Lazy Players (how not to be one).

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So in this post I want to talk about being a player, and your responsibility to the group and the game. So If you are playing or want to play in a Role Playing Game this is aimed at YOU, and not the DM of Game Master!

Being a DM takes work. Lots and lots of work. Countless hours are spent creating worlds, NPCs, adventures and encounters etc, or at the very least pouring over pre-exisiting content or modules so that you can deliver a great game to your players. Where as the players just get to show up and have fun right? WRONG!

A player has plenty of responsibility and work too do, and in order to fully contribute to the overall experience of the group, should be expected to ensure that his or her work is done. A players work does not stop once his character and backstory are written, yet a surprising amount of players seem to think that it does. These are “Lazy Players” and we are going to go into detail about what your responsibilities are as a player, so that you do not become one of these parasites who just show up, play and go home, without giving their best to the gaming group and hard working DM.

Character Creation.

We shall begin with the obvious responsibility to the player which is creating his or her character. Weather your DM encourages you to work with the other players and himself during this step or not, you have the task of creating a well thought out, balanced and fun character. It is this reason why I advise a session zero, where the group can bounce ideas around and make sure they are coming up with a party of characters that works. Not just together, but in the gaming world provided by the DM. The player should read the information regarding the character class and race they intend to play thoroughly, and ask questions of the DM where pertinent.

Character Backstory.

Unless you are starting your character as an infant, then he has had some life prior to beginning his life as an adventurer. Creating a backstory is an important aspect of creating a well developed character. Some people like brief paragraphs, others like ten page essays. how much in depth you go is up to you, but I would check with your DM too see how much of it he cares too see before you do a ten page master piece that he is just not going to read. Of course you can still do as much work as you want, but if its a novella, you may want an abridged version for your DM. When creating the backstory, it is a good idea to speak with the DM prior to or during writing, to help ensure the backstory and world work together. The DM can also provide details on locations, NPCs land marks etc, so that their is some continuity and help make your character feel local to the world or region. Remember, a good back story can help the DM involve your character more in the campaign ahead. You can find more info on character Backstory creation here.

 

OK and we are done. lets just show up and play now….. WAIT! there is more.

 

Basic Rules Knowledge.

As a player you should do your best to have an understanding of the basic core rules of the game, and if you are new you need to make sure the DM and other players know this. A good read of the key elements of the players handbook is strongly advised, so that you can grasp what is happening and participate without asking a thousand questions like “So how do I roll to hit?” or ” Whats a saving throw?” You are not expected to know everything but know enough to show up and play. You will learn more over time.

Rules that apply to your character.

As well as the basic rules you will be expected to know the rules that apply to your character. You need to know what your feats and skills do. What damage your weapons do. What your characters spells and or special abilities do. It is frustrating for everyone around the table when a player says something like ” I have this spell called Burning Hands what does it do?” Sorry but if you are going to play a Role Playing Game get used to reading and doing some research. Its part of the game, and expected. It is not the DMs job to tell you how to do every little thing (although no good DM minds being asked questions to some degree), it is yours. If you do not know your stuff, it slows the game down for everyone at the table, not just you, and that is poor player etiquette. Now if you are about to be a brand new player, do not panic as you read this. True new players will typically be cut some slack, but do not take advantage of other players or your DM when they help you out. At the earliest opportunity, do your homework!

Developing your character as you go.

If you went to the trouble of creating a good back story, it should also include some basic personality traits. At the start of play you should know how your character sees the world, and others. However as the game progresses, and your character becomes part of different events and witnesses different occurrences, it should shape and change your character. Not just on the character sheet in regards to going up levels and getting more hit points or abilities etc, but as an individual. If your character witnesses a vile and grotesque act for the first time, how would that make them feel? If they see an entire town butchered by ogres, how has this event altered their opinion in regards to these creatures? This is something that a player should do EVERY session and continue throughout the campaign. When you leave the gaming table, you should do some work before the next session and bother to THINK about this stuff. If you feel it could be character changing, then talk to your DM so that he is aware of a fundamental change that may be coming in future sessions. Make sure that you can maintain continuity of a change. for example if your character is almost eaten by ghouls, and you decide that he now has a rational fear of such creatures, it needs to continue throughout play until an even occurs that may change it. Do not have a fear of undead one session and then completely dismiss it the next.

Do your home work between sessions.

As mentioned in the section above, you are expected to do some work between each session. It is not just limited to thinking about the session before and what it meant to your character, it is also continuing to learn your abilities (as they change) and new spells etc, trying to improve your skills as a player, and generally thinking how to contribute more to each game session. For example. If you felt you meta gamed a little to much, then think how to lessen doing it. If you feel you are weak in describing your characters actions, read some novels or google some info to help you become better at describing them. If you really do not understand what other players characters do, then do some research and remember to have your character ask them about themselves next session. Your DM is working hard between sessions to continue to bring you fun content, support him and the rest of your fellow players by doing your part.

In Closing.

It is ultimately every players responsibility to TRY to improve and be a better player. Role Playing Games are a group activity. As such each person at the table contributes. Its not fair on the rest of the group to just show up and give a minimal effort. You owe it to the other players and your DM to be as good as you can be. Improving takes time and is a gradual thing, but you should always be striving for betterment.

In the end it all comes down to BOTHERING! Can you be bothered to do the work? well honestly if you can not, then you have no right to expect anyone else (including the DM) to do their part either. And if you are OK with that, this probably is not the hobby for you……

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Creating a memorable character.

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One of the most fundamental skills for a pen and paper Role Playing Games player to learn is how to create a character. Knowing what dice to roll, how to read charts, how to assign points, how to fill out that character sheet etc. These tasks however are simply book keeping and creating and recording statistics. If I asked you “What Character are you playing”? how would you answer?

I want you to be honest with yourself, when you read the two examples I am about to give and choose which you feel would be closer to your answer. Do that before reading on to the next paragraph.

  1. “I am playing a Human fighter who specializes in two handed weapons and the cleave feat”.
  2. “I am playing a  Human male named Devero Shen, who grew up in a small village as a blacksmiths son, and after his father passed away, he joined a local mercenary group as a camp attendant, but eventually became one of the mercenaries.”

Both of these are generic examples but here is the point. The top answer is what character class and skill specialization you are utilizing for your character. The second is closer to describing what character you are playing. Most of you will (if honest) have chosen option one. It is rare I ever get an answer similar to option two. You see who and what your character is, is not the same as what class or skill set does he have. Look at the real world. Do you define who you are by the job you do and what job skills you have? I would hope not. I have spent a lot of my time doing the day job of Communications Manager for an Internet Service Provider. If some one asks me to describe WHO I am, I would not say “Hi I am a commercial internet sales person, who has great communication skills”. I define who I am by much more than that.

The fundamental problem for many, is that when they create a character they do so with the idea of performing a role. That’s like being born and your parents training you to be nothing more than a production line worker. Now don’t get me wrong, most games kind of make it seem like that’s all character creation is about. Choose a race, choose a class, pick feats, spend skills etc. The thing is, that is just the mechanical part of your character and the “role” it will play. WHO and what your character is goes beyond that.

My challenge to my players is always to make a character that is memorable. We have fleeting memories of that time we rolled three natural twenties in a roll, or that time we “one shotted” the Troll. The  characters that I have long lasting fond memories of,  are the ones that came to life as individuals and had, real CHARACTER! I see a lot of people concentrating on character builds. And optimizing their character. To me if this is how you go about creating your character, you have already lost the plot and are missing out on the whole concept of playing Dungeons and Dragons! Imagine if at birth (or in your late teens or twenties, when you suddenly become conscious as a player character) you sat down and planned out every aspect of your future career and life. No one in the real world does that. Yes we may make and set goals for ourselves, and some of these may stay constant or change as we go through life, but we do not set things in stone and strive monotonously towards them. Now before I piss of those that play Dungeons and Dragons much as if they were playing a video game, if you want to play characters that are min maxed, build determined and optimized that is your choice. You may even have a Dungeon Master that is OK with it. Just know that most DECENT Dungeon Masters don’t want you in their games. I for sure don’t! I could care less about your characters stats to be honest. I am more interested in your characters back story, personality, mannerisms and quirks. You see to me your character should be a personality. Not a list of numbers and statistics. I also want to see your character organically develop through game play, and not be preset. As a Dungeon Master I love it when players make choices for their characters based on the events that happen to them. They learn new skills based on the situations that they have recently been exposed too, or multi class into something because it fits the story or an event opened up that avenue for them. I am far less a fan of the guy who says “I am going to make an arcane archer so here are all the pre required stats, feats, and skills I am going to need to have by the time I reach the entry level requirement. SCREW THAT! How about you start out playing a low level character and see where it goes!

When it comes to “rolling up a character” I still believe (especially for newer players) that rolling is what you should do! I am not a fan for the points buy systems. I have allowed veteran players that I know and trust use points buy (all players in a group must use the same system, be it roll or buy), but they used them to create fun characters to play and not min max the crap out of their chosen class etc. I can here some of you bringing up the various arguments for using points buy. “Its more fair to everyone”, “It ensures I can play the class I want because some classes are More ability dependent than others “, “I don’t want to play a gimp character”. My general method is the 4D6 (drop the lowest) method, and the players roll two sets and pick the best set. Rarely does it mean you can not play a certain class, but if that arises then we re-roll or drop and raise a stat to get to the required number if there is one. (old school paladin requiring a seventeen charisma for example). PLAYING a character is about embracing the personality and developing a being. Bringing it to life in a game world. It is less about how much damage you can do, or how many hit points you have.

I have often chosen to take flaws just to have more to role play. I once created a thief and had him start life with his right hand missing by choice. It made it fun to role play. I have had a fighter who lost an eye at fourth level, and I loved the fun it was to make concessions for my lack of depth and field of view. If you are a person that contributes how much fun you have by how “bad ass” your character is, well to that I say, whatever makes you happy. Yes as a new player I wanted these things too. I grew out of it. I realized the true fun to be had in a role playing game, was in the role play itself and in the story telling for both player and dungeon master alike.

Now with all this being said how do we make our character memorable? Well first he or she must be real! OK yes its a character in a game so it isn’t real, but you know what I mean. They must be believable and have their own personalities.

I have said in other articles that I encourage players to write a minimum five hundred word back story for their character. I want to know (and want them to know) where they are from, how they grew up, what events shaped their lives, why did they start a life as an adventurer, what family do they or did they have etc. This gives you the basis for developing a personality. It helps you decide how trusting your character is of others. It can determine your characters demeanor. It can provide future plot hooks and help define relationships. You should do as much work on this as you possibly can. The more the better. Once you start playing you should have this back story in mind. Our pasts are part of what shapes us in the real world, and it should be no different for your characters.

Get yourself comfortable with “becoming” your character. Around the table you are for the most part the character and not who you are in real every day life. Make decisions based on what you believe the character would do, even if you as a player may know it is not the best idea in the world. Embrace the negative things that happen to your character and allow them to shape who your character becomes as much as the positive things. Assign some personality traits or quirks to your character, is he moody, grumpy or happy. Does he have a nervous tick or a habit that manifests under certain types of stress? Above all allow him to emotionally, mentally and physically develop naturally. Do not pigeon hole your character with per-determined decisions.

Playing a real and well developed character (flaws and all) is so much more rewarding than playing “mister perfect”. When you learn to truly embrace your character for all it is, and not concentrate on improving its stats, or doing more damage, you will realize their is just as much role play to be had in your characters weaknesses, if not more so.

When you allow your character to become real and embrace every aspect of it, then the experiences it has have more depth and value. The weak character that somehow survives the battle with two ogres and overcomes is memorable. The max strength and constitution barbarian that slaughters the same is not. One is a triumph, the other is just doing what was expected. As such one becomes memorable, the other does not.

When you look back at the characters you have created and played the ones you will remember years from now are the ones you formed attachments too and that did some truly amazing things. It will be the ones that seemed to truly “live” and had memorable experiences that stick with you.

One example of this is a cleric that was played on Howreroll during the “marks of intrigue” Campaign. He was an abused orphan that ended up in the priest hood devoted to St. Cuthbert. Due to his up bringing and difficult child hood he struggled with the day to day doctrines of his chosen religion. He embraced its core concept, but often went about doing things his own way, much to many others disapproval. With theses challenges in place he turned to drinking a good bit, and ended up becoming an alcoholic. We imposed a game mechanic that caused his character to have negative skill and trait checks if he went to long without a drink, as the “Delirium Tremens” set in. He became disheartened and eventually had to make a decision to help free a friend from imprisonment who was facing the death sentence or stay true to his religious belief. He chose to save his friend and as such lost favor with his deity and was stripped of his powers. The player made these choices knowing it was not the best thing statistically or mechanically for his character, but due to the events that occurred during game play it felt right for the character and the story. I can tell you that already Radovan Renier has become memorable. Not only to the player and the Dungeon Master, but also to all the viewers of the show.

Having a powerful character is fun in the same way that winning all the time is fun. Sometimes though its the struggle we remember and not the victory……….

The differences between running a game at the physical table and online.

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So as many of you by now know, I have been running Dungeons and Dragons and other Role Playing Games for over three decades. An unfathomable amount of hours of my life has been spent sitting around a table with a group of people, and bringing stories to life. More recently I began using virtual tabletops and playing the same games online. Since October 2014, I have also been broadcasting these games live on the internet on my channel Howreroll. Since then I have come to realize the vast differences in how I run a game between these two mediums. This article is aimed at explaining those differences and if you are a viewer of my online show it may explain a few things to you as well. Please note that there are even more differences to draw upon between private virtual tabletop games and live broadcasting virtual tabletop games. I will detail those where applicable also. My goal will be to break this down into sections and draw the comparisons as I do so. Here goes.

Story Preparation.

This is one area that is pretty much the same. I still do hours of work writing my stories and developing my plot lines, no matter if the table is physical or virtual so really no differences of note here. The one thing I will say is when I am writing for my online show I do think of it from a viewer perspective. For the show I try  not to make the story overly complicated and as such difficult for a new viewer to follow or pick up on. I also only display good quality visual maps and tiles (and  do not draw them on the fly, which is an option with most virtual tabletops), so I have to keep the adventures somewhat linear and when I allow them to become more open I have to create multiple maps to cover multiple eventualities. Which brings me to the next section.

Map Creation.

Huge differences here. When playing around a physical table I am afforded the luxury of total freedom. No matter what the players do I can improvise and create either a quick sketch or give a good verbal description of just about anything. Even though I would still draw out my dungeon or town layout, Its not needed to be visual to the players. If I want it to be visual or if we are using miniatures then I can use dungeon tiles and lay them out as we go. For the virtual table top I am confined a good bit in this regard. Now again while hand drawing the maps as you go is an option, for me it is not because we are producing a high quality show and as such it needs to look good and I am by no means a virtual artist. Because of this I have to manually digitally create each map. Every Inn, shop, village, forest encounter etc has to be created and made visual. This takes many hours of work. A typical live show takes ten to sixteen hours of behind the scenes work for a three hour broadcast, and most of this is tile and map creation. Of course, not all live shows go to these lengths, and many just show a world map and live cameras but for the quality of show I want to produce, that is not an option.

Dungeon Master style.

In some ways it is the same but in others it is very different. Either way I am a voice actor. Each and every Non Player Character that I bring to life will have his and her own voice and mannerisms. I role play these out regardless of it being a physical or virtual tabletop. The big difference is that around the physical table I am incredibly animated. I leap around, I rarely stay seated and I can put more physical aspects into my role playing. Instead of just describing a sword swing ill act it as well! online and at the virtual tabletop, I am stuck inside a little pip box on a screen, and confined to the field of view of a web cam so I am limited to minor hand movements and facial expressions only. Another difference is in the way I describe a scene or area. Around the physical table unless I have a hand out ready to show the players I have to leave much to their imagination, and have to be careful to make sure that I verbal describe important details. For the virtual tabletop I have the luxury of producing nice graphical images, tiles and maps, so less verbal description is needed, and all the players (and viewers for the live show) can see the same thing.

Player Interaction.

Some minor differences here. Around a physical table the players can take ques from the Dungeon Master and other players to know when it is their turn to speak etc. Online it is a little harder and especially when we are playing on the live show, we have to be careful not to talk over one another. Also as the players are not in the same room (and in Howrerolls case not even the same state or country), they all have different personal distractions that have to be overcome. The cat, the neighbors dog, the climate etc. While this may not be something you would at first consider, it makes a difference when it comes to interacting and the level of distractions that can be present.

Player character decisions.

For the most part again there is not a huge difference, but in a couple of areas it is substantial. Around the physical tabletop, if your character is currently not involved in the situation at hand you can get up and go to the fridge etc and still hear the Dungeon Master and be aware of what is happening. For virtual tabletop play you use a microphone and either a headset or ear buds, because if you have the sound coming through your speakers you get sound reverberations. Because of this if you leave the Virtual table you are typically cut off from play and anything that is happening. This issue is amplified for the live broadcast show. The other big aspect which again is vastly amplified when we are live is what happens when a character goes of on his own and does not stick with the party. well apart from the obvious possible dangers for the character in game, how it affects the other players is different. Again around the physical table you can occupy yourself a little if your character is not involved in the action. When playing at the virtual table, you are pretty much stuck staring at a screen and just listening. Because of this I try to discourage players from taking their characters off on their own to often, and only when it is a necessary action.

Player Meta game control.

This within itself is kind of an odd subject as you can never really stop a player from trying to meta game, only deal and react to it. Good players will not meta game or at least will not do so frequently, where as poorer players will meta game their asses off. What I refer to here is what I can see with my own two eyes. Around the physical tabletop, I can see if a player reaches for the Monster Manual or pulls out his smartphone to google what weakness a monster may have. At the virtual tabletop I can not. If a player goes online and looks something up I can not stop him, or even know he has done it. Online I have to rely on the integrity of my players to not meta game or use player knowledge where their character would in fact be oblivious. Players can also chat privately using chat programs and discuss strategy in private. At the physical tabletop i do not permit players to pass private notes unless I know the reason and content of said note. ALL in game chat should be done by the characters, and if the characters want to discuss something it should be done in real time and in front of the Dungeon Master. Private text chatting allows for discussion to be had in a non realistic way, alter the game play and, can fudge the time mechanics of the game. here is an example. John (who plays Ragnar the barbarian) privately messages Sandra (who plays Salindra the cleric) and tells her to cast hold person on the chief when it is her action. In reality the characters are in the heat of battle and Ragnar would have to shout this suggestion to Salindra. In doing so the chief would be forewarned. make no mistake this IS metagaming.

Session length.

Typically you can play way longer around a physical table than you can a virtual one. Staring at a monitor causes some people to feel tired, causes eye strain or even causes headaches. We take scheduled breaks while we play on line to help alleviate some of this, but even then a longtime at the computer is more draining than sitting at a real world table. Due to this, we tend to play shorter sessions. Howreroll runs for three hours each session we play.

Dice rolling.

The only thing to note here is one of the fun aspects of any table top game is the physical act of rolling the dice. Feeling that polyhedral dice roll around in your hand and then drop to the table to come up a natural 20 is a good feeling. At the virtual table this is taken away from you and replaced with a mouse click or typing a command like /r 1D20. Now as the Dungeon Master at the virtual table,  I use the fact that the players can only see head and upper torso as my Dungeon Masters Screen, so I still get to roll physical dice. However the players do not of course as it is necessary for the Dungeon Master to see the dice rolls they make.

A pointer I can make here for anyone using a virtual tabletop, as the Dungeon Master you can still create the anticipation of the physical dice roll by hamming up the need for a good roll, or being a little more descriptive about the potential outcome of the action. This is something we have achieved very well on our live show, and as such have found a way to recreate that feeling of tension you get when you actually roll the dice.

Game Mechanics use and game flow.

Around the physical tabletop, you all have access to the same resources and books. A bunch of players can share a players handbook for example. When playing at the virtual tabletop, you are on your own. You have to have your own resources. Some virtual tabletops include game systems (for a price) but if not you need your own books or pdfs. Another consideration that really only applies to live broadcasting Dungeons and Dragons is keeping the game flowing. We have an audience when we play on Howreroll so I sometimes simplify game mechanics and as such have a set of home brew or house rules that I apply. I also make certain other concessions in the interest of live entertainment.

Viewer interactions.

So this one ONLY applies to running the game over a virtual tabletop and making it live for viewing. Howreroll has an amazing community that chat to us and each other via a text interface while they watch our show. All the players and myself can see the flowing sea of text and as such it is hard sometimes not to be distracted. A particular pet peeve is when a player gets distracted or the tone of the chat changes the mood or attitude of the player during a key moment. A comedic comment or two can have a player laughing when the mood should be tense and anxious. We are all human and all of us (me included) fall foul to it all the time, but it is something you do not have to contend with around a physical table or even a private virtual table. Fortunately most of our regular viewers know we can’t really interact during game play, and that we do a Questions And Answer session during each break and at the end of each show.

I am sure if I spent more time I would come up with more differences and if I do I will edit the post to include them.

If you are thinking of starting playing virtually, then these are some of the things you will realize and find a little different. Also if you are a viewer of our show maybe this gives you insight into why we do somethings the way we do……..