I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing many new players enter into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying games throughout my tenure of play. It always brings me a mountain of joy and glee when we get new players. Over time you begin to notice traits that make and break new players and even game masters. We all had to start somewhere, but sometimes the road does not need to be necessarily difficult. Many people are gifted Player’s Handbooks or core rule books to various roleplaying games whether by family members or friends. It is the first step to a wider and beautiful world of tabletop roleplaying games. Whenever you are introduced to a roleplaying game, there are phases that many prospective players undergo:
1. Curiosity Phase. You are so enamored by this mysterious tome that you received either by a friend, a family member, or you bought it yourself from an intrinsic curiosity from various media genres. You have heard about these epic tales of magic and sword play, of guns and tech, of werewolves and vampires. Often times a new prospective player will spend much of their free time deep within the pages of the core rule book. The weird jargons and pages of tables and charts. But most importantly, they are mesmerized by the glorious artwork by the various fantasy artists of a window into whatever fantastical setting the owner bought.
2. Search Phase. Some new players are fortunate and are with a group of friends that either were invited or decided to enter the enterprise together. But for those less fortunate, often times the new player must find their way into groups and meet potential strangers. It can be a harrowing experience for new players. New DMs may sometimes be not so blessed to have a group of friends to play immediately, but with the advent of online roleplaying platforms like Roll20, there are other various free services as well. There are also play-by-post forums that even let DMs and players compose prose for their adventures. But the most important advice: go in with an open mind and don’t be nervous, you’re there to have fun.
3. Excitement Phase. Regardless of previous phase, all players experience this particular phase quite often. For new players, it’s always something new and different, the uncertainty offers mystery and wonder. Some players get the opportunity during this phase to build perhaps their first character; for new DMs, this phase is often filled with excitement and terror as their first session approaches. Everyone often gets nervous during this phase, don’t fret, everyone starts out new in the beginning. You will learn the basic rules as you play, but it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize the rules just in case.
4. Play Phase. That penultimate moment, when you play with your friends in a world far removed from this flimsy mortal coil. Where the limits are only bound by your imagination and the possibilities are virtually endless. This is a powerful and pivotal time for all players and game masters, this singular phase can deter, discourage, and even lead some to contempt for roleplaying games. It’s a double-edged event. I have seen players and game masters quit after a disappointing or bad first experience. Veteran or semi-new players: Be nice. You were once new too, don’t forget that. Everyone wants to play and have fun too.
5. Legend Phase. This phase is reserved when a player survives their first session (either as a player or a game master) and the develop the most important characteristic any player will never need. Excitement. Excitement for the next game, excitement to learn what happens next in the adventure, excitement to the uncertain. The spirit of an adventurer, if anyone ever needed to describe this sort of sensation. As a Dungeon Master, this is the sort of emotion you wish to carve into your players, this sort of excitement and energy is what drives unique experiences that you will never find in the confines of a video game. As the player, this feeling is always “when’s the next game?”, for the dungeon master, this is the most rewarding feeling, I believe, to ever receive.
Now that we covered the various phases of the life of a new player (and even new DMs), let’s keep in mind of a few nuggets of wisdom for even veteran players.
- Be respectful of your groups beliefs. I’ve had people play races or genders that we’re not there own, performing the occasional stereotypes or off-handed remarks. There’s no need for that sort of behavior. Let’s be courteous to each other.
- Keep side chatter at a minimum, or keep the noise level low. It’s one thing to have conversation during a session, and asking questions among your group mates is fine. But when it starts to become disruptive or loud to a point that your DM has to either stop or talk louder to get the narrative across, that’s when it becomes a problem. So just be mindful of the chatter. Not saying it’s bad, just don’t be too disruptive.
- Become familiar with your character sheet’s layout. While in the spirit of fun, it’s good to be prepared when you play. For a player, that means at least familiarizing yourself with some basics of the rules and your character sheet. Know your character and their abilities, that is your responsibility as a player. Your Dungeon Master is not some omnipotent being (though we like to believe are), if you have an item or ability that saves you from a dreadful effect, it’s your responsibility to remember that you have it on your character sheet. If you don’t mention it, you don’t have it. It’s that simple.
- Characters are just your character sheets. Now, while I did mention being familiar with your character sheet, that is not the end of it. Remember, you as the player are playing characters that are your own. Do not be afraid to ever change the flavor to suit your needs, mechanics are one thing, but it’s all about how you envision this character you have built. A character shares a part of your being, YOU ARE YOUR CHARACTER. Your character is not limited to just your sheet.
- Dungeon Masters, expect the unexpected. Players will always surprise you. The players are free to make their own choices as their characters, keep notes on the side, let the plot be loose so you can facilitate ideas and side quests in between major plot points. This allows for you to gently slide the party back along the major plot. This is the reason why you and your friends chose to play a roleplaying game, for the very nature that there are varying paths and options and the freedom of choice. DON’T RAILROAD them, give them options. Keep notes of possible paths and options, as well as potential plot hooks to toss in when the narrative reaches a mute point.
- Ask questions. Either as a player or a DM, it’s important that everyone always ask questions, for clarification purposes. For players, ask questions about the environment, about details, or even about simple things like the weather or the season the characters are adventuring. For DMs, it’s important to always ask questions, both to understand the intent of the players and their characters. It’s also important for the dungeon masters to converse with their players outside of the game, both to assess what sort of motivations and paths the players foresee or wish to do for their characters.
- Yes…and? For Dungeon Masters, it’s sometimes hard when the players try to do something that goes against all their plans, as mentioned in advice #5, the players will surprise you. With that in mind, the Dungeon Masters should never punish players for being clever when it comes to dealing with obstacles or enemies. Go along with it when your party decides to go through this long convoluted process to climb a wall. If there is ever a chance of success or failure, make sure to describe it in the most epic of ways. But there times when there needs to be a “NO” said, not often but oftentimes it’s really more like, “not yet but close”. The important lesson is to be flexible.
- Danger is good, total-party-kills are sometimes needed. The dread TPK (total party kill), some DMs and players detest the notion entirely, others embrace it and heavily encourage it. It creates this odd DM vs. Player dynamic that I personally find counter-intuitive to the spirit of a cooperative storytelling experience that generally is garnered when playing a tabletop roleplaying game. Now I did not say that a TPK should never happen, it still very well can happen, especially when the party puts themselves in a situation. A situation maybe be during a battle they are suppose to lose, the environment (but generally that can be minimized), or some situations poor dice rolls. For latter, it happens and we have to accept that possibility, but sometimes it can avoided. Such dire consequences enhances the immersion to the world the players are in. If your party consistently dies as a whole, that might be a player issue and less a DM issue (or conspiracy).
- Rules are important, but so is fun. There will be times (especially for the Dungeon Master) where the rules either do not facilitate a particular action a player’s character may wish to undertake, or there may be no rules or advice on how to handle such a scenario. That’s OK. Do what you think makes sense, the rules are guidelines of fair play for everyone in the group (players and DMs). But the Dungeon Master is the final word for any rulings. There are players that known as “rules lawyers” who know the inside and out of every rule, which is good to help dungeon masters when they forget or if they are new. But that does not mean the rules are the final law of the land, the Dungeon Master is the final authority when it comes to a ruling question. Players should respect the ruling whenever possible, there is no need to go into a debate about it. Dungeon Masters should not use the rules to punish the players either, just because it’s the rules does not mean you have to throw the hammer down and crush your player’s creativity.
- Have fun. This is the entire point of playing a roleplaying game. It’s just a game. Granted it can feel and be more invested than some other games if you and your fellow players allow it. The important lesson out of here would be that all the players want to spend time doing something they enjoy and hopefully in the company of people they enjoy. Stop with the egos and just let the imaginations run wild, the most rewarding experience out of the game is always wondering where the story will go next, and have stories to carry with you for years down the road. I still have stories from my early days, they are the best memories, most of them involved the near death of the party but the laughter and jokes that came from those memories are embedded into my life. That is the sort of experience any dungeon master and player would ever hope to acquire when they play.
There are numerous sources and videos out on the internet for tips and tricks for both Dungeon Masters and Players. Geek & Sundry has a myriad of videos and articles to help players and dungeon masters. There are also various twitter accounts that post tips for roleplaying games every few days (or if you follow enough of them, you get tips everyday). Playing a roleplaying game comes with a learning curve, but once you get the basics down, the rest just comes from the interactions and fun.