d6 Tips For a Player’s First Session
By Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1206
Doing something new is scary. Add in strangers, characters, someone called a game master, roleplaying, and weird dice, and stress levels rise.
To help give you more confidence going into your first few games as a player, here are a few specific things you can do ahead of time. Following these tips will help you and the whole gaming group have more fun next session.
1. Learn a Few Specific Rules
Figuring out a few specific rules ahead of time will help save you embarrassment and in-game delays, and give you confidence so you enjoy gameplay more and not fret. It’ll also impress your game master (GM), haha.
First find out what game system you’re playing and the edition or version if any. For example:
Then search to see if the rules are available online. Many game companies publish their rules for free to encourage people to play their games more. For example, the links above take you to legal, free versions of the rules you can bookmark and reference 24/7.
I also encourage you to support our awesome hobby by purchasing rulebooks if it’s within your budget and level of interest. You can get some excellent deals here, where I buy a lot of my stuff.
Armed with the rules now, study your character’s rules. That’s your primary focus at this point. Learn what your character can do. For example, if your Player Character (PC) can cast spells, read up on the spell descriptions. If your PC has weapons, check out the weapon descriptions. If your PC has special abilities, read each one.
During games you’ll be asked to make decisions about what actions your character takes. Those actions are often governed and resolved through the rules. So the better you know your character’s rules framework, the better you’ll be able to think the game and decide with more confidence what actions you want your PC to take.
If you have time, check out the combat rules, skill rules, and social interaction rules, if they exist for your game. I wouldn’t worry too much about those for your first game session as it’s expected that the GM will show you what to do there when the time comes.
You might also create a couple characters so you can get an even deeper rules understanding via practice. Look for the character creation rules and follow the steps. You might be able to help advise other players with their characters from this exercise!
2. Create Cheat Sheets
You’ll encounter rules, game standards, and group quirks regularly that you’ll want to reference so you don’t forget. Or, you’ll encounter these things once in a while, and you’ll want a reference because you’ve forgotten.
Create for yourself a Source of Truth and make all the notes you want. Perhaps a doc, Notion, Post-It Notes, my app Campaign Logger, or pen and paper. With everything in one place, it will be much easier to find stuff.
Things you might create cheat sheets and notes on:
- Names of your fellow players and their characters.
- Rules specific to your character (“What’s that spell do again?).
- Rules, hacks, and tips for areas of gameplay you find confusing (“How do I make an attack with my bare hands?”).
- Game location address, players’ food allergies and preferences, player emails or phone #s, and any other session logistic details to help you show up on time, meet group food contribution requests, and so on.
- Your character’s goals, personality, and mannerisms, plus the party’s goals, because we can forget these details between sessions.
3. Stay Engaged
Tabletop RPGs (TTRPG) are a team sport. If one teammate isn’t paying attention and doesn’t fully participate, it drags the whole game session down. In games, you can only control yourself and your character. The GM takes care of the world stuff, and other players take care of their PCs. And each person is responsible for taking care of themselves. 🙂
That makes focusing and engaging much easier for you. However, in my experience, staying tuned into anything for long burns energy and takes practice to build up that muscle. And many folks have ADHD as another obstacle to contend with.
In addition, the game is played one turn at a time for most times. That means the GM will ask you what your character is doing, you tell them, and they help figure out what happens next. So, you’ll go through regular periods of inactivity where the GM switches the spotlight to other players.
When idle, the trap is to be social and talk to others, get bored, or get frustrated. The GM needs to hear players, so when it’s not your turn the social convention is to be quiet and watch the game unfold. Boredom and frustration from lack of activity can then creep in.
The good news is this is all solvable. So here are some ideas on what you can do to help stick with the game and stay engaged, even during its inevitable slow periods:
- Put your cell phone on silent and out of sight. Check it during breaks.
- Learn and memorize everyone’s real name and character name.
- Write a campaign diary of people, places, things, and events encountered for the whole group to reference — very handy!
- Draw stuff that’s happening in the game or the other characters.
- Study rules that you struggled with recently.
- Ask questions of the GM when you can’t picture things well yet, or to get clarity to help you make informed character decisions.
- Ask players if you can read their character sheets so you can learn what other characters can do. You can put this thinking to work to help create better team tactics and solve team puzzles.
- Compliment fellow players when they make smart moves.
- After the game, provide feedback to your GM about what parts of the session you enjoyed most and least, and what could help you enjoy the game more. Ask them the same.
- Help keep the game area — probably someone’s home — tidy.
- Request a personal break. It costs me a lot of energy to be in social environments. A five minute break where I leave the table and get fresh air helps recharge us introverts.
As you gain more experience as player, there are even more things you can do to help each game session be a success. The list above though is a fantastic start.
4. Be Flexible
This one is a bit fuzzy, so I apologize. But please understand our awesome hobby is very subjective. Every GM has their own preferences and way of running a game. Each player has their own world views, experience, and mannerisms. And each gaming group develops its own social contract either at campaign start or over time through gameplay.
Therefore, your expectations might be different and unmet. Other players might upset you. The GM might piss you off. This is all part of the usual process of group formation. If you can bend with the wind, hold back on personal judgments, and make an effort to get to know your fellow tablemates, things will smooth out over time.
GMs are often the de facto leaders of a group. They organize sessions, set the pace and tone, and adjudicate the rules and character actions. They also put 10x the work into games than players, as they create the world, campaign, people, places, and so on that you get to interact with.
So please do let your GM know between games if you’re struggling with any aspect of the game. They want to help you have fun. And they want to have fun themselves by avoiding conflicts and knowing their players are enjoying themselves. Open communication helps smooth the wrinkles.
5. Failure Is Great
In TTRPGs, you’ll fail a lot. The dice might betray you at the worst time. Fellow players might make unwise decisions. You might make unwise decisions.
You will enjoy the game less if you hold back, avoid risks, and treat your character like delicate china. Instead, as the saying goes, drive your character like a stolen car. Push your character’s limits. Attempt to do cool stuff. Take creative risks.
As mentioned, it’s a team sport, so avoid taking actions that will result in other players failing or not having fun. If in doubt, feel free to announce your intended action and check with your fellow players on if they see any problems before a final declaration to the GM.
But that doesn’t mean always playing safe, however. Instead, whenever your character fails, understand:
- It’s not your failure personally.
- Without failure there’d be no challenge and our stories would suck.
- You’ve got a team for support.
I’ve seen terrible gameplay result from players afraid to have their characters fail. For example, some players will pummel the GM with question after question trying to micromanage every situation to reduce any chance of failure. This just slows the game down and puts the GM on the spot for intricate details probably not relevant.
Another example is players who get frustrated when they can’t have their own way. That’s like expecting everyone to kowtow to you when playing Monopoly so you win every time. That’s not fun.
6. Plan Your Next Move
The game drags when you are surprised every time it’s your turn. 🙂 Typically, GMs will go around the table or have you “roll for initiative” so they can cycle through every player’s spotlight time fairly.
If you can spend some moments thinking what your character’s next action will be before it’s your turn, that would be a huge help.
Note that you will often have questions or need more information to help you decide your next action. That is 100% ok. Try asking another player quietly, and then have any remaining questions ready for when the GM announces it’s your turn.
Bonus Tip: Create Cheat Sheets of Page Numbers
From RPT GM Jacob
I have found it very helpful to write game rulebook page numbers in my notes or character sheets. Next to a skill on the character sheet I will write the page number of the area in the rulebook that describes what the skill does. The same for spells. I also note the page numbers for the rules of spell casting, weapons, and attack roll matrixes.
As a GM I will assign players sitting next to the new player the task of mentoring them in finding information on the character sheet and helping point out what dice to roll when called for a check, etc. Doing this for the first 3 or 4 sessions helps the new player not stress out with unfamiliar games and rules and it helps them connect to at least 2 players at the table.
Thank You For Playing!
YOU are an essential ingredient to everyone’s fun. We game masters would be nowhere and without game if it weren’t for you showing up to each session.
If you can adopt a flexible, helpful, and participative mindset when playing your first few games, you will be welcomed with open arms and smiling faces every session. Personal leadership is infectious. Leading yourself, to serve as an example even if you are the new person, will help you get the most out of every game and our amazing hobby. I hope these tips help. If you have any questions about how to play a TTRPG, especially if you are embarrassed or don’t want to ask in public, my inbox is always open to you for a private conversation.