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How to Have A Good Game

This, by Levi, an admin at GameCraft,  is so simply perfect that I'm quoting it entire - please credit GameCraft!  I don't mind when people quote from my LJ, but it's only polite to credit.  In this case, this is NOT my original content, but it's so very good that I want to share it.  While you're at it, you might want to check out GameCraft in general.


1. Come For A Good Time
If your primary goal at the table is something other than having an experience you enjoy, and that others can enjoy with you, you should be doing something else. Generally speaking, that means having fun. Sometimes it might be more specific - crafting a satisfying story together, or having the experience of seeing things from the perspective of your character, either in addition to or instead of classically fun stuff. But if what you want when you sit down at the table on any given night isn’t enjoyable to you, or does not allow enjoyment for others, do not sit down at that table. Not gaming is better than bad gaming.

2. This Is Your Gamespace, These Are Real People.
Accept and understand that the players around you are real people that are also here to have fun. Nobody comes to the table to watch one player discuss their personal character’s stuff with the GM when it could wait, or to watch two players crack inside jokes at each other and exclude everyone else. Nobody comes to the table to be treated to the personal aroma of another player, or to closely observe their food being chewed. Nobody hosts a game hoping for a marathon cleanup session at the end. Nobody comes to the table to be the ego-boosting kick-toy of anyone else. Never, ever, forget that you are playing the game with real people.

3. Accept Responsibility
Taking the same point as #2, and bringing it into the game - what you do at the gaming table is your responsibility, and you should accept this. What others do is their responsibility, and they should accept that, too. This absolutely includes what you decide that your character does. This absolutely includes the actions of the GM as world. If playing your character as written could very well interfere with the fun of others, you need to decide where to go with that – it’s your call, though; excuses are lame. If you ruin the game by playing your character or the world ‘correctly’, then you still ruined the game.

4. Give Feedback
Anything from telling the GM “I had a good game tonight” to “here’s ten specific moments of play I really liked, and ten moments I really didn’t”, can help. For the GM, telling the players what they loved about their play, and what they found dull, works the same way. The GM can’t read the minds of the players here (or anywhere else), and the players don’t know what’s going on internally for the GM either. Unless they tell each other. This doesn’t need to be formal – in fact, it seems that it often works best if it isn’t. But the clearer it is, the better; and it’s often good to get a quick idea of this stuff before you start.

5. Share Creativity
No one person at the table has full control over what happens in the game. If someone does, you get some really boring shit. At the very least, a player generally controls most of one character in the game. There are an infinite number of little variants on how the GM and the players share control over who gets to put stuff in, and things work best once the group hits a level of input from each person at the table that they’re comfortable with. Find that level. If you’re looking for ways to muck about with that level of input, there are quite a few ways to do that.

6. Seek Consensus
The people at your table have, if your game is actually running at all, a consensus. The ideas in their heads of what the game is and does match up well enough to produce good play. Sometimes a group will hit on little moments when their ideas just don’t match up, and they’ll need to talk about what this specific thing looks like in their heads and agree on one way to go about it. Once in a while, one of the people at the table will want to bring something in that they aren’t sure will match up with what the others have in their heads, and it’s a good idea for them to mention that before they do.

7. Negotiate Honestly
When problems come up in your group, the first step is to make sure that everyone at the table is onboard with at least the basic ideas of the first five things here – they don’t have to be “skilled” at these things; being onboard is plenty. If they aren’t, I don’t really have any good advice for you – for myself, I likely wouldn’t play with them for much longer. If they are, and you still have a problem, then it’s time to sort that out. Now, my own recommendations on doing that are below, but they aren’t really ‘polished’ and they’re kind of artificial; if you’ve got any ideas on that, I’m really interested. But here’s another standard saying that ties into this – it’s usually a very bad idea to try and solve out-of-character problems with in-game events. That’s dishonest, and doesn’t generally work. Also, using the rules to ‘punish’ your players or ‘get back’ at your GM? Same thing.

8. Consider Your Options.
When someone makes an attempt to alter 'your part' of the fiction - the world if you're the GM, your character if you're a player, you have choices. You can simply agree, or disagree; you can put it to the mechanics, you can modify what they’ve stated and give it back to them. Limiting your options in this case is silly; most advice to limit these options in a ‘positive’ way comes from a desire to keep the energy of the game high, or allow for trust between players above and beyond the basic average; those are good goals, but instead of using limits on yourself and others to achieve them, simply remember that your decisions will affect those things as well as the specific matter at hand.

9. Watch The Spotlight.
At any given instant of play, someone has the spotlight. This doesn’t just mean ‘one person is talking’. It means that if there are a whole string of scenes, one person is usually “center stage”; the scene revolves around their stuff, whether that’s world stuff or character issues or whatever. If that person isn’t you, then you’re a supporting character in that scene; try to play good support, whether that means keeping quiet, offering support or advice, playing up the effects the setting has on your character a bit, whatever. If that person is you, then fill that scene; it’s there for you to step into. If nobody is sure who should have the spotlight, then act as support for each other, until the focus hits. But watch that spotlight, too. If you’re getting more than a fair share, work to make more scenes about other characters. If you’re getting less than your share, then when a scene doesn’t really have a focus, step up and take it. Now, sometimes the players will think that different people are getting too much, or not enough spotlight time – we’re people, it happens. Talk about it; most of the time, whoever’s being a hog or hiding away just needs to know about it - and on those occasions when that isn’t true, work it out.

10. Play the Game At The Game
This is a close partner to sharing creativity. Sometimes, you’ll have an idea about the game before you sit down at the table, about something you’d like to see happen there. Sometimes, you’ll have a whole string of them. That’s good stuff. But when those ideas start to look like a whole storyline, you need to be careful with it. A storyline like that is great raw material, but don’t get too attached; if you get too attached to that storyline, you’ll find yourself pushing to make it happen, and ignoring or working against all the other good ideas and creative input at your table. Remember, at all times; raw material is good. But don’t play the game before it starts – play the game when you’re at the game.

11. Show Your Stuff As You Go.
Almost everybody wants to feel like the fictional world, and the characters in it, are real to them enough to imagine. This is, of course, achieved by describing things. But nobody wants to be bored by drawn-out description, or huge whopping chunks of detail. If the GM rattles of ten facts about the place the characters are standing, only the first few will sink in; likewise if a player does this when describing their character. So, the key is to describe as you go. If a player wants us to know that her character Jill is a graceful woman, she shouldn’t simply tell the group that at character creation; her character should ‘glide’ and ‘move nimbly’ in play – her description at creation need only be a single, vivid image, that she can build on by describing not only what the character does, but how. This works in the same way for the GM; when the characters walk into a abandoned study, it can simply be an old, dusty study, smelling of books; as the characters interact with it, the GM can note the thick books, the puffs of dust as things are moved. One key to a good description that’s often missed is that it starts simple and vivid, and grows as you go, so that it’s never boring.

12. Learn To Speak The Same Language.
This is an ongoing effort that every group needs to make together. Every single person thinks that different phrases and wordings imply slightly different things, and this is one of the biggest things that can knock down even an honest attempt at talking to other people. Your group, to communicate both well and quickly, will sometimes need to hash out things related to this; accept that it’s going to happen and try not to get too serious about a problem until you’re sure this isn’t it.

Feel free to add to this list...

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