Preparing for a roleplaying game session is not just for the game master, players should do it too.
Regardless of the type of game you are playing whether that be a dungeon crawling game in which bad players tell others what to do or some emotional journey where you learn about just how damaged your friends are emotionally (sad face), players have a responsibility to portray their characters.
This responsibility is no different to the responsibility of the game master in portraying the world, monsters, non-player characters, or whatever else.
This is collaborative storytelling, so play your part.
Sure, the game master has a lot more to prepare so there are tools available to support them through this – some are not so good, but they exist nonetheless.
Whatever the case, there is often advice for new players to roleplaying games in general and these tend to focus on how to communicate, embrace failure, and cooperate – essentially how to not be an asshole:
- Jacob Waterman writes a straightforward overview of this in his article ‘Advice for new RPG players’.
- Various reddit threads such as this one titled ‘What do you do to help the GM?’ occasionally discuss what players can do more of to support their games.
So, despite all of this discussion, why are there no tools or strategies or guides for players to prepare for the game?
I don’t know and it is not the point of this post. Perhaps it has to do with the rigid lens that is typically used by players to view their games or characters: the character sheet.
One reddit thread from earlier this year discussed this very question: ‘How to prep for a session as a player?’.
Most of the responses were pretty sad stuff. Things like: ‘I am just happy if my players show up’ or ‘I just want them to be engaged in the game and not on their phone’.
However, some people described how it would be good for players to think about how their character would react in particular circumstances or consider what the player can uniquely bring to the experience for everyone else.
I liked those responses more because it was describing what the responsibility of players are in roleplaying games: to portray their characters.
How can players prepare for a roleplaying game?
Preparation should not be a bore or a chore, but it should be core to what a player does to participate in these games.
To keep it simple and to reduce the cognitive load, I am going to suggest that players write three short sentence fragments before a game.
Before I get into that, followers of the blog will likely recall my
hatred disgust complicated relationship with Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
However, the terms ideal, bond, and flaw are fundamentally integral to portraying a character with depth.
I like that they are each a single word because these are what I suggest players write about before a game.
For those reading those words and are too lazy to pick up a dictionary or perhaps English is not your first language here are some quick definitions:
- Ideal: Essentially some concept that is important to your character such as intelligence, honesty, or survival.
- Bond: This represents a person or place that is important to your character for whatever reason.
- Flaw: This is something that is seen as a negative of your character by others. It could be something that is universally awful, such as thinking DnD5e is good, or something that is bad in specific circumstances, such as smelling real bad.
Writing a brief sentence fragment for each of these aspects that describes their character will, hopefully, provide a short list that a player can use to improvise as their character in various situations.
Because they fundamentally convey who that character is, it means that a player does not have to think about specific situations as suggested in the aforementioned reddit thread and can instead be more flexible.
Another advantage of this approach is players can bank what they write for the next session or use what happened in the previous session to illustrate change in their character over time (those bonds will change or shift focus to another!).
The game master should not be alone in preparing for each roleplaying game session.
Players should prepare too so as to ensure they can portray their characters with more authenticity.
Before each session, if a player writes three brief sentence fragments about their ideal, bond, and flaw, they can reduce their cognitive load during the session which will help them improvise in whatever situations may arise.