So you read my post on things you should never do when playing Dungeons & Dragons? Of course you did, you’re a considerate gamer pitching for the peak of perfectionism at the table.
Now, how about things you actively should be doing? It’s been a while in coming, but finally here is my list of exemplary roleplaying behavioural traits to ensure you’re the first to be invited to any session.
Don’t expect anything here about optimisation or rules mastery, because being a great Dungeons and Dragons player is not about creating powerful PCs, devising smart-ass strategies or completing manifold quests – it’s about contributing positively to how much fun everyone has at the table.
10 Ways To Be An Awesome D&D Player
1. Make a Memorable Character…
Whilst combat and puzzles abound in Dungeons & Dragons, despite these strategic elements, at its heart D&D remains a roleplaying game. The game’s great players walk the worlds of the multiverse in the boots of unforgettable characters, heroes that we can visualise and believe in – often, by the way, more through their flaws and weaknesses than their actual heroic traits. Take the time to really think about who your character is and how they behave, fashioning a credible backstory that explains their nature and their values. Fifth edition is brilliant at encouraging this, and simply using the backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook, and the readymade traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, will give you loads of amazing material to work with; while considering your character’s childhood, education, employment, love life, as well as any key defining moments, will help you flesh out a truly 3d personality. This in turn brings flavour to the game, gives the DM plenty of adventure hooks to work with, and makes it easier for other players to understand and interact with your character.
2. …That Fits Into the Party
When starting a new campaign I like to get in contact with the other players on the table and check what character class they intend to play. I then usually choose a class that gives some balance to the party. If we already have a wizard and a bard, do we really need a sorcerer as well? The four unofficial, but widely accepted, roles of D&D are ‘tanks’ (usually martial classes that soak up enemy hits), ‘casters’ (wizards etc who do mass damage), ‘healers/buffers’ (clerics and bards who support the party with healing magic and support spells) and ‘skills monkeys’ (rogues who disarm traps and pick locks). Whilst you can rarely have enough tanks, and no one complains about having extra healers, it can be frustrating when two or more players are competing in the caster or skills monkeys roles. In general you need at least one of each to make a well-rounded party that will fare well in most classic D&D adventures.
3. …And Doesn’t Steal (All) the Limelight
I am a bit of power gamer, I have to admit, plus I like to play flamboyant, over-confident assholes (they have all the best lines)… BUT it’s really important, whoever you play, that you don’t place yourself at the centre of every situation. Because when you do so you’re effectively stealing game time from your fellow players. Whilst there are naturally louder and quieter personalities at the table, just because one person shouts out at the first opportunity, whilst another patiently waits to hear the DM and the rest of the party out, doesn’t mean the quieter one doesn’t have anything to say at all. They nearly always have their own opinion, plan or course of action in any given situation, so if you’re a naturally gregarious person just be sure you’re giving the less boisterous party members plenty of space to express themselves.
4. Ask Your Fellow PCs Their Opinion
Speaking of which, when was the last time you stopped to ask others for their thoughts, or their proposed course of action? Often we naturally get carried away and speak directly to the DM, telling them what our PC is going to do… without consulting anyone else. But D&D is a team sport, the ultimate goal of which is the involvement and enjoyment of everyone. So next time you’re at the table and a problem presents itself, ask a player who hasn’t said anything for a while, what they think, and go from there. (Note: DMs, you have even more opportunity to ensure that everyone is involved, by going around the table and asking everyone in turn what they are thinking, or what their PC is doing. Especially if you see some players are being left out and not getting involved enough).
5. Make Plans Based on Others’ Abilities
So you’ve tracked the hydra to its lair, discovered the back entrance and rolled a successful Nature check to recall that doing some fire damage each round will be key to winning the battle. Now it’s time to plan the great assault. Yes you could just go in there and smite the shit out of it because you’re playing an overpowered paladin, but you’ll prove a lot more popular if you not only canvass everyone else’s opinion on the best course of action (as per above point), but even better suggest ways of bringing other PCs’ skills and abilities to the fore within your battle strategy. Giving everyone an important job in the fight to come will make it an unforgettable encounter. Do note though, some players don’t like being told how to use their powers… make sure any suggestion is just that. Don’t make everyone else the pawns in your masterplan, without any free will or creative input.
6. Get Emotionally Invested in the Other PCs Too
Caring what happens to your character is what makes D&D such an emotional and tense game. You want them to succeed and to grow, and whilst you’re willing to throw them into some risky situations (they are heroes after all!), you really really don’t want them to die. You’ve got to know them so well that you care about them and will miss them if they’re gone. But what about if you start caring for other people’s characters as well? Then you feel even more tension and even more involvement in the game, as you’re not only waiting with nervous anticipation during your turn, but during others’ turns as well… will that rakish but loveable rogue pass their saving throw against the dragon’s breath weapon or is he about to become swashbuckler toast!? Not only that but caring about the other PCs in your party will foster a sense of teamwork and improve everyone’s enjoyment of the game. Some tips on how to get invested in the other PCs on the table would be a) ask them about their PC’s backstory (do this in character for even more effect!) b) create roleplaying opportunities that allow others to get in character c) thank a PC (in character) when they save your life, remember it, and make it part of their relationship. That’s the kind of thing that builds bonds, especially if you are roleplaying well and not just treating combat as a mechanical exercise of different entities reducing one another’s hit points to zero. One other cool thing I did recently was link my PC’s backstory with another’s (I should note here, this was my friend Mark’s idea!), so from the beginning of the campaign we had a tie and some mutual emotional investment that build extra interest in the game.
7. Be Prepared / Equipped
There’s nothing worse (there are in fact millions of things worse, but still…) than arriving for a much-anticipated D&D session and then wasting the first half an hour as more as people start to research the ramifications of levelling up their character. No they don’t have a Player’s Handbook, nor a pencil, nor an eraser. Similarly you reach the last PC in the initiative chain and they still haven’t figured out what they are going to do, and start canvassing the table for their opinions on various spells the mechanics of which they haven’t bothered to look up until now. Of course we all need a bit of thinking space from time to time, and a chance to refer to the rulebooks, and certainly newbies can be considered exempt from this point of etiquette, but when you’re an established player knowing your character’s main abilities and spells should be a given, and arriving with your character sheet, and your own pencil, eraser and preferably dice and Player’s Handbook, should not be too much to ask either. (When I turn up to football practice I bring my shorts and boots, and don’t turn up late and then hope someone else has a spare pair!).
8. Concede the Point
It’s fine to argue with the DM, up to a point. When a ruling goes against you make your case, without getting angry or confrontational. Hopefully the DM will be flexible to your point of view. But understand as well, that in this abstract game of imagination what one person sees happening is quite different to what another might conceive… and ultimately the one thing that ruins the game for everyone is a lot of protracted arguments with the DM… so if the DM ain’t for changing their mind, just accept the decision (you don’t have to agree with it!) and get on with things. As a DM when I get in these situations I find a good compromise is a roll… if for example a player thinks he has line of sight through a dense forest to cast a spell, but you disagree, give them a Perception check with a tough DC, instead of a flat no.
9. Cut the DM Some Slack
Speaking with my DM hat on now, most of us are not Matt Mercer, and not even close. We make mistakes, get frustrated, make bad calls etc.. But we are also the guys and girls that make the game happen in the first place, and there’s a lot to be said for that. The hours and dedication it takes to be the DM often get taken for granted. You would never accept an invitation to a friend’s party and then complain the beers they provided weren’t cold enough, the company didn’t do it for you, and you didn’t agree with their music choice. Sometimes, what you thought was going to be a legendary party turns out to be few dudes drinking cheap beer around the kitchen table, but that’s life. You have to accept when the DM doesn’t manage to bring the A game, and be content with the fact that you’re still having fun with your friends, and that the next one will most likely be awesome.
10. Show Some Love & Manners
Related to the above, it never hurts to thank the DM for preparing and running the session – and often that alone is enough to motivate them to keep doing so. Bringing food and drinks to share, maybe even paying for the DM’s takeaway pizza between the players, as well as offering to host the session at your house occasionally are all examples of great etiquette amongst D&D players.
So there you are… follow these rules to become the most popular gamer in town. And if this list seems a bit intimidating, don’t worry, I’ve broken all these rules myself many times and haven’t been kicked out of my gaming group (yet!). But it behoves us all to keep on improving, so I hope this post inspires you to become the best possible roleplayer you can be.
And make sure you share it with the other people at your table, so it’s not just you upping your game!
As I mentioned earlier, I also wrote a post of things a D&D player should never do, which is also worth a read.
Finally I compiled all my player tips (so far) on this page. Subscribe in the sidebar to ensure you don’t miss the next post.