Five tips to become a better D&D player

Five tips to become a better D&D player

Have you ever attended a D&D session or participated in a campaign and found your attention wandering or feeling uninterested by the story?  Well you might be surprised to learn the issue may not be with the story, DM or other players.

Jan 8th 2019 - Whenever people ask me what I do for a living, I always pause for a moment to consider how to explain it.  People have so many different experiences with role-playing games (in particular, with D&D) that the response can illicit some very loaded emotional responses.

Some people understand it better by explaining role-playing or D&D as a group storytelling experience, similar to sitting around with a group of friends in a bar and telling stories of when you were young.  Others find it easier to relate if you talk about it as a simple hobby and interest.  While others still find it simpler to explain it like it's a video game, but with your imagination and pen and paper.  Regardless of what works, everyone is different.  You are who you are - you view everything through the prism of your own interests and desires.

Speaking of which, have you ever watched Between the Sheets with Brian Foster?  It's a show that aims to interview creators and give insight into their backgrounds, interests, and how they got to where they are today.  In it's first series, Brian sits down with the cast of Critical Role and discusses everything from how they got into acting, to what kind of food they like, to how they approach their creative process.  But one thing he always asks them is what got them interested in D&D - and everyone had different answers!  It really highlights quite well the breath of experience and spectrum from which role-players come to the table.

So what does all of this have to do with being a good D&D player?  It's because -

1.) The first and most important way to become a better D&D player is to know what interests you and how you draw on that for D&D.

Are you interested in the fighting and combat aspects more than role-playing?  Or is it the reverse?  Maybe you like puzzles and challenges to overcome, political intrigue, or maybe you just like a good story.  Perhaps you're a bit Good vs Evil player and prefer stories that include heroes against villains?  Whatever it is, you need to know what makes D&D fun for you and draw on that. 
Most important, you then must talk to your storyteller about those interests and how you want to include them in your game.  Remember that the game isn't only the storytellers - it's the whole groups creation.  Without you, there'd be no story.  So a good DM will always listen to their players and try to help make the story resonate more with them. They can't ensure that you're having a good time unless you tell them what helps you to do so!  So help them to help you enjoy the sessions every week.
This includes if you want to break the mold and play something off the wall.  Don't spring it on the DM just before your session and expect things to go well.  At best you'll find it hard to play and not fun.  At worst you could get your party killed.  It's always best to check within with the DM on most things, but particularly on how you can make the game interesting for you.

2.) Build a relationship with your group outside of the D&D session

This is a hard one and often difficult for people to action on, particularly if you're an introvert or insular person.  But if you want to enjoy D&D and become a better player, you need to feel comfortable letting loose with the people you game with every week/month.  Even if you find social interactions awkward and difficult, it's important to build strong relationships with your other players and DM so that you build trust and allow people (including yourself!) to feel more comfortable and able to break out of their shell. 
Many groups and players leave the organizing of a social outing to the DM, assuming they are the de facto leader of the group.  But as I mentioned in the last tip, that's definitely not the case and often the DM is too busy building the world and stories you'll experience to organize a night out.  Help them out and work together as a team!   
For those who game in Adventure's League, this is a hard tip to manage.  AL is a great thing, but often you might end up playing with people you've never met and that can make for awkward or downright uncomfortable situations.  The best advice I can give is to speak to the organizers about social met-ups outside of the AL meets and try to build strong relationships with multiple gamers in the wider group.

3.) Be willing to experiment

I debated whether I'd make this #2, because your ability to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with different characters, alignments, weapons, settings, races, and backgrounds is paramount to you growing as a player and individual.  I mean, why are you playing this game if not to escape from your reality and have some fun?  The best way to do that is to not be yourself for a few hours and really embrace something different!  There's nothing that will induce an eye-roll more than the person who always plays a paladin rolling up a paladin.  WE get it, you like paladins!  But maybe you could try being the rogue this time, just to spice things up? 
I can hear the geek mob already, "But...but...we LIKE playing a paladin and you just said a minute ago that I should know what I like and tell the DM!?"  Yes, I did, but I didn't say keep doing the same thing over and over again.  There's nothing more frustrating as a group or DM when you have a player who won't break out of their mold and try something different.  D&D is about stepping outside of yourself and being someone you're not.

4.) Don't be a number cruncher or rules lawyer

Oh I know I'm going to hear it from some hardcore RAW aficionados, but it has to be said - no one likes a player who min/maxes every character or a rules lawyer throwing shade from the sidelines.  You know the players I'm talking about. These are the ones who build characters that can hit for 30 points of damage as a fighter at level one.  Or they are the player from who from which comments are made, looks are exchanged, and dramatic sighs, flinging of hands/arms, and eye rolls are given to the DM and other players when a rule isn't followed to the T.  We all get how important the rules are to playing a game.  They set limits, they lay the games' framework, they are the environment that allows the game to exist.  But remember the most important rule is to have fun and sometimes that requires bending the rules a bit.
D&D and other tabletop role-playing games are meant to be a form of entertainment and a exploration of a story, character, or world.  It is not meant to be perfect, it's meant to be fun. Whether you do that through dungeon crawls or epic heroic adventures, or just sitting in taverns having arguments everyone needs to have a chance at glory and participating (or failing!). People want to enjoy themselves.  So sit back, relax, and game-on brother.  Put the rulebook aside.

And last, but not least,

5.) Let the other players shine and have their moments

This one is so hard for players because it means putting someone else before ourselves.  And that's difficult because in stories we read or see on television or in videos, we are the audience and the story is made for us.  So we inherently see ourselves as the focal point or focus of the story and game.  We aren't doing it on purpose, but we tend to get very selfish in the game and forget that there are other players there trying to have fun too. 
But once you're able to let your fellow group members have their moments in the spotlight, you'll see how great this game really is.  You'll see that mousey little man who was always shy in school and maybe even bullied suddenly come out of his shell and sing like a bard.  Or you'll witness the glory of a girl who maybe was always considered the good and popular girl in school play an outright tyrant of a character.  Or you'll see that video game geek do a hamlet impression that absolutely stuns you all.  But you'll never see or experience any of this if you don't let the other guys have their moments.


So to conclude, the important points are to know what you're interested in, talk to the storyteller about it and make sure they know what you're looking to get out of the campaign.  Make sure you build a strong relationship with your group outside of the game so that you all can feel more comfy around each other and willing to open up during game play.

Also be comfortable experimenting with different things in the game to broaden your horizons and whatever you do, do NOT be a number cruncher or rules freak!  No!  Bad player! :) 

And finally, let other have their moments to shine in the game - whether that's through great background development, a fun role-playing scene, or even a simple heartfelt moment with another player, don't interfere and just sit back and watch it unfold.

So what do you think? Did I hit the nail on the head or am I missing something important?  Let me know in the comments section below.  But just know, I'm the DM and so I'm always right :D