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Being a Better TTRPG Player part 1: Read the Table

December 10, 2023

Over the last several years, I feel like I’ve hit a second wind with tabletop gaming. An obvious factor is the trend towards lighter, more storytelling-focused systems that remove friction–which has even shown up in newer editions of popular games like D&D 5th Edition.

But so much of it is simply being more emotionally intelligent than I was in my teens, 20’s, or early 30’s.

There are a lot of tips on being a better Dungeon/Game Master out there, but I’ve also really enjoyed moments that have taught me how to be a better player. This is a series covering a collection of those observations.

Understand your responsibilities as a player

The GM/player relationship can be unbalanced. A regular GM has more responsibilities than someone who only ever plays–keeping the game moving, planning ahead, and knowing the game system well.

But that doesn’t mean players have no responsibility. Otherwise, the GM/player relationship risks becoming something of a parent/child relationship, which isn’t really healthy for anyone involved.

The main risk is GM burnout. I can remember one campaign–about a decade ago at this point–that fizzled pretty quickly. I was the only one willing to GM (which was fine, even if I didn’t have any campaign ideas in mind at the moment), but also the one who always got asked “when are we playing again?”

Scheduling and GMing was too much–not even in terms of quantity, just the feeling you’re on the hook for everything–and I just lost all motivation.

But it doesn’t just help your GM. You can also help the other players have a smooth and fun experience, and that’s going to make your experience better as well.

Your responsibilities aren’t (just) the crunchy stuff

It’s tempting to assume a player’s biggest responsibilities are things like:

  • Learn to create and level up your character
  • Memorize what you need to roll in every situation
  • Read the core player rules

Ideally, you will do all of these things at some point. And if you don’t eventually, you do risk burning out your GM and other experienced players.

But you don’t have to do them immediately, or even soon.

There are ways more experienced group members can streamline things until newbies develop “muscle memory” through regular play. Quick references and cheat sheets can simplify details, especially during character creation.

(As an aside, learning to summarize game rules while preserving their intent and translate mechanics into storytelling implications is an incredibly helpful skill to develop. Just spitting rules and math chapter-and-verse at people doesn’t help them make decisions.)

At the gaming table, everyone’s most important responsibility is respecting each others’ time and contributions. In practice, that means “soft skills” and conflict resolution more than mastery of the rules.

The rest of this series will cover some ways to do that.