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Are You A Good Player?
In the past decade of TTRPG’s there has been a movement, a movement towards making the Gamemaster1, a better Gamemaster, a push away from the “Gamemaster is in charge, love it or leave it.”, to what it should be, that the Gamemaster is a player like any other that they are an equal to the rest of the group, and no longer a grim tyrant. This is indisputably a good thing, as a long-time GM this movement has done nothing but improve my situation, and has led me to be more confident in answering that ever-constant question from new to your group but not new to the hobby friends. “Are you a fun GM?” “Are you a good GM?”
So I have a question, for the players in this audience, are you a good player2? Are you a Fun Player? Because let me tell you, reader, from my side of the table, I have had a lot of fun players, and very few good players. I have had players that I would invite back to my table in an instant and players who I didn’t, and never once did I see an article “8 Tips To Instantly Improve Your Playing.”
But that’s the rub isn’t it, I can argue against the eternal authority of brutal “My way or no way.” gamemasters, but half the time, GM advice boils down to only giving the players exactly what they want and letting your wants as a GM fall by the wayside, or encouraging you to be flexible. Who among us hasn’t heard the “Don’t say No.” principle of good gamemastering, who hasn’t read “Let the Players Control the Story.” in a listicle? These are both excellent pieces of advice in a vacuum, but I do think that it’s strange that we don’t offer such demanding advice to players.
The Gamemaster may be a player, but they sure do a lot of work don’t they? I don’t think there is a point here in trying to argue the difference in work between Players and Gamemasters, if you don’t see it, this article certainly won’t make you. The Gamemaster is expected at minimum, to prepare NPC’s, prepare a plot, understand the game, usually understand the game well enough to teach it, to be able to recall an encyclopedia of rules or make a ruling that is fair and fun on the fly, and a lot of Gamemaster advice in systems literally boils down to “Here’s tricks and tips to make these parts easier.” The players are often expected simply to portray their character and know the basic rules that apply to them3, and more systems are splitting that authority up, but not the responsibility.
Why is it that only the gamemaster is expected to hone this skill, to do even more work to improve the experience? Is the player incapable of doing so? Does the Good, Fun Player not make a difference?
If you have played with Good Players or Fun Players, you know that in fact, they are both capable of doing so, and it does markedly improve the game for everyone4. These folks did it without asking, realized that if we are going to acknowledge the role of the Gamemaster as just a Player+ and push them to be more knowledgeable and flexible, and offer as many think pieces and guides as are offered, then it is only fair that everyone else at that table gives efforts and takes on responsibility.
So, maybe I’ve changed your way of thinking and you are weeping and beating your chest, wondering if you are a Good Player, demanding to know what sets Good Players apart from Bad Players. Truth is, I don’t know, ask your GM, that answer might seem like a bummer, but in truth what I consider a good player might not be everyone’s forte, and that isn’t the point of this article.
If you really want to be a Good, Fun Player, find a niche that you can help fill (after talking to your Gamemaster, and if they are receptive) and fill it. If your group needs a combat captain to help players understand what they can do in their turn and you can do it, do it. I am not telling you to go out and find a job that you find thankless and hateful and ruin everyone’s fun with it, but if you want to do more, I am confident you can find something that you can do without hurting your enjoyment.
Now, I am not telling everyone reading this that every player in every room needs to be perfect, and I am certainly not arguing for a return to the idea of the Gamemaster’s absolute authority. I am just asking a simple question if you met a prospective new Gamemaster, how would you answer if they asked? “Are you a Good Player?”
7,100,000 hits on search engines asking “How to be a better Gamemaster”, and 892,000,000 using the dragon game-specific term.
7,920,000 asking “How to be a better ttrpg player”, and 135,000,000 using the dragon game
And many of them don’t even know those.
Whoever you thought of when you read this line? They are one of the two.