Hello gamers, and welcome to the first installment of “Under the Tabletop”! In this series I’ll discuss ways you can expand your role-playing, tackle tough problems at the gaming table, and take advantage of various tips and tricks for an overall better tabletop experience.
In this first article I’ll be discussing the most important thing to enjoying your tabletop experience: being a good gamer. This has nothing to do with how well you build a character or how amazing you are at tactical combat and bypassing challenges, but how you approach being part of a gaming group. Making sure you have the right attitude and consciously focusing on your interaction with your fellow gamers will improve your experience more than anything else, regardless of what game you’re playing, what skill level you have, or how well or poorly you’re rolling that night.
One of my favorite quotes by Wil Wheaton is: “Be honest. Be kind. Be honorable. Work hard. And always be awesome.” When each of these principles is applied to your experience around table many common problems are prevented and memorable moments are enhanced.
It goes without saying that no one should be cheating during a tabletop game (except occasionally the gamemaster, but that’s an entirely other article). However, you should be honest with yourself and share that with your group. If you’re not enjoying something, speak up and discuss it with your table. Most tables want everyone to have a good time and will try to adjust to give you a more enjoyable experience, even if they can’t fix the problem itself. Hiding or trying to ignore your lack of enjoyment can lead to resentment or rancor that bleeds into the game and your interactions with your fellow gamers, quickly ruining sessions and possibly friendships.
Similarly, be conscious of your fellows. Everyone wants to have a good time and you should seek to enhance that. A role-playing game is a story where every player is the main character, so be willing to let everyone have their moment to revel in that role. If you’re a player, back off a bit when someone is supposed to have their moment; don’t insist you have to be the one to duel the villain that killed your friend’s parents because you’ve got a better to hit bonus. If you’re the gamemaster, make sure everyone has a chance to showcase; you don’t have to hand it to them with no challenge, but create points where the hard work your players put into their characters pays off.
Anyone who’s gamed with a group for more than a couple of months has probably learned scheduling time for game can be difficult, particularly in larger groups. Normally at least one person will have to make a sacrifice in another part of their life to be able to show up regularly; you want to make sure you do all you can to respect that. Show up on time and as ready for game as you can be, and if you can’t make it, make sure to let everyone know as soon as possible. Losing an hour to the person who woke up late, wanted to stop for Taco Bell, and then needed to build their character can be frustrating when your table is on a clock for game time.
This part can be somewhat counter-intuitive regarding doing something for fun, but when you consider that the point of a role-playing game is fun the point becomes clear: work hard at having fun. Keep your focus on enjoying the game and helping others do the same. Frustrations can run high when the dice are against you or you’re in a situation in which you feel your character is useless, and focusing on the core principle of the game can help ease that and turn it into something more enjoyable. If your barbarian gets a string of unlucky rolls, turn it into an opportunity to role play: have your character get angry at troubles and use the opportunity to explore that part of him. It’s also much easier to upsell your gamemaster on a bonus for circumstances when you’ve been role-playing your character’s growing rage for the last five rounds. Tackling failure isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding both to yourself and your adventure if you take the time to look for how to make it fun.
And always be awesome:
The good news is that as a tabletop roleplayer you’re already awesome. All tabletop roleplayers are, which is why you should take some time to get to know them better. Role-playing is a great way to meet people of similar interests and ideals, and a few out of session get-togethers can quickly turn into a friendship. Camaraderie at the table and camaraderie outside of it can lead to being more in-tune with your fellow players and more insync sessions of gameplay.
Wil Wheaton’s quote succinctly sums up the key points of being a good gamer, and taking the time to make sure you keep to those points will reward you with an amazing role-playing experience (or a more amazing if you’re already at that point). There is another quote by Mr. Wheaton that is even more succinct, and when applied to the tabletop gives you just as good of results: “Don’t be a dick.”