Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Advice for Everyone

DMing advice is common. Advice for players, less so, though Rise Up Comus has an interesting recent post on the subject, with more here

What is noticeable about these kind of pointers is that they tend to revolve around the question of how to play the game well ('solve questions orthogonally'; 'here are some tips on looking for secret doors'). We can call this kind of advice interior in that it involves what happens within the framework of the game itself.

Jordan Peterson (yes, I know: boo, hiss - just hear me out) made a very insightful comment in an interview with, I think Sam Harris. To paraphrase, there are two ways of being good at a game (let's say, five-a-side football or hockey or chess) when you are a kid. You can be the best at the actual game itself on its own terms. Or you can be somebody who it is very enjoyable to play the game with. These are two different things and are often, indeed, at odds with one another: the kid who is best at five-a-side and knows it is often the last one that other kids will spontaneously invite to play with them. What is probably better, in the grand scheme of things, is to be 'good' in the sense that it's fun for other people to have you involved - that is the way to make and keep friends and influence people. 

I think this is almost certainly true. Although every professional sportsperson you could name was probably in the other camp and was willing to sacrifice friendship in order to be 'the best' (and did very well as a consequence), we don't pay much attention to the many thousands of their failed fellow travellers who would probably have been better off being 'good' at playing in the sense to which Jordan Peterson was referring. Genuine individuals with faith in their own talent are free to do what they like, but society, as they say, should back the field. 

There is space also, then, for exterior advice - how to be a good player in the sense that it is nice to have you involved. I think this would include, for example:

  • Don't have your cellphone handy - concentrate on what is happening at the table
  • Listen and pay attention even when your PC is not the centre of the action
  • Take notes and appear engaged
  • Ask the DM if you don't understand something
  • Prompt the other players for their ideas, especially the quiet ones
  • &c.
There will of course be others.

The question then becomes: is there a relationship between interior and exterior advice? I think that there is. Engaging in trying to play the game well in the interior sense can, in the right balance, bring exactly the right sort of energy and buzz to the table, and thus make one valuable to have around. Being good at the game is in other words a way of being good at playing. But be careful - because if you try to play the game too well, just like the kid who can't stop scoring goals at five-a-side, you may end up getting a reputation. 

11 comments:

  1. I think one difference is the lack of competitiveness in RPGs. Most games you play as a child have winners and losers - and while it's ok to lose sometimes, even most of the time, people get bored if they lose every time (I've even seen this behavior in cats and dogs). RPGs, however, are usually a cooperative experience. It's hard for me to imagine a "best" RPG player who people don't like to play with - in what way are they the best, then?

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    1. You've never been unlucky enough to encounter a player who always wants to be the centre of attention then! RPGs can be intensely competitive in the wrong hands.

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  2. "Don't have a cellphone handy" - great advice, but a lot of people these days have the attention span of a hummingbird - or are addicted to their phones.

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    1. I'm optimistic this will shift as people realise just how detrimental phones are - particularly to kids.

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    2. Same problem applies with computer screens though which, err, can be a problem when you're always playing online.

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  3. Yep, I've DM'd or played with several players who unambiguously played to "win", both in terms of killing everything and in terms of dominating the table. Not great.

    In a very real sense, tabletop games involve a kind of nested roleplaying. I'm rp'ing being a regular person, who is rp'ing being a good, likeable gamer, who is playing a halfling rogue (who may be rolling a bluff check).

    I've never really considered whether any of those nightmare players struggled with the cognitive load all of that quasi-deception generates.

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    1. That's a really interesting point about nested roleplaying, and about the cognitive load it creates, I'd never thought of it that way before.

      (And, thinking of my own experience of roleplaying which has almost exclusively been online these last few years, doing it remotely is a whole other level of cognitive load, and one which I could learn to deal with a lot better)

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  4. You make some good points. I think another part of being a ‘good player that is fun to play with’ is being considerate of everyone else at the table. Implied by the other things you said.

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  5. I would call the "interior" advice just soft skills in playing a game. I'm interested in those, too. It's like learning how to give a good presentation at the office or how to manage a meeting - these things can be learned and make you better at your job. You can do the same thing for your hobbies. You can be better at them as you play.

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    1. Yes, definitely. (The best 'meeting skill' is knowing when it's over.)

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