Player Etiquette

Two rajas playing chess

Player Etiquette

A great deal of the responsibility for running a good roleplaying game lies on the gamemaster. However, ultimately it’s the players who can make or break a gaming session.

Player Etiquette Toward the GM

Players owe the GM a certain amount of respect. After all, GMs invest time, money, and effort into creating an adventure specifically to entertain their players. Most of the time, the GM’s “pay” comes from player appreciation.

Players should, at the most fundamental level, remember to thank their GM for running the game after the session is over. A chorus of “thank-you!”s at the end of a session leaves the exhausted GM with a feeling that all that work was appreciated.

Players should also make an effort to learn the rules of the game, so that they don’t need to keep pestering the GM with questions. At least invest in borrowing and reading the main rulebook.

Similarly, working with rather than against the GM during the game is always appreciated; that is, don’t interrupt, don’t make bad jokes when the GM is trying to build a mood, and don’t engage in non-gaming activities when the game is in session.

Providing an updated version of a character’s sheet whenever it changes is often appreciated by GMs, who sometimes like to look over the characters’ power levels and skills when planning a new adventure.

Players can also show their appreciation in other ways. For example, a gaming group rule like “the GM never pays for snacks or drinks” might be a nice one to establish. If every player brings a six-pack of the group’s favorite beverage or a snack of some sort, the GM can be fed with little extra cost to any one person. We call these “GM Bribes” in my gaming group.

In one of our games, a player volunteered to be “special effects guy” and brought and played appropriate background music for every scene. The effort shows appreciation for our GM’s hard work by enhancing the different moods the GM must build while running.

Other ways to thank a GM might be to purchase the GM the occasional module (unopened, of course!) or sourcebook for the campaign; paint miniatures for the GM’s regular NPCs; give the GM a break by running a game in which the GM can play once in a while; or set up a website for the GM’s campaign. Anything that indicates that the players appreciate what the GM is doing will be very welcome.

Player Etiquette Toward Other Players

Players also need to be polite to each other, of course. At the most fundamental level, this means making sure everybody has a chance to participate equally in the game. That includes, of course, basic turn-taking and non-interruption rules.

Similarly, learning the rules of the game is as equally polite to other players as it is to the GM. Nobody wants to hold up the game to explain the mechanics (that’s already a common enough problem in most RPGs when some obscure rule needs to be found). If a player is strapped for cash, s/he can borrow the rulebook from somebody else and read it through. If the player can afford to, s/he should buy a personal copy. Along the same lines, players should buy a personal set of dice (or cards, or whatever tools the RPG system requires), so that it isn’t necessary to borrow.

Players should make sure they are shouldering their share of the gaming group responsibility. That is, buying snacks and drinks in equal proportions to everyone else, or pitching in their fair share of cash for the gaming pizza, etc. Players with tight finances might volunteer to cook a meal or dessert, which is often more cost-efficient and healthy than buying junk food, anyway.

Player Etiquette Toward The Game Host

Most RPG groups play at somebody’s apartment or house, but even those games that are run in the back of a gaming store or in an empty classroom can benefit from a bit of etiquette.

First, if players rotate playing game host, then they should make sure everyone takes an equal turn. If one or two people usually host the game, players should extend some effort to thank the hosts for letting the gamers use their place. This is particularly true if the group is using a member’s parents’ home–remember to thank the parents!—or if there’s a nongaming spouse or significant other involved—thank that person for being patient enough to tolerate the game.

Second, polite players will make sure the host’s house (or store, or classroom) is clean when they leave. That means that they should pick up any trash they’ve contributed to the mess and make sure it’s properly deposited in trash cans or the sink or dishwasher, instead of left around the gaming table or room. Spills and stains should be cleaned up, too.

Third, players should help the host put the gaming area back into order—pick up miniatures, wipe down the battlemat, help lug books back to the shelves, and so forth. Players might occasionally volunteer to take out overflowing trash bags or wash the dishes piling up in the sink if the mess is particularly awful. Other players might consider dealing with the trash and dishes to be the host’s responsibility in return for the privilege of not having to commute to the game. It’s a negotiable point.

When the game takes place in a gamer’s parent’s home, putting the house back into order is essential. No non-gaming mother or father wants to step out the next morning to be greeted by the usual post-RPG detritus strewn across the kitchen or living room.

If the host is a gaming shop, library, or other public area, gamers should be sure to leave it spotless. After all, such gamers are representing RPGers everywhere.

Player Etiquette Toward Non-Gamers

Non-gamers often don’t quite understand roleplaying. Yet rare is the gaming group that doesn’t need to deal with them in some way or another as they play—for example, as patient spouses, exasperated children, tolerant parents, irritable neighbors, or curious onlookers. A few special rules of etiquette apply to them.

First, remember that any RPGers the non-gamer encounters will, by default, represent RPGers everywhere. Presumably gamers enjoy RPGs and would like them to remain socially acceptable. Given that, gamers must be sure to treat non-gamers especially politely and considerately.

If gaming in public (such as in a gaming store), take the time to pause and answer questions that an onlooker might ask. After all, the gamers might be recruiting a new gamer or reassuring a prospective gamer’s uncertain parent. Try not to shout too loudly, and curb the impulse to use profanity. Yes, some characters have dirtier mouths than others, but there’s no point in sending some kid’s conservative parent into a seizure because s/he hears lots of trash talk during a public RPG session. That’s how kids get forbidden to play RPGs. This holds true for gaming at a parent’s house, too; players should try not to make the parent regret letting the gamers come over to play.

Otherwise, act like a considerate neighbor or guest—don’t shout or play music so loudly that it ticks off the folks next-door (or, in an apartment, over, under, or around the game). That’s hard to do sometimes, but try; my group starts shutting doors and windows once night falls, so that our voices don’t carry quite so far. If playing a live-action RPG, respect non-gamers’ privacy, don’t shock any non-gamers who might unwittingly stumble across the game, and, of course, obey any local laws or ordinances in the area that might prohibit bearing arms in public, wearing masks, or so forth.

RPGing is about playing somebody else—sometimes somebody a lot more rude, crude, and socially unacceptable than we’d ever dare to be in real life. But that doesn’t mean that RPGers should completely ignore etiquette. Exhibiting some basic good manners before, during, and after the game can do a lot to enhance RPGs’ reputations … not to mention your own.

Originally written March 9, 2001

Image Source: Fairy Tales of India, 1892

I read, write, roleplay, travel, teach, and occasionally do research. I am a lizard, a warrior, a minimalist, and a scholar.
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