Growing pains affect us regardless of the hobby, it takes time to become proficient at anything new. In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, it can feel even more intimidating, especially if you’re the only new player at a table. Other people going in depth with how they play their character, acting out the actions they take, and just knowing exactly what their character would do and immediately acting in an encounter, can be rather disheartening when you’re new and struggling with those things. You feel like you can’t contribute as much as them if you’re not good at all those things. I’m here to tell you two things. Firstly I’m here to help you figure out how to do those things in a way that feels natural and help you feel more comfortable in your character’s skin. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do those things if you’re not comfortable with them, and you can still have an awesome and amazing character that contributes just as much or even more. Much of it boils down to understanding the etiquette of the game, and understanding your place in the story, and that’s where our journey begins.
If you’ve seen Critical Role or other similar online DND games that are being performed by professionals, you may get the wrong impression on what you need to be a good player. On the surface, they use great voice acting for their characters, have rich and complicated backstories and motivations that help flesh out why their characters act the way they do, and know exactly what to do with their character at any given moment. You may think that’s what makes them great at this game, and if you want to be great, you have to do that, but I’ve got a secret for you.
You can do all those things and still be a terrible player, and you can do none of those things and still be an awesome one. What makes them great at the game is etiquette. They respect their fellow players, they share the spotlight equally, they play into one another’s ideas, they don’t talk over and/or shut down each other when they talk, and disputes are resolved respectfully. They understand that the story is everyones to mold, and that they’re all working towards the same goal of having a fulfilling experience that’s fun for everyone at the table.
One thing that cannot be overstated is that DnD is a cooperative game, not competitive. Players might compete to have the coolest builds, deal the most damage, find the best creative solution to overcome an obstacle and/or having the most interesting character, but everyone is ultimately working together to both create a story that’s shaped by the actions and desires of everyone involved and to ensure the enjoyment of everyone involved. The role of the DM also comes with some misconceptions, and it is often falsely viewed that since the DM controls the enemies of the PCs, that they must be competing or trying to defeat them. In truth, the DMs goal is to create obstacles, challenges and plotlines that provide the type of story the group wants. Each group has different goals, and whether it’s to simply enjoy overcoming dangers and having fun kicking ass, to character centric groups wishing to craft compelling stories with character development and evolutions, no two groups will play things the same way. Therein lies one of the great beauties of the game. You can take two groups through the same game or story, and you’ll end up with two entirely unique stories that approach it in vastly different ways. It all hinges on a good foundation of healthy habits and respect.
We’ve talked alot about etiquette, now let’s define them in no uncertain terms. First and foremost, respect is mandatory. Respect the commitments of the game, show up on time and be prepared when you do. Respect the other players and the DM. Don’t talk over others, respect the decisions of your DM, do not mock other people’s characters, ideas or actions in earnest. Jokes can be fine if your group is okay with it, but know when you’re pushing it too far. Respect the world your DM is trying to create, and don’t seek to constantly break and/or spoil it. They put many hours into creating a world that feels real, help facilitate that by indulging in it. Separate the game from real life. We all have lives, stresses and conflicts, but when you show up to the game, leave those at the door. This is a time to step away from the stresses of our lives and to dive into a fun new world full of endless possibilities, and bringing up external conflicts can ruin the mood and vibrancy of a game. Additionally, keep conflicts you may have with other people out of the game. If you’re upset with someone, don’t turn that into your character being hostile towards their character. Avoid Metagaming. Metagaming is defined as using knowledge and information from outside the game that you as a player know to influence actions of your character which they have no knowledge on. As an example, your party comes across an unknown monster your character has never seen, but you as a player know what it is and have your character act on its weaknesses immediately. Metagaming shatters immersion, ruins scenes and hinders character growth by denying them hard-learned lessons.
Share the Spotlight. There will be moments when your character gets the spotlight and shines. Whether it’s because of your mechanical character or because of the backstory of your character, you’ll be the person best suited to leading a scene. It’s important, however, to recognize when the spotlight is on another player and make sure we don’t impose or try to steal it from them to make us look better. No game benefits from a player who steals everyone else’s thunder, and it’s discouraging to constantly have your voice stamped out, to the point of potentially turning some people off from the hobby entirely. Instead, play into those moments where other people are in the spotlight, make their scene even more special, and encourage others to take the spotlight when it’s theirs. Communicate properly and at the right times. If you have a path you wish for your character to go, talk with your DM between sessions so they can help facilitate it better. If you’re having an issue with how the game is going, bring it up after or between sessions. If you didn’t like something your DM did, bring it up respectfully after the session and communicate fully why you didn’t like it and come to an understanding. If you’re going to be late or miss a session entirely, give your players a heads up of at least two days whenever possible.
Etiquette is important for players of all levels of experience, but there’s a lot more to learn in this game, and new players may feel stumped. When making your first character, I highly recommend sticking to what you know and are comfortable with. If you’re a social optimist in real life, playing a character that’s upbeat and talkative will be alot easier and more natural for you than playing a depressed loner. If you think certain actions are unacceptable, so should your character. Play a character with similar beliefs and personality traits will help you when you come across scenarios that aren’t as straightforward to figure out what you’d do in. When you better learn the game you can make different characters, but stick to what you know initially.
If you’re still struggling to roleplay your character, you need to find a way of communicating that’s comfortable for you. If you need to write out lines or catchphrases you think your character might say in advance, there’s no shame in that. If you’d rather just improvise everything, that’s cool too. If it helps you to narrate your actions in third person rather than first, more power to you! If you’re uncomfortable, it’ll come across in your character, so do what you need to do, and don’t be afraid to ask others for advice or help. Good players will be more than happy to help you blossom your potential with things they learned through experience.
And… that’s a wrap. Always keep these principles in mind, and you’ll help ensure the game is fun for everyone involved, and that you’ll always be invited to future games. If you’re new, just remember that your comfort is key to being able to roleplay properly, so do what feels right and don’t do what feels unnatural for the sake of trying to fit in. Join me next time as we go in depth on each of the classes to help you figure out what class suits you best! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and until next time, stay healthy!