Since I started writing for The Rat Hole over two years ago, I have covered a wide range of topics. Early on I wrote an editorial which contained some of my loosely codified “Gamer Code of Ethics”. Since it has been a while, I thought it might be a good idea to repost this, since we have new folks coming to the site and I can’t expect them to back through previous posts so they know who they’re dealing with. Plus, the original post covers some points I think bear repeating in light of the current state of our hobby. And it never hurts to let folks know where I stand, if for no other reason than to get a conversation going.
We’re going to talk a little bit more about me (which, as an introvert, is a little bit of a personal hell). Hopefully we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about tabletop games with each other, and I want to be upfront about my attitudes towards the hobby and give you an idea of how I approach things at the table. I’ve been in this hobby since 1980, so I’ve had some time to amass what could be considered “wisdom” if viewed in dim enough light. The list of “rules” below is by no means exhaustive, but it begins to form what could loosely be called my “Gamer Code of Ethics”. Consider this a jumping off point for discussion, and feel free to ask questions.
- I’ve been in this hobby for almost forty years, and your gate-keeping bullshit is boring and stupid. I put this one first as a courtesy; if the statement offends you, you can now stop reading and go elsewhere with my blessing. Still here? Excellent. Seriously, though, at its heart this hobby is about playing. If you think someone should be excluded from play for any reason (other than on an individual basis because of intent to harm) then you are the problem, not whoever you’re trying to keep out of gaming this week. Anyone who wants to play is welcome at my table, period.
- I’d rather not play than play in a bad game. This wasn’t always the case. In my misspent youth, I’d play any game anywhere with anyone just to be playing. Now, though, I don’t have time to play bad games. Work and other responsibilities take up a good chunk of my free time. When I play I want to be at a table with other gamers who want to have fun and don’t need to impede other players’ fun to have it. I just don’t have time to deal with toxic players, and that goes double for toxic Game Masters.
- Rules are fine until they get in the way of fun. There are no rule police. The game company already has your money for the whole book, they don’t care how much of it you actually use. So if you encounter a rule that is seriously ruining the fun, change it or ignore it. If your player proposes something amazingly heroic and dangerous and the rules say no, tell the rules to shut up and figure out a way to make it happen. Not once in the entire time I’ve been playing has any gamer reminisced about that one special session where they adhered to all the rules. Not. Once.
- You can’t put a green dragon next to a room full of goblins. This oddly specific item comes from one of the first adventures I wrote, at about age twelve. And it did indeed feature a room with a bunch of goblins, right next to a room with a green dragon, each leading a blissful life confined to their room waiting for tasty adventurers. So yes, this rule is a little about dungeon ecology, but it’s also about interesting story. Because of course you can put a green dragon next to a room full of goblins, as long as you figure out an interesting reason why the goblins are still there and the dragon hasn’t binge-eaten a goblin tribe. If you do it well, figuring out that situation can be as much fun as fighting the dragon.
- If you can’t spot That Player at the table, it might be you. If you play at a convention (which you should) or other public venues, you’ve likely had to endure a session with That Player. That Player wants to tell everyone exactly what they should do on their turn, or derides them for the choices they make. That Player has played a character just like yours, but better, and wants to tell you about it. That Player needs every moment of every game to be about him (your anecdotes aside, 99.99% of the time That Player is male). That Player’s offences are long and varied, and would take too long to list in total. The point is, don’t be That Player. Just look around and make sure you are matching or exceeding the pleasantness of the table.
- A hard no is reserved only for players ruining other players’ fun. I’m generally willing to roll with whatever my players want to do, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work. About the only time I say a flat no to something a player wants to do is if it is directly antagonistic to another player or their character. I don’t even try to come up with an in-game work around for it anymore. I flat out tell the player, “No, you don’t get to do that” and why, and encourage them to figure something else out. Seriously, unless there is a strong story reason for your character to go after another character, and you’ve discussed it with the other player to get their blessing, it doesn’t need to happen. Stop being boring and move on.
- Go to conventions. As much as your budget and time allow, of course. I think conventions are important to both your personal growth as a player of games, and to the hobby in general. To grow and get better at tabletop gaming, it’s important to play games you wouldn’t normally play with people you’ve never gamed with. It forces you, in a fun way, to stretch yourself, maybe even use gaming muscles you haven’t used before. Plus it’s a great way to discover great new games to bring home and play with your friends. And conventions can be a great way to introduce new players to the hobby; they can try a buffet of games before settling into something they like. Really, conventions are one of the best parts of the hobby and you should get to a tabletop gaming con at least once a year. You won’t regret it.
- If you have to win to have fun, you’ve set the wrong victory condition. Should be self-evident for role-playing games, but this goes for board games as well. Does it feel good to win? Sure. But I don’t invite my friends over to beat them at games, I invite them over to play games. Winning is a nice bonus, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing my friends pull out some epic wins, even when they snatch them from my grasp. My victory condition is fun; as long as I achieve that I’m ahead.
- As a Game Master it is never Me vs. The Players. Conversely, as a player it is never Me vs. the GM, or the other players. Pretty self-explanatory, really. I don’t need to beat my players. As a GM I win if my players have a good time and feel suitably challenged. Similarly, as a player I win if I can work with the other players to overcome whatever the GM has in store for us.
- Don’t touch another player’s dice without asking. You may not have any dice-related superstitions, but it is still polite to ask before grabbing dice from another player. See Rule 5.
- Your “Lone Wolf” character is boring. Yes, even that one. I blame movies for this, because adventure movies are packed with examples of the loner hero. And why not? As a trope it works great for movies and television. But RPGs are a social game, and I’m sorry, but choosing to play a character who doesn’t want to be around other people is lazy and boring. It is up to you as the player to give me a reason to include your character in the shenanigans. The first thing I ask the player, when presented with such a character, is why are they now choosing to work with others? Because watching the lone wolf character forced to work with others can be interesting. Watching that character sit alone again, and not talk to the rest of the party again, and sneak off on their own again? Not so much. If you bring that character to my table and insist on being the loner, expect to sit quietly and do a bunch of nothing while I focus on the players/characters who want to work together.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. I promise we’ll be back to exciting campaign relevant content next Monday!