One of the very best things about the tabletop roleplaying community as a whole is its diversity. With the advent of the internet and tools like Discord, Skype, Roll20, Foundry, and other gaming over IP software, it has never been easier to find a game. No longer do you have to advertise on little slips of paper at your local gaming store or library. There are literally tens of thousands of players and thousands of groups all around the world just waiting for you to connect with them. On the flip side of this view, however, lies what to me, is an interesting consideration. With so many choices, which do you pick?
Joann and I have been gaming together now for a long time, and we have been gaming separately for longer. Over that time, we have both kind of developed a “type” of player that we both are and like to run games for. Thankfully for us, those types match – a good thing, since we’re married and spend so much of our time together. But we thought it might be a good idea to talk a bit about some of the kinds of things we look for in players and why.
Story over Rules
We have said it a million times it seems. Both Joann and I are suckers for a fantastic story. In the vernacular of Austin Powers, big sweeping narratives are our bag… baby. I have in the past, and will again, have my character take a dive because it makes for a good story. As GMs when our players want to do something, and there is some sort of rules conflict or complication, the story wins. We do not play games or tell stories where we have an adversarial relationship with the players. That is not to say that the characters do not or will not have opposition, simply that we refuse to be attached to the opposition. The story is and always will be about the player characters’ actions and choices. Likewise, when we as a GM want to do something that is outside or or conflicts with the rules, we will typically just do it. Cypher has an explicit way to make this happen (GM Intrusions), but we have always done this. And it is never, ever, about “getting one over on the player(s)”. It is always about the story.
Another side effect of this is that we both really struggle with “rules lawyer” personalities. I’ll talk about this later, but the argumentativeness of personalities like that, particularly at the table, makes it a struggle to create the kind of immersion we really want. As an example, think about watching a Star Wars movie in the theater. When they have those climactic space battle scenes, and you sit close enough to the screen that it takes up your field of view, and the sound system is perfect? It feels like you’re in the cockpit, right? Then the person next to you starts talking about all the problems with the physics of hyperdrives in Star Wars canon. It’s like popping a balloon. All the fun goes out of flying around in space. It’s the same principle here. Enjoy the story for what it is. Participate by bringing your own excitement and ideas to the story. Don’t let the rules get in the way of telling a good story. Ever.
Cheerleader for Other Players
We’ve all been there. You’re going toe to toe with the massive dragon that has been terrorizing the local towns with its hordes for months, or you’ve trapped the shadowy underworld boss in his safehouse and are staring him down over the barrel of your gun. But it’s not your turn in the initiative order and one of the other players raises up with their sword and brings it plunging down or swings up the barrel of their FN-HAR and lets fly with a three-round burst. The climactic battle is over. What do you do?
Why, you cheer them on, of course.
Ultimately, you are on the same team as the other players and getting upset because you are not always in the spotlight is not a personality trait that other people are going to want to play with. If you are always encouraging, however, and excited for other players’ exploits, that excitement is infectious. Other players will feed off of it and become excited for yours as well.
Partners with the GM
The kind of player that fits in well in our games is one that wants to be a partner with us. For both Joann and I, our goal is that you have fun at our table and that together, we tell the very best and most exciting stories that we can. This is made easier when the player is the part of the process. A long time ago, when I first started playing, the common thinking was that the GM sets the story and the players simply play their characters. Several games and game designers are starting to think outside that box, and we love it. The stories that end up getting told now, seem to be more exciting than they used to be because the players are helping.
What kind of help, you might ask? We have started to develop the habit of asking the players to provide detail about the setting in-game as well as providing it. This is all done on-the-fly. It helps when a player has their action ready when it’s their turn and understands what their character can do. It also helps when a player focuses on making their character part of the larger group. This is one of the reasons Session Zero is so important. It allows the players to come together and weave their characters into a cohesive group. Finally, the player can focus on feeding the energy and excitement of the table and group rather than sapping it. Getting excited when their group succeeds, participating, and being an active listener are all things that feed good energy into the table.
I want to take a second to mention a very specific type of player here. The Rules Lawyer. Most GMs dislike having such players. They are often argumentative, they are self-serving, and they fuel the mindset that a roleplaying game is GM-versus-Player. It does not have to be this way, however. Such players, if they choose and the GM works with them, can be a Rules Resource rather than a Rules Lawyer. Let’s face it, the GM has a lot to keep track of. Rules mistakes are inevitable. Having a person that knows the rules and applies them fairly in all situations as a backup for when you make a mistake is a huge benefit as long as they are not actively trying to undermine and unbalance your table. Additionally, such players can be great to seat next to new players. While the GM is helping someone else, or on another initiative in combat, the Rules Resource can quietly help the new player understand what their options are and how to perform them so that they know what to do next. Much like a multi-core processor in a computer, this will greatly speed up play when the turn reaches that new player, increasing the fun at the table overall.
These are a few of the bigger things we at Angel’s Citadel personally look for when we bring players with whom we are not familiar into our games. Joann and I both look to collect people, not game sessions. We want to make friends at the table that extend outside of it and in our experience, the kinds of people that understand the principles I’ve discussed above (and other similar ones) are often the kinds of people that make great friends too. Monte Cook and Darcy Ross discussed some of these and other similar points in a promotional stream/interview for Your Best Game Ever, a book I highly recommend personally. Even after playing as long as I have, I learned to look at some things in a different way after reading it. I presume that other GMs look for other things, but for us, these are some of the important touchstones. If you’ve read this and this sounds like you and you are interested in playing with us sometime, we’d love to hear from you. Join our Discord Server and chat us up or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter (@joshwalles or @joannwalles) or MeWe. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles
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