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GM’s Journal – Roleplaying Etiquette

In the GM’s Journal we will discuss all things role playing. From tips for running a successful table to reviews of various systems, you’ll find it here.

Recently, a guest asked me if there was proper etiquette for leaving a roleplaying session early. After answering her question, I began reflecting about how I had learned proper table etiquette. I realized that no one had ever sat me down and told me what the do’s and don’ts were of the roleplaying world. So today, I would like to share my thoughts on some of the obvious (and not so obvious) rules players should be aware of before sitting down at the table.

Lost in Time and Space

Let’s start with one of the biggest unspoken rules in roleplaying: punctuality. It can be hard to manage to get five to eight people with vastly different schedules to meet at the same time let alone the same place! Be courteous to your other players and arrive on time. If you are running late, let the other players know so that they can wait or start without you.  It is perfectly understandable to arrive late to a session as long as plenty of notice is given. It is also acceptable to leave a session early or miss a session entirely. The key is communication—give plenty of notice. Arriving late, leaving abruptly, or not showing up at all is generally considered rude; however, most players understand that real life problems take precedence to fantasy drama. Sometimes the dragons just have to wait!

Turn About is Fair Play

The next unspoken rule deals with interaction between players. Roleplaying sessions can vary widely, from adrenaline fueled combats to stealthy infiltration missions to tedious social encounters and everything else along the spectrum. Whether you are enjoying the session or not, it is important to be courteous to your fellow players. While you might find puzzles to be tedious and taxing, other players may find the challenge enjoyable.

It is important to share the spotlight with the other players and avoid interrupting other players when their characters are acting.  When it is not your turn, be sure to pay attention to the action and avoid becoming sidetracked by side conversations, electronics, or other distractions. This way the other players don’t have to repeat everything that is going on. This also helps move the action along.

Sometimes roleplaying sessions can contain mature content and sometimes that makes players uncomfortable. If this ever happens, encourage the GM to move on to the next scene, no questions asked. Though I have never used it myself, some groups use what is called an “X Card.” If a player feels uncomfortable at all, they hold up the card signaling the GM to move on. No questions, no judgement.

Finally, don’t cheat. It sounds silly, but some players will do just about anything to avoid seeing their character fail. Sometimes your character will fail a check or a save and that is okay. Some of the best roleplaying moments start with a failed check. Not only is cheating frowned on, but it cheapens the game. Just don’t do it.

Hardware & Electronics

My stance on electronics has changed over the last few years. Until recently I would have said no to any electronics at the table as they cause too much distraction. However, technology has become more and more integrated with roleplaying. There are apps and programs to track characters and generate random encounters, dice rolling apps, and programs that allow players from across the globe to roleplay together. You can even hold an entire library of modules and books in your hand with the latest e-reader.  With all of the good things that technology offers, there are still some draw backs. The mere presence of electronics is often too tempting for some players; therefore, causing distraction and delaying the game.

My opinion is that if your group finds electronics too distracting, don’t allow them at the table. Always check with your GM before you sit down at the table. As I mentioned earlier none of these rules are meant to seem draconian, exceptions can always be made for real life emergencies.

The GM and You

While at the table, your full attention and respect should be given to the Game Master. They have probably spent hours preparing for this session before your arrival. Since they will be facilitating the session, try to avoid interrupting them. Wait for them to finish their description of the scene before acting. If you have an issue to bring up to the Game Master try to wait until after the session. Bringing up an issue with the GM in the middle of a session is rude not only to the GM but also to the other players.

The Game Master is the final arbiter of the rules. This means that what they say goes even if the rulebook says otherwise. The Game Master should always strive to maintain consistency, but sometimes a little fudging is required to keep the story on track. The players should be understanding of this. When the session is concluded, always thank your Game Master for running. They have put a lot of time and effort into hosting the session so thanking them for running is always good form.

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide is helpful. Many groups have different rules that they follow to keep the game moving forward. Even in the fun atmosphere of a campaign, etiquette and rules are important as they establish boundaries and maintain order.

What rules do your players follow? Did we miss a rule? Have you or someone you know committed a roleplaying faux pau? Join the conversation on Facebook!

See you at the Table!

Meeple Karington Hess - Small

Karington Hess is a lifelong gamer whose passions for hospitality and all things game-related led him to Ravenwood Castle, where he served as an Innkeeper before joining The Malted Meeple. When not pouring beers, crafting milkshakes, or teaching boardgames, Karington can be found behind the DM’s screen, weaving intricate stories for his fellow gamers.