The Gaming Ten Commandments
Veteran and novice gamers alike can find themselves sliding into bad habits now and again at the game table. We at Skyland Games have a real mixed bag at our tables: New gamers, old gamers, and old timers coming back to the game after a long hiatus. We’ve also been playing a lot of Pathfinder Society, which leads to a crap-shoot when it comes to the players you’re sitting down with and what they think makes for good game etiquette.
Even with the grognards, when things get exciting, or boring, or you just get distracted, you might find yourself in violation of one of the Gaming Ten Commandments.
1) THOU SHALT BE ON TIME
Especially with a four hour time slot for organized-play games, it’s disruptive for the GM and Players alike to start late. If you’ve got another slot to get to afterwards, doubly so. But mainly this, slows the game as a whole, and is inconsiderate of everyone else who made it in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, at Skyland Games, we’re all guilty of this one at some time or another.
2) THOU SHALT COME PREPARED
Nothing slows down play like missing your character sheet, not having dice or a pencil, not knowing what your abilities are or how your character works. It creates delay in the beginning for missing character issues, and slows the pace and play of the game at all other times. Any time you slow play due to your own laziness, you’re really wasting other people’s time. Don’t be that guy.
3) THOU SHALT LEARN THE RULES
Or at least try… Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, Champions, Shadowrun…. these systems are not necessarily easy, but you need to know how your character works before you sit down at the table, and know the basics of movement and combat so as to not impede play. Get a book and read it between sessions. Most if not all the material for Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 is online as an SRD. Add to that a variety of apps that pull up the rules pretty cheaply, and there’s really no excuse for not knowing the basics. Worst case scenario: Listen and learn.
4) THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT
The GM might be allowed to fudge some dice rolls, but as a player, for the good of the game, it’s imperative that you let the dice fall where they may. Some of the greatest stories I’ve seen in gaming come from the epic failures and epic subsequent successes arising from the bad roll, the epic mischance, or the divine blunder. We all sit down to see this story unfold organically, and Mulligans must be solicited from the almighty GM. It also puts other players at a disadvantage, and robs the sweetness from victory when it’s built on deception.
5) THOU SHALT NOT TALK OVER OTHERS
Okay, personal pet peeve, but I’ve played with folks that find that box text is a perfect opportunity to discuss character builds, what they ate for dinner, hilarious YouTube cat videos, etc. This makes it hard for others to keep track of what’s going on, distracts the GM reading it, and creates situations where information has to be repeated or explained to the player as the game unfolds. Some players will interrupt and talk over the GM, which is a great recipe for GM vengeance, but also makes for confusion and can damage the flow of the game. When it’s not the GM, it’s someone trying to have fun and tell their story. Don’t ruin it.
6) THOU SHALT PLAY ONLY THINE OWN CHARACTER
You may think you’re being helpful, telling the guy next to you what he ought to do on his turn, but you’re not. You’re probably breaking character, and possibly the laws of physics, by sharing your thoughts out of game, and generally inhibiting the other player and other character by imposing your vision on them. This also slows down the game as the player digests additional information, weighs new options presented through the advice, and quite often creates a need for the player to justify their character’s action. Novice players can always ask for help, and if they ask, give it to them. Otherwise, let ’em take a stab at it, and if they’re going to err, let them err boldly.
7) THOU SHALT ABIDE
Sometimes things get a little heated in real life. It might be over loot, it might be incompatible player personalities, or it might be in-game character personalities leading to some real-life frustration. No matter the cause, don’t let things get to the point where it’s a problem. Each situation differs, but stepping away from the problem and communicating usually does the trick. You want to roll with the punches, which goes hand in hand with Commandment 8 and Commandment 10.
8) THOU SHALT WORK FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME
Every player should work to make the game happen. Someone need a ride? Go five minutes out of your way to help them make the game. Snacks? Drinks? At least take care of yourself, if not everybody. Try to schedule around conflicts, and take affirmative steps to keep game night sacred. Don’t make the GM do all the cat-herding when it comes to scheduling. Return emails about the scenario you want to play. Correspond regularly. Most importantly, when gaming, apply Wheaton’s Law and “Don’t be a Dick”: Don’t fight over loot in game, don’t ragequit when the GM rules against you, don’t pout, and don’t take anything that involves ‘elves’ too seriously. That’s a good life rule, period, actually.
9) THOU SHALT HONOR THY GM AND THY HOST
It is sort of a classic axiom that the ‘GM is Always Right’. I prefer to think of it the way Tony Soprano contests Nietzsche’s hypothesis regarding God being Dead: He may not always be right, but you’re still going to kiss his ass. In the end, the GM can see both sides of the screen, and should (if they’re good at it) keep things challenging, interesting, and fun based on that perspective. Further, a game isn’t a democracy, and a final arbiter has to have supreme authority, right or wrong, so the game can move on.
As far as your host is concerned, it’s easy to forget that someone is cleaning up after you leave. Don’t trash their place, drink the last of their soda, drop food into their couch cushions, or leave your cans scattered and laying about for the ants into get into. Minimal courtesy indicates you should try to leave the space how you found it. If it’s in a game store, don’t bring in outside food and drink if they sell food and drink in store (or you might not have a game store much longer). If you’re in tight confines, make sure you’re maintaining some hygiene fundamentals for the benefit of your fellow gamers and the people who have to live there after you’ve left. Treat your play space better than your own, and you’ll be more likely to be invited back.
10) THOU SHALT HAVE FUN
Sometimes, it can be surprising how this rule gets overlooked, but we game because we like it. Especially in organized play, the objective of achieving a certain level, obtaining certain loot, or finishing certain missions can obscure the fact that the object is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong, and need to reprioritize. It might be because you or your group aren’t following the Commandments, or might be because it’s just time for a change of scenery. But make sure you and your fellow gamers are enjoying yourself, and everything else will fall into place.