Great Players

I know a lot of great players.

If there were an Earth-threatening crisis that could be solved by the power of play and I had a red phone, I could pick up that red phone and I would know who to call to save the world.

What do I mean by great player? Knowing the rules? Yeah that’s important if you’re teaching a game, but “rules mastery” is definitely not what I’m talking about. Someone who makes up cool stuff? Someone who talks in funny voices or has their character do amazing things? Naw, none of that. I mean, that stuff’s fine, but that ain’t it.

When I cast my baleful gaze on someone and think “that’s a great player”, it’s because I can see that, deep down, they pay attention to the balance at the table. They contribute (because you definitely should contribute) but they also actively lay ground for others to contribute. They’ve tuned their senses to the dynamics unfolding between the other players instead of just sitting in their own head, imagining their own fiction. They try to raise up everyone at the table, instead of just rocking the spotlight. They know it’s a union, not a solo performance. They want everyone in.

That’s excellent play. It doesn’t matter what the system is: if you’re playing any role-playing game with other humans, that’s the secret sauce. As I’ve said before, it’s empathy that makes games great.

Some will observe that in the traditional GM model, the GM often shoulders that responsibility for everyone, or at least tries to. But really everyone should be doing it, because it’s a golden avenue for the players to appreciate each other and bond (shades of Initiative: the Silent Killer).

When you have a player like that, you know you can drop them on a table with any mix of strangers and those people will be in good hands. And that’s a skill I’ve kept my eyes peeled for while running Story Games Seattle for 8 years, so I could put folks together in games with maximum odds that everyone would have a good time.

Yes, experience can help, naturally, because gaming is a weird group activity and there are a lot of interesting social dynamics that you don’t normally encounter. But it’s also raw temperament and personality. I’ve seen people who have barely played any games and I already know they get it. I would put any table in their hands with total confidence.

And guess what? Most of the people who I *know* are great players don’t think of themselves as that great at it. Because they’re modest, yes, but it’s deeper than that. The kind of person who is thinking about everyone else at the table is not dwelling on how awesome they are.

Am I talking about you? I’m probably talking about you.

    Ben Robbins | August 30th, 2019 | , | leave a comment