Play Culture Two: Everyone has fun
I think we can all agree that, whether you like beer and pretzels D&D, dark and brooding Call of Cthulhu or the latest take on historic introspection that has rolled out of the indie games from itch.io, we play games for fun, entertainment and sometimes thought-provocation. But mostly fun. So my Second Principle: You are playing to have fun, so ensure everyone else has fun (including the GM) seems like a bit of a no-brainer.
However, you’d be stunned how many people come away from games feeling unhappy – be that because they haven’t been able to express themselves, or someone else has hogged the limelight, or people have actively worked against them. And that’s especially true if they are the GM.
[I’m going to add a reminder to those new to my musings, that I am very much in the camp that everyone in a TTRPG is a player in the game, but the GM takes on a very different role as a player to the others. There is nothing about that role that says the GM doesn’t have fun and isn’t worth of respect, nor that they are some sort of sole source of fun. That is, as I am wont to say, shite.]
So how do you make fun for everyone? Well, I think of it this way – by action (or inaction), judge whether you are making the game better for everyone. If you are, do more of that. If you are not, change what you are doing!
I’m going to split these into two arenas; fun within the game, and fun outside the game. Wthin the game first:
One of the most basic decisions that happens in a game is your choice of game. I feel that players have a responsibility to their fellow players to join games that they are interested in, and avoid those that they are not interested in. One of the funniest things I have seen was someone who joined a game of Duty & Honour (my Napoleonic game, modelled after the TV show Sharpe) and announced that they had no idea about the Napoleonic Wars, had never heard of Napoleon, never seen an episode of Sharpe and really didn’t like military games. Why then, have you decided to join this game? Their reply was that it was my responsibility, as GM, to provide them with a game, regardless.
Oh no it isn’t, and oh no you don’t. See also people who join superhero games but don’t like superheroes? The folks who join games of Monsterhearts but don’t want queer teenage content? Or people who join a game of Pathfinder, just to complain about its differences from D&D…
Then there is your character! There are some classic errors that can be made when creating any character, and despite them being almost comically cliched, I see them so regularly, it makes my head hurt.
- Your character is a loner, operating in the dark, with no physical connection to the other PCs.
- Your character is thematically opposite to the premise of the campaign, making integration almost impossible
- Your character is intrinsically opposed to another PC, building in an unresolvable conflict between PCs
- Your character has no links whatsoever with the setting or the premise of the game. See also, the inevitable orphan.
There are more. These things can work in some games and in some groups, but generally they are a right pain in the arse. Constantly having to accommodate the loner, performing creative gymnastics to somehow make the game relevant for the character, managing the in-built hostility that someone is playing up to because its what their character would do, and creating depth for a PC when there are no hooks. All things that drain energy from a game and can so easily be avoided.
My top tip to avoid this is to make characters together, and have a good strong sense of collective veto around the table. Be willing to actually call out potential problems you see with other characters, and make constructive suggestions on how they might be resolved.
Once you start playing, there are similar fun sponger activities that can be avoided – again, cliches for most people, but something I see time and time again, especially at convention games.
- Pursuing trivial activities for your own enjoyment, that don’t involve others (the infamous shopping trips)
- Hogging the limelight; demanding that every scene is about you
- Trying to pull the narrative backwards all of the time – ‘Just one last thing…’ – as the game is about to progress
- And for me, the one that as a GM sets my teeth on end – doing things in game that are an obvious rejection of the direction of the game. So, you’re stood outside the gothic castle you’ve been questing towards for a month, and decide instead to teleport away to a desert! Hey, its what our characters would do!
None of this is rocket science, but it is some indulgent behaviour that sucks the fun out of a game.
Outside the game (and by that I mean, your actions around the table that are out of character), you can help build the fun by simply being self-aware.
As a start, it should go without saying that you consider the people around you and create an atmosphere where everyone is welcome and comfortable. Loads of this stuff is just basic – embrace deoderant, be a nice person to be near, don’t spread your shit everywhere and leave little room for everyone else, make sure your language is suitable for the environment and the audience, be polite and considerate – especially if you’re playing in someone else’s home. Easy things, simple things, but things people miss out on nonetheless.
Another one of those most important fun skills is ‘Go/No-Go’ – knowing when to read the table and the situation, and adding to the discourse, or shutting your mouth. Here are some examples:
- You have a question, but the GM is still explaining the scene – do you wait (go) or interrupt them (no-go)?
- Someone is floundering when coming up with an idea – do you sit back and wait (no-go) or offer a suggestion (go)?
- Someone has made a great, solid contribution but you think they could do something better – let them have their moment (go) or intervene with your ‘better’ idea (no-go)?
- A player hasn’t really had a lot to do this game. You have a chance to choose a team mate for a mission? Them (go) or others (no-go)
Gamers can be excitable sorts and want to flap their gums at every given opportunity. Having the ability to just sense-check yourself and shut your mouth can enhance the game for everyone.
The final OOC fun skill I’ll mention is your role as a non-GM in aiding the GM. Years ago, a game designer called Matt West (of Omnifray fame) coined the term ‘A-Ref’ – a sanctioned assistant referee, who had certain jobs to do in a game alongside the main ref. Nowadays, I think there is a place for more than one player to take a little responsbility off the GM and help out. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as being the person who hands out the initiative cards in a game of Savage Worlds. Other times, it’s being a rule reference, or playing an NPC, or making snazzy character sheets. You still respect the boundaries of the GMs role, but offering to help out can just defuse some of the effort and make that role a little more fun too.
There are so many more behaviours that you can, as a player in a game, alter to make the game more fun. So much of it is about being aware of your own actions and how they impact the people around you, and then making changes in your play style to accommodate these. I’m aware that a lot of these are actually just avoiding bad behaviour, rather than adopting good behaviour, so in my next blog, I’m going to deep dive into the act of playing a character and how the way you go about that can enhance a game – Principle Three: Play Hard (with a Vengeance!)