spidermangreatpowerresponsibility I’ve recently completed a move to Mississippi and I have two new groups of players in two very different games. I’m running a very new player friendly game for some people who are unfamiliar with role-playing in general, and I’m running a somewhat advanced game with a mix of experienced players and new to gaming players.

As I get used to the new play styles, I’m noticing some interesting things about the groups. The game for the new group is tailored towards teaching what role-playing is and is very relaxed and story driven. It is very free-form and collaborative, but at the same time very guided by me to let them explore the elements of gaming. I notice them being a little lost as to what they can do at times, and I’ve been working to help them over these humps of inexperience. They aren’t used to the concept of tracking loot or keeping a list of what is going on from session to session, so I make sure to get that written down for them so they can remember it for next time. Every session shows them picking up a bit more of what gaming is and doing a bit more for themselves, but there are still many areas they shy away from.

The other group, however, is a mix of players both experienced and new. I’ve been amazed watching how they grab different elements of the game to take under their control. One person has been filling up my wiki’s NPC list like crazy – full of detail and ready made hooks. Another person has been taking detailed notes of the session, keeping things on track. Another has been digging into the roleplaying and helping to move the story along. I barely have to plan anything, I just let them lead me along and help solidify the central plot. Usually I work out systems to help engage the group and reward initiative like this, but this group is gung ho on everything.

I look at these two different groups and I compare them to my previous group back in Ohio. We had a groove going, we knew what we liked and what the responsibilities were. I knew what to expect from the players and felt pretty settled in how they did things and which players would work in what ways. I knew what techniques to use to engage them and where to step back and let their enthusiasm run wild.  In some ways, my mind got settled and assumed the things we did in that group were pretty standard for gaming groups in general, even if my logical side knew that idea was bunk.

This reflection on  how the players of each group have been interacting differently makes me wonder, what exactly can we expect from players? What are the players responsibilities in the game? Obviously this question is a bit loaded. Player responsibilities will change from group to group and each group has a particular play style. So that’s why I want to open this up as a question to you:

What do you expect from your group? What responsibilities do you expect, or at least feel, players should take on?

Is it their responsibility to fill in the details of NPCs they want included from their back-story? Is it a players responsibility to keep track of the loot they acquire? What things do you wish your players would do? What are you frustrated about that they don’t do? With the wide range of diversity in GMs and Gaming styles here on the stew’s community, I can’t wait to see what responsibilities and roles players fill at our tables.

17 replies
  1. Clawfoot
    Clawfoot says:

    Honestly, as a GM, I don’t require much beyond the basics. I expect my players to arrive for the game on time. I expect them to play in good faith. I expect them to have their character sheets and dice with them. I expect them to know enough about their characters in order to play them (personality and name are the very minimum requirements). I expect them to learn what their characters can do and what equipment they have. I expect them to know the basics of (or at least learn as we go) the game system. That’s it.

    Everything else is gravy to me. I certainly *encourage* players to define their character’s histories and families and to incorporate them into the game world. I LOVE it when players hand me stuff they’ve written about the game or their characters, whether it’s just a little ficlet or a multi-page character survey. I love that stuff, and use as much of it as I can in the game.

    I do try to impress upon my players that they’ll get out of the game what they put in. I have one game with four players who are all very different when it comes to this stuff. Two players have handed me character histories rich with hooks and interesting NPCs, and two have done nothing other than show up on time with their character sheets. I know little about their characters other than what’s on those sheets, their names, and what they’ve said in game. The plots I’m running for the group are weighted heavily towards the two characters for whom I have something to work with. I won’t *require* the other two players to write out character backgrounds (they’re already having fun, so who am I to obligate them to put more work into it?), but I have mentioned that if they’d like an adventure that ropes their characters in on a personal level, I will need at least something to work with.

    But if they don’t, and they’re happy to tag along on the adventures? Then I’ll use what happens in game to rope them in more (they’ve already made good friends with an NPC; a relationship I can use later). I’m certainly not going to tell them that they HAVE to do more.

    • danroth
      danroth says:

      The only thing I expect from my players is to know the rules, especially of skills/abilities/powers/etc. that the character uses frequently. I don’t expect them to have everything memorized, but at the very least have a “cheat sheet” on hand and a basic sense of what to do.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      Yeah, it was one of the things that shied me away from playing D&D 3.5, 4e, and pathfinder. I’ve ALWAYS been horrible with loot. It just gets so complex and rarely makes for interesting narrative elements.

      • Scott Martin
        Scott Martin says:

        I created a spreadsheet to track our group loot in our Kingmaker game, including listed the “awaiting payment” and “expected sale price” for a few items. For a few sessions, at low level, it wasn’t bad–and, since our characters all had things we wanted, doing a little work to know how soon we could afford our masterwork equipment dovetailed nicely with our character’s anticipation.

        I don’t want to track large hoards to the copper piece, and I wouldn’t mind if someone else maintained the spreadsheet, but for a while it’s okay. Conversely, just running a high level 3e spellcaster (without loot tracking or any extra burdens) burned me out on d20 for months, so I’m not always game.

        • Toldain
          Toldain says:

          I’d really be interested to know what aspects of running a high-level 3e spellcaster you found tiresome/stressful. Preparing spells? Needing to know so much about your spells? Writing scrolls? and so on. I’ve only done a very little bit of running a level 15 wizard.

          Furthermore, can you imagine any sort of tool/software/mobile app that might have made all this easier?

  2. BryanB
    BryanB says:

    I do expect players to know their characters abilities, powers, skills, etc. because I already have enough to track as it is and to my player’s credit they are usually on top of that responsibility.

    I also typically ask people to give me a paragraph or two of bio info on their PC or go about the answering of some key questions. I don’t ask for written novels here just something of a foundation for their character’s personality, formative years, or how they got to where they are at present.

    I have found that this simple biographical info can add great depth to a character. The character becomes something more than just stats, skills, and abilities. The results have proven time and time again that this really helps add fuel to the roleplaying engine. To me, this is a player responsibility. The more depth they have for their character, the more compelling their experience at the table will be.

    In other words, you will likely get more out of a game as a player when you put additional effort into it.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      What happens if it feels like they half assed the biographical info? I’ve had some players get really into that and some just leave it very basic. I’ve been okay with both because everyone has different play styles and win scenarios, but I also find myself paying more attention to those with more hooks for me.

      • Scott Martin
        Scott Martin says:

        Even half-assed, the bio provides you useful information. Though, like you, I do find myself “falling” for PCs who are better defined.

        Often, for everyone’s sanity (players and GM), I ask for limited information that can be expanded later. A 3x3x3 gives you enough NPCs for several story lines. Even a few bullet points is more than stats alone…

      • BryanB
        BryanB says:

        Well, people that aren’t interested in giving more than half assed or incomplete answers are probably not going to care much about the immersion aspect of the hobby. So it will probably be okay with them when most of the game’s development is centered around the two or three that did take the time to do it. A win-win I suppose for all concerned. 🙂

  3. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    I run games exclusively at my LFGS and so often have new players trying out. Read accordingly.

    1) Buy-in. If you are not “into” the game setting, please leave the table so someone else who is can join us.

    2) Know how your character works, and don’t expect me to keep going over the same bloody special rules particular to your character every damned game session.

    2.1) This goes treble if you are a spell caster. Don’t hold up the game while you deconstruct the minutiae of each spell looking for options during your combat phase. Do that between games, at home or on facebook or anywhere you like that isn’t at the table with six other people snarling at you to get a move on already.

    3) Come to the table with your game face on. Don’t come in drunk or stoned, remember your dice and other supplies but most of all remember your character sheet for Gygax’s sake!

    4) There’s an old rule that says if you sit at a game table and cannot spot the d*ckhead, it’s you. There’s a lesser known corollary: If it seems like *everyone* at the table is being a d*ckhead, maybe the problem isn’t them.

    5) If everyone else is attempting to stay in character, don’t be the one who isn’t doing that, even if you aren’t able to “do the accent”. If you absolutely cannot play in first-person, play consistently in third person character. Don’t break everyone else’s immersion. (see rule 4).

    6) If you can’t make the date, please let someone know so we don’t hold the game waiting on you.

    7) Bathe. Dear Azathoth on a bike, I shouldn’t have to say this to people over 18 but there’s always someone who finds the concepts of showering and soap to be alien. My LFGS started *selling* soap as a hint to some of the customers (who still didn’t get it).

    8) If you have a problem, feel you aren’t getting enough GM time, can’t hear the GM because you are seated too far from me or any other of the gazillion things that can needle a player, call for a break and speak to me. I can’t fix it if I haven’t spotted it going wrong and expecting me to use The Force is just silly, even if we are playing Star Wars.

      • Roxysteve
        Roxysteve says:

        How I handle it:

        Bear in mind that because I run in a LFGS for a game to run at all there must be some people who want to play badly enough to make the time and who’ve said so on the store’s meetup site, so the “people” who won’t adhere even loosely etc are generally “person”. I give two cases for each in my quick answers to your question, that for the one person case and that for the “just about everyone but the GM” case.

        Rule 1).
        1 person: I have a quiet word to one side with the “offender” and try and get to the root cause of why they aren’t fitting in. One thing’s for sure; the game ain’t changing to accommodate one out of four-to-seven players.

        Everyone: Man the lifeboats, abandon game! Someone else can run for a bit (fat chance).

        Rule 2)
        1 person: Mockery. “A barbarian who doesn’t know how to cleave at level 6 should just give it up and become a herder of sheep.”

        Everyone: “Dear everyone, please find attached to this e-mail a handy little one-page explanation of that confusing rule about x distilled down to the essentials. Please keep it with your character sheet. If anything isn’t clear, please ask before the next session and I’ll clarify things” This is how I handled the baroque automatic weapon/feat combinations for Call of Cthulhu D20.

        Rule 2.1)
        1 person: A quiet word, with the suggestion they make notes on their spells for quick reference at the table. Persistent game stalling = last in the initiative round. I’m generally inclined to allow people to slow things down until “table justice” is meted out by fellow adventurers waiting for their turn.

        Everyone: Man the lifeboats, abandon game. If the magic is so unwieldy, lets play something else.

        Rule 3)
        1 Person: A very stern private warning that such behavior is intolerable.

        Everyone: No-one is in the mood to game. Anyone want to go to the pub?

        Rule 4)
        1 person: Simply re-state the rule when challenged. A disinvitation is a rare thing from me but has happened and is always on the cards for a disruptive individual.

        Everyone: doesn’t really apply.

        Rule 5)
        1 person: A quiet word (usually after having my ear bent by the other players).

        Everyone: Not applicable.

        Rule 6)
        1 person: A public reminder on the meetup on the accepted etiquette of last-minute bowing-out (happened again last week as a matter of fact. It’s usually a matter of a newbie not knowing the proper etiquette but I’ve had one person who was just being a total git for reasons no-one could fathom).

        Rule 7) Caveat: I run only for those over the age of 18.
        1 person: An immediate word to one side and ouster for that evening. There is no excuse for poor hygiene. If you cannot wash yourself you are not fit company, especially in a small room. Your freedom to stink ends at my breathing air.

        Everyone: I’m so out of there, and will ban every person present from future games I run. If asked I will state my reasons.

        One of the small game rooms in the LFGS reeked for a day after a group of teens used it to play MTG, and that was with A/C going full tilt and a liberal spritzing with Stench-B-Gon. We all know what many small game stores smell like 24×7, and the Gencon Fug is legendary. By all means walk around in a toxic miasma. Elsewhere.

        Rule 8)
        Self explanatory for all cases. If a player cannot communicate with the GM even in private over e-mail when asked directly if there is a problem (I always check the quiet players post-game) then it is their problem not mine. I’ll meet them halfway, but I’m not a therapist and can’t help someone despite themselves.

        The way I see it, everyone at table is there to have fun, and is at least on paper wanting to do so in a certain mode. If someone is making it not fun for everyone else, that has to be addressed.

        If no-one is having fun it’s time to switch games or GMs. I’m old enough not to take more than a quickly-passing offense from being asked to step away from he GM screen, and I’ve walked away from games I’m enjoying but at the cost of the GM or the other players because the Rules apply to me too especially Rule 4.

        I’m running Deadlands:Reloaded tonight at my LFGS. I shall be taking an hour out of my vacation budget to make the date on time, as I do every two weeks. I expect that if no-one can make it, they will have the courtesy to tell me and save me that hour of my valuable and in short supply vacation time.

        When I get there I shall excuse myself so I can freshen up and change my shirt in the store’s large bathroom, because Rule 7 applies to me just as much as to the others.

  4. Mutak
    Mutak says:

    I expect them to treat each other and me with respect.
    That should cover everything, but i usually spell it out a little more explicitly with a new group.
    Show up on time or warn me beforehand.
    Clean up after yourself.
    Play along with the setting and tone.
    Try to do things that make the game more fun for everyone else, not less.
    Don’t do stuff in or out of character that is likely to derail the whole game. If you think you have no other choice, think again, and if you still think that, talk to me about it before you declare it done.
    etc etc

    There’s a lot more that they can do to be really good players, but i don’t expect that – i encourage it.

  5. J24U
    J24U says:

    I’m fortunate in that the group I run for has been together for a long time (some of us as long as 20 years)and so everyone pretty much has the routine down and there are few problems when we game. However, I am moving 1500 miles away in October and this article is going to be useful for when I walk into a FLGS in Omaha and try to find new players to run for.

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