Each week, I am going to strive to provide a new tip or suggestion for either players or game masters – new and seasoned – to make the game more fun and balanced. These are areas where I will (and do) practice what I preach and I admire it in both players and game masters that I play with. Using all of these tips in the every game session may not be appropriate – but if you use them as guidelines I think you’ll find things more enjoyable for everyone at the game table.
The first of these that I find on almost every list like this is for both players and game masters – arrive prepared. But I’m going to translate what that means for me and my players and what it could mean for you and yours.
To both players and game masters arriving prepared means two things: arrive on time and bring your supplies.
Arrive on time –
I really cannot express how important this is on the morale of a group. Sitting in a game shop waiting for the rest of your party to arrive is about as stimulating as waiting in line for an amusement park ride. Sure you can entertain yourself for a while people watching and eating snacks, but it is a lot more fun when there’s no wait!
As a player, I try to arrive at the time the game master schedules the game to begin. The way I look at it, if you are mature enough to be gaming you really should be showing up on time – arriving too early makes the host feel rushed and too late forces everyone to wait on you. If I cannot arrive on time consistently, I’ll either ask the game master if he can reschedule the game so the other players aren’t waiting on me or – if it is a public game – consider finding another group that meets my time requirements.
As the game master, I arrive at least 15-20 minutes before my players are scheduled to arrive – 30 is even better. This gives me time to ensure that the table I want to use is vacant (and make other arrangements if it is not), buy myself some snacks and thank the owner (you do that, right? Right? Good.) before the players arrive. Before the game begins I have some setup to do. I review my notes from last session and my plans for this session to make sure nobody catches me by surprise later. Setting up the game mat and setting aside my miniatures for the night goes a long way, too – watching the game master dig through the basket of miniatures is like watching glue dry while a laryngitic barbershop quartet drags their nails on a chalkboard at a Justin Bieber concert in a slaughterhouse. I like to set aside the stats for all the monsters they will fight that night, with the miniatures to represent those monsters on top of them behind my screen. It doesn’t always happen, but boy do I feel slick when it does!
As the game master, do not punish tardiness (or absence); manage it. Things get in the way – life happens. And yes, it is very frustrating from both a player and a game master perspective. But you should never consider yourself to be responsible for punishing your PCs because of that. Even if they are abusing your kindness and being consistently late. You should manage it instead – if there is one individual in the group that is consistently late or missing too many games, ask that player if there is a better day or time that suits them and coordinate that with the rest of the team. If a player has a good reason to miss games and there is no way that it can be remedied – consider giving them a different role on the team. Instead of a full-time player – maybe assign them a NPC (non-player-character) role like a recurring townsperson or handing over control of a game master character on the nights that they can attend so they can still feel like a part of the team, without holding everyone else up.
Example: Recently, Leg Up spent about 2 years overseas teaching English and Kung-Fu up in the mountains. During that time, his housing situation was questionable so he obviously could not attend every game – and those that he did were accomplished via spotty internet connection through Google Hangouts. It was not the best solution – but it was the only way that we could keep the band together while he was globetrotting for Liu Kang. During this time, I asked him to help me plan out my games and write the story – using him as a spring board new puzzle ideas and plot twists. That way, he was still involved in the game – and when he could show up to games he knew enough about what was going on to control some of the night’s important game master characters and monsters. I also kept a game master character in the party – a loyal clone soldier who was assigned to their unit by the Senate to keep an eye on certain missions – that he could play if playing the “bad guys” got old. This way, Leg Up coming to a game was a welcome treat for the players instead of a drag on the party.
Bring your supplies –
As both a player and a game master, you are building the world around you like a carpenter. And just as a carpenter, you work together with other carpenters – your fellow players and your game master (a pairing I refer to as “the team”) – to shape and build something together. In this case, you’re building the world – and everyone on the team must bring their tools. The game master brings the raw material and a unique set of tools that I’ll cover in a future entry – but the players have tools too. And without your toolbox you are not really prepared to play. Unless it is a spontaneous game that you did not anticipate (which do happen, which is why I always have D6 in my car), you should have these things on you before you leave the house for a gaming session. I recommend dedicating a specific bookbag or briefcase to carrying these materials for each game you play.
Player Toolbox –
- Yourself – Leave the bad day at work and the argument with your girlfriend/parents/teachers in the car. This will let you enjoy the game more – but it will also mean that your team will feel more relaxed as well. Nobody wants to be around someone who’s complaining about family or work while they’re trying to relax and play.
- A Pencil and Eraser and some markers – Even if your game master provides them for you, bring your own. Pencils are far superior to pens in a pen and paper game, because you can erase mistakes. Some overhead projector or other fine-tipped washable markers are good, too. I like Crayola Washables because they’re fun and I’d appreciate if The Fez eased up off my back about it. You can write on a game mat with them, and also on the pages of those little plastic sheets in your folder.
- Pad of paper and sticky notes – I actually carry a little inexpensive journal for every character I play. I write bits of information about my character in it, clues that he finds, cool things that he does. Sometimes I’ll even keep a journal of what happens from my character’s perspective to keep it in context when I’m sorting through things later. I also jot down ideas for my own games, and things that I liked (or didn’t!) that the game master did, so I can improve on it in my own future games. Sticky notes make good bookmarks, they’re good for passing notes to the game master or other players (who can stick them in their folder to keep track of them) and for taking notes in a borrowed book without ruining it.
- Dice or markers – When you’re playing poker, you bring a deck of cards, right? Same principal. Again, a good game master will bring enough for everyone but you should have your own. The Fez buys a new package of dice for every character he plays – and if they don’t roll right for him the first night, he’ll buy another! On the other hand, I have been using the same set of white monopoly dice since my freshman year of high-school.
- A folder – Don’t knock the trapper keeper. But a good, old fashioned paper folder is just as good. Either way, invest in those plastic page covers that fit the binder. It’s easier than hauling around a hole punch for everything you need to put in it you can write on it with an overhead projector marker for tracking things like mana, hit points, willpower and the like.
- A copy of the rules – Seriously. Don’t mooch off the game master unless you absolutely have to. The game master needs that copy in front of himself for his own reference, and you should not rely on him to be your reference on core rules. If you can’t find or afford a hard copy of the book, ask your local game shop and they probably can (and you should probably get better at Google). If you can’t afford the hard copy, .pdfs can usually be found online for less – if not completely free. If the copyright allows, print out the key chapters (combat, character creation, the section covering your race, class and skills and magic if applicable) and bind them in your folder.If there’s some obscure rule or source material that your character concept hinges upon – make yourself two copies of the pages covering the relevant aspects and bring them to every game. One is for you, the other is a copy to hand to the game master when you start referencing obscure errata that he doesn’t know about.If your game master provides you a list of House Rules, bring a copy of those too. You’ll thank yourself.
- Your character sheet – I try to have two copies that I update whenever I level up. If I am going to miss a game, I give one to my game master so he has it in case something comes up. Digital character sheets and programs are great – but print two copies too. Batteries die and laptops get Mountain Thunder spilled on the keyboards – but paper copies are forever. Besides, having your phone/tablet/laptop on the table in front of you is just begging for distractions (see #1). Even if you give them a copy every game, do not rely on your game master to have an up-to-date copy of your character sheet. Bring your own or be ready to play with whatever out-dated mongrel he hands you.
- Blank Character Sheets – Characters die, Grape Fanta gets spilled and rips happen. Be ready.
- Anything the Game Master has given you – Got a cool note from the game master detailing some piece of your character’s past? A scroll prop with an abscure code written on it? A spell page from the necromancer in the last session? Don’t leave them on your coffee table – or next time, the game master might leave them too.
- Snacks and situational items – Have special dietary requirements? Bring snacks you can eat. A cold that’s got you blowing your nose? Tissues and hand sanitizer(for EVERYONE) and some disinfectant. Make a cool spell book prop for your mage? Or a cool picture of that new piece of gear? Better not leave them behind.
That’s it. 10 things you shouldn’t leave home without.
That wraps it up for Tip #1 – roll high and enjoy yourselves!