Ground Rules for Roleplay & Roleplay as a Social Event

A couple of points concerning the actual process of roleplaying that might not be very obvious to the reader from the example provided above should be addressed before proceeding to the in’s and out’s of roleplaying and the specifics of things like background and characterization.

Players should always refer to the characters they are playing in the first person, as “I”, when actively roleplaying, often described as “speaking ‘in character’”. When actively roleplaying his character, whether speaking for him or describing his actions, the player should never refer to him in the third-person, as if he were someone besides himself. That isn’t really roleplaying, nor even expressing a personal interest in the character persona, breathing life into him not only for his own enjoyment but that of the other players. Such phrases as “My character says …” or “My Knave tries to pick the lock …” or “Elissa uses her Courtesan skills to approach the official …”, or otherwise referring to the player’s own character in the third-person when actively playing him should be avoided, as shown in the previous example of play. Third-person references prevents the fantasy from achieving the air of urgency and vibrancy, of believability and immediacy, that it can have and for which most gamers come to roleplaying in the first place. Saying “I pull out my lock picks and kneel down to see if I can pick this lock …” and I’m going to sashay over to the official and bat my lashes at him and see if I can’t get a little cooperation out of him …” or such like creates a stronger bond and sense of identification with the character.

It is also important during play that the player provide a detailed description of the manner in which objects, creatures, beings, or locations are approached by his character. Sometimes the particular route a character takes across a room can make a difference, and the speed at which he approaches any thing, place or one will determine how much time he has to make observations during the approach that could be crucial on arrival. How a character goes about getting from point A to point B, or retrieving item X or Y, or any other action can sometimes be more important than the act itself. Perhaps on one approach a trap may be triggered, or on the other an ambush may spring out on the character. If a character reaches for his dagger in a very direct and matter-of-fact manner, the way he would at any other time (such as when drawing on a foe), while standing at sword point being ordered to surrender, he is likely to be impaled in short order. So, it becomes very important that the player describe the character’s approach to the dagger as being executed slowly, carefully and deliberately with the stated intent to comply, and the dagger then perhaps being gingerly handed over, perhaps only being held with thumb and forefinger.

The player should always speak up and speak clearly.

Do not mutter. Do not mumble.

If a player is tapped by the GM to state his character’s course of action when he isn’t ready and there are other players waiting who are, he should ask the GM to go on to the others and come back to him.

The player should always be prepared.

One good general rule to follow during play is “If you don’t know what it is or does, look it up before you use it”. This is a corollary of the “be prepared” principle. This includes character skills, trade abilities, equipment, dweomers, etc. Everything that can be used as a tool or means of influencing a situation whose effect is NOT necessarily obvious. Especially magicks!! This principle is VERY important to the smooth flow of play, as well as being another aspect of the common courtesy ground rules. The player should never wait until the GM asks what the skill, ability or object does specifically or the exact manner in which the character intends to employ it, the player should know already when he states the action employing it or, at the very least, he should state the intended action and tell the GM to go on while he looks up the object, skill or ability to determine its specific application, so the game can keep on going.

Everyone will benefit from this practice in the end.

When the player has a question, is confused, or some point of a description of setting or action remains unclear to him, he should ask the GM for clarification, ONLY.

IF someone else tries to answer a question directed to the GM, either the GM or the player with the question (or both!) should ask that person to settle down and allow the GM to provide the answer.

It is HIS story.

It is HIS gameworld.

The GM is the ONLY one with the correct answers.

Regardless of whether another player might have accurate information, he got it from the GM, and others should be allowed to do the same if they did not get it the first time around.

This way, when a PC acts on a piece of information and suddenly finds his character Mortally Wounded when no such danger was supposed to have been evident, the player can right to the source and say “I thought you said …” to the GM, who may merely have made a mistake. If a player accepts mis-information from another player when the GM wasn’t paying attention close enough to correct it, all the player can do is offer is some “who struck John” story, and the GM will deny having provided that information. This is definitely NOT the GM’s fault OR problem, but the player’s for not having gone directly to the source for his information. When receiving vital information from another player, a player should always take the time to verify it with the GM.

These are some of the more obvious ground rules of courtesy : the player should NOT talk over others and should NOT interrupt. The other players no doubt want to play just as much, and have just as much right to do so.

The player should NOT just ignore suggestions he does not care for or make snide comments or otherwise tear down the idea or the player providing it, he should at least thank the other for the suggestion and offer his own alternatives, and/or see if any other ideas are offered by the rest of the players.

The player should NOT take pot-shots at or antagonize other players or characters – except in certain special instances when the sniping between characters is understood on both sides to be light-hearted in nature and not hostile, done for amusement, in which case the characters had best be ready to get as good in return as they dish out.

In addition, carping at or about the GM’s spouse or significant other when they are in the environment or actually part of the game isn’t terribly wise. The GM is far more likely to jettison a player before his mate or date when they do not get along and cannot remain civil.

The player should always be aware of the quality of language and the other players’ tender sensibilities. Most people are offended by rough and explicit language in social settings and gatherings such as these, whether they say anything about it to the offender(s) or not. The “its just us guys” attitude and the resulting displays of ego, bad taste and pure testosterone are some of the more prominent reasons why more women don’t enjoy roleplaying games with men, and why they don’t see much value in roleplaying games in general.

Abide by the host’s house rules. This is especially true of the younger crowd meeting to play at the other kids’ homes. Offend the parents and start looking for another place to game, and perhaps for a new player, too.

In short :


The players are responsible for helping the GM make the most of the gaming session. That means cooperating with his attempts to cut down on distractions in the room. Televisions and videos running during the game are the worst, even when the  volume is turned down. Any player with headphones on listening to their own music during the game should stop. ANY other form of entertainment going on in the same room at the same time as the roleplaying game is going grab at the players’ attention, spoil the atmosphere and the story, and draw the players away from the game. The GM needs to be able to command the attention of the group as needed to further the story or allow the PC’s to interact with the NPC’s, and the players MUST be able to concentrate on the events of the game in order to engage their imaginations and participate fully. Any music being played should be subject to the GM, considered appropriate to the evenings events. Environmental sounds, like rain, wind, or ocean could be used as appropriate and they are calming and soothing and feed into the game’s atmosphere. Recordings of actual medieval music could be a great accompaniment to a game, especially if there is a Minstrel, Troubador, Bard and/or Fili in the party. If the GM went to all the trouble to put the game together, design the adventure, the NPC’s, etc., the least the players can do is pay attention, whether their characters are actively present and engaged in the scene at hand or not.

The player should always be attentive.

If the GM is speaking at all, the player should probably be listening, unless the GM is specifically addressing another player on matters that specifically do NOT concern his own character. This is a good way to avoid the need to ask questions. If the player is still unsure about some point and not sure whether the GM is done speaking, it is better to wait for a lull in the speech or monologue to ask questions or wait for the GM to prompt the group with a “Well …?” or “What is your reaction – what do you do?” than to interrupt his creative flow. This is an ideal situation, of course. Most people have a hard time containing their curiosity in practice, or are afraid NOT to ask their questions when they occur for fear of forgetting them. But the player should be able to figure out when he can work in a question here or there while the GM is speaking without being rude or derailing his train of thought.

As mentioned, the GM will have spent a good deal of time and energy creating the game environment or world and the adventure at hand, as well. Those being disruptive or even simply not paying attention, just aren’t being fair to the rest of the players, and especially to the GM himself. If it should happen with any frequency, the GM is likely to take his pound of flesh in return from each of the characters. If the player is a repeat offender, the GM is likely to begin refusing to repeat himself to bring those who didn’t care enough to pay attention, busy goofing-off or distracting the others, back up to speed. This is a perfectly reasonable response to such behavior.

When a character is not actively involved in the scene being played through by the GM and the other PC’s, that player should still make the effort to follow the action going on, as one would in watching any Swords and Sorcery movie, or reading such a book. Of course, he must then refrain from making comments and especially from making suggestions or trying to otherwise help the other players’ characters in the absence of his own.

The GM is likely to rule out or disallow any action that is suggested by a player whose character is not present, simply on the strength of the fact that his character is not present in the situation to offer such advice or inspiration – regardless of whether the other PC’s would have come up with the idea themselves or not, even if it had just been on the tips of their tongues before it was blurted out.

To writhe quietly in anticipation on the sidelines waiting to see if the other players involved in a situation come up with the same plan of action as the player whose character is absent can actually be an excruciating bit of fun.

Sharing, consideration, and cooperation are just the basic ground rules, whether applied to opportunities to use character knowledge, skills and/or abilities or to making everyone feel comfortable and seeing that they have a good time. When a player comes up with an idea for something to do in pursuit of the adventure at hand, he should let others with similar or complimentary skills tag along OR, better still, ask around and see if any of the other characters in the party can help! When more than one character has the same skill(s), the characters should take turns. That way, the character who needs the work on his skill more won’t mind so much stepping aside and letting the character with the greater skill take the first crack when the chips are down.

Each character should be designed to fill a particular niche in the party, an area of expertise. If more than one character occupies the same niche, even partially, they need to learn to work together and share opportunities. If one is greater in skill (SL) than the other, those with lesser SL’s shouldn’t hesitate to acknowledge their peer’s skill and ask for help and/or guidance. Watching a colleague of greater skill work is a learning experience from which a character can learn just as surely as a hands-on exercise of skill. This fact should eliminate what would otherwise be an occasion for competition between characters, over which back-biting and in-fighting might otherwise develop. But, when one has greater skill than another and the occasion is used for a demonstration, both characters are allowed the same benefit (skill points), so there is no need to compete. Indeed, if the margin by which the other character’s skill is greater is a multiple of the lesser SL, the character taking the lesson could gain more than just the single SP earned by the character providing the demonstration. This is explained in detail in Part III. The Rules of the Game.

Pencils and erasers are essential to gaming, and the host may or may not have extras to share. Constantly imposing on the other players to borrow their pencils, paper, erasers, dice, etc. when they may well need those things themselves just isn’t very considerate, and consistently doing so may put something of a strain on the gaming atmosphere after a while – it shows lack of regard and respect. If this Player’s Guide belongs to a friend and the player ends up playing with any frequency or regularity at all, obtaining a personal copy of the Player’s Guide will be as having the gaming materials mentioned above, and for the same reasons. Even if a player only asks for something once or twice in an evening, if he is doing so in every gaming session the other players are going to get tired of it rather rapidly, whether they say anything about it or not. When those who have been imposed upon finally get around to voicing their displeasure about being so used, they aren’t likely to be terribly pleasant about it. Most people will just wait to see if the problem goes away on its own first and get even more upset when it doesn’t.

Paper is an absolute must during a roleplaying game, even if it only a sheet or two. A notebook, a pad of stickies, a steno pad, a piece of scrap paper, it doesn’t matter what, the player should have paper on hand to take notes on important points, information regarding the current plots, gameworld history, important NPC names and descriptions and encounter summaries, or the like that may come up during play. The player will need paper to keep track of current FTG and WND totals, for sending private notes to the GM, changes in character status, location or equipment, stun effects in battle, particulars on dweomers the character has cast which remain in force, including the characters on whom he has cast them or bestowed them (as applicable), and so on.

How can the player tell what it is he should write down, what he will need to know later on in the game? basically, such items as names or recurring or particularly important characters (NPC’s), events that move the plot(s) forward, dates and locations of meetings and events, gameworld background and background concerning characters involved in the character’s adventures (one way or another), and such-like will form the bulk of the information the player should keep track of. Just about any thing, person, or physical detail that catches the player’s attention should be jotted down by someone in the party (if not everyone), along with any theories concerning its probable importance – whether because it seems odd in and of itself or because the GM seems to have taken the trouble to point it out.

Taking notes during play can be VERY important. in effect, the character’s written notes are a journal and reminder of his experiences – they constitute a written record of his memory which the player is free to consult at any time to refresh his own memory on the character’s behalf during play. It is all too easy to forget things from one game to the next, especially the details, and especially if the game is only held bi-weekly or monthly. Indeed, the player may well find the GM’s attitude to be “The character’s memory is only as good as the player’s notes”. It is difficult to debate a point of information with the GM without any written record of it. GM’s in general will be much more likely to clarify or discuss a character note to jog the player’s memory than to simply dispense information a second time to a player who obviously didn’t think the point was important enough to write down, or didn’t care enough about it to do so in the first place. If it seems that some thing or point might come up again later in play, it is certainly important enough to make a note of.

As important as staying in character is, the player must keep separate in his mind those things that he witnesses as a player when his character is absent from a scene being conducted for the balance of the PC’s, and the knowledge the character has of those scenes in which he was actually present. This will inevitably happen at some point. Parties tend to fracture from time to time to pursue different avenues or leads in the process of tackling an adventure. If the other characters take the time to brief the character who was absent on his return, after the fact, the character who was absent should make a note of the fact, the game day and approximate time when this was done so he can show the GM if questioned in that regard later. The player can expect to be questioned if the GM suspects the character is acting on information he should not have unless some opportunity was taken by others to give it to him.

Players should compare notes on occasion, as well, to review and fill in holes, copying down things they may have missed. When doing so, the GM will should be informed, especially when sharing notes concerning events for which a character was not present or NPC’s he has not met, so the GM will not later think the player is using information his character should not have to the character’s advantage. A player’s notes are his character’s memory, but only his own. This process represents time the characters will have had to sit down, maybe over a mug of ale in the local house of call or a cup of tisane in the solar, and talk about things, however, which will take up gametime the GM will have to account for. Any time the player wants to swap information with another character he should make sure there is a sufficient lull in the action to allow the characters to do so, and then inform the GM of the time spent so doing. It may be that the characters left off at the end of a battle and just as they finish tending to their wounded and get on their way get blindsided or accosted by someone who demands their attention and cannot be put-off, in which case the GM will postpone allowing the character the benefit of any transcribed notes until the characters actually have a sufficient time to themselves to exchange that information.

These notes make for great fun in reminiscing over character adventures after the fact, too!

As important as paper, dice, and writing implements are, playing a character without the Character Record Sheet is virtually impossible. If the character has been left at home, the player should fully expect to have to go back home to retrieve it. If the character sheet has actually been somehow lost or destroyed, the players is simply going to have to sit down with the PG and start into recreating the character as closely as he can remember. For the player’s own benefit, he should make a couple photocopies of his Character Record Sheet, front and back, one to store as a back-up and one for the GM’s use. A new set of copies should be made after each Progression Check conducted by the GM so that the latest SL’s and AV’s and skills and abilities will all be represented and none of the hard work that has gone into the character is lost. Any old copies can be filed or discarded, as the player’s discretion. Any notes kept that represent the character’s experiences and record of memory might also be backed-up in the same manner, but the GM will not likely have any need for a copy of those. Lamination can protect a character sheet from spills, tears, and general wear, as well, although every new copy of the sheet will need to be similarly treated.

Just a thought.

The most important aspect of roleplaying that the player should remember is that fact that gaming is a social activity, similar to going to a party or a picnic, or out to the movies. All the social niceties and ‘catching-up’ with the other players need to be accomplished before the game starts – carrying on a private, NON-game-oriented conversation in the background throughout a gaming session is as annoying to the other players as those who continue to talk all the way through a movie at the theater. All normal rules of proper conduct in a social setting apply to a gaming session in addition to the game’s written rules. A 10 to 15  minute period of time might be allowed for the players to get the social niceties and catching-up taken care of before each game session to eliminate the need for such conversations during the game. The players may not even need this time before every game.

On the other hand, when the players enjoy socializing together as well as gaming together, the game session might be timed so as to break up early enough to enable the group to repair to the nearest or favorite coffee house or watering hole to unwind, swap gaming tales, reminisce, and theorize about the current game, talk about movies and books in the genre, or just to generally socialize as they please. Alternately, the game could be broken up and the gaming things put away so the host can break out the coffee, tea or whathaveyou and the dessert du jour.

Having this kind of down-time together, specifically right after a game or on other occasions than gaming days, makes for a tighter party of PC’s. Getting the gaming group together to go see the latest medieval or sword and Sorcery genre movie can also help draw the gaming group closer together. At the same time, it also cuts down on the amount of time needed to ‘catch-up’ with the other players when the business at hand is roleplaying.

The player should always find out what the arrangements for refreshments are before the day of the game, whether Bring-Your-Own, or a collection to be taken up for ordering out family-style, or if everyone is to bring something to share with the group like a pot-luck supper – if there are any such arrangements made at all.

This is only mentioned because roleplaying sessions often take on a party-like atmosphere. Because they generally tend to last for several hours, usually encompassing one or more traditional mealtimes, refreshments do periodically become an issue, and it is just rude for the host to get up and get himself a bag of chips and a tall glass of something icy and refreshing because it is his house and not offer anything to everyone else. Of course, it certainly isn’t fair to expect the same person to always host the game and expect them to provide refreshments week after week, either. that is tantamount to throwing a small party every week and could run into some serious money in short order, especially if any of the gamers are heavy eaters or snackers, which they do sometimes tend to be. So, the player should be sure to discuss this with the rest of the players before the session meets. It is rather unfair to expect everyone to bring something, even money to throw into the common pot, without prior notice. If the group is set up like a club, with the equivalent of “dues”, this becomes less of a problem, as a fund already exists which can be used to provide refreshments for the members.

Some of the above guidelines or advice may well seem self-evident to many, some may even consider those passages to be presumptuous or even insulting, but it is amazing how many people forget these things once they sit down to play, and how many hard feelings can result. Strong friendships of long duration have been wrecked by less.

When all is said and done, a roleplaying game is just that – a game, to be played for fun. How can a bunch of people really have fun together without cooperating? What fun is playing with a bunch of strangers when they won’t get into the spirit of adventure and can’t really trust one another? Roleplaying such attitudes can bleed into Real Life and cool friendships a great deal. Roleplay can be taken very personally by some, regardless of assurances to the contrary by fellow players, and any cautions in this book that these are just make-believe roles put on like masks for an evening for the purposes of playing a game. They may only be fictional roles, but people are playing them.

This advice should be taken in the spirit in which it is intended. People who get their feelings hurt or their sensibilities offended in a roleplaying game don’t often continue to play or bother seeking out others with whom to game, and that hurts the whole hobby. The more people in the hobby, the stronger the group, the hobby, and the businesses that supply and support them.

Now, I stumbled across this article on becoming a better player. This is the best article of its kind I have ever read. It is solid gold in my humble opinion … okay, so my opinion isn’t so humble … read it anyway.

11 ways to be a better roleplayer, the Safe for Work version