Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Andreas Stein

Today's What Makes a Good Player? feature is with Andreas Stein, who has some pretty detailed thoughts on how his play style makes a difference.


What do you try to do most often while playing games to enhance your experience and the experience of others?

Generally speaking, I think good roleplaying is having an awareness of the game and the other players. Here are a few things I consider during character creation and gameplay:

I don’t pick the Jedi.

My first roleplaying game was Cyberpunk 2020, and the first character I created after giving the book a good read-through was a highly min/maxed Solo – let’s call him “Fighty McFighterson” – who could single-handedly take out a whole squad of cyber-ninjas or corporate security agents, but he wasn’t good for much else, and he wasn’t really fun to roleplay. When I discovered D&D, the question before every new game was “Who’s going to play the cleric?” Out of politeness to those who wanted to be stealthy-cool or smashy-cool, I took up that necessary if oft-neglected class so we could get started already. It should go without saying that the abundance of healer classes that came about in 4E made me really happy (haters gonna hate).

My method these days is to listen to what type of character everyone else is making and then fill in whatever role(s) are needed to form a balanced party. Part of the fun is how this challenges me into creating some interesting, versatile characters. I oftentimes play the "Swiss army knife" of the group or someone who’s specialized in some common part of the setting that nobody else is interested in dealing with – somebody sooner or later is going to have to hack a security door, talk their way past the guards, heal everyone up, communicate with the locals, keep up the magic barrier, or fix that damn hyperdrive. The kicker is that so many of these situations are dramatic (or comedic) gold. This doesn’t necessarily limit me to "support" characters; if the party is a bunch of scientists and scoundrels, I’ll gladly roll up a tank or assassin to round things out.

I play to the story.

I think about the setting and ask myself “What’s going to keep me busy and having fun for a long campaign?” or “What aspect of the setting interests me the most?” When I create a character, I create a *character* rather than just a vessel for my ego. I learn what the setting is about and find my character’s place in that world. I don’t see the need to create a super-complex character background for the emergent fiction of an RPG – there’s more fun in discovering aspects of my creation as the story progresses – so in the beginning I only provide enough raw substance to plausibly plant myself in the story. Roleplaying game characters should be easily recognizable, iconic, and “developable.”

I think about group dynamics.

The point of a social game is for everybody to be entertained, not just me. A big pet peeve of mine is when a player tries to have some “fun” screwing with the group by creating a character that's so far out of the scope of the common consensus that the GM as well as all the rest of the players are constantly floundering to actively shoe-horn them into the story, because they apparently want to be off doing their own thing or working against everyone else’s interests. If “My character would do it!” is your excuse, you made a crappy character. Nobody likes the thief who’s always out to double-cross the party. I’m not telling anyone to stifle their creativity, but remember that what works in books doesn’t always translate to a roleplaying game; don’t make a broody, loner, one-trick pony of a character that is obsessed about their own darkness and then act surprised when you have nothing to do and nobody to interact with. The players in a roleplaying game should be as much of a team as their characters are.

The same advice, I feel, goes for GMs: you have the social responsibility of making sure everyone is having fun, not abusing your friends for your own entertainment. Just as bad as the iconic "sadistic GM" is the boring one who doesn’t let players sit on the plastic-covered furniture that is their lovingly-(over)crafted game world.

I don’t hog the spotlight.

I can’t overstate the importance of this. When I GM, I make sure every character has a place and time where they shine, and as a player I try to check myself and make sure to let other players’ characters do their thing. I’ll even ask another player, “Hey, can’t you [ability]?” or “Don’t you have [skill/thing]?” or “Don’t you know [subject of expertise/person]?” There’s nothing worse than sitting there watching the rest of the party be badasses without getting a word in, so I help out where I can.

I blow shit up.

My current GM once told me he likes my play style because I "bring the awesome" – in other words, I keep things from getting stale. Truth is, I tend to get bored by excessive navel-gazing and playing it safe in a roleplaying game; I'm not afraid to cause problems for my character in the name of moving the story along. I'm a big fan of half-assed plans and anything that adds an epic cinematic quality to the game – because that's what folks always talk about afterward. My characters take big risks and are always out to create sweeping badass moments of glory. It usually doesn't take much to spur the rest of the crew into some heated dice rolls along with me. And it's not just combat – pulling off an epic con, heist, or jury-rig is just as satisfying as a glorious battle in my book. As always, however, I check in with the other players before I pull some crazy stunt that may adversely affect the party.

Do you use any specific play techniques (narrative tools, improv tools, etc.) in your play sessions?
A close friend of mine and fellow gamer likes to say that nothing is cliché if it's happening to you, and I have lots of fun living by that in an RPG. If there's a chance of a sci-fi/fantasy/adventure trope being dangerously close to happening, you can bet I'm going for it – busting a steam pipe, stealing a spaceship, running into a burning building, using a Trojan Horse tactic, robbing a train, starting a bar fight – it's all fair game.

I'm kind of a smartass, so my characters usually are too; I'm not above a James-Bond-style pun, a pop-culture callback, or hanging a lampshade on some aspect of the setting via group banter. At the table I've been known to briefly pull up a song or sound effect that seems dramatically appropriate to the moment. Recently we were playing the Cortex+ Marvel RPG with me as Iron Man. Our fantastic Captain America player had just finished an on-point speech about justice when after a beat or two I played the "Cinematic Eagle Cry" I'd pulled off of YouTube. After a second of silence, I continued as Tony " I the only one that thought that was funny?", narrating him retracting a speaker back into his suit. I usually try to keep that kind of thing just below being annoying.

How often do you like to game, and what is most comfortable for you to maintain good energy in games?

If we're running a long-form campaign, I don't like to go months without gaming because I forget what's going on and need to spend half the session recapping. It personally removes me from the organic problem solving I rely very heavily on. I don't take notes because it distracts from the gameplay and messes with my immersion (most notes I take I can never make sense of later anyway if it’s been too long). If it's more of an episodic thing, I'm okay with longer gaps, but there's a time when even then I will forget certain things about a character, like their personality, that make things inconsistent.

What kind of games do you feel you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most?

I like an episodic game with an overall story arc, so I know choices I make now may come to bite me later. On the contrary, I admit I like the gonzo no-safety-net gameplay of a one-off, like a con game, where characters can end with a really dramatic crash. My home-group environment is still the best, though – we know each other's personalities very well and we have a great deal of trust that we're all there to help one another have a good time.

System-wise I enjoy narrative-heavy games, especially where failure has a mechanical bonus, like FATE or Cortex+. Failure can be fun in any game if you have a good group and GM, but I like asking the GM "What did I break this time?" while holding my hand out for that bonus I will definitely be needing later.

Can you share a special experience in a game where you felt like you did a good job playing your part in the overall story and game?

In our current Star Trek game, our ship made contact with a planet notable for two things: they had a super-efficient food source that the Federation was interested in, and everyone was constantly connected to what was basically a planet-wide social network that governed their lives. At an embassy gala, my science officer noted loudly that he was suspicious of the food they were serving; news quickly spread to the whole planet, and my character instantly became the most hated person on this world.

Later in the evening, the ambassador's aide made some faux pas that the entire planet felt had embarrassed them as a species in view of the visitors. By the will of the network, the offending staffer was sentenced to death, as by their laws and customs. Through a series of dramatic events, he ended up in the custody of our crew, putting us in a diplomatic standoff vis-à-vis the Prime Directive.

It was a classic Star Trek situation: we needed to establish relations by honoring the inhabitants' way of life but wanted to spare the ill-fated government attaché. In the discussion we had about how a real Trek crew would handle this, I came upon the idea that we should use a classic Trek trope to solve the dispute: we would hold a debate! My character, the vilified alien from beyond, would debate the merits of Federation law and culture with our recently disgraced refugee representing the merits of his home world’s ways, essentially arguing for his own right to be executed. Through the teamwork of all the players, our plan succeeded in using the planet's culture of social media persecution against itself; the attaché became a martyred darling to the inhabitants, saving his life, whilst giving the Federation the platform to share their alternative views and perhaps causing them to reconsider their system. To this day we all feel that that was one of the most perfect RPG sessions we've ever played.


Thanks so much to Andreas for his interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading.

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