I don’t know about you, Internet, but I view the moments before I sit down to a new game campaign or setting with an equal mix of trepidation, excitement, hopefulness, and dread. Is this going to be like the game where I spent most afternoons wishing I was home doing my laundry, or is this going to be like the game where I spent all week obsessing about what was going to happen next?
I walked into my first game completely blind - I didn’t know anything about it except that I had bought a bag’s worth of shiny new dice and I sort of understood what the words on my character sheet meant. I got *really* lucky - my first DM took it relatively easy on me for the first couple of sessions, just enough to set the hook. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
Due to logistics, when I first sat down with one of my two current DMs, I had literally no idea of what was going on. I didn’t know the system (except that it was d10 based, a system that had given me problems in the past), I didn’t know the world, and I only knew two of the other players. I was in a strange place, with a strange sheet in front of me, exhausted from an early-morning job. I took it on faith from the two players I did know that “you’ll love this game, it’s all about narrative and description, you’ll be great at it.”
I was miserable. The other players had met with the DM previously, and they had sketched out a rough idea of what they wanted to do and how the campaign was going to work, setting- and theme-wise. Because of my chaotic evil schedule at the time, I was showing up blind, again. I hadn’t had a chance to give input on the game design, and when I was asked what I wanted to avoid in the campaign, I was so lost that I just named some pet peeves and let it ride.
That game lasted...ten sessions, I think? Maybe more, it was kind of a haze. My character worked beautifully on paper but was a complete dead fish in play, because I had built her for what I thought the campaign was going to be like, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadly, the wrongness didn’t come into evidence until after the three-game-change window, so I tried to tough it out. I shouldn’t have.
I come to you now to share the hard-won knowledge that I have acquired over the years. These expectations are a general framework that I expect from my fellow players, to try to enhance the game for all parties concerned. Comments and commentary are, of course, welcome.
1) Engagement With The Plot (at best) Or Polite Attention (at worst):
We are all busy adults with full schedules who have carved out time and energy to play this game. I expect you to either be playing or paying attention to the gameplay. Some of the funniest and fun moments I have had around the table were MST3King/Rifftraxing the play going on in front of me. Checking something in the book (when it’s not your turn, please) is okay, or a brief dip into the madness of the Internet is fine, but when you do your trick, then look at the rest of us and say “nudge me when I need to roll dice” is rude at best and disheartening at worst. I invest my time and energy to play with people; I expect the same in return. This is crucial in a game like Exalted, where player input has a marked impact on the game in the form of voting for stunt bonuses and the like. If you aren’t here to play, or at least socialize while playing, why are you here?
2) Commitment to Session Times
Life happens. Job schedules are nuts (me), kids happen (DM and fellow player), loved ones fall ill or need more attention because of life events (another player), and sometimes your vehicle decides to commit fiery suicide because it’s just sick of life (another player). We all understand this, and we’re sympathetic.
If you mysteriously have a headache every Sunday afternoon, or you “aren’t feeling it today” two hours before game time several weeks in a row, please consider if you actually want to keep playing, and if you don’t, then stop. Stop wasting our time. Stop wasting our goodwill. We will still want to hang out with you, but if you keep screwing up our plans at the last minute, that might change too. Your time is valuable, our time is valuable, our DM’s time is valuable. Respect us enough to say “This isn’t working right now, guys, catch me next time?”
Corollary - BE ON TIME, FOR THE LOVE OF SPICE. Gamer Standard Time is a phrase that needs to die in the pits of a thousand hells. If game starts at 1, be there at 1 (or even better, 12:45), not 2:30. If you’re running late, call/text/IM/tweet/Skype, do something to let us know so we’re not all sitting around staring at our dice like sad pandas looking at an empty food bowl.
3) Familiarity with Setting/Rules
I can hear you now - “But you said you went in blind to your last game!” Yes, I did say that - and I said it made me miserable. Do I think you can’t sit down and learn a new system or world? Not at all! That said, make sure your fellow players know that you are new to the system and will be asking lots of questions. Most players will be perfectly okay with this, and I guarantee that the neophyte will be overwhelmed with advice and suggestions. Please see my previous article on How Not To Be That Gamer and apply the truths within liberally, as needed.
If you are the neophyte in this position, commit to learning the bare bones at that first session, and study up as the days go on. You’ll get it faster than you think.
4) Be A Plot Mover, Not A Plot Dragon
If you’re in this hobby to roll dice without context, may I not-so-humbly suggest you learn how to play craps instead? We’re here to roll dice and play roles, not just chuck plastic blobs around to meet arbitrary numbers in a vacuum. Personal plots are fun, but it’s hard on your DM and unfair to other players unless they are involved with them too.
The third option is to be a plot donkey - ask your DM (not at the table or immediately pre- or post-game, please) if there’s something she or he wants to get moving, and volunteer to be the one who turns down the path less traveled or asks “hey guys, what IS in that box?”
Chase plot, even if turns out to be a flaming bunny. Share the plot goodies you find (psst, this means you can share the blame too!). That’s why we’re here, to play.
5) Establish if Your Group is Cooperative or Antagonistic
This is a pre-game thing, ideally when you are in a conceptual stage discussing what you all want out of your communal gaming experience. A group of antagonists won’t work well, but factions within the party can be great fun if you all can manage to keep a clear delineation between IC and OOC.
If you have decided to play as a cooperative group, you should strive to maintain that, unless there’s a story-related reason to change it. With the understanding that most plans don’t survive their first brush with trouble, and most groups don’t survive their first divvying-up of that sweet sweet loot-y goodness, do TRY to adhere to what you agreed to at the planning phase. Speaking of…
6) Proper Planning Prevents...well, You Know The Rest
I don’t mean that you should be doing comparative cost-benefit analysis of spell lists (oh please, for the love of heaven, don’t waste precious gaming time doing that) but plan out the general shape of your campaign, or at least the first season, with ALL the players present as well as the DM. Want a city-building game, or something more Indiana-Jonesy? Monster of the week or a tightly woven plot? Lay out what you want.
Just as importantly, lay out what you don’t want. I mentioned that I built a character that worked beautifully on paper and in concept, but the game was 150% wrong for her, because I didn’t know the group had decided on a city-building concept instead of a go-out-and-explore game. My group, bless their collective hearts, didn’t want to tell me that my concept didn’t flow with the plan for the game, so I struggled through months of boring and frankly infuriating game sessions before that game mercifully died with a whimper.
Be honest, but don’t be a dick. Most people are willing to adjust their concepts slightly to fit the group vision. That being said, it is far easier to tweak a concept before dots hit the page.
7) No Prima Donnas, or Variations Thereof
I’m looking at you, people who think that because you are gracing the table with your presence, you get plot bennies. I’m also looking at the ladies and gentlemen who try to get what we refer to as the “banging the DM” bonus - I hope that is fairly self-explanatory. It’s unfair and childish at best, and creepy/repulsive at worst. There’s almost nothing worse than seeing one player get shot down for a concept, and the person of the DM’s affection getting the nod for no apparent reason.
Disclosure: My husband is currently one of my DMs, and far from getting a banging-the-DM bonus, he is ten times harder on me than the other players because he says he knows what I am capable of and won’t let me get lazy. I both love and hate him for this.
You need other people to play the game. Don’t alienate them. Share the spotlight. Point out and appreciate really awesome things your fellow players do. And don’t forget to cheer on your DM for bringing his or her A-game to the table and making the game as amazing as they can. I love the idea of giving props and nods at the end of the game, ending the session on a high note. It keeps people motivated to do more, to be further in character, to take risks to get rewards, knowing that if their characters die, they won’t go gently into that good night.
I know what some of you are asking right now - if planning is so important, why did you leave it until the last point in your list?
Because, believe it or not, it is not the most important part of a successful game. Player mindset and expectations are. All the good planning in the world withers away in front of a bad or dysfunctional group. Get together the right people and even the most slapdash game will be memorable.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this piece - setting expectations for DMs - coming soon to an Internet-capable device of your choice. Until then, I remain,
Your Most Obedient Servant,
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.