The 10 Commandments Of The RPG Player

From Doug “Wraith” Lochery

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0177

A Brief Word From Johnn

New Article: NPC Power Bases

There are many ways to slice the NPC design pie, and one cool approach that my book NPC Essentials takes is Power Bases. What kind of power does the NPC have and how can they wield it?

This concept is often overlooked in RPG rulebooks, yet it determines how an NPC interacts in your world and what choices and opportunities they have. It helps form an NPC’s personality and helps figure out what it drives him to do. A power base also aids you in world creation, campaign planning, story development, and encounter generation. For these reasons, power bases are one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of NPC design.

I’ve added the entire article from the book to the NPC Essentials article.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

The 10 Commandments Of The RPG Player

RPG players of the world, I summon thee here to give audience to my words of wisdom. That which you term your ‘hobby’ is a subtly balanced game that, when upset, can easily die a horrible death and become naught more than a nuisance. This is a shame, as RPGs are one of the most involving and fun hobbies to be found in all the worlds.

Below you will find Ten Commandments that form a code of conduct for the players of our RPG hobby. These commandments are guidelines intended to allow our game to retain its subtle balance and therefore continue to be a source of fun for all involved. I beseech thee, players of the world, to adhere to these principles in your own ways and adhere to them well.

Heed these words and you shall enjoy your games and retain the balance.

Commandment 1:

Thou Shalt Create a Suitable Alter-Ego

In order to participate in an RPG you, as a player, must give yourself a way of interacting with the imaginary world that will be the boundary within which you play. Obvious words, I know, but in order for the game to run along smoothly, the vehicle that you create for interacting with the game world must be suitable.

“Suitable?” I hear you scoff, “Whatever does he mean?”

Many RPGs have suffered because the players created characters to play that didn’t suit the game’s setting, the GM’s scenarios, or the make-up of the party. Getting your character right is essential for suspension of disbelief and proper immersion in the roleplaying experience.

The solution to creating a suitable character is information:

  • Talk to the GM about the sorts of races and societies in the game area.
  • Talk to the other players to see what sorts of characters they’re playing.
  • Once the information is gathered, select a character that could be in the game area and one that would feasibly be in the company of the other characters in the party.
  • Once the party of characters is created, get your heads together and make up backgrounds for the characters and a short history of their acquaintance.
  • Add to the finished background a breakdown of the character’s personality and link that persona to events within the background. Again, conversing with the GM about societal views and conditions on the game world can help you add a lot of believability to the character.

Doing this adds a lot to both continuity and depth of the game, and will go a long way to helping everyone suspend disbelief during scenarios and making the experience a lot of fun.

When creating characters there are a couple of tips that help the process along:

  • Don’t exclude the GM from the creation process. The GM has a much better idea about the game world than you do and will always have a good idea or two about how you can get what you want into your character without sacrificing believability.
  • Set aside a game session for character creation. Creating a good, suitable character can take up a few hours sometimes. Plan your time in advance.
  • Create characters as a group. Get the other players together to create characters. This way, ideas can be bandied about between you all and the group background can be that much more cohesive.
  • Less can be more! Don’t create a 12 page essay on your character. Map out his main characteristics and leave the rest for development during the game. There are two reasons for this: one is to save yourself work (as characters can die suddenly), and the other is to allow yourself room to develop the character in the direction you want and have fun with it.

Commandment 2:

Thou Shalt Be Prepared

When you go to a game you want to get straight into the action, don’t you? A lot of games are held up by poor preparation of games materials beforehand by the GM but an equal number of games are held up by poor preparation on the part of the players.

Help get things going quickly and smoothly by preparing yourself for the game. As a player, you have certain items that you generally must have in order to play. Miniatures, character sheets, dice, stationery, and snacks all figure into this, so grab them all and make them available for use beforehand so that retrieving them isn’t going to eat into game-time. Nobody likes to wait for Disorganized Dave as he trawls through his car’s glove box for his character sheet so that he can find out what his climb walls skill score is, least of all the other players.

As a player, you should have a credible character created and ready for play before a new game begins. Prepare this character before the real game is about to start, preferably on a night prior to the date of the game (see Commandment 1).

As a player, you should prepare yourself mentally to be able to ‘get into character’ easily. Review your character notes and look forward to the game.

As a player, you should be able to play from game session to game session as if your group hadn’t stopped, or else clues, actions, maps, and such are forgotten and lost. Prepare by reviewing your notes and discussing past sessions, and any continuing missions or tactics, with the other players before the game.

These are just a few ways to prepare, but I think by now my point is made. Player preparation is the key to quickly starting games.

Commandment 3:

Thou Shalt Be In-Character Whenever Possible

In case you hadn’t noticed, the games you play are called ROLEPLAYING games. By definition, that means that within the game you have to PLAY a ROLE.Roleplaying is a bit like acting. You act out your character’s reactions and decisions. A lot of games only require the character acting bit during serious conversation scenes when the GM is trying to gauge the attitudes of the party (or when he’s trying to have a bit of fun).

This shouldn’t be the case. Act out your character whenever possible, as this lends substance to the idea that your character ‘lives’. It helps the other players (and the GM) suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves more in the experience.For an example:

Two PCs enter a tavern. A large burly orc bars their way to their table. The first player says to the second, “Get ready to attack him” and the second player says to the GM, “My character asks the orc to move and attacks him if he doesn’t”.

On the other hand:

Two PCs enter a tavern. A large burly orc bars their way to their table. The first player says to the second, “Garak nudges Calthanus and mutters ‘Ready thy sword. There may be trouble’”. The second player says to the GM, “Orc! I ask thee to move thyself from my path. You are blocking my way. Or would you like to taste my steel?”.

Which of these two versions of the encounter sounds more like a role playing game? Play in character as much as you can and the game will gain greater depth for you and those participating with you.

Commandment 4:

Thou Shalt Not Rules-Lawyer

Rules-Lawyers. GMs hate them and players dread them slowing down the game. Nobody really likes them so don’t be one. In order to avoid being one, I suppose I’d better explain what one is. Okay, here we go.A Rules-Lawyer is an individual player who likes to challenge the GM on various rules calls and action resolutions. The rules-lawyer usually knows (or believes he knows) most, if not all, of the rules quite well and thinks that by arguing with the GM over the correct application of the rules he is making the game ‘better’.

Some rules-lawyers simply try to nit-pick the GM’s judgements in order to get advantages for their character. Others believe their interpretation of the rules is the ‘right’ one and the only way the game should be played. While these arguments over the rules are resolved, the game invariably has to be stopped.It doesn’t take a genius to see that a rules-lawyer can stop a game often and easily with his arguments. This can have a disastrous effect on the believability and survival of the game itself, as players get bored and annoyed with the stoppages.

While it is OK to challenge the GM about his rulings sometimes (see Commandment 7) it is not OK to spoil the game for the other players and try to ‘take over’ the game from the GM (see Commandments 5 and 8).The message is clear. Don’t be a rules-lawyer.

Commandment 5:

Thou Shalt Not Damage the Fun of Thy Fellow Players

Another easy one that is more common sense than anything else.Everyone at the game table is there to have fun. Avoid doing anything that takes fun away from your fellow players or your entire presence at the game is pretty much pointless.Commandment 4 details one way to ruin people’s fun, but there are other ways you should avoid:

  • Don’t make fun of players’ characters and ideas – it isn’t funny to make others feel small (see Commandment 6).
  • Don’t throw dice at or be abusive to the other players.
  • Don’t continually stop the game by leaving the table, rules-lawyering (see Commandment 4), telling jokes to the players, or having a side conversation unrelated to the game.
  • Pay attention to the GM’s words and the other players’ actions so you don’t have to get them to repeat themselves.

These are just a few things to think about, but as with Commandment 4, the message in indeed clear. You are there to have fun and so are the other players. Bear that in mind, and if you doubt see Commandment 6.

Commandment 6:

Thou Shalt Be Courteous

This commandment is simple: be polite. Show common courtesy to the other players in the group and your GM. You’d be surprised how much of a difference such a thing makes.There are a few courtesies common in RPG gaming that you can observe to help make things run smoother:

  • Don’t speak over another player.
  • Allow others their turn to speak.
  • Don’t get in another player’s way.
  • Ask before using an item that doesn’t belong to you (be it dice, pencil, or snack).

I could list about 30 others but they all just boil down to common sense. The reasons for according other players with courtesy and respect are obvious – if you don’t, frustrations will arise, tensions will build, arguments may erupt, and the game will suffer. Always remember why you are gaming (see Commandment 10) and observe the fact that the other players are there for the same reason.

In short, show the other players and the GM some courtesy and respect and everyone will be happier.

Commandment 7:

Thou Shalt Speak Thy Mind

Why must you speak your mind? There are several beneficial reasons for you to speak up during game-time. The thing to remember here is: Don’t be shy. The other players and the GM are not going to maul you for speaking, so don’t worry.The first thing you should speak up about is when you have an idea during the game. Your characters are talking to a merchant that you think is dodgy? Fine. Speak up. You think that the back wall may hide a secret door? Fine. Mention it.

You really think that you should avoid the town of Blargle? Fine. Tell the others. The GM will not act against you based upon your comments (if he’s doing his job properly!) and your ideas may spur the party on to greater deeds. So speak up.The second thing to speak up about is when you disagree with the GM. There will be times when the GM says or does something that isn’t quite right, and it’s fine to mention it to him. A GM should always try to please his players and isn’t out to get you.

He won’t be offended by any complaint you have to make and will try to amend the action, rule, or game to suit the players. Mistakes can be made, since GMs, too, are only human. Please bear in mind that when mentioning faults to your GM, you should remember Commandments 4 and 8.The third thing you should speak up about is if one of the other players is offending you, bugging you, or otherwise spoiling your fun (point such individuals at Commandment 5). Whether you mention this annoyance to the GM or the player himself is up to you, but don’t let it drop.

Speak up and allow the game and your fun to continue.These three things, as always, are just examples of times when speaking up is an advantage. The only thing to remember when exercising your right of free speech is Commandment 6. So go on. Speak your mind.

Commandment 8:

Thou Shalt Heed the Word of thy GM

The GM is there to arbitrate your game. GMs have to make all the decisions that aren’t made by your characters. They control everything in the game world that isn’t your character. They also create and run the scenarios that your characters find themselves in. With all that it’s no wonder that the words that issue from the GM’s mouth are important.There are two main reasons why should heed the GM’s words:1)

The GM gives information about what’s going on in the game ALL of the time.GMs will slip small clues into ‘flavour text’ and characterizations into NPC dialogue. An attentive player can use these tid-bits to solve puzzles, gain advantages and otherwise get his character through the game more successfully. Players that don’t listen to what’s going on will find that they quickly lose grasp on what’s going on, miss clues, and struggle to keep up, thus slowing the game down for all.

Commandment 5 gives a reason as to why this is unacceptable.2) The GM handles all of the ‘behind the scenes’ calculations and rules.If the GM says something, it goes. Players who do not accede to the GM’s rulings will cause arguments, slowdown, and a loss of fun for all. Again, see Commandment 5.It is worth noting that while it is perfectly okay to challenge the GM over rulings (while heeding Commandments 4 and 7), it is not okay to continue to challenge him once he has put his foot down. Just accept the GM’s ruling and get on with the game. Keep playing, life’s too short.

Commandment 9:

Thou Shalt Involve Thyself Whenever Possible

This commandment may seem strange to you because, after all, by playing the game you are involved with it.Just sitting down and participating in a game isn’t really enough. To really enjoy yourself and make a real roleplaying game of it you must actively try to involve yourself whenever you can. Don’t just sit there and wait for your GM to wade through a page of text and then ask, “What do you want to do?” Use your character whenever the opportunity arises.

After all, the emphasis is on ROLEPLAY, isn’t it?If you take charge of your character and use it whenever the opportunity presents itself, it will set an example to the other players. You will find that they, too, will start to roleplay their characters more during the game, adding to the feeling of immersion in the game world for all involved.Actively involving yourself can be done outside your character as well as in-character during a game. GMs have an awful lot of work to do to make the game run smoothly, and any help you can give your GM will be very much appreciated.

Offer to help with the bookkeeping, organization, map-making and other game-related tasks whenever you feel you can help, and always give your GM ideas for races, adventures, character classes and types, professions, skills, spells and anything else you think of (see Commandment 7).Everything you involve yourself in and help with is something less for the GM to do, and will help speed things up. The less your GM has to concentrate on, the more time he’ll have for creating wonderful adventures for you to get your teeth into.

Commandment 10:

Thou Shalt Have Fun And Avoid Burn-Out

The most obvious thing to say but also the most forgotten sentence in the history of RPGing is: You play the game to have fun. There, I’ve said it. Now I feel better.With all the work that a GM puts into the game and all the time and energy players expend to make characters, having fun can sometimes be forgotten as the reason behind it all. If for any reason you are not having fun playing, then you should identify why and do something about it. If the reason cannot be resolved, then you should stop playing.

There is no point in doing something you are not enjoying.Player burn-out is something that can make the game stop being fun. Burn-out is a term that is used to describe when players have basically become sick of playing, either through an intense gaming schedule or unusually long game (the term is used in other ways, but this is the most common usage of the phrase). Avoiding burn-out is the responsibility of not just the GM but the players too.

A few quick tips to make sure burn-out doesn’t hit you are:

  • Insist to your GM that you take regular breaks during the game and make sure he is aware of your preferred length of game (see Commandment 7).
  • Don’t play too often. Once or twice a week is enough for most players.
  • Switch games systems once in a while, or change existing characters for a new party in an ongoing campaign. A change can be as good as a rest.
  • Avoid playing when you’re really stressed-out or angry about something.

Player burn-out can also be caused by frustration with the game in some way. To avoid causing others frustration, always remember Commandment 6, and to avoid misunderstandings always use Commandment 7. Make sure that you are playing a game that suits you, look forward to playing, and heed the commandments above. This will give you a much better chance at having fun.

My final piece of advice is: Relax. As you are here to have fun there is nothing to get stressed about. Is that game ruling annoying you? Relax. It’s only a game. Has the evil overlord foiled your well-laid plans? Relax. It’s supposed to be a bit of fun. The moment you get stressed about something is the moment the game stops being fun. Most RPG gamers hate their hobby to be called ‘just a game’ but at the end of it all, no matter which way you look at it, a game is exactly what it is.


Hi, my name is Dirk Collins. As part of my 30mm Fantasy Floorplan CD service, I regularly post free, full color and B&W maps, floorplans, and counters for GMs to download and instantly use. I love maps and I’m getting good at making them. Check out my favorites: the 3D Floating Castle and the Modern Series! Grab them for free here:


Some new arrivals this week include rare Judges Guild materials, long-lost Avalon Hill wargames, many of Grimtooth’s Traps, and Q1-7 Queen of the Spiders.

Save $$ — New in-print arrivals include Ultimate Feats, Ultimate Equipment, LOTR Risk, and Ork!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Let Your Players Fix Your Errors

From Scott W Roberts

Thought I’d relate a recent act of unexpected group creativity. Yesterday, I resumed play in my AD&D 2nd Edition home-brewed campaign world. The previous story arc had taken 8 months to play out and ended with the death of almost all the party and a major plot twist that even I, the DM, didn’t see coming.

Between the end of part one and the beginning of part two, so to speak, I did two things:

  • Ran a few sessions of The Whispering Vault, as a change of pace.
  • Updated the website I have for my campaign.

Now, pretty much since day one of the campaign I’ve had a mailing list set up for the group. I mainly post campaign journal snippets to the list (“Day 255 – Vitus meets with a Vizier of Marduk, at the Royal Court…”), as well as short- short stories as colour text. The players quiz me on details about the campaign world, swap gaming anecdotes, that sort of thing. Given that we play every 2 weeks, it helps keep everyone up to date and in the mood.

Occasionally, I also post a challenge to the players – bonus XPs if they post excerpts from their character journals, write a myth or legend they’ve heard, etc.

The day after updating my website, one of my players caught a discrepancy: Gargoyle is listed as an available language, yet Gargoyles do not appear on any encounter lists. Does my Tiefling holy warrior, he asked, speak a dead language?

I posed a couple of possibilities then offered a +10% XP bounty to the player who came up with a better story.

I gave the award to the player who pointed out the discrepancy. “Gargoyles were created by a demon lord as sport, and when they were hunted out or driven away, or when the demon lord was defeated by his rivals, the gargoyle language filtered down to small groups of Tieflings.” While his explanation wasn’t as well written as the story another player offered, it explained why his character would know it, fit in with how the campaign was structured, and gave me a few interesting adventure hooks.

Abandoned demonic hunting lodges, for example…

So, the next time the players catch you in a contradiction or mistake, ask them to come up with an explanation for it. They may surprise you.

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Magnetic Battlemat Source

From Starhawk

I’ve seen several tips about gamers using battlemats and overhead pens. I’ve found a marvelous substitute for those.

These people sell “Magic Wall”, which is an excellent sized piece of what is something like magnetic poster board. It is very easily wall mountable (they’re made to stick on refrigerators, but I mounted mine and nailed it up right behind my Big GameMaster Chair). The Magic Wall is usable with dry-erase markers; mine works without a hitch.

It’s also magnetic, meaning you can attach magnets to the back of any counters you want; no more buying expensive figures! I have three sets of colored magnets with numbers that I use for PC’s and creatures, then I draw in walls and landscapes with colored markers.

The best thing about it is that they sell a variety of Magic Wall with a 1? grid on it – graph paper! Hoody Hoo!

I know I sound like an advertisement, but I have been VERY satisfied with this product for my gaming table. I found one at a gaming store for USD$20, then just had to buy some magnets and a set of dry-erase markers.

Tell everyone about this stuff!

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Offline Assignments

From Mitch Michaelson

If you have a large number of players, or there are significant gaps between sessions, you can keep players’ attention if you give them assignments.

After each session I give players assignments. They e-mail me a response to the assignment before the next week’s session. The response can be as short as one word, or as long as they like. Some assignments say “briefly” to indicate they shouldn’t be an essay. All of the characters get the same assignment each week. To encourage them to do the assignment, I give them small amounts of experience points.

The PCs in my game have a lot of experience, and this allows the players to fill that in. It also lets them help build the game world and influence the plot. The players can discuss more grown-up issues about their characters, too.

Here are some examples of assignments:

  • What do other characters already know about you? Create a nickname and a brief story that other characters might know about you before you entered the city.
  • What sort of attributes are you looking for in a potential retainer? What kind of personality are you interested in?
  • Write about a period of down-time for your character. Did you just settle into a routine for a while or disappear into the wilderness?
  • In what way do you “creep out” normals? Define something vaguely unsettling about your character.
  • Describe someone equally powerful as your character that you have come into contact with in the past and what the results of that contact were.
  • Give a description of your most valued retainer, best contact, or a normal friend. Include how you treat the normal or some description of the relationship.
  • Flesh out when the last time your character was in love.
  • What is a skill or knowledge you have forgotten?
  • What aliases have you used before? What were the names you used and how did you pass yourself off? Are any of them useful today?
  • Fill in the following sentence: “If there’s one kind of personality I hate, it’s a ________ .”
  • Find a quotation from literature or music to precede your character’s description.
  • Send me a photograph off the internet to represent your character.
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Competition in Searching for Information

From Olie

Re: RPT#104 – 5 Ways To Work Information Into Your Game

Julia mentions many wonderful tips for getting information into players’ hands and a few good ways to make “the easy route” (hire a researcher to scour the local library) not so easy. Here’s what I think is another very interesting option:

If the PCs are looking hard for some very important and valuable information, chances are others want that information too. The PCs tell a hired researcher “We need you to scour this library for an ancient secret map of the tomb of the richest king that ever lived–we’ll give you 50gp for it.”

Well, if *I* were the researcher I’d have other ideas!

In addition to competing parties (some good, some evil) who may want the information for various reasons, the NPC might decide to go on a little treasure-hunt of his own.

Just a thought — hope it’s useful