D&D etiquette, or how can we become a better team?
November 11, 2019 5:46 AM   Subscribe

We've been playing D&D for a few months now - all us players are beginners, (not the DM, he's experienced). I'd like to know about ways to ensure that we have the best group dynamics possible. How to avoid players getting too frustrated with one another. Slight complication, the DM is on Skype, but all the players are in the same room.

Normally the DM would be managing a lot of the potential problems in a team, but as he is on Skype, it's a bit more difficult for him - often it's voice only so he cannot see us and is a bit cut off in that way. I'd like some tips on what I, as a player, can do to make the game better for everyone. So far we get on pretty well, but there are some cracks that might widen in the future. We have one player in particular who tends to argue with the DM ("I didn't really get hit by that attack"), or tells other people what they "really" do. As in "No, you didn't just do that, you did this!" I don't mean that she as a character interacts with the other player's characters, she actually tries to change what the other player says they want to do.
We do like to help one another when playing, making suggestions, "Why don't you do x or y" but I feel like that's a bit different. Or is that also bad D&D etiquette?
One of the other players is much more reticent and passive. She seems to be enjoying the game, but also doesn't seem comfortable taking a more active role, making decisions etc. Is there a way that I as a player can encourage her to step up more without seeming too obvious or patronising? The times when the DM is in the room with us, he does a great job of managing this, but over Skype he doesn't always seem to pick up on her reticence.
Another question, does anyone have any tips on how to manage the division from what my character does in the game, as opposed to what I, Zumbador am doing? For example, sometimes I will do something in the game - e.g. prevent one of my companions from attacking a creature, ( I'll say: "I step in front of Zorra so that he cannot attack the bear" because it seems logical and in character to me, but "in the room" sometimes I get a feeling that my fellow players feel as though it's me, Zumbador, interfering with their game play. My character is neutral good, so I never do things that are destructive of vindictive, and I try very hard not to do things that will frustrate my party, but occasionally I do have my own ideas that are in contrast with my companions! :)
And lastly any tips on how to loosen up and become more confident in role playing would be much appreciated. At the moment I tend to freeze up when I suddenly have to act "in character" e.g. speak to an NPC. Any advice would be much appreciated.
posted by Zumbador to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as a fairly-newish DM (1 year into my first campaign right now):

- The player who over-rides others: Send the DM a private message about this - they may have noticed it already or not, but letting them know it's an issue for you will hopefully prompt them to speak to the player in private about it and ask them to tone it down. I'm curious if how she acts is playing up the RP elements (like, "no Zumbador would have totally charged the enemy!") or if she's trying to min-max the combat ("actually Zumbador if you hang back and cast Bless, then I can move here and only expose myself to one archer, etc etc"). This would probably change my advice on dealing with them in-game.

- Making suggestions for another player's action is not bad per se, but wait for them to ask for suggestions or be obviously having a hard time deciding. Remember they may be weighing up what the character would do vs what is tactically the best option in the meta-game (e.g. the real human can see it's suicidal to charge the enemy but the character is the kind of impulsive barbarian who would do that). You can point out obvious things that they missed ("don't forget you can activate your Call Lightning again this turn"). It only becomes bad ettiquette if you're telling people what to do too often ("OK, I'll attack, then you heal me, and you cast Ice Storm") or jumping in before they've had a chance to assess the battle and make a decision of their own. Doing this too much is called Quarterbacking in board games.

- Encourage the passive player by interacting with her in character during role-play segments. Do your characters have any connections you can use to start conversations? Like similar races or classes, or shared backgrounds? If you're investigating a scene outside of combat, what specialist skills does her character have? You can (in RP or not) ask her if she has any thoughts on the situation ("Zyana, weren't you a guild artisan? Can you tell who might have made these engravings on the Mysterious Box?") to prompt her to join in.

- You need to be careful about coming into conflict with your party - it works OK with some players but if your character is going to be directly opposing other players often it could get annoying. If you find that your character is wanting to object to the other characters' actions very often, this could mean you need to bring your character's morals/alignment a bit closer to the party's and save the "Zumbador objects!" moments for big story moments ("We can't execute this villain, he must be brought to justice or we're just as bad as he is!"), or it could mean that this party is just not meshing with your playstyle. And that's OK, everyone has different things they like in D&D, some people like being heroic, or mean, or role-playing a lot, or fighting a lot, or some combination of the above. All D&D games are not equal and a player who's RPing a good character is not always going to work in a party of murder-hobos.

- As for loosening up in RP, I don't have any tips for this other than practice! I found it awkward at first too but the more I played and the more I was comfortable with the people I was playing with, the easier it came. A little bit of alcohol helped as well, especially for putting on a (silly) voice/accent.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:31 AM on November 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thanks that's super helpful!

I'm curious if how she acts is playing up the RP elements (like, "no Zumbador would have totally charged the enemy!") or if she's trying to min-max the combat ("actually Zumbador if you hang back and cast Bless, then I can move here and only expose myself to one archer, etc etc").

From what I recall, it's more the first one. Referring to the RP-like actions, rather than the game mechanics. "No, you didn't go into that house! I set it on fire instead."
posted by Zumbador at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2019

I've been DMing awhile (and own a game store) and only have 3 table rules. They should apply in your situation.

1) The DM is always right. Sometimes I don't mind a call out regarding a certain rule or state of the map but no-one argues with me about rulings. I don't have a lot of issues with that because my players are pretty experienced but it's sort of known as the "One Rule of D&D". The player that argues things like "I didn't get hit by that attack" would end up with a dead character and an uninvite to my table.

2) Everyone plays D&D their own way. This is something we reinforce with our D&D kid camp players and most adult players eventually figure it out if they play long enough. Some people's play style may be very mechanical or maybe they ALWAYS talk in character at the table. The player that doesn't participate as much might just have that play style. If you don't want to act "in character" maybe your style is more narrative driven.
Matt Colville has some good videos about play styles and table dynamics that I recommend to our DMs quite a bit. They're on YouTube if you want to search for them.
There's also probably some table dynamics going on that you might be missing since you're newer players going on. I had a wizard, Mitzi the Magnificent, that was always running into hand to hand combat, partially because our fighter in armor couldn't hit the broad side of a barn because he put all of his efforts into spellcasting (It was a bad build, I have no idea what he was doing) and partially because that's how you hit all the bad guys with your AoE spells. She was nuts, basically, and had no armor until 7th level. If I played at a table with a someone who was always white knighting and trying to "protect" her I would have a quick convo and say "get out of her way or she's going to blast you. She doesn't need anyone in her way."
What does this have to do with rule #2? Well, your way of playing (or really anyone's way of playing, I'm not trying to call you out specifically) is also a negotiation between you and the other people at the table. The example you have above about the player saying "I set it on fire" basically breaks this rule because it's one player imposing their play style over another's actions. It's not a negotiation, it's a negation. In the absence of the DM being able to monitor and control these situations its up to you all in the same room to try to bring a little cohesion to your actions. Take your time to work out a basic strategy, figure out who is going where and what they'll do, right after you roll initiative. As a DM I allow the players to sort of lay out their plans for 5 min or so because there's a need for player cohesion that you'll never get if you don't let the players talk it out a little.

3) Never split the party. It drives the DM nuts. It also breaks immersion and takes play time away from people that are less vocal or not involved in the A plot of the story.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:39 AM on November 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think all the players need to have an out-of-character talk about expectations of play. Because it's not really a huge step (especially for newer players) from "I step in front of Blern to keep her from attacking" to "You didn't go in that house, I set it on fire instead." You need to work together as a group to decide the lines of autonomy vs working as a party, because the rules are a bit loose in this regard. In groups I play with, messing with what another player wants their character to do is fairly taboo, but likewise it's considered verboten to have your character do something that puts everyone else in serious danger.

But there are times when these sorts of actions become desired, and can be done with some table talk. You can say "My character want to prevent your character from attacking, is that okay?" or "My character wants to hold your character back from the fight, can I make a grapple check against Blern?" or "My character would be really enraged at this point and want to set fire to the building. Should I go ahead and do that or would someone try and stop me?"

The big thing is that the game is collaborative. Everyone should get to play their role, but the good of the group should be paramount in all the players' minds, even when it isn't necessarily in the characters' minds. This is why it's so important not to create characters who are too selfish or loners or have goals that can't align with the group as a whole. If you have some of those characters, you might need to convince your fellow players to retire them and create a new character who can work together better. But if it's more about a player wanting their own way, you may need to have a Come to Jesus conversation that if they can't be a team player this is not really the game for them.

It's great when a DM can facilitate this, because they're seen as having a referee role already, but if you're meeting as someone's house, the host could also serve in this role without too much drama.
posted by rikschell at 8:56 AM on November 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

1/ Rules lawyering is a DM problem. Some players are rules lawyers some are not. I DM with a if you disagree with my ruling you look up the rule & show me it at the end of the game & I will try to get it right the next time philosophy as I hate the rules lawyering taking up player time. . DMs are keeping a lot in their heads sometimes they forget everything. This is a DM problem to handle & not yours. Some like spending half the game looking up rules, some don't. If this is bothering more than you then approach your DM about it. DM's want everyone to have a good time.

2/ It is bad etiquette to tell another player what their character does. You can suggest, though this can enter the realms of meta gaming pretty quickly. Literally the only way to stop this is for you to say "No my charter doesn't." and to keep doing what you wanted to do. If you see it happening to another player, you can be "Is that what you want your character to do Bob?"

So "Hey Merl your elf is a great shot why don't you try hitting it with an arrow" is good. "Merl has the highest CHA they should talk to them because the check is bound to be high." Is bad. "Merl didnt' do that he shot it with an arrow." if Merl isn't your character is super double+ bad.

3/ I have found a good way to bring out shyer people in game is to have your character interact with them in small ways. As a DM I'd have an NPC do it, as another PC you can have your character do it. Simply asking "What do you think?" when planning things goes a long way too. Some people are more passive & just like seeing the story unfold, if they appear to be having fun, it's OK for them to play in a more reserved manner. If you see them looking frustrated or bored, then try having your character interact with them to bring them into what is happening. "This is when a hey Merl you're a good shot why don't you try." is a good thing.

4/ Roleplaying is hard. It can take a while to get there. Having a really good grasp of your character is good. Doing dickish things "because my character would do them" has destroyed more gaming groups than pretty much anything else I can think of. So be very careful what you do in the name of your character doing it. Remember it's a game, everyone is trying to have fun. Having your character physically stop another character is a bit of a line to cross, you are trying to tell another person what their character does through other means. Maybe look to having your character Persuade the other person instead. It literally can come down to what opposing checks you roll. But the mental difference to the person playing a character is Huge. Specially if you roleplay your character explaining their reasons passionately first.

"Mike you will not kill this bear, I am going to grab you & wrestle you to the ground to stop you & then wonder why you get mad at me." Is different from. "Mike that bear is the last of it's kind, it saved my mother life & it's tears cure cancer, please I'm begging you don't kill it. If it turns on us, you know I'll be the first at your side to help take it down." You have now given the player & their character a reason to back down.

5/ Now onto the fun that is roleplaying. A hint I give a lot of my beginner players is it's OK to talk about your character in the third person. You don't have to say "I do x" You can say "Merl does x" A lot of people find that distancing themselves from their character helps them relax a little more into roleplaying. I DM a man who has roleplayed for years before I came along & he still just does it in the third person. When in doubt just describe what you want to do.

6/ Your group needs the mantra I was taught on my first day of playing by my DM. Make sure your decisions help the party, not hurt the party. If everyone plays by that golden rule things usually run smoothest. Because lets face it in RL if your character didn't like the party & want the best for them, they wouldn't be there. As a DM I will often ask people doing questionable things "How does this help the party?" Also side note. Unless you are an experienced group no one needs to be any of the evil alignments, that's just asking for trouble until you are used to separating what happens to your character from what is happening to you. Hell anyone in my group playing a Chaotic alignment knows they are doing so with my watchful eye upon them.

7/ What no one ever says about D&D is it takes a lot of emotional labor to keep a group running smoothly. Your group needs to do some of that labor as the DM isn't there in person to do that work. You need to sit down as a group & work out the guidelines you want to play under, even if it is something as simple as the "Help the party don't hurt the party." mantra my groups take on. Or the more succinct. "Don't be a dick." Whatever works for you guys. You don't have to make the meeting an airing of dirty laundry, just a small meeting before a game one week to get everyone on the same page.

Anyway just my rather wordy take on it all as a DM of only 6 years. Every group is its own beast so make of it what you will.
posted by wwax at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

One minor point I didn't see mentioned already:

One of the players may want to take notes on what actually happens (which is of course what the DM says or confirms that PCs and NPCs did). You didn't say that your argumentative player is actually trying to retroactively change the campaign's history, but maybe just having a record to refer back to might discourage that style of revisionism (even if it's mainly "present-tense" revisionism).

This would have the added benefit of clarifying lots of things as the campaign develops. When I DM smaller groups, I take these notes myself, but in a larger group (and ESPECIALLY a game with any online component), I've been grateful when a player has been willing to serve as "secretary" (or, perhaps more thematically, "lorekeeper").
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:58 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the other players is much more reticent and passive. She seems to be enjoying the game, but also doesn't seem comfortable taking a more active role, making decisions etc. Is there a way that I as a player can encourage her to step up more without seeming too obvious or patronising?

Hi, this is me. In my case, I don't know the rules very well and don't own the player's handbook for the system (which is on me to fix). Stuff that works for me is:

* The party member that helped me roll my character saying "Oh hey, momus has a window, they should use that" and otherwise finding a role for me in our party.

* The GM has also, intentionally or not, given me some nice loot, which balanced combat a bit for my relatively new character and led to short side adventures where I sell/barter said loot.

* There's a moderate amount of in-character trash-talking and backstory development, which is great because I don't need to know the rules to play along like I do with combat.

*Just in case: Is anyone being weird toward the only/new woman at the table? Does someone corner her after the game or aggressively try to give her a ride home / walk her to her car / etc.? Be aware of that dynamic, check in with her privately if you suspect someone is acting inappropriately. (I am a woman, a guy will hit on me almost every time I play with a new group, it's a thing.)
posted by momus_window at 2:18 PM on November 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

This has been super, super helpful. It's helped me to see some of the things I've been doing that might be cramping other player's style. To answer momus_window's last point - good point. In our particular group, there are more women than men (I'm also female) and the two men are the shy woman's brother and her husband, both super nice and both are careful not to dominate or play over her. The only player who does that is the other woman :) In fact, one issue that might become a problem is that her husband is so careful his partner always being safe that might be interfering with her game-play. To the point that he helped her choose her spells, and they are all reactive and defensive. I might start to poke fun at him a bit to make him realise what he's doing. Thanks for all the awesome answers.
posted by Zumbador at 8:28 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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