Social Etiquette for the Gamer
Social Etiquette for the Game
I don’t know about you but I love, love, love going to conventions! For years now I have been on the circuit, always as a guest or as an author who has a table in a hallway or in the dealer’s room. Either way, I was able to meet fans and other likeminded folks who just by their presence at the con meant we already had lots in common. But it was not until recently that I was able to attend a con as just an attendee.
ConCarolina is a great con to attend if you’re interested in gaming, especially when this year’s superstar attraction was the man himself-Sean Patrick Fannon! Not only is he a gamer and a game designer but also the guy who is revolutionizing the gaming industry with DriveThruRPG.com.
Anywho, since I was not a guest or a dealer I was free to go directly to the gaming room and game for every minute that the hall was open for three straight days. There are mixed blessings when it comes to sitting down at a table with five or seven strangers to play an RPG. On the one hand everyone is there to have fun, but on the other hand, there are those folks who can only have a good time by raining on your parade. 99% of the time a good time is had by all. However on those rare occasions where a bad apple sits down at the table across from you, well, let it suffice to say that
there is a reason there are gun laws.
That in mind, I thought I’d write a quick blog to cover some of the social rules of gaming etiquette so that both newbies to the table and the bad seeds alike can learn and have a more pleasurable experience at the table next con. (WARNING-this may read a little like another Buzzy Blog of mine “How to tell if your clothes are dirty.” but there are substantial differences)
Gaming is a highly social event, thereby making it complicated, which ironically is part of the fun. Just like any social setting, be it a wedding, funeral, or public restroom, there are several unspoken rules of behavior that “normal” people seem to magically know and adhere to, despite the fact that these rules are never spoken allowed. To those people I say “good on ya.” For the rest, I will now impart unto you the never before revealed social rules of gaming etiquette.
For starters, do not get caught up on the word “rule.” To quote a famous pirate movie, “their more like guidelines really.” Gamers like to use exactly the right word, the one that conveys their precise meaning and enables the listener to know and understand their intent. They also like to quote movie lines. When in doubt over what to say but feel compelled to say something because everyone is staring at you just quote a movie. It doesn’t even have to be a quote perfectly fitting for the situation, as gamers will be able to infer what they believe they thought you meant and run with it. Trust me.
Typically cons have a sign-up sheet hidden somewhere or carried by a person that is never around so that gamers can reserve a seat for a game at a particular time. It is considered in very poor taste to sign up for a game and then not show for it. If you even think that you may not be available for the game simply do not sign the sheet. If you do the sign the sheet and it turns out that you can’t attend please make a point to go and remove your name from the list. This is a small courtesy that goes a long way. The GMs at a con are usually volunteers but that does not mean that it is OK to waste their time. Pull this maneuver of being a regular no-show enough times and it will sully your name and give you a bad reputation amongst your gaming peers.
Conversely, should you find yourself with a four to six hour window open and want to play an RPG but did not sign up for one in advance – no worries! Simply wander into the gaming room and meander about carefully scoping out each of the tables to see what games are being run. Most of the time if you just look like you might be interested in maybe playing the GM will ask “wanna jump in?” That’s all it takes to get an invite. To accept, nod your head, pull out a chair and sit down.
At the table there is usually something like a communal dice pool that anyone and everyone is not only permitted but encouraged to use freely. This is not to be confused with the set of dice that is sitting in front of a person. Personal dice are exactly that-personal-and not intended to be used by anyone one but the person who owns them. Never, ever, not even on a dare should you ever touch another person’s personal and private set of dice unless you say the magic words “mind if I borrow some dice?” In most instances the person will cover his own set with one hand but with the other either point the communal pool or hand you a set of his own that is not being used because they failed him in the past or otherwise fell out of favor. Bottom line, just ask. No one wants to get your cooties over their special dice, not for nothing, but you could hex or otherwise somehow ruin them with your touch. I’m serious.
Once the game starts for the love of Pete (and we all love him so dearly) do not cheat. Why would you even do such a thing, really? It’s highly insulting to everyone at the table and so vastly annoying that even a Karl Sagan/Andy Rooney hybrid cannot put into words the scope and level of annoyance this engenders. Apart from the fact that cheating is the greatest sin a gamer can commit let me let you in on a little secret: it’s gonna get your character killed, which is no doubt the very reason you were cheating to begin with. Here’s the deal, gamers are smart folk as well as passive aggressive types. We will not confront you at the table and say “cheater” to your face as we know that will have little to no effect on you. We will get you where it truly hurts, we’ll make a silent and understood commitment around the table to kill your character and not resurrect it. And if the GM is aware of your dice fudging ways, there is no way your character is being brought back to life any time soon. If you think your character is gonna die, go out in a blaze of heroic glory. I promise you the other PCs will fall over each other trying to be the one who brings the hero back to life.
Unlike other social groups gamers are welcoming to new members. I cannot recall ever hearing about a time when someone who had never played the game before was sent packing because no one wanted to bother helping the new guy out. This is usually how it happens:
New Guy: What game is this?
Experienced Gamer: Dee Foss.
New Guy: What does that mean?
Experienced Gamer: The Dark Fantasy of Sundrah (DfoS)
New Guy: Never heard of it.
Experienced Gamer: So what. Wanna play?
New Guy: I’ve never gamed.
Experienced Gamer: Doesn’t matter, I’ll help you learn.
New Guy: Whats that?
Experienced Gamer: My character sheet, the guy I am playing. Here’s one for you.
New Guy: What are those, do I need them?
Experienced Gamer: Dice? Yes, but you can share mine.
Now picture this same sort of scenario happening but with a different social group…
Jock: Hey, new guy! Are you new here? We hate new guys!
New Guy: Yea, I’m new.
Manners, no matter where you are, should be applied. At the gaming table remember that your GM is only-no matter what he may lead you to believe-human. That means he only has at most two working ears and one eight pound brain by which to process sound through. Everyone talking at him at once will only confuse him as to what your character is doing thereby making him make the villains that much bigger and badder. There is a reason that every game on the market has a stat called Initiative or some other means by which the order of action is determined. Without it the game will not work. It sucks having to wait your turn, but think of it as time spent sizing up your prey so that you may be the one to get the death stroke on him.
Meta gaming. T’is an evil thing. “Meta gaming” for those of you who do not know what it means is that most vile and heinous act a player commits when he makes his character say or do something based on the player’s personal knowledge or inside information. To use a horrible stereotype as an example: The party sends the elf/thief to scout out the passages ahead. He discovers the villain is asleep in his bed, unarmed, unarmored and totally vulnerable. The elf/thief wants to sneak up and stab the helpless bad-guy. However one of the players at the table suddenly decides that his character is also now going to sneak ahead and join the elf/thief for the first time ever, just in case there is any danger. Obviously the second character is acting only because his player is using knowledge that the player has, and is thereby acting out of character intentionally for the sake of imaginary fame and glory. What the meta gaming player is really gaining is the disdain of the players who are staying in character. This will manifest later in the aforementioned “passive aggressive method” that is applied upon cheaters, cause, after all, isn’t that what meta gaming is?
And one last thing, just to set the record straight…There is a long standing urban legend that only gamers will go into the Gaming Room as only they have the natural biological defenses to withstand the funk that can fill the air. This, I assure you, is pure myth. If you put 200 people in rooms that have inadequate air conditioning to begin with, who have been living off of Mountain Dew, hotdogs and Frito’s for three days straight I assure you that no living being could survive a single waft of the odorous atmosphere. Gamers one and all need to make a solemn commitment to stop this stink-fest from happening. They must use all of the hotel room they have rented for the weekend including the shower area. I am not suggesting that you cut game time down to make room for the 10 minutes it would take a person to lather, rinse and repeat. Instead, how about getting up 10 minutes earlier or skipping that trip to the swag table or at the very least jump in and out of the pool as fast as you can. Chlorine will not clean you or your clothes, but will hide other less desirable scents. Please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top take a moment to once a day bathe when at a con or to at least walk around with a bottle of Frebreese to gently mist those who will not even change shirts let alone jump in the pool.
See ya at the next con, and don’t let me catch you cheating.
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