Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to play RPGs Real Good Part I: Players

Much has been written on how to be a better Game Master (or Mistress). So much in fact, one might think it is his/her/it’s sole responsibility to insure that the collective game experience is perfect. And while sometimes the GM is the big toe that leads the foot, what the players bring to the table is no less important. Lets begin:

1) Know Your Abilities. I’m not referring to the role-play aspect here but exactly what it is that your persona can do. How many attacks do you have? What is your Nimbality bonus to hit? What are a Warf’s special abilities underground? How much information can a Sneak recall with photographic memory? What bonus does the skill Acrobatics give you in combat? How many smoke grenades can you chuck in a Na-nuta? Immerse yourself in the raw data that is your Persona. Ultimately, this is your single leg up in your efforts to thwart the machinations of the Crypt Lord’s minions. Think of it this way. The Crypt Lord must run the whole world. He/she/it never has the luxury of studying any single Non-player Persona or Creep much longer than a session or two. Conversely, as a Player Persona you are focused like a laser on one single character over dozens of play sessions. Use this to squeeze out every possible advantage from the rule book and cook up new combinations of crypt bashing and fray making.

2) Suck it Up and Take Some Risks. That’s right. Volunteer to be the guy in front. So what if it’s dark in there? Ooooo, could be Creepazoids hiding in there to attack. You have a Swordinga and a bunch of PHP. Do you think this game is going to play itself? Of course there are Creepies in there. That’s the whole point. If you want to stand in the back and endlessly check every freaking door for traps I suggest that you scurry back to your recliner and pull your snuggy over your head. Adventure is not for you!

3) Try, Try, Try and Try Again. Door stuck. You roll a d20 against your Muscle Power and fail. Remember what it is you are trying to do. Was the goal to smash the door or get past it? Most likely the latter, so try something else. Let someone else in the party make a feat roll. So it’s only’s just another roll. that doesn’t work. What if we pick up this big table and all ram the door with it? 25% chance? Sure, why not? 67...darn again. Oh wait, I’ve got a pry bar...what if I loosen the hinges? What’s my percent? 10% Ok,...rat farts... rolled a 27. What if we tie a rope to the handle and another to this statue and push it down the steps?  here is always a way to get another roll when you have “supposedly” failed at something.

4) Bring Snacks. I do not like Twizzlers. Go for the Red vines or even the generic. It’s funny, you can smell that Twizlers are “red” flavored, but once they are in your mouth they seem to have no taste whatsoever. Besides, the Vines are cheaper and chewier.

5) Don’t be a Game Hog. If you want to be the center of attention, I suggest running for president. Everyone deserves an equal portion of the session. It’s simple math, if six people are playing for 240 minutes each person gets 40 minutes. It is true that sometimes the party gets split, or one player needs to go off and do something to advance the game. When I am Crypt Lord I tell the players at that moment that this can mess with the communal time bank, but if everyone is cool with it, I let it happen. But I keep this excursion as short as possible. Playing RPG’s are at their heart about allowing each participant to be fully engaged, not sitting around, bored. This is really what we are talking about here. So as a player you should work so that everyone (including the Lord of the Crypts) is able to participate. There are always those players who want to go off to rob a bank or split from the party down in the crypt, just because they want to… If everyone is cool with this, then so be it! But, remember we are all sitting around playing a game together.

6) Work to Advance the Plot. This is about pacing and understanding that things need to move along. Nobody wants to spend a whole session rolling up Personas and then wandering around on randomly generated streets wondering what to do. If you are wandering aimlessly, try listening to your friendly Crypt Lord. They will be telling you in some subtle (or not so subtle) way where adventure be. It’s ok to go off track, but again watch and listen to the other participants to see if you are advancing the plot. Plot does not mean playing A, B, C through pre-set encounters, it is often spontaneously generated as the group plays forward. Imagine, that you are all heading to Urkey, looking for Kroll’s magic (insert Swag item here). Suddenly you are ambushed by Urks. Gosh those heads on sticks meant something after all. The pitched battle ends when you are overrun, captured and sold to the Tree Spiders. They take all your stuff. Shave your heads. Prank call your parents and have pizzas sent to their castles. Everyone is on the edge of their seat and still half a play session still left.  Now that’s good pacing!

7) Talk in a Funny Voice. This is the flip side to “Know Your Abilities, above. Let’s not go over the edge and start LARPing, but it’s important to smash the walls of mediocrity and have a little fun and I dare say look a little foolish. “What are they doing down there?”  “I don’t know but it sounds like Darth Vader, Lawrence Welk and William Shatner are fighting over a chicken…”

8) Winner- Schlimmer. Some people think it’s important to win. By this I mean having the biggest Muscle Power, having the biggest Swordikjrom, or dragging around the biggest bag of coins.  So you have the blackest most magic swaddled +6 Swordikjrom. Whatever. That’s video game mentality. I define winning by doing all the things outlined here. This is not as tangible as a finely crafted Swordikjrom, but so much more fun. If all that is important to you is having the highest stat and biggest weapon modifier, then you are missing the whole point of playing a social interaction game.

9) Don’t Spoil Anyone's Fun. This is related to being a Game Hog, above. but I think it should also be said that it’s just plain rude to do things that basically shut down another participant's fun. Usually a player may be unaware that they are doing this. I suggest that you simply pay attention to what’s going on, people will broadcast clues that you are stepping on their fun. If you are it is a simple matter to just address it immediately and move on. No big deal. However, if you are shutting down another play’s fun on purpose, then this is another matter entirely. You may be engaged in what we call in the RPG biz “Party Strife” in which a number of players are being hostile to each other. The first thing that is important is whether the “Griefers” involved are playing out the actions of their Personas and having fun, or are they actually at each other’s throats. If it is the latter, then before things turn sour, somebody has to step up and defuse the issue. I have no solid advice for this one, one can only hope that the other participants can reason with them and get things back on track. Not all situations of “Party Strife” are played out in hostility. If everyone is Ok with 2 or more players having a showdown and all this is Advancing the Plot and the “Griefers” are not throwing things at each other, then it can work. I still frown on this, as it tends to put a wedge in the game and ultimately bog things down.

10) Do Not Stare at the GM’s Carbuncle. It takes a lot of time and energy to create adventures for you guys. So much in fact, that issues of personal hygiene are often put on the second or even third burner. So cut your Lord of the Crypt a little slack and try not to stare.

Be Creative. That’s right, this is your chance to ThINk OUtsiDe THe BoX. You are a fantastical Persona living within a fantastical world. There are more solutions than just carving a hole in it with your Swordinga. For example, in our last game Yaba Kashaba (a Yogi-Rabbi) figured out how to take out a 40 long two headed flying Creepy called a Vultron. This hellish beast was giving the group a pretty hard time. Yaba performed the Miracle Lulu-Thor’s Transcendental Force in which a large physical force is controlled remotely by the Miracle Worker and can attack. He then asked if the beast had shoulders (which I thought was an odd question at the time) to which I said yes. He then performed the Miracle Spohk Pinch using the already cast Lulu-Thor’s Transcendental Force to deliver the attack remotely. The Vultron was rendered unconscious 200 feet in the air...well you can figure out the rest.

12) Lastly, remember you are there to have fun, too! It’s not all tedium and hard work. Have a swig of Root Beer and a handful of Chex Mix and I salute you as you enter the gates of Walhalla!

*Nimbality, Warf, Sneak, Acrobatics, Na-nuta, Persona, Creep, Creepy, Creepazoid,  Crypt Lord, Lord of the Crypts, Basement Leader, Swordinga, Swordikjrom, PHP, Muscle Power, Urks, Urkey, Third-Urks, Swag, Vultron, Lulu-Thor’s Transcendental Force, Miracle, Miracle Worker and Spohk Pinch are all terms used in Crypts-N-Creepies a FRPG endorsed on this blog. If you are a user of one of the more popular games out there simply read Nimbality as “DEX”, Sneak as “Thief” and Crypt Lord as “dungeon master” and so on.


  1. Hey Ro, I saw your reply to my comment on Zak's blog, and I followed it here. Great article, and I agree with everything - except maybe that carbuncle part...the GM has to get that checked out, I'm sorry.

    I'd even extend your first point, and suggest that players should familiarize themselves with the rules. I'm not talking about anything encyclopedic. It's not just about being prepared and more tactically capable; it's also about engagement. So I won't even exempt those playing games with simple mechanics, but that just means their job is easier. If the GM is going to put in all the work that the role entails, the players can at least understand what all those numbers on their character sheet are, and know how to make standard rolls that the GM calls out.

    So on this point I disagree with Zak. It's not much to ask, and it really does help, especially if there is even a little crunch. Try playing DCC without understanding the mechanics of Luck, and you're going to die a lot sooner.

  2. I liked this article because of the focus on communication. I tend to GM, and so I know to let the GM have their fun too. 1, 2, 3, and 5 included great ways for players unsure how to learn to better prepare and play more cooperatively. I would add that compassion and patience with your fellow players and GM when things don't work out in/out of game helps lead to fostering reciprocal good values, particularly 5, for everyone at the table.