Fundamentally, I look at D&D campaigns as stories. Each adventure or event is a chapter and the campaign as a whole is a novel. It should have set-up, background, main characters, side characters, plots, sub-plots, victories, losses, triumph, and heartbreak. Maybe characters will die along way (Boromir) and maybe new characters will come to the party late (Lando). There should be some twists and a few unexpected detours. The end result should never be certain and danger should be stalking at every turn. But most important of all, there should be fun, excitement, and camaraderie. If those three things are present, the story will almost write itself.
So when playing D&D as a character, certain questions must be asked of oneself. Am I aiding or hindering the story? Am I willing to adapt to the twists and turns that are sure to come my way? Am I putting my personal needs and wants ahead of my character’s? If the answer to any of these questions brings you to a negative place, stop and ask yourself why. I have encountered many players who just can’t seem to get past their own expectations of the game to truly play and enjoy their characters. For some, they just want to kill things. From towering human barbarians to tiny halfling wizards, some players game to slaughter foes. If they aren't killing, they aren't happy and because of this attitude they miss out on a lot of the roleplaying fun. Others are after the “real world” pursuits of fame, fortune, and power. These folk will jump at any opportunity for gain and self-improvement and often miss the opportunities to work with or prop up the others in their party. There are also those who play to show off and assert their dominance over the mechanics of the game. These are the min-max players and the folk who want to squeeze every last drop out of the rules to make their characters “the best”. Meanwhile, they have very little regard for those players who just want to play their characters well and have fun.
So, what can you do if you feel like you are one of these players, or might be becoming one of these players, or have a friend who is one of these players? Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of a market for roleplayer rehab or SPA: Selfish Players Anonymous (Hi, my name is Al… and it’s been five weeks since I last railroaded an adventure). But instead of dwelling on the negative, let’s turn it around and look at five things every player can do to make their characters and their campaigns a little better:
1) Help Others
Good players help each other out. They forge alliances, watch backs, and even sacrifice their life and limb to protect. This also comes with a certain amount of good-natured teasing and constructive criticism. (Friends don’t let friends drink random potions!) You can tell, especially when sitting in the DMs chair, when a group really works together. That is when the game becomes more than paper and dice and evolves into a real story. Both combat and roleplaying are lifted to whole new level and the game dynamic takes off. So next time you are sitting down to your game ask yourself the question: what can I do to help?
2) Take Chances
No one wants to read about a character that does nothing. Sitting back and letting others or the DM do all of the work is boring. Get your character out there! When the end of the campaign eventually comes, do you want to be the person that says, “Wow, you guys were really great in that story!” or, do you want to be the person that says, “That was a lot of fun! We did it!”? It’s the subtle difference between being part of a group or being in a group. Some folks never realize that there even is a difference. If you are one of these people, wake up and get involved!
3) Be Heroic
Sometimes it’s corny, or cheesy, or dangerous, but being heroic and putting your neck out on the line is a big part of this game and it all depends on the character you want to play. For a selfless lawful good knight, being heroic might mean wading into wave after wave of goblins to protect a town of helpless villagers. On the other hand, for a greedy neutral thief, being heroic might mean killing those same goblins so you can find their treasure horde later on and who gives a fig for what happens to the villagers! No matter what it means for your particular character, take advantage of any opportunity to make your story epic.
4) Know Your Limits
As was previously mentioned in one of my earlier articles, know what your character can do and what it should not do. Avoid situations like the robed wizard standing at the head of the group taking the brunt of the damage and the full-plate wearing warrior standing at the back using a wand. If you are a thief, use your stealth; if you are a cleric, turn undead and heal people. If you want to play a support character, don’t take a hand-to-hand combat monk. If you want to mow enemies down, don’t take the bard. Make sure that class and the race are a good fit for the whole package of person you want to be. It’s okay to branch out from time to time but don’t try to swing from tree to tree. Eventually, you will fall.
5) Be Modest in Victory and Gracious in Defeat
When you accomplish things in D&D it can be very exciting. It can also be equally disappointing when something nasty happens. The key is to never allow either event turn you into a bad player. I will be the first to admit, I have let defeat get to me in the past. A killed character caused me to lose heart in the game once upon a time and I let it change the way I played for the worse. Oppositely, I have seen players toot their own horns for weeks about killing a boss or saving the whole party from certain death. Don’t let either of these happen to you! Despite how much you love your character, or how much you may loath losing, accept that both good and bad things are going to happen. Understand that interesting stories require sacrifice and hard work to accomplish goals. This game, just like life, is not always easy and that’s a good thing.