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Writings > Dragavan's Den (closed) > 14: The Players' Role
14: The Players' Role
Published by Dragavan on 2007/10/17 (6849 reads)
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The Players' Role

What is the Players' Role Within Role-Playing

Most games heavily talk about the job of the GM (or DM, Storyteller, Referee, Director, or whatever they call it), and all the things they are responsible for. What they don't seem to spend much, if any, time talking about is "what is the job of the players in an RPG?" Where are the guidelines for what is expected of the player? We have all sorts of rules explaining what they can play and what their characters can do, but not what they are supposed to do while playing them.

This question starts to touch on the idea of the Social Contract in gaming groups. What is the agreed upon "rules" of the group and what is done to violators? Most of the time this is not discussed in groups, but even then it does tend to exist to some level. The whole concept of the Social Contract in gaming is a subject all its own, but not what I wanted to cover at this time. This entry is supposed to be about the duty of the player and what is expected of them.

In general, players come to a game to make and play a character in the created world of the group, as set up and put into motion by the GM. I am talking about most RPGs here, not the more fringe ones that are GM-less or shared narrative games where all players share the duty of GM during the game (or even the ones where players don't play characters at all, but instead control aspects of the world space). Again, that whole area can lead to topics all their own, so just accept that the games I am talking about here are ones where you have a GM in charge and the players each run their own character... But is that all they should do?


Players are not just their characters. They are people sitting in the room with each other (or sharing virtual space if you play online) interacting on several levels and playing their characters in the game world. Through these interactions they do more than just share their character's actions in the game world, including some things that fall outside the game completely. Most groups are made of friends (of some level) who already interact beyond the game anyway, but even in the game space they do more than just talk in character. But should they be responsible to do more?

In the game market there are very few games that seem to touch on this subject. They mostly just talk about what players can do and not what they should do. They don't even give suggestions, options, or even hints as to how to handle things outside of the game world within the group. They tend to leave the mechanics of how a group works to the group itself, usually falling on the shoulders of the GM or the host if the game is regularly held at a specific house (often the same person). I can't even say I have done better with what I have planned for The Land of Karn.

There are a few games out there that do include mechanics to allow or even encourage players to interact outside of their character alone, but most of these are still about in game actions put in motion by the GM. Some games say that inactive players (having characters not involved in the current scene) should take on the roles of NPCs to help flesh out things for the others. This can be included just to allow them to be active all the time or as part of a system to have them help spotlight the characters who are active. It's this second part that touches on what I am talking about here.

Many people say it's the responsibility of the GM to make sure that everyone has fun, but what about the players? Sure, they are there to play a game and have fun, but shouldn't some of the responsibility for making it fun for everyone fall on them too? Shouldn't players do all they can to help spotlight each of their fellow players, even if it's not done as part of their own character's actions, in addition to enjoying the spotlight their characters receive? There is also the sharing of non-game information and making suggestions of things they can possibly do get more out of their experience.

Rather than playing everything close to the chest, share the game and support each other for the most excitement and fun. Players (and GMs) should also lose the competition mentality and see the whole thing as a shared experience, where they are all responsible for creating the enjoyment of everyone. Do what you can to see that everyone has fun and gets what they want out of the shared experience.


What can be done to ensure this shared experience is a good one? I will try to cover a few ideas I have, but I am sure I am only scratching the surface. Feel free to comment and add your own ideas of how Players and GMs can make games more enjoyable for all involved, without ruining the format of the games they are playing. The point of this is not make all games freeform story games, as not everyone enjoys those, but just opening up the gaming groups to ensure that everyone has a good time.

One of the simplest things a player can do to support other players and make things for fun for them is encouragement. Make sure to congratulate them when they do something you think is cool or that excites you. When they are trying to pull something off, give them your well wishes and "you can do it" type encouragements. If you really want to go all out, offer some kind of rewards or prizes for certain types of things, perhaps even on a per-session basis. These can be as simple as an MPV award or even broken down into specifics, like "Best plan" or "Best line" or anything else you want.

As mentioned before, the idea of helper NPCs being handed off to players who are not active in a scene can make things more fun for all. As long as they go into it with the mentality that they are there to support the scene and help spotlight the active player characters, this can be a great way to keep everyone involved and having fun. It should not be over used and the GM should not hand off truly important NPCs to other players, as they need to be there to handle plot related information. But who cares if the shop keep is GM run? What about that street urchin leading them to their meeting? Or the pilot of the transport they are using?

If somebody's fun seems to be waning over the course of a longer campaign, as if they are losing interest in their character or have a loss of direction, you can talk outside of the game world about ideas you have for where their character can go. Help them figure out what they want to do with their character's growth and then spend some game time helping them move things in that direction. If it's not the character they are having issues with, help them figure out what it is and do what you can to make it fun again.

Most of all this comes down to one thing, communication. Players (and the GM) should talk about what is happening in their games and make sure everyone is enjoying things. This is good advice in a lot of areas, not just gaming, but can really help a group maintain everyone's enjoyment. Share and help others to share so everyone stays on the same page.


Does this mean that every gaming groups should behave the same? Not at all. I am just saying that players should look to be more involved in the enjoyment of the other players than just their own. This doesn't have to be the same way in all groups, but should exist to a level that works with the group you are in. This is going to be very different in a hard-core hack-n-slash group than it will be in a free-flowing story games group, but the essence is the same.

I do believe that it is not just the responsibility GM to ensure the enjoyment of the group, but it comes down to every player as well. That is the Role of the Player, to be a part of the group and make sure everyone has a good time while playing their character. I am lucky to have a group that seems to do this rather well for the most part, but I am sure that even we can do a better job of this. I am sure the same can be said for most of your groups. So get out there and make it happen. Have fun. It is a game after all.

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