There are a lot of responsibilities that a GM has to keep a party in line, give them narrative, give them the rules, give them the NPCs, and a lot of other things. I like talking about those things because I mostly GM and I like that perspective, but there is a certain level of player obligation as well. RPGs are always in some form or fashion cooperative even between GMs and players. The players themselves are interacting as PCs (playable characters) in a world made up in interesting and free ways to accomplish whatever goal it is. The thing is that there is a lot of interaction between everyone and so many different ways to play. That can really muddy the waters and can spoil the fun for the game, so as a player it’s important to keep some things in mind. Today I’m going to talk about social encounters between players off of the table that can affect gameplay. Later I will definitely write about mechanics and role-playing and I’ll probably link them all together, but for now, we can start here.

The reason I’ve decided to start off the table for PC responsibilities is because it all starts off the table. If your friend invites his girlfriend to play then that relationship might affect his gameplay and you should be aware of that. What if they get into a fight and it shows on the table top. Empathy is crucial to the table-top because every person has a different perspective than you on a situation. A good thing to keep in mind is that people are as infinitely complicated as you are with interests and ideas continuously shifting. People aren’t usually very fluid though so if they are open then you usually know what to expect. The tough part is being open about things.

Now I know that this sounds like a life lessons talk so I think it’s time to bring it back into RPGs and see how this applies. Basically as a player, your job on a social encounter scale is to be open and honest about your goals and drives. “But nick I’m a thief and like lying and thieving and whatnot” that’s cool too because being honest and open is a meta conversation. If your players know you’re a thief that might steal from them and they are ok with that then fine. That’s something that you have to run by your party though because some people hate even the thought of being robbed and you could create an awkward power struggle between players.

So yeah being shady and having PC secrets is fun with the right people, but you have to make sure the table is ok with that kind of thing. That’s just a simple example but it is a good one for things that can typically happen at the table.

One good thing for a player to figure out is what kind of player they are before they hit the table.

Some PH style gauges for players to decide the kind of play styles they are into:

  • Break down the door or talk it over? Are you the kind of player that wants to just do the crawl and kick all the ass or do you look for NPC encounters and narrative. It’s not necessarily impossible for these two types of players to play together. It’s good to know though to give the right expectations to other players. If you do that then it will be easier for you to be patient with the other while they are pursuing their favourite aspect of the game.
  • Do you like to role-play or is it more table-top to you? This is another aspect of gaming that people need to think about. Some people hit the table top and they are their PC until they get back up and other players look down the table top and talk about the game from a third person perspective or even a top down perspective. There’s no wrong way to play as long as you’re having fun but it can be frustrating to have to play with the opposite type of gamer. You should know what to expect and be able to accept the play style of your fellow players
  • How immersive should the experience be for you?  Did you write a backstory for your Character or did your character just kind of show up? Do you doodle your character in your spare time or ask yourself “how would my PC handle this” or do you just want to kind of move on in narrative events?
Either option for each question is on opposite sides with 7 being neutral

All of these questions should be viewed on a spectrum along with any other questions about the type of gamer you are. People can sit on extreme ends of this spectrum of course but most people sit in places closer to the medium and as a player continues to gain EXP they shift around on these spectrums until they settle where they feel comfortable. It’s important that your players understand these things about you though to create a better experience. You don’t have to pow wow out any of these details in some sharing session or something crazy like that if you don’t want to just consider your party, but if you know that you’re on an extreme end then tell your friends. That goes equally for if any of those questions are important to you.

Another thing to keep in mind is how you handle social conflict.  A lot of things can rub a lot of people the wrong way and no one wants to walk on eggshells when playing a game. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is play the game to have fun but be conscious of your friends. If you have any hot buttons that just cannot be touched then let your GM and maybe your players know. You don’t have to tell anyone why but if you have a thing going on like maybe your house burned down so you can’t handle that being in the narrative then tell everyone “I don’t like people being burned alive or building being burned down I can’t handle that” and expect your fellow player to respect your boundaries and respect other players in turn.

If something happens in a game that bothers you then say something about it. I’ve personally seen situations where RPG players get carried away and make really inappropriate jokes or start teasing a player way too much. This can get really stressful and if something like this happens it’s your job to talk about it. Accidents happen and hanging out can get messy but the last thing you want is your group to make an inside joke about something that deeply bothers you.

On the flip side, it’s important for you to have a level of understanding and thick skin for certain things too. Try to have a bit of tolerance for your fellow players. Just a fair warning if they have to constantly check their behavior for you then that can be equally less fun for them so pick your battles. The most important thing, of course, is that these games are designed for you to have fun with other people so your litmus test will always be based on two questions. “Am I having fun?” and “are the other players having fun?” If your answers are no then address why and figure it out.


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Happy Gaming!


5 thoughts on “Wielding The Empathy Hammer

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