A little while ago, I posted quite a lengthy piece about how not to be a bad RPG player.

A little while ago, I posted quite a lengthy piece about how not to be a bad RPG player. Alicia Smith​ suggested I share it here... So here it is in full.

Roleplaying is one of my greater passions - but it can also be one of the more frustrating at times.

Most forms of entertainment are fairly passive - you sit down and watch a movie, a TV show, a concert, a play, or a sporting event. Sometimes you might get pulled into a play, or dance at a concert. But mostly it is passive - someone performs, you enjoy, and there is a general expectation that you do not distrupt the show - whatever it is - by talking over it or otherwise interrupting.

Gaming changes that dynamic somewhat. In boardgaming, you are one of the players and your joint enjoyment comes from the interactions with the other players both on and off the board. It becomes more acceptable to discuss matters outside of the game, as long as it does not interfere with it. There is still a general expectation that you will be paying attention even while discussing other matters, as attention to the other players’ actions are usually critical.

Roleplaying gaming takes that and throws it to the wind. The heart of RPGs is that you are all actors in the play, and simultaniously all audience. You are an audience for the game master, who takes the joint role of director, head writer (often), all the bit-parts, and the general hand of fate - all at once. Everyone else are both headline actors, the sole audience, and trying to write the rest of the story - again all at once.

In acting, there is a school you probably have heard of called ‘The Method School’ - the first part of which involves the actor learning how to become their character. There are many other parts to it, but that is the first bit. They immerse their selves in their character, so that they can deliver lines the way the character would, and, if they are good enough at it, to replace lines - if forgotten - on the fly with ones that are so in character that the audience doesn’t notice. In one memorable case, the actor got so good at this that he often re-wrote his script on the fly during the production of the scenes. And Tom Baker’s ‘Doctor’ remains one the most memorable.

That sort of immersion is what drives roleplaying. It takes considerable concentration at first, and the group immersion is easily disrupted, so it requires a different approach to play.

Here are a few tricks and hints I’ve picked up over the years.

Firstly, try to remove distractions from yourself - if you are not distracting yourself, you’re probably not distracting other players. You are part actor and part audience - there should be plenty to keep you busy, either playing your part, or appreciating other players’ efforts to play theirs.

Second, at first try to pick or design characters with a mindset you can relate to at least a little - until you’ve got some experience being someone else, it can be tricky to take on - for example - another gender or sexual identity. Also, try to ensure that your character has a couple of proactive traits, and a couple of reactive ones. The games master can use the reactive ones to draw your character back in when things get slow, and the proactive ones allow you to insert your alter-self into scenes as a part of the scene resolution.

Third, and on the topic of scene insertion, despite the general rule of not splitting the party, people will end up in other rooms or other parts of town for short periods - even if it just turning in for the night at a hotel. If you are not on-scence try to keep your knowledge and your character’s knowledge separate. Wait for the yelling next door before you start getting dressed in your armour. On second thoughts, if your companion in the next room is yelling and screaming, don’t bother with the armour! And just because you are not on-scene, it does not mean you have nothing to do - you should be thinking about what sort of things you’ve been getting up to in your part of the game-world, so when the GM switches cameras you are ready with your lines - even if your line is question for the GM.

Fourth, sometimes interruptions are important - it can be important to know when certain things are happening or if you are in a position to to see/hear/detect/smell something - but try to think about them first - consider the three W’s - Where, When, and What. Where am I in relation to what is going on; When am I - if the party split up is what is happening now simultaneous to me doing something else; and What would be an appropriate reaction for my character. If you’ve been paying attention, you can often resolve much of this without disrupting other player’s scenes. The key here is that you are still working the game - trying to clarify the world image so you can act in it better. Imagine being the main character in a book who can ask the author if there is anything more to see in a room!

Fifth, and last for now. If there is something that you absolutely positively have to get out that is not related to the game, there are two things you should do. Try to wait for a natural pause in the flow of things - the GM getting a coffee, or a lull in the flow of play for example. People don’t object if you talk during intermission or an ad break do they? Also try to get it over and done with - the more disruptions there are, the harder it is for everyone to get back into character and scene.

So there you go, five guidelines for good and polite roleplaying. Remember your GM and fellow players have invested time and imagination - and often a lot of research to create the world and events you and your character are taking part in. Treat them well, and it will be paid back in some of the best entertainment there is to be had - because you had a part in making it.


  1. Great post. There is a book you might find interesting called 'Impro' by Keith Johnstone. It has some excellent writing about how to go about doing successful drama improvisation that crosses over with a lot of what people do in a roleplaying game group.


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