Joining or starting a new Dungeons & Dragons or table top RPG? Wanna make sure you have a great time? Here are 10 things to seriously consider as a player character (PC) or Dungeon Master before committing to the grand adventure. Some of them you might think are common sense but you’d be surprised how many people overlook these important guidelines. I’ve been playing for years on both sides of the table and have found from my experience in the dungeon that a recipe for a successful RPG adventure isn’t quite as simple to achieve as some might be lead to believe. There are a lot of factors that seriously enhance or hinder the experience from becoming the ultimate form of escapism many of us role playing nerds deeply desire. So let’s get started!!
10. Like Minded Adventurers:
Ok, over the years I’ve learned this is easily one of the most important factors for having a truly amazing experience playing table top RPGs. It’s extremely important to really think about just who it is that you’ll be spending hours of your time with trying to trudge through the dangerous and magical realms of the dungeon. I’m not talking about whether or not someone is going to be a wizard or a paladin. I’m talking about the real people you choose to add to the group or the group you join. Make sure everyone who’s joining wants the same thing from the experience.
It’s totally cool to have a group of people who’re getting together to party, hang out and casually roll some dice BUT if you’ve got a mixture of people, some who’re looking to pay attention to the details and really immerse themselves into the story you’re likely to have some unhappy campers among the group. This can also be extremely frustrating for the DM when preparing specific details & important plot points to have a crew of people partying too damn hard to remember what happened the prior week. Make sure everyone in the group is looking for a similar experience. Whether it’s a lighter party style game or a more serious role playing session. Talk this over before starting and maybe keep the first adventure short with a new crew to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you don’t address this it could make for some awkward moments later down the line and likely some seriously frustrated gamers.
9. A Bad Ass Dungeon Master:
Of course this is a no brainer, the Dungeon Master or ‘DM’ is the whole universe in the RPG landscape so your game is only going to be as good as your DM allows it to be. As a first time DM you’ve got to consider that as fun as it sounds to be the big kahuna it can be A LOT of damn work! Aside from the fact that you’re responsible for entertaining a group of people for hours each session you’ve got to have a lot of patience as well. Doing it for years I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that players almost never do what YOU want or expect them to. The epic scene where they “battle your bad guy on top of the erupting volcano” you’ve been planning all week, forget about it!! The players rarely do what YOU want them to do and you have to be ok with that!! A great DM isn’t attached to his or her own narrative, they can adapt quickly to unexpected decisions that their players make while being able to let go of their structured vision of where / how their story plays out.
It’s important to have a strong grasp on the main goals of your game and equally important not to personally lead your player characters decisions to do what you think they should do. Let them take the reigns. The game’s best as an open world with your plot unfolding within it, where the players choices create action and reaction that affect them & the Dungeon Master’s outcome. The DM’s got to keep things interesting and also be aware of when the players are losing interest in aspects of the game at hand. Observing players body language is important, if battle’s been lagging on for hours, the DM has the power for example to make the bad guys retreat or have something exciting interrupt the brawl if you notice people bored. Some Dungeon Masters are more concerned with pleasing themselves than the people playing the game. There should be an equal balance. If you’ve got a bad DM your game is gonna totally suck. Make sure you’ve got at least a little faith in the person who’s running the game before you fully commit hours of your life to a campaign.
8. Find the Right Environment to Play:
Here’s another vital thing consider. Where is your group going to meet to play? It’s super important to find the best spot for everyone to feel comfortable and also get into the mood to lose themselves in the game. You don’t wanna meet up in a distracting environment where no one can concentrate. Find a quiet spot where you can dim the lights a bit or light some candles to set the mood. Try playing some soundtrack style music as well and avoid stuff that’s too distracting. It’s fun to be lost in the plot and there’s nothing worse in my opinion than scouring the dank dungeon for treasure to a ‘Green Day’ song under florescent lights.
7. Lose yourself in it all:
This is an incredibly important factor when dealing with the role playing side of an RPG! Sure we can all roll some dice and move our miniatures around on a battle grid until the cows come home BUT what makes D&D different from a game o’ Monopoly is the role playing aspect of it. I think what really makes it truly unique is acting out your character whether you’re a PC or the Dungeon Master. As a DM offer extra experience points for players who’re immersed in the role playing aspect of the adventure at hand. Say a character goes the distance to reveal aspects of her unique backstory to the group around the campfire or strikes up conversation at the local tavern that leads him into a dangerous romantic side story with one of your NPC’s. There’s an important part of letting go to achieve the ultimate role playing experience. Let your character’s personal flaws at times influence aspects of the game.
As a DM I also awarded bonus XP for any player who came up with a unique ‘new voice’ while playing in character. It made a world of difference to gameplay and also made the players become more comfortable with letting go during the adventure. It’s important as well for the DM to do the same with his NPC’s and really get immersed in the adventure as well. The DM & PC’s can also make things more interesting by describing exactly what is happening during battle. Rather than saying “I roll a critical hit on the night hag and do 20 points of damage” try something a bit more dramatic like ” I swing my blood soaked bastard sword while leaping & spinning simultaneously in the air, shouting at the top of my lungs “Die! You putrid vermin scum sucking wench!”. The DM can respond with something similar like “your sword slices & rips her green boil covered flesh as she shrieks in agony an explosion of blood bursts from her wounds drenching your armor”. Anyway you get the idea, it’s a great idea for the DM & the players to work off of each other to make the evening’s events more cinematic. The DM as well should always be focused on describing in some detail what the PC’s are seeing, smelling and hearing as much as possible. It’ll help everyone at the table lose themselves in the game..
6. Tell a Totally Epic Story:
This is one for the Dungeon Masters out there. It’s critical to know the basics rules of the the game obviously BUT you don’t need to memorize the whole damn rule book! The most important thing really as a DM is to have an excellent storyline planned. Whether you’re using a purchased campaign or you’ve gotten super creative and wrote your own adventure from scratch it’s clear a compelling story is a must to keep players into the game. Now some games may focus more on simple dungeoneering and be light on story, that’s fine but adding some personal incentive to role play will only make things that much better.Trust me, an intriguing story with NPC’s who have different personalities, desire and motives really spices shit up. Having a compelling villain who can really piss off your players adds an extra dimension to the experience as well. Just like in the movies an awesome or blah villain can really make or break a campaign and is a major part of an amazing story. Believe me, If the PC’s succeed in killing your sleezy, slippery, mega asshole of a villain they’ll all be on cloud nine in the aftermath of battle. The more your players really wanna kill the villain the more they’ll focus on the story and get into it. So don’t be afraid to let the bad guys be really BAD!
Keep your shit interesting but also understand that the players are going to be changing the story constantly with their decisions. It can be frustrating but it really does keep things exciting & challenging for the DM as well. I like to have a pretty loose storyline, where things can happen and change by the cause and effect of the players. Many DM’s stick to one solid narrative but I think it’s important to be able to adapt the story in the same way our decisions shape the real world. It keeps things interesting for both sides of the table and gives it a more real world feel when your decisions real can change the way future events in the plot go down.
5. A Sense of Trust & Honesty:
Another important aspect of is playing with people that you trust. There’s nothing worse than playing a game with people who break the rules or cheat. Why even play a game then? Getting a crew of people that you feel comfortable with is super important to having a great time on an adventure. Now that’s not to say playing a character with ulterior motives is a bad thing, as long as everyone trusts you respect the rules in the real life. The players and the DM should all have a similar chemistry and sometimes it takes a while to figure out if a crew is a good fit or not once it starts. Trust and honesty are a must among all at the the table. Have a little patience though with each other and try not to take anything personally outside of gameplay…
4. Calm Down, It’s Just A Game:
What’s most important about the experience of RPG’s is to HAVE. A. GOOD. TIME. If it isn’t fun then I highly suggest talking about why you’re feeling the way you do to the whole group if possible. I’ve seen people become aggressive and affect friendships in the real world because of the way things went down in the game. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it really is just a game!! We all can get caught up with wanting to win and many times when things don’t go as planned it can be really frustrating & disappointing. Also dealing with your character dying can be something quite emotional as well. It’s important for everyone to to be aware of that and to understand that some people take things a bit more seriously than others.
This is actually a good thing to talk about in the group before starting the first session, discussing what type of campaign you’re looking to play. Some have a DM that is really lenient and will let the players come back to life several times or fudge rolls to make sure that the player characters never have to deal with a major loss. Other DM’s play with more serious consequences to actions at times and recommend people have a back up character waiting in the wings just in case of a sudden tragedy. It’s good to discuss what sort of adventure is going to be played so no one is devastated if their character kicks the bucket unexpectedly. The main goal remember is for everyone to have fun – the players AND the DM. So both should be considerate of each others feelings when things don’t go as planned.
3. Calling it a Night:
When playing longer sessions it’s important to know when to call it a night. Sometimes shit during D&D can drag on way too long, people can be tired, bored or like we covered earlier, angry. Everyone should pay attention to the vibe of each session. If the DM isn’t in the mood to entertain a group on a particular night it then it’s probably a good idea to plan a different time to play instead. If a player isn’t in the mood either postpone the session or find out if that person minds if the group plays on without them. Some sessions I’ve been involved in have clearly gone on way too long as well as some campaigns in general.
If you notice people begin to talk about things other non related topics out of character often during the session it might be a sign that either it’s time to call it a night or perhaps try to move the action along. These sessions are time consuming and sometimes people just have other things on their minds. Rather than trudge through the night, sometimes it’s just best end the session early and just hang out or even find a good stopping point for an adventure that can be picked up at a later date. For planning long adventures it’s a good idea to separate it into two parts or a trilogy and take a break perhaps letting someone else in the group take the reigns as the DM for a different adventure.
2. Flexibility & Patience Among all Adventurers & Dungeon Masters:
When playing it’s vital that everyone has a certain degree of patience and flexibility with everyone at the table. Everyone learns things at a different pace and everyone has their own unique way of roleplaying. Some people love the combat aspect more than the roleplaying and vice versa. It’s important to remember that everyone needs to give and take a little for it to be a full on success. Both the DM & the players need to be able to be flexible with the decisions made. All people involved should be able to listen to each other’s ideas, whether it’s a player character debating the DM on a heroic action he’s attempting to pull off or the DM letting a player know that what they’re doing isn’t going to work.
Unless the actions are way too outlandish to translate into gameplay all parties involved should be open to trying to make a plan work within the confines of the rules. It’s important to be flexible with the rules as well. Often times “house rules” work best and can add an additional layer of fun to an adventure. Incorporating things like a crazy ‘critical chart’, homebrew characters & magic items, special actions, unique treasure etc all can make a groups experience feel more realistic and many of these ideas can be found easily online with a google search. Stick to the basics but also be willing to go out on a limb and try some wacky shit when the moment arises. Keep an open mind with the rules and be willing to bend them when necessary.
1.It IS a Game:
It’s great to not take anything too seriously while out of character. If everyone can separate themselves from the characters they play (DM included) it’ll make for a much more interesting experience. I think it’s a more immersive experience when the people playing it realize that there are indeed consequences to making risky decisions while in character. Remember it IS a game and the PC’s are essentially playing directly against the DM (and visa versa). While it’s important for the DM to be providing a fun filled adventure for the players it’s equally important for the DM to be having a great time as well. To do so BOTH sides I think should be strategizing against each other and trying not to pull their punches, as long as everyone is playing by the rules established agreed upon by the group. Many people have said to me that “it’s the DM’s sole job to make the characters happy, not to kill them!”. While I agree to a certain extent that there are indeed times for the DM fudge rolls, favor the player characters over the villains in the name of making sure all are having a good time, I think doing so should be done as little as possible. What fun is a damn game that you know you will never lose at anyway?
Part of the fun of an RPG is the realism and sense of danger that possibly lurks around the corner. If the players know that their character’s lives won’t be spared (for the most part at least) they’re likely to take their decisions a lot more seriously (Let’s face it sometimes rolling up a new character just plain sucks!). This injects a powerful sense of realism into it all, the stakes become much higher and ultimately you’ll have much more strategic gameplay from all involved. So yeah it is the job of the DM to provide the fun adventure, let’s face it though the DM has got to be involved in strategizing as well. Treating the experience as a true battle of wits will make both sides of the table try that much harder to succeed! DM’s out there-quit babying your player characters! If you’re gonna baby them a little just make sure they never find out about it! 😉