Oh, DnD. Age cannot wither, nor customs stale its infinite variety. As games go, it's the only one that really lets you do whatever. Video games may try and emulate the freedom offered by them, but few get close — except Tyranny. From its inception in the 1970s until today, it's gone through five editions and inspired countless other RPGs. It's also moved about in our culture too: from a bit of deep nerdery to being simply another popular pastime. It's easy to understand why. At its core, it's a social experience, another thing for friends to do when they get together. Add to this its literally infinite possibilities for setting, characters, actions, and more, and the reasons for its spread become clear.
However, it can be a slightly confusing game for newcomers. Over the years, its accumulated countless rules, traits, feats, classes, races, and more. This is only one side of the story. There's also the question of etiquette. That's what we're going to deal with here. How should a good player, and indeed, a good DM, behave? What is verboten, and what will inspire your group to play again and again? In this list, we've pulled together a selection of some of the most salient advice for players both new and old. Whether you're a grognard who's run countless campaigns or just dipping your toes into the beautiful and oddly kobold-infested waters of pen and paper RPGs, read on, and you'll find a good set of guidelines.
30 Breaking The World
This is a particular problem for first timers, and first-timers of a particular type. See, tabletop RPGs offer unparalleled freedom. You can do whatever you can in the real world. If you want to slap your quest giver in the face, you can. That doesn’t mean you should. Trying to break the world just to be “interesting” isn’t interesting at all, you’re just being annoying to your fellow players and the DM. If they’ve put together an interesting world and questline for you, don’t try and break it for the sake of randomness.
29 Listen To The DM
A key part of DnD is being a good listener. No one wants to have to consistently repeat themselves because someone isn’t listening to what they’re saying. Actively listen, especially to the DM, and know when it’s your time to speak before you do it, don’t just blindly interrupt. Sure, if people are drinking or whatnot, there will be times where you do it accidentally, but again, just be respectful. If someone is telling a story they’ve put time and effort into, they want to know that you’re actually paying attention.
28 Make A Well-Rounded Character
This is SO important when you’re playing with a new group. When you’re creating your character, make one that will be fun to play with, and fun for the rest of the group. Don’t make a jokey character, because the odds are, unless you’re a professional comedian, it’s going to be very one-note. The same rule applies with evil characters – don’t make a character who’s going to work against the party when you don’t know them that well. Leave that until you get to know the group, and these characters won’t drive them insane.
27 Bring Food Or Drinks
If you were going to a party at a friend’s house, the odds are that you’d take food or some drink, right? That’s just good etiquette. The same rule applies with DnD. It’s likely that you’re going to be sat around with these guys and girls for a good long time, so bring some snacks or refreshment. It’ll go down an absolute treat, and keep your group happy, plus it’ll show that you’re a cool person to play with. Don’t just show up and eat other people’s food.
26 Understand That The DM Knows More Than You
The DM is the one who’s crafted this world, quest, NPCs, monsters, everything. They know far more than you do if you’ve just encountered them. If you’re preparing to take a certain course of action, and they ask you if you’re absolutely sure you want to do this, be aware that it’ll probably have bad consequences. Feel free to ask them what the repercussions of failure could be! They want you to enjoy the game, and should be happy to tell you.
25 Use Your Creativity
Like I said earlier, DnD and other tabletop games offer complete freedom. If you can think it, and it obeys the rules of the world, you can do it. Don’t just take the first course of action that occurs to you. Consider arranging an ambush rather than attacking those bandits head on, or scaling buildings to seek an entrance or get a better view. The game is there for you to have fun with! Think about what you can do, and experiment! That’s one of the things that’s given DnD its sustained popularity.
24 Understand Your Stats
DnD can be super confusing if you’re new. The range of stats, traits, feats, etc, are dizzying. That being said, try your best to understand what each stat means for you before you play. You can ask as many questions as you want, but don’t go asking a hundred questions on the same stat just because you couldn’t be bothered to do some preparation. Oh, and don’t worry if you make mistakes. No one’s going to judge you, we’ve all been new once.
23 Put Your Phone Away
This goes hand in hand with listening and respect, but it’s important enough to merit its own entry. Some groups have a “no phones” rule, but even if yours doesn’t, keep it in your pocket. You know how it can be, you mean to take your phone out for a few brief moments and before you know it, you’re missing crucial info and find yourself in a situation you know virtually nothing about. Plus it’s just rude. Keep it in your pocket, those messages can wait.
22 Let People Have Their Moment
It’s natural that to you, your character is the most important person in the game, but that’s not the same for everyone. If someone else takes the lead, or is doing something heroic (or indeed, villainous), don’t steal their spotlight so your character can do it instead. You’re not the main character in a Bethesda RPG. You’re just another person in this huge world, and need to know when it’s not your moment, just as much as when it is.
21 Don’t Touch Other Players’ Dice
This might seem like a super minor infraction, but you’d be surprised. Some people get super attached to their dice, and if you go around grabbing them without their permission, they’ll get angry. It’s fair enough really: you wouldn’t go around grabbing other people’s property in any other situation, and you shouldn’t do it here either. Use your own dice, and if you really want to use someone else’s, ask them! They’ll likely let you, but they want you to be respectful enough to ask.
20 The DM’s Word Is Final
Really, it is completely final. In this world, they are the judge, jury, and executioner. If they say something went a certain way, and had a certain outcome, then that’s how it went. They’re not here to change things because they went badly for you. They’re not a one-person cheat engine. A good DM will research any queries you have, and if you’re right, they’ll admit they were wrong. However, in the heat of the game, their word is the law.
19 Learn The Dice
This is one thing you can do that will save a whole heap of time. Learn what each of the dice is. Everyone knows what a D6 and a D20 look like thanks to cultural osmosis, but there’s way more dice to learn about. If you need to roll a D8 and you can’t tell the difference between it and a D10 and need to count the sides, you’re going to provide a whole host of tedious pauses in gameplay while you give the dice a close examination.
18 Have A Character Motivation
Having a deep character means more fun will be had! When you’re making your character, have a backstory and a motivation in mind. If you don’t have one, and you just seem to drift along with a party for basically no reason, it’s not going to exactly be gripping, is it? Give it some thought. Is your character an orphan runaway from the dark street of an unknown city? Are they the son of a lord? The rebellious daughter of a blacksmith? Give your character a reason for being there, and their own goals.
17 Keep Players Interested
A tip for the DM here: it’s up to you to make sure your players are enjoying themselves! Provide them with interesting, fun, exciting, hilarious, scary, and just plain solid quests and encounters. Make sure that you plan something that all the party can take part in. For example, don’t make a rogue feel left out in your combat, give them something they can do while the barbarians and paladins are charging face first into death. Basically, make sure that your group is engaged.
16 Don’t Look For Loopholes In The Rules
Gary Gygax, bless him, was a human, as are the others who have contributed to DnD over the years. There are going to be gaps in the rules. That doesn’t mean that you should attempt to drive a bus through these rules to break the game. Play according to the rules, and you’ll have a way more enjoyable experience, as will everyone else in your party. Don’t try and be a smartass, else you’ll soon find you’re not particularly welcome in the sessions.
15 Players Control PCs, The Dm Controls NPCs
This is one for both players and the DM. The players should be allowed to define exactly what they do and their desires, while the DM does the same for NPCs. You need to respect each other, and understand the limits of your control. If your DM is overreaching and ends up telling your characters what they're "actually" going to do, that's not being a good DM. If you, as a player, want to dictate how an NPC reacts to you, you're not going to be popular.
14 Don’t Railroad Your Players
Freedom is important in both life and DnD. Just because you had a specific outcome planned for the party doesn’t mean you should negate their freedom of choice. If you’re DMing, you need to be adaptable, rather than overly strict. While you control the world and the questline, don’t think that means there’s only one way it has to go down. Have a rough plan for other outcomes so that you can keep things fun and flowing, rather than hugely scripted like a bad CRPG.
13 Talk To Your Group About PVP
PVP combat can be great fun, in the right context. Or, it can be out of character, dumb, and ruin the atmosphere. Talk to your group about PVP and know what they’ll find unacceptable. Some groups will let you do whatever you want to, and if that means betraying your friend or lying to PCs, then so be it! Other groups, however, will want to maintain a slightly lighter atmosphere, where trust is all important. Understand the context of your group.
12 Be Mature
Look, everyone loves a bit of immaturity every now and then. Making dumb jokes and being silly is totally cool sometimes, and will be welcomed. The key word here is sometimes. If you spend all your time behaving like a 12-year-old kid, then you’re going to become an irritation, and not the comedic star that you perceive yourself to be. Don’t be that guy. Be mature for the most part, just like you would be in real life, that way, the moments where you are actually dumb WILL be funny.
11 Show Up Early
This is a fairly basic point, but it’s one that bears repeating. Sessions will often not start on time, but that doesn’t mean that that should be down to you. Make sure you’re there and ready to start when you’re supposed to. Don’t keep other people waiting because you couldn’t be bothered to get there on time. Basically, treat it as you would any other meeting: don’t be the source of problems. Oh, and if you can’t make a session for whatever reason, make sure you let your group know in advance!
10 Don’t Metagame
What do I mean by this? Well, just because an NPC seems like a villain, don’t treat them as though they are. If they’re sporting a goatee and have a particularly strong affection for black clothes and long flowing cloaks, don’t just go and stab them. The same applies to names. The movies, books, and games that have taught you these tropes don’t exist in the game world, so don’t assume that your character would have some kind of weirdly prescient knowledge of them.
9 Communication Is Key
If you’ve got a legitimate grievance or criticism that’s preventing you from enjoying the game, let the other players or the DM know! The whole point of playing this game is to have fun, and if you’re not, don’t seethe in silent resentment. If the DM is any good at their job, they’ll be happy to take your criticisms on board. Basically, look at it this way. Running the game is a team effort. While the DM steers it, you can offer advice and criticism, so long as you do it in a friendly and respectful manner.
8 Keep Combat Exciting
Any combat scenarios that you dream up in your role as DM need to be balanced. If your fights are consistently too easy, with no threat to them, or too hard, with players constantly worried that their characters are going to die, they aren’t. Make them dangerous to the point where death is a threat, without actually causing it unnecessarily. Think of it like a video game. If you’re playing on normal, rather than hard or easy, you should be challenged without being frustrated. That’s what you need to aim for.
7 Craft A World Where Certain Things Are Impossible
Kind of a follow on point from the last one: have encounters, monsters, and people in your world that actuallly cannot be defeated by players. Why? Well, destroying God may work for Nietzsche and Silent Hill, but it’s not really good for DnD. You want to give your party a sense of being just a small cog in a bigger world, not the unkillable crusaders of legend. They can grow into being badasses, but that doesn’t mean they should always be that. Provide them with a world that can’t just be conquered.
6 Retconning Must Be Used Widely
If a story has got all bent out of shape, and not in a satisfying way, you could consider retconning. Telling an alternate story that provides a more favorable outcome CAN be used well. However, that doesn’t mean it should always be used, in fact, far from it. Often, leaving the scenario as is, and working out the story from there is better, and provides the world with a sense of permanence and verisimilitude. Only retcon if things have gone very, very badly wrong.
5 Don’t Get Angry If Your Character Gets Eliminated
Permanent death is in the game for a reason. It gives the game a sense of danger. While resurrection magic can be used, sometimes, characters have to die permanently, else danger just wouldn’t exist and combat would have no tension. If your character, who you’ve lovingly crafted, dies permanently, that’s okay. Remember that it’s only a game, and don’t get offended. It’s not a slight towards you, and doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. Take it graciously, and start building another character.
4 Stay Under Control
If you’re drinking – don’t get too crazu. Stay under control, else it’s going to be stupid. DnD is not a game that benefits from people unable to make rational decisions. If you're too out of it, everything else I mentioned about respect and active listening is going to go out of the window. If you want to do a night out, do a night out, but DnD should be a time for chilling with friends rather than annoying them.
3 Don’t Minmax
Look, don’t try and win DnD like it’s a video game. Don’t minmax so that you become absurdly powerful. You're not aiming to do a speedrun here, or become the God King of Ridiculous Power. It kind of hooks back into the point I made earlier about building a believable character. You want to have flaws, as it makes the game far more compelling. If you don't need a party because you could crush an elder god with your little finger, why are you running with one?
2 Be Respectful Of Other Players
You’d think this one would be obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people seem to lose their social skills when they’re around the table. If someone does something you disagree with, you can try and talk them out of it, but if they still want to go ahead with it, let them. Don’t call them an idiot or curse at them. Remember the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Don’t let your manners go just because you’re enveloped in a fantasy world. It doesn’t matter if your character would say it, don’t do it.
1 Don’t Call For A Roll
Don’t send your dice flying across the table without asking your DM if you should roll a skills check at that moment. Being enthusiastic is awesome and all, and it's natural that sometimes you're going to want to get on and take your turn. That being said, this is a game for the patient sort. Roll when the DM tells you that you need to do a skills check. It'll show respect and more importantly, not land your die in anyone else's drink.