Sunday, April 24, 2011

Be a better player

After years of seeing all sorts of GM advice floating around the web offering up advice on how to be a better GM I got a little tired of it. Yeah some it is helpful and some GMs may need to read it. But some of them approach it like they are always the problem and as a GM myself, that aggravates me a bit. I've had more problem players than I've ever had complaints about the way I run a game. Also I've played in more games where the players are the trouble while the GM is doing a good job.

So I've decided to make a series of articles for players to read. Things they may do to cause problems in a game that they need to watch out for. After all it's not always the fault of the game master.

Details don’t matter all that much.

GM – You manage to find a pick-up truck in the parking lot with the keys in the ignition. It looks like it’s in pretty good condition and should get you out of the town.

Player 1 – What kind of truck is it?

GM – A small blue one, nothing fancy about it.

Player 2 – I’m getting behind the wheel.

Player 3 – Let everyone else get in first while I keep an eye out for more zombies.

Player 4 – Getting in the passenger side.

Player 1 – Is it a Ford, Chevy, Dodge, what?

GM – You guys pile into the truck. It’s…um… a Dodge.

Player 1 – What kind of Dodge truck?

GM – I don’t… it’s a S10.

Player 1 – What? Dodge doesn’t make S10’s don’t you know anything about cars?

Ever seen this happen at the game table? Somebody in the group just keeps asking for more details on something that really isn’t important to the game? Have you been the person asking for all the details and getting aggravated that the GM couldn’t answer them all? If you answered yes to that last question chances are the problem isn’t the GM, the problem is you.

First asking a series of questions for details that will probably have no affect on gameplay slows down the pace of the game. It’s hard enough to get things rolling at an effective rate while dealing with system mechanics, NPCs and flavor text already. A game of twenty questions just makes it all that much harder.

Second, the GM cannot be an expert in everything. All because you know something on a specific topic doesn’t mean the GM does also. Showing off your knowledge by demonstrating their lack of it doesn’t go over well either. Generally this is frowned upon by all those involved in the game besides you.

Third, they just don’t matter. Really they don’t. Most of the time the GM will give you just the amount of details necessary for the game to continue, it’s when they don’t that you need to ask questions.

Now remember this doesn't apply to just vehicles. It also applies to all forms of weapons, machinery and just about anything else you can think up. Detail overkill just doesn't accomplish anything except cause problems. So you have a truck to get out of town, maybe something that may have importance should be asked. Is it a big or small truck? Can we all fit inside or are some of us going to have to be in the back? Things like this are normally fine especially if there is some sort of trouble expected down the line.

Next time I may bring up another problem that most players don't seem to get at times. Basically 'You don't need to roleplay with every npc you meet'.


  1. Brother, if only you had been up here for the past 6 sessions I've run. You would have ammo for at least 30 articles.

  2. Make some video of it! I actually thought about sneaking a flip camcorder into a game whenever I run one again and post up youtube proof of the problems.

    I know what you mean though. Got a stockpile of aggrivation and anger from years of running games. Some worse than others.... god if I start coving LARP problems I could go on for years.

  3. This was fun - because it's true!! :-) I hate players that doesn't have the feeling of rpg:s. There is one guy that I have played with some times - he just doesn´t understand what is important. //Mr Tias

  4. Worst example I ever saw of this was during some one-shot zombie apocalypse game. We stared out on a plane and landed at the Denver airport in the middle of the outbreak...
    Two of the players, a husband and wife, started pointing out all the inaccuracies of the GM's description of the airport... they happened to be VERY familiar with that airport... to the point of drawing a couple of quick maps for him... and just generally giving him a hard time.
    I'm still not sure if maybe they were just fucking with him as some in-joke between themselves... they were also gun-enthusiasts and ex-military... so we all had to grit our teeth when those elements came up as well.

    1. Yeah, I've been so close to this experience myself, though luckily my players were sweethearts who instead prefaced it with: "I'm not sure whether this will be the case in your game, but I know all about Blah from my work at Blah. Do you mind if I ask some questions based on that knowledge?"

      Basically, they had a plan based on their own knowledge of the situation (in this case, fire alarms and emergency protocols). They respectfully approached me about using it, offered me the information upfront, checked that I was happy to run with it, then outlined their plan. I'm quite happy to be given more information from patient, reasonable players who are pointing out the details for a reason and are happy if I say "No".

      I'm also happiest when they lay the info on me BEFORE trying to use it, as it means I don't have to feel caught out for not knowing something. True, this last bit is harder to do as a player because you might not always know your ST's expertise, but that's where communication comes into it.

      If my players treated me that way ... I would very quickly stop playing with them. Hard to deal with in a one-shot.

  5. Denver airport, I've been there, so big it has it's own little subway.

    It's always fun to see other peoples examples of this. Nobody ever seems to talk about it but whenever I brought it up to other GMs they all seem to know exactly what I mean.

  6. One way I, as a GM, handle this is to have the player supply the detail (when appropriate).

    Using your example, when Player 1 asked, "What kind of Dodge truck?" I might have said, "You tell me."

    Obviously this doesn't always work. If your next encounter is contingent upon some fictional geography for the Denver Airport and you got Mr and Mrs Airport in the game...well, your just shit outta luck. Although in that case I might have said, they just finished a multi-million dollar renovation...

    I just realized I'm drifting this toward GM advice... :-D

    1. Yeah, I sometimes do that myself. Especially with guns. "You find a .38." "What kind of .38?" "Some kind of automatic. You tell me." They give me the lowdown on it, the number of bullets and the range (if it's in the books) and I'm perfectly happy to go with it.

      Unless they're little liars and munchkins, but that's a whole other problem.

  7. GM advice... player advice... it's all good.

    A few times I've told folks that some places are just different in my game world. Usually the details a lot of folks argue over really doesn't make all that much difference in the end.

  8. Usually, when a player insists on knowing a detail, it matters to THAT player, and the answer will either affect their immediate action or confirm/refute a theory the player has about what's been going on. If the GM can't see any way the detail is relevant, there may be a disconnect between how the player is visualizing events and how the player is, or the player may have a theory that is not at all what the GM has in mind, but is internally consistent.

    So maybe the player wants to know what make a truck because he's thinking of taking it off-road and wants to know whether it has four wheel drive to handle that. The GM never realizes that's why he wanted to know, because as soon as you make up a make that can't go off-road easily, it puts the kabosh on the plan, and it is never mentioned again.

    Or he thinks that Japanese car manufacturers are behind the zombie invasion, and it would confirm his theory if all zombies drove Japanese made cars.. It may be crazy from your point of view, but there's usually a reason. I think where the player could be better is to communicate their underlying motive for asking the question as well as the question itself.

  9. GM (to player): You're in a world with zombies and you're bitching about the make of truck. If this world your character is in can have zombies, Dodge can make the S10. Now, you getting in, or is that zombie behind you going to have cerebral sashimi?

  10. Jeez two things.
    One, you can always say "it doesn't matter" unroll they get it.
    Or two you can ask "why do you want to know? " to find out the motive behind the question.
    If the answer to two is a dumb reason, see response one.
    Be a good dm, direct your characters.
    Airport couple, same deal but also add. "This is the future, it's been remodeled"