Things I’ve Learned from Almost Forty Years in the Hobby

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI had occasion to talk with someone I gamed with in my primordial days as a gamer, and it brought home exactly how long I’ve been involved in the tabletop gaming hobby. That train of thought changed cars, and I got to thinking about the things I’ve learned in that time. The list of “rules” below is by no means exhaustive, but it begins to form what could loosely be called my “Gamer Code of Ethics”. I figured I’d share it in the interests of disclosure and because discussion around this can be interesting.

I’ve been in this hobby for almost forty years, and your gate-keeping bullshit is boring and stupid. I put this one first as a courtesy; if the statement offends you, you can now stop reading and go elsewhere with my blessing. No? Still here? Excellent. Seriously, though, at its heart this hobby is about playing. If you think someone should be excluded from play for any reason (other than on an individual basis because of intent to harm) then you are the problem, not whoever you’re trying to keep out of gaming this week. Anyone who wants to play is welcome at my table, period.

I’d rather not play than play in a bad game. This wasn’t always the case. In my mis-spent youth I’d play any game anywhere with any one just to be playing. Now, though, I don’t have time to play bad games. Work and other responsibilities take up a good chunk of my free time. When I play I want to be at a table with other gamers who want to have fun, and don’t need to impede other players’ fun to have it. I just don’t have time to deal with toxic players, and that’s doubly true for toxic Game Masters.

Rules are fine until they get in the way of fun. There are no rule police. The game company already has your money for the whole book, they don’t care how much of it you actually use. So if you encounter a rule which is seriously ruining the fun, change it or ignore it. If your player proposes something amazingly heroic and dangerous and the rules say no, tell the rules to shut up and figure out a way to make it happen. Not once in the entire time I’ve been playing has any gamer reminisced about that one special session where they adhered to all the rules. Not. Once.

You can’t put a green dragon next to room full of goblins. This oddly specific item comes from one of the first adventures I wrote, round about age twelve. And it did indeed feature a room with a bunch of goblins, right next to a room with a green dragon, each leading a blissful life confined to their room waiting for tasty adventurers. So yes, this rule is a little about dungeon ecology, but it’s also about interesting story. Because of course you can put a green dragon next to a room full of goblins, as long as you figure out an interesting reason why the goblins are still there and the dragon hasn’t binge-eaten a goblin tribe. Do it well, and figuring out that situation can end up being as interesting as fighting the dragon.

If you can’t spot the asshole at the table, it might be you. I’ve brought this up before in other articles so I won’t go in to much more detail here. Just look around and make sure you are matching or exceeding the pleasantness of the table.

A hard no is reserved only for players ruining other players’ fun. I’m generally willing to roll with whatever my players want to do, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work. About the only time I say a flat no to something a player wants to do is if it is directly antagonistic to another player or their character. I don’t even try to come up with an in-game work around for it anymore. I flat out tell the player, “No, you don’t get to do that” and why, and encourage them to figure something else out. Seriously, unless there is a strong story reason for your character to go after another character, it doesn’t need to happen. Stop being boring and move on.

Go to cons. Play games you wouldn’t normally play with people you’ve never gamed with. I’ve talked about this a lot so again I won’t go in to detail. But really, this is one of the best parts of the hobby and you should get to a tabletop gaming con at least once a year. You won’t regret it.

If you have to win to have fun, you’ve set the wrong victory condition. Should be self-evident for role-playing games, but this goes for board games as well. Does it feel good to win? Sure. But I don’t invite my friends over to beat them at games, I invite them over to play games. Winning is a nice bonus, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing my friends pull out some epic wins, even when they snatch them from my grasp. My victory condition is fun; as long as I achieve that I’m ahead.

As a GM it is never me vs. the players. Conversely, as a player it is never me vs. the GM, or the other players. Pretty self-explanatory, really. I don’t need to beat my players. As a GM I win if my players have a good time and feel suitably challenged. Similarly, as a player I win if I can work with the other players to overcome whatever the GM has in store for us.

Don’t touch another player’s dice without asking. You may not have any dice-related superstitions, but it is still polite to ask before grabbing dice from another player. See Rule 4.

Your “Lone Wolf” character is boring. Yes, even that one. I blame movies for this, because adventure movies are packed with examples of the loner hero. And why not? As a trope it works great for movies and television. But RPGs are a social game, and I’m sorry, but choosing to play a character who doesn’t want to be around other people is lazy and boring. The first thing I ask the player, when presented with such a character, is why are they now choosing to work with others? Because watching the “solo” character play against type can be interesting. Watching the character sit alone again, and not talk to the rest of the party again, and sneak off on their own again? Not so much.

You can expect another one of these articles at some point, because I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. But this is enough…well, let’s call it wisdom to be friendly…wisdom for one blog entry. Have anything you’ve learned? Drop it in the comments and share with the class.

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