The GM’s Art: Instructions For Better Players, Part II

In the last Gamemaster’s Art, I talked about how players must make a commitment to the game before play begins if they want to be an asset to the campaign instead of a liability. In this article, I will discuss what players can do at the table to help make the campaign more fun for everyone, and stop desecrating this pastime like orc raiders wiping their asses on the robes of the temple priests.

If a lot of this sounds like work, that’s is because it is. The results are worth the work. Do you want to be a player-character, or do you want to be someone who used to play some D&D?


Carry that same commitment that you made to the game before play began on to the table. Be ready on time. Level up, gear up, suck it up and be ready to play when it is game on. Do not waste your friends’ time with unreadiness.

Then make the game your priority during the game. That doesn’t mean make the game your priority during your turn. It means make the game your priority during the game. Do not wander away from the table. Do not log on to Facebook. Do not take phone calls or get into text conversations that can be avoided.

On the subject of off-table communications, a spouse or lover who insists on interrupting you when you are gaming is not a spouse or lover who is making your life easier or more pleasant. If you are neglecting them by gaming too much, then go home and take care of them. If you are not neglecting them, they need to understand that you are not to be interrupted for trivialities. When they text to ask if you want to go out for drinks with the Kents next Thursday, they are usurping not only your gaming time with their passive aggressive tactics, but the gaming time of everyone else at the table. They need to respect what you are doing, not assume that you are just waiting to do what they are doing.

While you’re keeping off-table interruptions to a minimum, keep your own interruptions to a minimum, too. Play the game when you are playing the game. Do not launch conversations about the 1980 season of The Muppet Show, do not start talking about how different iterations of Devil May Cry compare. Save that for later and play the game now. Cut the chatter, Red 2.


When it is not your turn, prepare your turn. Watch what is happening in the game, consult the rules, and prepare your dice. Make the game your priority during the game, not just during your turn.

When the gamemaster tells you that it’s your go, you want to be able to say instantly, “I maintain concentration on my Haste spell, caste a cold-damage Chromatic Orb at the Ogre, move twenty feet to my left to take cover behind the corner of the barn, and shoot my longbow at the closer Orc. Bam, there’s my roll for the Orb. Bam, there’s my role for the arrow.”

What you do not want to say is, “Is the Ogre still up? Is it within range of my spell? And, uh, where’s my D8?” Your inattention is a waste of everyone’s time. You put your brain in neutral when the turn passed from you, and now everyone has to wait for you to get back up to speed again.


Many players don’t know how to handle dice. A surprising number. Add up all the seconds devoted to picking through jumbles of dice, and you find out that lives are wasted.

You should always be looking for ways to handle your dice faster and more effectively. First, prepare them. Watch what is going on in the game even when it is not your turn, and have your dice ready when your turn arrives.

So if your Barbarian is using a long sword in two hands versus the three Gnolls in front of her, set your D20 and D10 damage die aside. Then when your turn comes up, you snatch them both up, throw them down, say, “I swing my longsword at the one in the middle,” and read the results. If the D20 misses, ignore the D10. This saves the trouble of making a second roll for damage.

Another dice handling technique in D&D is to line your dice up from largest to smallest, which makes it easier and quicker to find the one you want.

In dice pool games that use a large number of the same type of die, line your dice up in ranks and files. If you have 12d6 in front of you for Shadowrun, line them up in a formation two dice wide by six dice deep. Then, when your turn comes up, instead of picking the eight dice you need out of a pile one at a time, you just scoop up all but the last two ranks.

If you have 12D6 ranked up, and you need to roll fourteen, just roll all the dice, then pick out two failures and reroll them.

When your turn is over, rank your dice up again, so that you are ready for your next turn. Otherwise, you are bringing the game to a halt every time when you start your turn looking for the right dice.

If you learn to handle your dice, and are ready for your turn on your turn, the game will be faster and more energetic for you and the other players, and that’s how you help the campaign be more fun for everyone. Time is the most valuable resource that a gaming group has. Hoard it jealously.


Yes. Your 9th grade gym teacher was half right. Attitude is important. It was gym class that wasn’t.

Ask yourself, “Is my behavior helping this campaign to be more fun for everyone?” You are there to help the others have fun, and they are there to help you do the same thing. It is your job to be an asset, not a liability. Here’s some advice on how to do that.

Don’t be combative. Don’t be hostile. Don’t be suspicious. Remember that the gamemaster is not your adversary. If he wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be able to have any fun at all, so how can he be your enemy? If you are that player who wants to fight with the gamemaster instead of play with him, you are wasting time and dragging everybody down with your vibe.

You are not in a battle versus the GM where he is the only thing standing between you and your goal of breaking the game system and becoming the God of Loopholes. You are working with him to create an entertainment for everyone. If he makes a ruling, he’s making the best ruling he knows how to keep the game gears oiled. If he serves up trouble, that is only his function. If he kills, that is his job. What fun would it be if he didn’t? Your attitude should be that you are working with him to build it up, not to hack off a piece and run away with it.

Thus Endeth The Lesson

Remember, everything you do should be toward the goal of not wasting time, keeping up the pace, and working together with everyone at the table, which will make it easier for them to work with you. Anything worth doing is worth learning to do better. Look to it.


Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by

Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke’s father. You can’t trust Vader’s word!

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