Reading various blogs online and listening to lots of podcasts, I’ve found endless amounts of information on how to be a better Storyteller or Game Master, but I have rarely found information on how to be a better player. However, players far outnumber Storytellers. For every Storyteller, there can be as many as 4 or 6 or more players. So here are some general guidelines on being a better player.
- Come to Every Session Prepared. When you arrive for a session, make sure that you have all the stuff that you need to play: pencils, your character sheet, appropriate dice, note book, and whatever else you need to play. If you come to a game and need to borrow a pencil or dice every session, that behavior will begin to grate on the other players and Storyteller. Also, you should make sure that your character sheet is up to date. Spend experience points or level up before the session starts. I recommend keeping all the materials for your character together in one binder. Creating a 3-ring binder for a character can be a fun project. Use a pouch to keep a set of dice and pencils in that binder.
- Know the Rules. Obviously if you’re a player should read the damn book and start learning the system. Not everyone can afford to buy a book, but many storytellers will be happy to loan their rule book. I’m not saying that you need to memorize the book, but you should learn the basics. You should also make an effort to know your powers, disciplines, etc. It slows down the game if you have to stop play and look up the mechanics for using Presence every time you do it. I recommend writing down a quick reference chart for rules or mechanics you commonly use on a note card or piece of paper that you keep with your character sheet.
- Share the Spotlight. It’s easy to get caught up in what you are doing and it’s exciting to have a story be about your character, but don’t try to make every story about your character. Share the spotlight with the other players. Help them succeed or fade into the background a bit when the spotlight is on them. Be a support character when it’s time for others to shine! Think about Gandalf in LOTR. He was never the central character; instead he helped others reach their potential and offered advice to them. Remember that role playing is a cooperative effort and that everyone deserves a chance to show off and be the center of attention!
- Don’t Be a Rules Tyrant. This is a bit different than just being a rules lawyer. The rules tyrant wants to argue ever ruling and apply his or her own interpretation of the rules to situation. He or she can bring a game to a screeching halt in order to argue over which Attribute & Ability should be rolled or the exact location of a human heart or the damage of a specialty submachine gun. There is a time and place for discussing rules, and sometimes it’s best to accept the ruling and move on. Be open to a discussion with the Storyteller about the rule as well. There are many ways to adjudicate a rule. I recommend that if you have a serious problem with a rule or ruling that you wait until after the game and discuss it with the Storyteller rather than monopolize the game with an argument.
- Write a Back Story. Every player has a back story, but good players go a step farther and write down their character’s history. However, the character’s history should fit with the setting and tone the Storyteller is using for the Chronicle. You should include characters that the Storyteller can use as NPCs and plots that can be built upon in later sessions. Also, you can use your character’s history to explain how and why the PC’s coterie works together. I recommend that all players write a 1 page character history that expands on their character concept and explains who their character is beyond just their supernatural or adventuring role.
- Work with the Group. The goal of any RPG should be to have fun, but don’t have fun at the expense of other players’ fun. First, you should create a character that fits into the world the Storyteller is using and that is playable. Don’t bring a Werewolf to a Vampire the Masquerade Game. Don’t play a Sabbat in a Camarilla game. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but keep in mind that the weirder the character you play, the hard it will be for that character to fit in with others. On a related note, don’t play a loner. Even Wolverine, the archetypal bad ass loner, works with a team or multiple teams and has had plenty of partners. I recommend that players talk to their Storyteller and the other players when creating characters so that all the characters can work together well. Group character creation is probably the best way to create characters.
- Play a Character, Not A Stat Sheet. While your abilities may be defined by the stats on your character sheet, that character sheet doesn’t define who your character is. This problem isn’t as prominent in White Wolf games, but in Dungeons & Dragons it’s easy to lose yourself in the tactics of a combat encounter. You should do your best to act and react as your character would, rather than doing what is the most tactically sound option available. Remember that you’re not playing a tactical minis game or tactical war game. You’re playing a character and your Toreador PC may not know much about military tactics or flanking.
- Pay Attention at the Table. I’ve run several games where the players have sat at the table playing with their smart phones or reading the book or even playing a game on their Nintendo DS rather than paying attention to the events that are occurring in the game that I am running. When these distracted players are asked to act, they have no idea what’s happening and need to have everything explained to them again. This can be even worse in a game like Vampire the Masquerade where minis aren’t generally used and every detail of a combat needs to be explained once more since there is no game mat and everything is in the players’ imaginations. Remember you are sitting at the table to play an RPG, not to play with your smart phone or read some unrelated book. Be considerate of others at the table.
- Play a Different Type of Character. Many players have a favorite Vampire Clan or Werewolf Tribe (or if you play D&D, a race or class) that they play all the time. There is nothing wrong with that; however, playing the same thing over and over again can lead to stagnation and boredom with a system or a game. Try playing something new or a new spin on your old favorites. If you like playing Toreadors, try playing a Gangrel or a Nosferatu instead which will give you a completely different experience. However, you could play a Follower of Set or a Venture which is a bit closer to your favorite. Playing the same thing over and over can also because the other players get weary of your never ending stream of dual katana wielding Toreadors. Think about the number of times you’ve played your favorite clan, if you think it’s been too often, play something different.
- Run Your Own Game. The best way to become a better player is to run your own game. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn as you build your own story and run it for your group. Things are very different on the other side of the screen when you are responsible for telling a story, adjudicating rules, and being responsible for the player’s enjoyment of the game. You’ll get a deeper understanding of the rules and perhaps improve your role playing as you run many NPCs. In order to run your own story or chronicle, you’ll need to read the book and develop a deeper understanding of the rules. Running your own story will offer new opportunities for you and improve your own play because you’ll become more familiar with the rules, creating stories, and running different character types as NPCs.
These are purely my suggestions on how you can be a better player (and one of these suggestions was based on advice from a friend). These are not the only ways that you can be a better player. I would love to hear your advice or suggestions. You can leave a comment or contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org