All this talk about D&D Next has me re-evaluating my time as a player. Getting ready for a new edition has me thinking about why I started playing, my earliest campaigns and characters and all of that. That trip down memory lane has brought me back to the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts, which follow the hilarious adventures of a group of Penny Arcade’s finest (and Will Wheaton) as they try and survive the world of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) 4e as controlled by Chris Perkins.
You would think that listening to people roll dice and play pretend would be boring, but it is the exact opposite. Listening to Gabe, Tycho and the others try to defeat vampires and solve puzzles got me thinking about the personae you often find around a gaming table. That mixture of personalities and quirks can make a game memorable or leave it in shambles.
We might all try our best to behave and slip into a sense of community while gaming, but inevitably we’re going to break a rule or two. Some of us are more adept at avoiding these pitfalls than others, and some gamers (you know who they are) are down right terrible. So here they are, in no particular order, the five worst offenses players can make during a game of D&D.
Your party just got into a conversation with the town guard and are rolling diplomacy and bluff checks. The bard is taking the lead (naturally) and your fighter, who can barely string two words together that aren’t “Hulk Smash!” decides to just sort of sit this one out. So you reach down and grab the cell phone, start clicking away and wait for something squishy to come along that you can stab. This might be the worst offense a player can commit. It totally removes you from playing and invariably you’ll look up and interrupt the game by saying, “wait, what’s going on?” That huffing sound the DM makes, right before they fill you in, it means you are loathed.
Sure, you might have to check a message now and then and yes, sometimes you’ll find a dead moment or two during a session, but once apathy creeps in, it can kill a game pretty quickly. It isn’t just restricted to checking messages. If you want to be at the table to game great, if not, don’t be there.
That might sound harsh, but having someone that is “just there to hang out” can kill a game too. Maybe you have a sibling or a significant other that wants to be involved, but not really play. That’s all well and good, but don’t roll them up a character. Because on their turn they’ll just whip out whatever basic attack they have, they’ll never get involved in RPing and bring down the whole adventure. Better to just let them hang around the table, interject some jokes, eat some Funyuns and enjoy the fun. They don’t need to hamper the game to do it though.
Listen, we know that you’re super experienced at D&D. You’ve been rolling characters since elf was a class and you memorized all the tables for THACO. Really, we’re all very impressed by you. However, none of that gives you the right to hijack the other players at the table and turn them into your little pawns. You are not the D&D general.
Your character might be a warlord or have “controller” listed on his character sheet, but these aren’t actually real things. No one likes being told what to do, where to go, what power to use and how to talk in conversation. If you want to make a comment or a suggestion now and then that’s fine. If you can do it in character, hell more power to you. D&D is not solitaire. Learn to embrace the party dynamic. Every action and move are not going to be perfect. Learn to live with the mistakes and just enjoy the game. And if someone does ask for help that does not give you cart blanche to takeover.
Being a PC in D&D means you are pretty powerful. Pound for pound you’re about the most dangerous thing in the world. There’s no need to be a dick about it though. There’s nothing DMs loathe more than unwelcome griefing. When we say griefing, we mean playing your character as a deranged maniac. Even though you can you don’t have to pickpocket every NPC. The inn is perfectly fine without you setting it on fire. It doesn’t matter how “cool it sounds”, stop trying to murder the king or starting PvP fights with other PCs over who gets the best loot. Betraying your fellow adventurers for the fun of it does not make you awesome.
The name for this behavior is Chaotic Stupid, and it sucks. Players like this have some issues they need to work out before they sit down at the table. Video games are your outlet for this kind of thing, because there’s no social contract in Skyrim or GTA.
Trying to Win D&D
There’s a dirty little secret about D&D that no one ever really talks about. As a new player, it takes some time to learn, but eventually it dawns on you. No matter how hard you try you can’t win D&D [Editor’s Note: Not even you Jesse]. This is a game about fantasy adventures, and you’re supposed to play your character as they would behave in that situation. Don’t use cheesy loopholes to create powergamey munchkin PCs. Min-maxing a character to a point is fine, no one wants a PC who is useless, but maybe your fighter doesn’t need to deal out 3d12 damage at lvl 2. Don’t use metagame knowledge to defeat challenges.
In fact, leave metagaming out as much as you can. Yes, you might realize that a 40 foot fall, causing 1d10 of damage per 10 feet couldn’t possibly kill your character, but keep it quiet. Meta gaming offers some teachable moments when you have people trying to learn, but otherwise you’re just breaking the game by doing it. Overall, you should be trying to contribute to an awesome story, not break the DM’s plot in half.
Sometimes as a DM it’s a relief when one of your players knows a rule that you would otherwise have had to look up. But don’t argue with the DM. It goes beyond just rules, although rules are a big part of it. If the DM says you’ve fallen into a pit trap and you absolutely know that you should have gotten a saving throw to resist the forced movement, feel free to point that out if you absolutely must, but then abide by his decision. He has a lot going on, and he’s hopefully trying to run a fun game.
Beyond that, don’t argue with the DM about story points, either. Don’t beg for a pet dragon, don’t invent your own race and class and assume it’s fine to use in the game, and don’t tell the DM he has to let you take back that turn because you forgot to make your opportunity attack. The game is supposed to be a collaborative effort, so if you have suggestions, odds are your DM will love to hear them, so long as you aren’t an ass about it. Overall, this is the crime of defying the DM’s authority*.
*Yes, the DM ultimately has authority in the game. He is the arbiter of the rules and the narrator of the events. He has a difficult job to do, so it’s the job of the players to help facilitate it whenever possible. If your DM is an absolute fascist, that’s a topic for The 5 Crimes of DMing (coming soon!) and goes beyond the scope of this discussion, which assumes you have an average DM, or even a really good one.
Other minor crimes that didn’t fit anywhere (or were a little too creepy to delve into further):
- Social faux pas: Generally rude or unwelcome jokes. Bad hygiene (seriously, deodorant costs less than Mountain Dew). Stiffing your buddies for pizza money.
- Uncomfortable character concepts: Trying to be a Jedi in D&D. Hypersexualized drow warrior-sluts, especially when played by guys. Disruptively evil characters.
- Not willing to roleplay: You don’t have to do a funny voice and adopt period speech styles. No one is trying to turn their campaign into a production of Hamlet. I know that one of the barriers to new players at D&D is that, unlike a video game, a tabletop roleplaying game asks you to buy into a shared fantasy and put yourself out there. Do try at least a little bit to get invested in the fictional world and the events of the campaign. Do take some time to help construct a story at the table, and for the love of Pelor don’t just read the flavor text off the power card or, worse yet, throw some dice onto the table and announce some numbers.