Saturday, June 11, 2005


I want to kick off my first column with the Crank Report with a little talk about responsibility. As a GM I know that I have certain responsibilities to my gamers. I'm supposed to be impartial and adjudicate disputes between players, I'm to create an interesting world with captivating characters in it, and play all those characters. It's my job to make sure that combat does not bog down and goes smoothly and it's my job to walk the fine line between being too easy and being too hard on my gamers. It also usually falls to me to keep track of all the accounting and bookkeeping in the game as well as keep track of the history of the game.

These are responsibilities that I take up willingly. I don't have a problem with this. I would expect another game master to take his responsibilities as seriously as I do. But what really grinds my assbone, what really flash-freezes my testicles is the seeming disregard that players have for their responsibilities

Let me give you the tiniest example of what I'm talking about. Back in the old days I used to come to the game that I was Game Mastering with a backpack loaded with at least 20 lbs. of source books,core rules,supplements and N.P.C.'s and campaign notes. I often needed a separate bag for dice,writing utensils, snacks, and other whatnot and then my other hand would be filled with the fishing tackle box filled with figures made of lead.(that tackle box also held 400 million gold pieces and a +5 holy avenger,but I digress.) I always envied those who could DM by the seat of their pants because invariably I would spend hours making an adventure only to arrive at the game in full pack mule mode and invariably discover that one or more of my numbnuts players had forgotten his sheet...

Pause with me now...Yes, I could have whipped a quick N.P.C. on him and then gone on. I could have let it go and not gotten my panties into a bunch, I could have simply asked the miscreant to simply sit the evening out. I could have done a lot of things. But that is not the point. The point is that I'm over working hard to create a world for the Gamers to appreciate and experience and have some fun in and It's an obligation that I gladly accept and take very seriously. But what puts me into an apoplectic lathering pre-psychotic rage is the fact that the player cannot be bothered to bring his SHEET!

This is why I stopped playing D&D. I got tired. I got tired of feeling like I was the only one who gave a fuck. It began to sink into my little gray cells that I wanted a game where others had to think and plan as well,instead of being merely reactive. Gaming is an ACTIVE hobby.

You want something reactive? Go play Nintendo and stop breathing up my air. I also got tired of Ranger#6, The Barbarian with a joke name,the magic user with every item under the sun but still oddly lacking a personality, the Idiot who insists on playing a Drow ranger, and the whole rest of that ingrained twinkishness.

I wanted a Game that fed both the actor in me and the writer in me and White wolf games seemed to fit that bill admirably. It also attracted a more grown up type of gamer. (although I did see one gimp try to figure out a way to play a Mokole Abomination..Brrr.) I always liked to create a character that had a bit of depth to him. And this meant a bit of work and thought would have to go into it. Perhaps it's bit of professional arrogance...(I am a writer and an actor after all.) but I like to think that I did it well. And it still bothered the hell out of me, as a player, when someone would show up sans Character .

In My Arrogant Opinion, it is imperative for players to take a bit of responsibility for their own good time. Here then are some of my tips for good player etiquette as regards being a responsible player.

1) Have a Character

I always think this is a good plan myself, unless the GM states that you and he must get together to create the character together. (some game systems all but requires this. I'm thinking mostly of games like Champions) But if it's sort of assumed that you could make you own with just a few guidelines from the GM. We all know how it goes. You show up at the game, Character in hand, the Gm is ready to rock, everybody is ready to kick off the new campaign. And then somebody shows up without a character.

The gamemaster says " O.K. hang on everybody, this will take 5 minutes." and all the veterans push back from the table because they know that it will take at least the first hour. By the time the arrant player starts begging/bargaining/bullying for magickal items to complete a character that doesn't even have a name. The other players are bored and the GM's neurons are worn to a frazzle.

There are couple of ways for a GM to try and handle this but each is fraught with their own problems. One can always whip a NPC on the dork to play that evening, but this is invariably unsatisfying for that player. He might play that character that night (under extreme duress) but he will inevitably come back next week with a half-assed character , thus breaking the narrative by forcing you to substitute the NPC for the new guy.

The other way to handle this is to tell the Gamer-gimp "NO, I'm sorry, if you don't have a Character, you cannot play." the unfortunate fact of the matter is this. If you do this, the Gamer will take the word "NO" as a personal affront and all of a sudden YOU are the asshole. Believe me, I know.

Have a Character, it is your admission ticket.

2) Have a stable of Characters

It's a good idea to have more than one, and by this I do not mean have a bunch of different sheets for different games that are essentially the same character. I am not making this up. I knew a guy at school who literally was able to play a D&D game at the drop of a hat. He always played a female gnome, Fighter/illusionist/thief/ of whatever level the adventure required. He also always seemed to have the same magickal items too. I asked him about it. He said that there was this sisterhood of these characters and the magick item belonged to the monastery. Whenever one went adventuring the others would stay home....I was forced to beat him about the head and shoulders.

3) Know the Rules that apply to you.

The number one cause of slowdowns in any combat situation is players who do not know the system well enough to make a decision. It is also very frustrating for the gamemaster to have to answer the question " What can I do here?" while trying to deal with the combat.

Understand this: The GM in any Game combat situation has 3 times as many things to think about than you do. You are running one person, maybe two, in the fight. The GM is running all the bad guys, all of the NPC's on your side and is trying to deal with all that bookkeeping and balance the fight so that you don't walk all over them and they don't walk all over you! I have been in games where everybody knew what they could do and combat just flew! It works. I promise.

4) Look it up Monkeyboy!

This goes hand in hand with number 3. Back when I was going to school I made it one of my table rules that if you wanted to cast a spell or use a magickal item you had to look it up and have it ready in case I needed to see it. It sped up thing considerably. By god, If you don't know something pertinent, look it up! The only corollary I have to this is that if you want to know something about the setting or the campaign. Never ask the GM. Ask the other players. If they don't know, perhaps they know an NPC that has the answer.Ask the NPC. Stay in the story. If your Gm has a large Game library, you might want to take advantage of character downtime to take advantage. It's even better if you come up with a good in-game reason. For instance, your group has a good friend with an extensive library. When not busy you could go and avail yourself of it. See?

5) Sweat the details

It's like that old saw in sci-fi, about a computer that becomes so large and powerful and diverse that it inevitably become sentient. Characters are like that. It is useful to a player to think about their characters and to fill in as many of the details of their characters lives as possible. When you do this it makes it much more likely for your character to get up and live. Players need to make a mental and emotional investment in their characters in order for them to remain viable. Think about it. Is it any fun to play a character you don't care anything about. Put it another way, are you going to bore the shit out of anyone in the game by playing a Character that you don't care anything about? Remember the last really bad film you saw. If someone got killed you actually cheered... Well guess what will happen in the game when YOU go down.

This cannot be stressed enough. I can't count the number of people I've met who could tell me all about their 25th level Paladin/Mage and what all they have and what all they can do. I usually shut them down socraticaly.

" So what's your guy like?"

" Well he's got his warhorse and his +5 holy avenger..."

"No, that's not what I mean. I mean what is he like?"

" He's...Like....Well he's a Paladin. Right?"

"No, I mean, what drives him? Why did he become a paladin? What's his motivation?"


"His motivation. I Mean, being a paladin is a life of sacrifice and danger with little external reward. What would cause him to choose that path?

" Um...He hates monsters."

"Why? What did they ever do to him? Did they kill his family or something?"

" Dude! They're EVIL!"

" So does he have some personal impetus for the life he's chosen or is he just philosophically opposed to what he perceives as evil?

If so, won't he consider anything other than humans to be evil?

"Um...(eyes glazing over) um...."

"What's this guy like? What does he do for fun? Is he a fully rounded person or a homicidal monomaniac?"


About this point they usually try to escape... I usually let them.

6) Do your Homework.

I look at playing a new person as an excuse to learn something new. Thus I tend to create people who are from different walks of life as myself and take the opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons. I am 1/16th Cherokee and as a result in the past have played native Americans in order to teach myself about that culture. One of my favorite characters is Rabbi David Solomon, a conservative rabbi, who is a practicing qabbalistic mage. ( note to Jewish gamers, yes I realize this somewhat antithetical...Now.)

Doing your homework about your characters way of life adds so much to your game. It will suggest character details and possible courses of actions and characters agendas. It will reward you to do this and your GM will appreciate it too. If you do it, others might follow your example,and then how cool would that be?

7) Respect for other gamers time.

I used to get very cranky about this but my players have gotten a lot better about it. When you are late to a game you are showing a lack of respect for the GM and for the other players. I don't mind a bit of crosstalk and/or socializing beforehand and try to put aside the first half hour for that purpose. Try to get your act together on time at least once a week. If you aren't currently active in the game, I don't have a problem with you talking something over with another gamer as long as it doesn't impede the game (I.e. you go outside...But don't go too far.)

8) Get into / Don't break character

This is one I always try to do when I play. When I arrive at a game with my Character, I always like to look over my sheet for a few minutes and re-familiarize myself with that person. I try to take a few moments to get into character. It makes a difference. It's also important to stay in character. Talk to the other gamers like your person and they will respond in kind. Talk to the GM... out of Character... a lot... And you will frustrate the shit out of him. One of the best things that players can do is to stop competing for the game masters attention and to start performing for one another. It is truly gratifying.

9) Chickenscratch

O.K. This one is kind of niggling, but on more than one occasion I have asked a player to give me written summary of their character history only to be presented with a 10 to 20 pages of handwritten material which the player want me to read on the spot and then comment on. Just a precis, man. That's all I need.

In closing, I should say that it is not necessary to suck your GM's dick or cook him an 8 course meal or paint his house. I think that GM's just want the players to do a bit of thinking. Because it truly increases the possibility of fun.

Sono Finito.


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