It has always been a burning question that new players ask. After the obligatory, “How do I play this” is asked, the next question is always, “How do I play this better?” This is a question that has an enormous range of possible answers. The top tips that I have given over the decades I’ve played as both player and DM are listed below. Bear in mind that not all styles of gaming are the same and I play a very deeply immersed game in which metagaming is strictly forbidden at the table.
1. Participate in the game at hand.
Yes, be an active part of the game. Do not sit silent and let the DM do all the narrative. But at the same time, don’t crowd the other players who are also a part of the story. This game is the universe to your character and as such the decisions they make are tantamount to epic. What you tell the DM is how everyone, yourself included, learns who your character is. Even when your character is silently watching the action, in the case of a sneaky type, then make sure the DM knows it by saying what the character is doing. Which leads to number two:
2. Interact with your fellow players in character.
When a group of people in the real world, whichever one that might be, begins to do something that you must react to for whatever reason, your character should also. Now here is the tricky part: How to do it. Do you shout at the player, “Wait, don’t let your rogue stab that guy, we might need him later!” Absolutely not, that is metagaming and again, forbidden. Try this: In my games, if a character goes to do something and someone else wants to interrupt the action, the characters are not allowed to talk about it player to player because it is something that is happening too quickly in game time. As DM I make the players roll initiative on the spot and if the dissenting character wins, they can attempt something quick. If not, they MAY NOT interrupt and the game goes on. As a player, do not hold up the game by arguing against the actions of another player. It breaks the fourth wall and wakes us from our matrix-like bliss.
3. Be mindful of the group you’re playing in. Reality rules.
It’s good to be a non-conformist, but not at the expense of the enjoyment of the game. Keeping it real is important, but in reality, if you were a jerk in a group of people who kill for a living, guess who’s next? I had an experience as a player in which a guy was being jerk by buying things at a market out from under me by intentionally offering a higher offer than I could afford. What did my bounty hunter character do? He waited volunteered for first watch, then let the jerk fall asleep. My bounty hunter wound up getting everything he wanted from the market after all, but for free. I don’t like constant conflict within a group, but if I wanted to play in a Disney movie, I wouldn’t play D&D.
4. Own your character.
If you’re playing a character whose actions would be completely unknown to you, don’t fret. Make your best guess at what they’d do and do it. It isn’t rocket science, so have at it. Even if you need to roll a few die to decide on a number of choices possible, then there you go. Would she? Wouldn’t she? If it stumps you, roll for it. This speeds up the game and helps with the next decisions as it rounds out your character.
5. Don’t need to win.
Epic failures and deaths make the best stories, so don’t be afraid to dive in and let your character take their lumps. If your character might die and you’re too scared to act, then don’t game, write short fiction. Let them go into the world and make those mistakes and lose those limbs, then tell epic stories about that one night when the can opener went haywire on your bard.
6. Be there.
If your head isn’t in the game, don’t play it. It distracts and detracts from the experience for everyone. When you have to be continuously brought back to the game at hand, it sucks for everyone. Be there or don’t. It’s disrespectful to everyone.
7. Know your system and your part in it.
The DM has the final say in everything. Period. The burden of the rules are your in only the most limited of ways. You should know how to play your character, what the character can do, how to do combat, spells if they have them, and most importantly, the options available to your character. When can they act? How much can they do? When do you roll and for what? How to calculate attacks and damage? The most important answer to this is simply keep your player’s handbook with you and don’t be afraid to look things up at any point in time. Call a time out if need be and do it. Keep a tablet online near you and Google that question. You will get an answer. Just remember, the DM always take precedence in what goes. If the DM disagrees with someone you found out, the DM’s rule is the law.
8. Work out a backstory in as much depth as you need.
Put as much time into it as you want, but do at least a little, even if it’s in just your head. No one else should see it unless there is exposition time around the camp site. There are tons of resources for determining traits and habits for characters, so if you don’t have something concrete, roll for it. The purpose of this is just like the backstory for a playwright, know your characters so you can be true to them. The more you wright about them, them better you’ll know them and the better you’ll be able play them and make their decisions.
Author: Dr. Jeff Goins is the Founder and CEO of Dwarven Tavern www.dwarventavern.net. He writes lots of tombs, carves articles of stones, and publishes a wealth of knowledge. His latest books include Dwarven Tavern Short Hooks and Quick Start Story Ideas, Growing Up Haunted: The Tollgate, and Life In The Shadows.