When you’ve played tabletop RPGs for long enough, you see your fair share of problems at the gaming table. Arguing over rules. Feelings getting hurt. Failed expectations. No one brought pizza for the GM.
These problems arise when people’s expectations don’t get met. There are many different kinds of gamers. Some people like to focus on telling a story. Others love to dive into the crunchier side of games. We all agree there is no wrong way to play an RPG, but there is a wrong way to play with different groups.
Your first step is recognizing there is a problem.
Perhaps a new player has joined your group and is asking questions that ruin the game. Maybe you are having arguments during every session and the fun is going out of gaming. You’ve never really thought about how your group played together before. Now is a great time to figure it out. Here are the four steps:
- Step 1: Ask your players what they like about gaming together
- Step 2: Ask questions about what things make the players feel uncomfortable while gaming.
- Step 3: Bring it all together into a gaming charter.
- Step 4: Get unanimous acceptance of the gaming charter.
Step 1: Ask everyone what they like about gaming together
At the start of your next gaming session, ask everyone, including you, to spend 5 minutes writing down all the things they like about gaming together. This should feel like a brainstorming session! (Because it is.)
Once everyone has written everything they enjoy down on paper (or digitally sent), review what they wrote. Share it with everyone. Then thank the players. If you’re a kind GM, give them a bennie or some XP as a thank you.
Step 2: Ask questions about what makes the players uncomfortable while gaming
The checklist that comes with Consent in Gaming is a great tool for understanding what your players aren’t okay with. It is also a great book that talks about consent.
Gathering this list can be a sensitive thing. Some people have trauma they don’t want to acknowledge, let alone talk about. If someone says they don’t want something in the game, don’t press the issue and accept that it shouldn’t show up in the game.
Why consent is important
Your group may have been playing together since high school, why do you need to worry about consent? Safety. You don’t know if the off-color jokes you make are forcing one (or more) of your players to hide something about themselves. If you do consider them friends, you should check in with them.
Step 3: Bring it all together into a gaming charter
Despite the serious-sounding name, writing a Gaming Charter can be as simple as a list of rules and acknowledgment pinned in a channel on Discord (or printed and available at the table).
The format and structure of the gaming charter are up to you. I usually divide my charters up into the following sections:
- Expectations of the GM—detailing how the GM runs the game, resolving conflicts and rules-lawyering, and scheduling games.
- Expectations of the players—what players can expect for their characters, how much of the rules they should know, and a reminder about playing nicely with each other.
- Expectations from everyone—be on time, attend regularly, and give everyone common courtesy and respect
- Online Conventions—are we using video or only audio, what tools, a reminder to label dice rolls appropriately, and what links are okay to share (or not to share) on social media.
Step 4: Get unanimous acceptance of the gaming charter
The final step in the creation of a gaming charter is approved by the group. Everyone should have a chance to read and propose edits or changes. This is a document for the whole group. They need to be involved. Once everyone agrees with the gaming charter, you will all be on the same page!
What if you can’t get a consensus on the gaming charter?
If your group has a conflict over something (or things) in the gaming charter, you have uncovered an issue that needs to be resolved. If one player loves gory scenes and another player doesn’t, you will have to figure out a way to resolve it. Since someone will lose, I recommend erring on the side of not including something that a person has asked to not have in the game.
Let’s work on making our gaming space better with game charters
I love tabletop RPGs and I’ve been playing them for more than two decades. I’ve been using a gaming charter for nearly a full decade. During that time our group has had almost no conflict or drama.
As an example, I’d like to share my current gaming charter below:
Gaming Charter, March 2021
Expectations from the GM
- The campaign will be built collaboratively. Players help to sculpt the world with their actions and the GM will make sure they have an appropriate impact on the world around them.
- The world will be believable and will be populated with convincing people and monsters.
- Rules will be used to enhance the game, not to detract, and will be applied consistently. Problems areas will be resolved as positively as possible and abuses will be curtailed.
- The GM will help your characters become who they want to be throughout the course of the game.
- We are going to use “fail forward” approaches as much as possible when rolls don’t favor the players. (But we may need help from the players.)
- Reminders will be sent out prior to a game day.
- The GM will do their best. Failing that, feedback is welcome.
Expectations from the Players
- Say yes more often than you say no.
- In that vein, be open to your character going in a direction you don’t expect. When Xander lost his eye on Buffy he rolled with the punches. We hope you will too.
- Share the spotlight. Play will be as a group, but some characters will be better at or be more entangled in certain things.
- Don’t fear failure (including fleeing). Often it makes the story more interesting.
- Proactively maintain your character pages and contribute to the episode recaps on this wiki.
- Do try to make an effort to be familiar with the rules. Expertise isn’t required, but read the suggested areas, and follow up (re-read, or ask) when you are not clear.
- Please be clear about your intentions with the GM. These games are not about a player-GM adversarial relationship.
- Keep roleplaying at the top of your mind. Describe your actions narratively, e.g. I swing hard with my sword at the orc’s face, using Power Attack.
Expectations from Everyone
- Consistency in attendance.
- Everyone benefits from common courtesy and respect. If something makes someone uncomfortable, resolve the issue respectfully.
Contributions to the wiki
This wiki will be used to record the campaigns. You will get all the help you need to accomplish the following:
- Keep your character pages up-to-date. E.g. Character sheet, logsheet, note pages, etc.
- Contribute to the episode recaps.
This wiki is an important tool for the campaign and your willingness to contribute was part of the selection process.
These will likely change over time as we play but for now these are conventions that help keep the game move smoothly for everyone.
- Have a working camera and mic.
- When you aren’t talking or active, have yourself muted. (Background noise is a killer.)
- Be visible in the camera area. Avoid bright lights behind you that may cause you to become a dark patch in the video.
- When making a roll in Roll20, before the roll, type in what the roll is for. This can be as simple as “/me Athletics, /roll 4df”
- Reduce distractions. Play in your office or at the kitchen table away from others.
- Try to reduce online distractions (Facebook, chatting with friends on Snapchat, etc.). Pay attention to what is going on in the game.
- Please don’t record/screenshot or share the conference/tool links outside of our game group without asking everyone first.