Nine Guidelines for Gaming

Monday night, after I finished running my bi-weekly Rhune game, one of my players asked me to hang back for a bit so he could get some feedback on his roleplaying; he also wanted to offer me a few explanations for his character's actions. After listening to his concerns (many of which were very common), I decided to type up this post.

Like a lot of gamers, he wanted to be better at the game, and wanted his actions to "make sense" in the context of the character he was developing. He also wanted to define his character apart from the others; he wanted incentives, aims, and a real reason for his character's departure from a "normal" life. Why would a simple farmer start summoning celestial allies and living on the open road, anyway?

Jaye's Gaming Guidelines

Generally speaking, I like to keep my rules light and fast at my tables. There's a number of reasons for this, but for the most part, my reasoning is simple - I prefer to focus on story and narrative. As a result, I'll bend the occasional 'rule' if it makes for a better story. That said, I'm not one for doing so arbitrarily. When I deviate from core "rules", it's because: 1) I already know the rule well and understand how it impacts other aspects of the game, 2) I have a good work around or alternative to that rule, or 3) my table has agreed that rule doesn't serve a purpose for our games(s).

That said, I still have some guidelines I go by, and when and where I get the chance, I like to share these with my players. So, I'm inviting you to my table and sharing these accordingly.

So, what are my guidelines for gaming?

Guideline One - Have Fun

While this may sound cliché, I think this is something folks forget time to time, especially when a campaign runs for any serious length of time. People develop goals in game for their characters or for their groups, and forget to have fun. Believe it or not, I've actually seen folks stress over games, over LARPs, and over countless MMOs. People get caught up in the grind, or chasing gear, or blah blah you missed the raid blah blah.

And.... meh.

We have enough things in life that add unnecessary stress; don't make your games one of them. There are countless things that can sneak in the way of that fun, so I always keep one on the top of my mental stack.

So when I address a problem, I'm always internally asking "But is it fun?" This naturally leads me to "How can I make this fun?" Or, in retrospect, "How could I have made that more fun?" All in all, when I keep fun in mind, I think the overall play experience improves for everyone involved.

And that keeps you young and me immortal. Or something.

Guideline Two - Hey Players.... Ask Questions!

While there are certainly exceptions, my experience with gamers has been largely positive. I've gamed all over the world; at one point, my table in Kuwait was dominated by women and I've run more than my fair share of multicultural games. And of course, every year I attend countless cons, as well. In short, I've gamed with a lot of people. I've taught a lot of people Pathfinder.

You know what I learned while doing this? I learned some of the most effective people I know ask the most questions. Of course, this makes perfect sense; most of us learn new things by asking questions and roleplaying games are no different. So, while you're learning to play, ask plenty of questions. When you do, ask questions that empower you as a player; ask where to find something, for instance, instead of a ruling on something.

Mind you, there are two general types of questions you get in an RPG. These are: 1) technical questions (you want to do something with your character, but you're not sure how) or 2) questions about the environment your character exists in (is it cold, dark, or dangerous where your character is?). When gamers are learning, they tend to ask a lot of both. However, as newer gamers learn how to play the game, the questions about "how to play" generally taper off and are (hopefully) replaced by the second set of questions.

I've noticed a lot of players shy away from asking questions, either because they don't want to slow down play or because they're somehow embarrassed by their lack of knowledge or understanding. I can promise you, that's rarely the case. So, what does asking questions do?

1) Asking questions helps you learn the game you're playing.

2) Asking questions helps you learn additional rules or guidelines that might apply to your game or session.

3) Asking questions shows the GM/DM you're invested in the game.

4) Asking questions shows the GM/DM you're invested in the story he or she prepared for you.

While that may not seem like a lot, all of those things are important, both to your GM, as well as your other players.

Guideline Three - Clearly State Your Objective!

Now before I dive into this, let me be perfectly clear - I always want players to ask questions (see above)! So please don't read this as a guideline that discourages that. Players - ask your GMs all the questions. Except for the questions about dinosaurs. Those go to my buddy David. ;)

In fact, most GGMs (Good Game Masters) encourage players to ask plenty of questions, especially when it comes to investigating the surrounding world or while learning a particular gaming system. As a player gains proficiency with a particular gaming system, however, that same player is doing to need to ask fewer questions. However, if a GM doesn't encourage a player to grow, or if a GM is just being a toxic, authoritarian type, this trait could become a big barrier to having actual fun while gaming.

That said, you don't need to know the rules. Sure, it makes doing this easier and learning the particulars of a given game can make your GM's life a whole lot easier.... but that doesn't mean you should let being new stop you from having fun.

Moreover, once you get in the habit of saying, "I want my character to do X, Y, or Z," moving between gaming systems becomes much less of a pain, especially if you have a GGM. Why? Because chances are, if you know what you want your character to do, your GM will tell you what steps you need to try and accomplish your task.... even if you don't know the gaming system you're playing at all. That doesn't mean you're going to win or even succeed, but it does mean you'll get a chance to try (if you want to).

Image of a snake oil salesman holding a contract.

Guideline Four - Invest a Little! (Or, Invest a Lot).

If you're going to take the 4-6 hours a week it takes to play a tabletop RPG, you might as well spend some time investing in it. Get to know the NPCs. Ask questions about the world around you. Give your character a back story or some connections to the larger plot.

If you've played any of Paizo's 20+ adventure paths, you already know that each time they release a new AP, they include a free Player's Guide for that AP. This guide will include traits, background info for PCs, Feats, special gear, and a whole bunch of additional items that players can use to better tie their new characters into the AP.

Mind you, you don't need a player's guide to accomplish this - most of this can be handled between the GM and the players in the first session. This is sometimes referred to as Session Zero and if you ask me, it's an absolute must.<