ or ‘strongest’ character is far less important than having one with a rounded backstory, with character and personality, and with goals other than “kill all foes”.

If you are looking to win, RPGs aren’t your best choice. Videogames, board games, tabletop miniature war games or even magic-style card games cater for that. Trying to win an RPG will only result in frustration.

 

Guideline 6 – The DM is your friend and ally

A common mistake that make novice gamers make (and some veterans too) is that they perceive the DM as an adversary. It’s easy to do. They sit opposite you. They have a screen that further separates and isolates them. They control the adversaries of your character. They set challenges designed to test you. It certainly sounds like an opponent.

The truth is that the DM is your friend and ally. They are your biggest fan. They aren’t trying to kill your character (well some rare few might, but that is poor DMing and I’ll cover that elsewhere). Instead they are offering you the opportunities to interact, overcome and triumph. They provide you with a world to play in and NPCs to interact with. Sure they set adversaries that might kill you, but they also dispense rewards upon your statistically probable success.

If the DM wanted you to fail they could easily set insurmountable challenges. They don’t. They want you to succeed, and not only that, they spend hours upon hours preparing to offer you that opportunity.

At times when you are overcome by these challenges, or thwarted in your ‘genius’ or ‘foolproof’ plans, or a character dies it’s easy to begin to think of the DM as your enemy. You should reconsider that. Chances are they are taking it as hard as you. They are just as invested (and in some cases more invested) in the success of the game.

 

Guideline 7 – RPGs are for everyone

We are all – thankfully and gloriously – different. As people and as gamers. The great strength of this hobby is that it’s so accessible to everyone. All you need is an imagination, the desire to share the imaginative experience, and some odd shaped dice.  

If you are lucky in your time as an RPG player you’ll meet hundreds if not thousands of other players and enjoy everything that diversity has to offer. Even if you don’t, you’re still likely to interact with some players that have a different perspective than you.

You are going to meet players who have different social, political or religious beliefs than you. You will meet players of different ages, genders, cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. You will meet people who have different views on RPGS – from ‘murderhobos’ (a term I really dislike), to min-maxers, to deep immersion roleplayers, LARPers and Cosplayers. You will not agree with or even like everyone you meet. That’s ok, so long as you afford everyone the basic respect and tolerance they deserve as people and fellow RPG enthusiasts. If you don’t feel comfortable around certain people or game styles that’s fine – find a better fit (see Guideline 1). Wheaton’s law applies here.

The RPG community makes our hobby possible, and the more inclusive and welcoming it is, the better off we all are. The more gamers we attract the more content is made, the more games are played, and the more likely it is you’ll find exactly what you are looking for.

 

And that rounds out my Guidelines for players. I’m sure there are many other pearls of wisdom out there for getting the most out of your experience, but these are the ones I find most useful as a starting point. Go forth and have fun.

Micah